“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.
But the film itself is just the beginning. “Cultures of Resistance” is a new activist brand that Lee and Gund are trying to launch. At CulturesofRestiance.org Lee presents a compilation of her activist interests and resources for the film’s viewers to utilize in their own efforts. “Cultures of Resistance” consists of four different projects, each playing off the 1960s anti-war slogan “Make love, not war.”
“Make Films Not War” is the rebranding of the Lee and Gund foundation’s Conflict Zone Film Fund, a program which offers grants of $10,000 to radical filmmakers.
“Make Music Not War” is a new program in which music videos of leftist musicians are produced and information about Middle Eastern countries’ musical traditions are presented. (Caipirinha Productions, the forerunner to the Caipirinha Foundation, was Caipirinha Music during the late ‘90s.) Two of the featured musicians are Palestinian MC Shadia Mansour and Iraqi rapper Lowkey who toured with holocaust denier (and “Cultures of Resistance” ally) Norman Finkelstein on his last book tour. Lee recently indicated on her Facebook page that Finkelstein would be joining her on the flotilla at the end of June 2011 to again try to disrupt Israel’s navy blockade of Gaza.
“Make Food Not War” is an educational program promoting “food justice.” (The name is reminiscent of – and likely inspired by – the anti-war group Food Not Bombs which Lee and Gund have donated to through the Capiriniha Foundation.)
Cultures of Resistance is honored to highlight the educational efforts of Voices of a People’s History of the United States and the Zinn Education Project. These efforts are powerful tributes to Howard Zinn’s legacy and will help to spread the belief that–in the words of activist Marian Wright Edelman, a former student of Professor Zinn– democracy is not a spectator sport.
In 2009 the Caipriniha Foundation supported the Zinn Education Project with a $5,000 donation.
Lee and Gund’s patronage of those carrying on the troubling legacy of Zinn reveals a deeper root in their intellectual tradition. A People’s History of the United States of America is the forerunner of the style of Lee’s films. In a footnote-free text the book jumps throughout American history from 1492 to the present day, never focusing anywhere long enough to come to conclusions that might disrupt the author’s simple, proletariat vs bourgeoisie narrative. “Cultures of Resistance” is similarly superficial and more concerned with championing a political – and violent – ideology than documenting reality.