By JONAS STAAL
First of all, I would like to thank Professor Sison for having invited me to dedicate a few words to his new book of collected writings on the theoretical and organizational foundation of the revolutionary democratic Nationalist movement in the Philippines. As the founder of the artistic and political organization New World Summit, it is an honor to speak here.
Professor Sison has been a close collaborator to our organization and as such he was the keynote speaker at our second summit in Leiden, the Netherlands. Our organization consists of artists, architects and designers who dedicate their work to build political platforms through art – what we call “alternative parliaments” – to host organizations that face extreme forms of political exclusion from so-called democratic discourse.
Professor Sison’s lecture yesterday addressed this problem of exclusion in the form of the “designated lists of terrorist organizations,” which are all too often used to criminalize and isolate progressive political organizations. We believe it is the task of art to use its radical imaginative force to enact a more fundamental and global understanding of democracy. The collected writings that are presented here tonight give proof of Professor Sison as the tirelessly dedicated militant theoretician and organizer that he is.
But it is no accident that Professor Sison, who is also a poet and even a singer, has been willing to engage with our organization, as he understands the deeply important role of art and culture within the process of political struggle. These last days my colleague in the New World Summit, Younes Bouadi, and me have been welcomed by the many artist groups that are part of the national democratic movement, which hold this principle dearly. And they have made me, as Professor Sison would call it, feel “at home in the world.”
I come from the Netherlands, a colonial force that today still enjoys the benefits of its former occupations. Of all places, it is in my country that Professor Sison has lived in exile for the last twenty-five years without ever gaining legal residence after applying for asylum, while international law prohibits the Netherlands to hand him over to the Philippines. His critique of the colonial force of capitalist-democracy could not be of more relevance then here. His presence narrates the expansionist and exclusionary politics that my country, and many other countries in Western Europe, have implemented in the last decade. From its support to the invasion in Iraq to the extremist xenophobic policies that have been used against migrants and refugees – precisely those people that have been the victim of the economic privileges that my country gained, and which are now, once again, denied access to it. The notion of “terrorism” has been applied in both cases, to xenophobia at home (labeling Dutch-Moroccan youth as “terrorist”) and interventionist politics abroad (foreign invasions).
In that sense, maybe Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek is right when he said that the term “terrorist” might soon become a word of pride for progressive forces worldwide. The masses of protestors in Turkey against the sell-out of public space by the Erdoǧan government have been labeled and even prosecuted as “terrorists.” Figures from the digital democratization movement, such as Julian Assange, and former NSA employee Edward Snowden, have been referred to as “terrorists.” Slowly it appears that “terrorism” is the term used by the status-quo of capitalist-democracy, whenever the terrifying conditions of our present – the monopolies of power dominating our world today – might be subverted…
In the wake of new global shifts in power through the rise of Brazil, Russia, China, and India – which in itself are certainly not necessarily “progressive” in nature – resistance is building. We have also witnessed the massive rise of a global democratization movement in the form of the Indignados protests in Spain, the global Occupy protests, movements within what is rather roughly referred to as the “Arab Spring,” and the rise of the digital activists and transparency advocates in the form of the international Pirate Parties, the digital guerilla by Anonymous and Wikileaks to name just a few.
This international democratization movement reclaims and fights for a principled and global understanding of a fundamental democracy. They reclaim and fight for the language of emancipation that belongs to the historical project of progressive politics. They reclaim and fight for this world not as just “a world,” but as our, common world.
The anti-colonial critique and propositions for structural resistance as put forward by the work of Professor Sison belongs to the tradition that has made this movement possible.
To end, allow me to move from the poet Sison to the 20th century theater maker, writer, and poet Samuel Beckett. It was Beckett who famously spoke the words: Fail, fail again, fail better. As a political slogan for the 20th century, it could not have been more appropriate.
But in the face of our opponents, maybe we should not grant them this luxury of our progressive failures any longer. I suggest that our slogan for the 21st century – our century, the century of the international progressive democratization movement – will be: Fail, fail again, and then: succeed ever anew.
Or, to paraphrase Professor Sison one last time:
“Makibaka at magtagumpay.”