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“Cultures of Resistance,” a documentary directed by Iara Lee, began its festival tour this year. The film profiles over a dozen different radical activist groups around the world, many of which have received grants from the two nonprofit foundations created by Lee and her billionaire husband (the film’s producer) George Gund III. This scatter-shot approach results in an intellectual incoherence as Lee, who claims to embrace absolute pacifism, gives a platform to some of the most pro-war, revolutionary voices on the Left.
For an activist who claims to support nonviolence, Lee relishes military metaphors when describing her film:
Does each gesture really make a difference? Can music and dance be weapons of peace? In 2003, on the eve of the Iraq war, director Iara Lee embarked on a journey to better understand a world increasingly embroiled in conflict and, as she saw it, heading for self-destruction. After several years, traveling over five continents, Iara encountered growing numbers of people who committed their lives to promoting change. This is their story. From IRAN, where graffiti and rap became tools in fighting government repression, to BURMA, where monks acting in the tradition of Gandhi take on a dictatorship, moving on to BRAZIL, where musicians reach out to slum kids and transform guns into guitars, and ending in PALESTINIAN refugee camps in LEBANON, where photography, music, and film have given a voice to those rarely heard, CULTURES OF RESISTANCE explores how art and creativity can be ammunition in the battle for peace and justice.
Like many leftists eager to achieve the cultural deification of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, Lee claims to support nonviolence. She released a statement to accompany the film in which she stated that nonviolence was “the only way to break the cycles of militarism and oppression.”
Problems with Lee’s supposed pacifism emerge when researching the people and groups actually profiled in “Cultures of Resistance.” Many certainly are as Lee describes – artists and activists who are largely benign. However, other groups Lee showcases have a peculiar disposition toward “peace.”
For example, Katibe 5 is a Beirut-based rap group Lee describes as carrying on “a tradition of socially conscious rap.” Three of the five MCs in the group have chosen terrorist-themed names: C-4, Molotov, and “the Butcher.” Such a fetish for violence is understandable given the group’s idolizing of Marxists like Frantz Fanon and Che Guevara. Molo, the leader of the team stated his revolutionary politics openly: “Peace means politics, politics means negotiations, negotiations are meant to sustain negotiations and not bring a solution. So I say, fuck negotiations, fuck politics and fuck peace.”
While Katibe 5 may only be fanning the flames of destruction, others in Lee and Gund’s agitprop are actually doing real damage. Breaking with her theme of political artists, Lee devotes one of the segments of “Cultures of Resistance” to Jeff Halper, the Israel-based spokesman for the International Solidarity Movement (ISM.) Halper has called for the obliteration of Israel, declaring, “The ‘two-state’ solution envisioned by all Israeli governments since 1967 … is simply unacceptable.” Halper instead advocates for a “one-state” solution. Since 2008, Halper has also been an organizer with the Free Gaza Movement (FGM.) Both the ISM and the FGM have received grants from Lee and Gund’s Caipirinha Foundation, totaling $25,000 through 2009.
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