After 9/11 my mom made me wear a USA ribbon every day, but now we are proving our faith through service

April 16th, 2018


The colorful words blinking on Dallas’ biggest billboard were everything.

Thousands of Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims had spent the day at the convention center next door, participating in parades, performances and prayer to commemorate the start of the 60th anniversary year of our spiritual leader, the Aga Khan.

The Dallas Omni’s 23-story light display the night of July 11 celebrated with us. “Diamond Jubilee,” the tall letters spelled.

The lights on the Omni symbolized how far the American Ismaili community — my community —had come in the past few decades. Growing up in a post-9/11 era, I felt immense pressure to defend my faith. But as our religious community matured over the years, we felt more secure, we stopped explaining ourselves and we began embracing the power of showing who we are by living our faith.

As we prepare for the Aga Khan’s visit in Houston, his first trip to Texas in 10 years, that shift feels righteous.

The shift was not always obvious to our small community. Ismaili Muslims represent a small slice of Islam worldwide. We constitute about 20 million of the 1.8 billion Muslims. The Pew Research Center estimates there are 3.45 million Muslims in the U.S., of which the Ismaili Muslim community in Texas numbers around 40,000.

So when I was a child, the adults drilled talking points into my head and expected me to defend my faith to other children who might question me:

The Ismailis are a diverse group of Shia Muslims led by the Aga Khan, a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad through the prophet’s daughter Fatima and son-in-law Ali.

No, the Aga Khan isn’t like the pope. While there are similarities between their leadership, the Aga Khan wasn’t nominated and selected. His right to lead the Ismailis as their 49th imam continues a 1,400-year ancestral tradition that dates back to the time of the Prophet.

Dallas News for more

(Thanks to reader)

Behind the Facebook data scandal: The drive to censor the Internet

April 16th, 2018


IMAGE/A Colby Community Web Site

In a week full of major social and political developments, no single topic has occupied the US media outlets more than the scandal surrounding Facebook’s relationship with Cambridge Analytica, the election data company previously associated with former Trump campaign Chairman Steve Bannon.

The New York Times has led with the story three out of the last five days and carried at least one front-page story every day this week. The rest of the mainstream press has followed suit, promoting a campaign—without any evident popular following—for users to leave the social media company, complete with a ready-made hashtag: #DeleteFacebook. In response to the campaign, Facebook’s stock price has fallen by 11 percent, wiping out some $50 billion from the company’s market capitalization.

The harvesting of the personal information of some 50 million Facebook users by Cambridge Analytica raises serious privacy concerns. But the media firestorm sparked by the synchronized release of the story by the New York Times and the Guardian has far darker and more nefarious motives. Using the election data scandal as a cover, the media, working with the intelligence agencies and leading congressional Democrats, is seeking to create the climate for a crackdown on political opposition on the world’s largest social network.

From the standpoint of bourgeois election campaigns, massive data harvesting operations are par for the course. In 2012, the Obama reelection campaign did essentially the same thing as Cambridge Analytica, prompting users to install a Facebook app that harvested the information of users’ entire contact list, netting up to 190 million profiles. At the time, the practice was not only widely reported, but praised by major news outlets as evidence of the innovative and forward-thinking nature of the campaign.

Moreover, despite having access to Cambridge Analytica’s massive trove of Facebook information, the Trump campaign did not choose to use the data because it already had access to an even bigger, more comprehensive, and more accurate dataset from the Republican National Committee.

Flush with hundreds of millions of dollars in cash, secured from billionaire donors who are wealthier than ever, modern bourgeois election campaigns employ hundreds, or even thousands, of staff members, many with advanced computer science and statistics degrees, to mine, quantify, and analyze private data, with the aim of influencing and shaping voters’ political views.

These operations massively dwarf the scale of the alleged “meddling” by “Russians” in the 2016 presidential election, which, according to a report submitted by Facebook to the Senate Intelligence Committee, consisted of buying some $100,000 of Facebook advertisements both before and after the election.

Given the diminutive scale of the role played by Cambridge Analytica in the election campaign, what accounts for the massive campaign in the press for users to “Delete Facebook?”

The real issues underlying the campaign can be seen in another report, published on the front page of the New York Times Wednesday, headlined, “Fed Up, Teachers in Oklahoma May Walk Next,” warning that the strike movement by educators, which began in West Virginia, risks spreading to Oklahoma, Arizona, and other states.

The article notes that “several Facebook groups” have been “pushing for a walkout,” and that “Rank-and-file teachers” have used the social media network to organize outside of the framework of the teachers’ unions.

The growth of working-class opposition is the real target of the media firestorm over Facebook’s alleged data lapse. The aim of the press campaign is to create the climate for the introduction of even more explicit censorship measures.

In successive interviews responding to the allegations, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, reversing their previous positions, vociferously endorsed a bill working its way through Congress to target “foreign meddling” in US politics by severely restricting the purchase of political advertisements—one of the few avenues left open to independent news outlets to attract a broader readership on Facebook.

“We’re open to regulation. We work with lawmakers all over the world,” Sandberg told CNBC. Zuckerberg, speaking to CNN, said he would “love to see” regulation targeting Facebook advertisements like those allegedly purchased by “Russians.”

World Socialist Web Site for more

Weekend Edition

April 13th, 2018

Fuckerberg is the winner

April 13th, 2018


Chelsea Hornick-Becker of holds a protest sign in front of dozens of cardboard cut-outs of Mark Zuckerberg outside of the Capitol Building in Washington. PHOTO/Reuters/Leah Millis/The Wire (India)

On one Saturday Night Live (SNL) skit, character of Julian Assange (founder, WikiLeaks, played by Bill Hader), described the irony of differences to his audience regarding him and Mark Zuckerberg (played by Andy Samberg):

“Ah! What are the differences between Mark Zuckerberg and me? Let’s take a look: I give you private information on corporations for free… and I’m a villain; Mark Zuckerberg gives your private information to corporations FOR money… and he’s Man of the Year [Time magazine].”

The Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s multi-billion dollar empire is built on deceit, on letting advertisers target Facebookers, performing psychological experiment on Facebook users, and on offering apologies after every crime or wrongdoing.

In 2003, Zuckerberg started with Facemash and before long was out with an apology:

“… I apologize for any harm done as a result of my neglect to consider how quickly the site would spread and its consequences thereafter.”

Between 2004 and 2018 Zuckerberg has apologized numerous times for sharing the users’ information. He has done the same, albeit, on a greater scale this time, and has increased his billions manifold, while not forgetting to throw in a sentence here and there of how much good he is doing for the world, e.g.:

“By giving people the power to share, we’re making the world more transparent.”

Some apologies:

We did a bad job of explaining what the new features were and an even worse job of giving you control over them.” (2006)

“We just missed the mark.” “We heard the feedback.” “There needs to be a simpler way to control your information.” (2010)

“I’m the first to admit that we’ve made a bunch of mistakes.” (2011)

I’m sorry we didn’t do more at the time. We’re now taking steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Basically, Zuckerberg belongs to the gang of billionaire criminals competing with each other for the top slot. Currently he’s the fifth richest person. He’s one of the most powerful people in the world; although, from his appearance he may seem a commoner.

His interviews create the impression of a community leader. He calls Facebook users a “community”. In a recent interview to Vox, he used that word 17 times. But the harm many of the members of this community can do, will only be felt by the victims among them.

Zuckerberg’s mission, according to his Facebook post, is to “connect the world.” It is an expensive mission. Facebook’s lobbying expenditure in 2017 was $11.5 million, an increase of 32% from 2016. Since 2009, Facebook has spent $52.6 million on lobbying. Connecting the Facebook community does not come free, or even cheap!

(One wishes Zuckerberg would also try to connect whites and colored people at his company by hiring more blacks and Latinos instead of openly discriminating against them by grossly under-representing these demographics.)

Zeynep Tufeksi in her Wired article calls him out on his “Facebook community” bullshit. It is necessary to quote her at length:

“As far as I can tell, not once in his apology tour was Zuckerberg asked what on earth he means when he refers to Facebook’s 2 billion-plus users as “a community” or “the Facebook community.” A community is a set of people with reciprocal rights, powers, and responsibilities. If Facebook really were a community, Zuckerberg would not be able to make so many statements about unilateral decisions he has made—often, as he boasts in many interviews, in defiance of Facebook’s shareholders and various factions of the company’s workforce. Zuckerberg’s decisions are final, since he controls all the voting stock in Facebook, and always will until he decides not to—it’s just the way he has structured the company.

“Facebook’s 2 billion users are not Facebook’s “community.” They are its user base, and they have been repeatedly carried along by the decisions of the one person who controls the platform. These users have invested time and money in building their social networks on Facebook, yet they have no means to port the connectivity elsewhere. Whenever a serious competitor to Facebook has arisen, the company has quickly copied it (Snapchat) or purchased it (WhatsApp, Instagram), often at a mind-boggling price that only a behemoth with massive cash reserves could afford. Nor do people have any means to completely stop being tracked by Facebook. The surveillance follows them not just on the platform, but elsewhere on the internet—some of them apparently can’t even text their friends without Facebook trying to snoop in on the conversation. Facebook doesn’t just collect data itself; it has purchased external data from data brokers; it creates “shadow profiles” of nonusers and is now attempting to match offline data to its online profiles.

“Again, this isn’t a community; this is a regime of one-sided, highly profitable surveillance, carried out on a scale that has made Facebook one of the largest companies in the world by market capitalization.”

Data belonging to 50 million members of this “community” was given to the London-based elections consultancy called Cambridge Analytica as reported by the New York Times and the Guardian in March 2018. That figure was later revised to 87 million.

This time the outcry forced Zuckerberg to appear before US congressional committees. Some questions pointed out the dominance of Facebook on social media, its playing with people’s privacy, it’s policy of making users responsible for their privacy, etc.

“[Facebook is a] virtual monopoly” [and that] “continued self-regulation is not the right answer when it comes to dealing with the abuses we have seen on Facebook.” Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican, South Carolina)

“Why is the onus on the user to opt in to privacy and security settings?” (Representative Bobby L. Rush, Democrat, Illinois)

Sen. Durbin: “Would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?”

Zuckerberg: “Uh — no.”

Durbin: “If you have messaged anybody this week, would you share with us the names of the people you have messaged?”

Zuckerberg: “Senator, no, I would probably not choose to do that publicly here.”

Durbin: “I think that might be what this is all about — your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy, and how much you’d give away in modern America.” Senator Dick Durbin (Republican, Illinois)

Senator John Kennedy: “I say this gently: Your user agreement sucks.” “The purpose of that user agreement is to cover Facebook’s rear end. It’s not to inform your users about their rights. You know that, and I know that.” (Republican, Louisiana)

Zuckerberg had come fully prepared to face the US Congress committees with help from paid experts.

By mistake, Zuckerberg left his notes open. One of them read: “Respectfully, I reject that,” it is “not who we are.”

Zuckerberg tried to portray himself innocent and unaware people could do harm:

didn’t know “how people could use these tools to do harm as well” through “fake news, foreign interference in elections, hate speech, in addition to developers and data privacy”

The problem with the Congressional hearings was that the senators and representatives should have asked Zuckerberg in advance to bring all the relevant and necessary documents with him, including the technical and other advisors because many of Zuckerberg’s answers were accompanied by the following bullshit: I am not aware of it or I do not know but my technical staff will get back to you. It is understood that nobody’s going to follow up and the issue is to be considered almost closed.

Once more Fuckerberg was the winner and showed his true self; he screwed the committee members. Nothing will happen to this billionaire criminal.

The unjust system is in good health and is going to live quite long into the future, under current conditions.

B. R. Gowani can be reached at

Selling alcohol and tobacco to the masses – in pictures

April 13th, 2018


A new book tells the 100-year-long tale of how advertising tried to get consumers hooked on both cigarettes and alcohol. Through a selection of ads, companies can be seen employing a number of strategies to sell their products

20th Century Alcohol & Tobacco Ads by Jim Heinmann is available from Taschen

Old Gold employed George Petty, the Esquire pinup artist of the time, who painted his ‘Petty girls’ as a monthly advertising come-on to design ads such as this 1950 example PHOTO/Jim Heimann Collection/TASCHEN

Known as ‘the Turkish cigarette’, Murad was one of many brands employing phallic imagery in their ads, such as this 1919 insert PHOTO/Jim Heimann Collection/TASCHEN

This Schlitz beer ad from 1951 was used in Life magazine. The company’s postwar campaign was focused on the simple pleasures found in daily life PHOTO/Jim Heimann Collection/TASCHEN

The Guardian for more

Guess who wrote a decent print ad the other day?

April 13th, 2018


Remembering Pakistan’s most iconic Alexander ad.

In 1968, a young writer named Javed Jabbar sat down to write a tourism ad campaign for Pakistan. Those were very different days in Pakistan, and there was much to celebrate; the national airline, for instance, was counted among the best in the world and didn’t require duct tape to hold its engines together. There was a promise of a brighter tomorrow.

During these heady days, Mr Jabbar wrote five ads in this particular wonderful tourism campaign, one that is – to borrow the words of Paul Beatty – as timeless as a hydrogen atom. Tellingly of the era, two of these were written for East Pakistan. All five were witty, interesting and engaging – traits that the Pakistani advertising industry somehow has decided to leave out of its briefs over the years.

Of the five, it is the fifth in that series of print tourism ads that I want to discuss, to give an idea of the history of advertising in the country.

When you look at the history of advertising in Pakistan, the majority of work – especially in the modern era – simply doesn’t match the standards the rest of the world aspires to, despite the ever-rising budgets for production. It wasn’t always like this. There have been many gems along the way, and every once in a while, even now, you get to spot something that gives you hope. But the true golden era of Pakistani advertising was back in the 60s. Back when folks like Mr Jabbar sat down at their typewriter.

The brief for the tourism ad, says Mr Jabbar, was “broad”. But from the outset the goal was that the campaign would make both Pakistanis and foreigners aware of all that was to be celebrated.

The print ad in question is astonishingly simple. It works off of a classic device that would make Don Draper giggle with joy: a highly-engaging trick of ‘visual-verbal coordination’, which in this case was as razor sharp as the hand-eye coordination inside-left Naseer Bunda exhibited in the goal that won Pakistan a gold hockey medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics. Heady days.

Artist Majeed Ahmed was the art director on this print ad, in what I believe is probably the finest Pakistani pairing ever of the classic model of copywriter-art director. This was an era when art directors such as Helmut Krone in the United States had started changing advertising design models quite drastically, stripping them down to a page’s bare essentials and Majeed Ahmed’s art direction is in keeping with the simple, yet effective, minimalism that Krone had advocated. It’s important to note this: a print ad such as this one would have been appreciated anywhere in the world.

Dawn for more

Another reason why imperialism wanted Libya overthrown

April 12th, 2018


“Sarkozy wanted the Libyan state eviscerated and Gaddafi assassinated because he had borrowed millions of dollars from the African leader in 2007 to finance his presidential campaign.”

Seven years ago, beginning on March 19, 2011, the United States Pentagon and NATO began a massive bombing campaign against the North African state of Libya.

For seven months the warplanes flew tens of thousands of sorties over Libya, at the time the most prosperous state in Africa. Nearly ten thousand bombs were reportedly dropped inside the country resulting in an estimated 50,000-100,000 dead, many more injuries and the dislocation of several million people.

On October 20, longtime Libyan leader, Col. Muammar Gaddafi, was driving in a convoy leaving his home area of Sirte when the vehicles were struck. Gaddafi was later captured and brutally executed by counter-revolutionary forces which were led, armed and financed by the U.S., NATO and its allies.

France played an instrumental role in the destruction of Libya as a nation-state. The then President Nicolas Sarkozy praised the overthrow of the Jamahiriya political system and the execution of Gaddafi.

All of the imperialist states and their cohorts told the international community that the counter-revolution in Libya would lead to an era of democracy and prosperity. These proclamations could not have been further from the truth.

Sarkozy wanted the Libyan state eviscerated and Gaddafi assassinated because he had borrowed millions of dollars from the African leader in 2007 to finance his presidential campaign. Rumors and later documented proof surfaced to substantiate these claims.

“Today Libya is a source of terrorism, enslavement and internecine conflict.”

On March 20, people around the globe awoke to news reports that Sarkozy was in custody and being questioned over financial irregularities involving the Libyan state under Gaddafi. During the period in question, Libya was a leading country within the African Union (AU) where the basis for the revitalized Organization of African Unity (OAU) founded in May 1963, realized its birth. The Sirte Declarations of 1999 led to the creation of the AU in 2002, shifting the focus of the continental body mandating deliberations on the development of viable institutions encompassing more meaningful objectives such as economic integration and regional security.

The spotlight turned on Sarkozy raises again the question of the genocidal war against Libya during 2011 and the subsequent underdevelopment, instability and impoverishment of the country and its implications for North and West Africa along with the continent as a whole. Today Libya is a source of terrorism, enslavement and internecine conflict where there are at least three sources of purported authority.

Despite the efforts of the United Nations Security Council to form a Government of National Accord (GNA), the unity of the country has remained elusive. The UNSC bears responsibility for the Libyan crisis due to the fact that Resolutions 1970 and 1973 provided a pseudo-legal rationale for the blanket bombing and ground operations in the 2011 imperialist war and its brutal aftermath.

According to an article published by France24:

“Agents of France’s office for anticorruption and fiscal and financial infractions are questioning Sarkozy in the Paris suburb of Nanterre, where he has been detained since Tuesday (March 20) morning. It is the first time authorities have questioned Sarkozy in connection with this dossier. They can keep the 63-year-old conservative former head of state in custody for up to 48 hours, after which he could be released without charge, placed under formal investigation or asked to reappear at a later date.”

The Imperialist Camp and Neo-Colonial Rule in Africa

Whether Sarkozy is placed under formal investigation, indicted or imprisoned for his financial crimes, broader issues remain over the outcomes of the war against Libya. The overthrow of a legitimate African government and the targeted assassination of its leader constitute crimes against humanity stemming from the desire to maintain the neo-colonial domination by imperialism over the continent.

The Jamahiriya state prior to the Pentagon-NATO led war represented the aspirations of not only people in Libya notwithstanding the AU member-states as well. Libya was politically stable, owed no money to global financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank and provided assistance to other African nations in the areas of social, technological, monetary and religious affairs.

While serving as chairperson of the AU in 2009, Gaddafi traveled to the UN General Assembly where he presented his vision of continental imperatives and international relations. During this period a campaign of slander and defamation was launched with the assistance of the corporate media in the U.S.

Black Agenda Report for more

Goodbye Facebook, and screw you too

April 12th, 2018


PHOTO/ by 2.0

I joined Facebook in 2014 at the urging of a friend of mine in Moab, Utah – of all places, Moab, an outpost in the desert – who had worked in marketing, political advertising, messaging and the like. He said, “You need to get on there, man! Network. Get your message out. Your articles.”

Of course I should never have trusted someone trained in the degrading art of getting the message out. Marketing has since ruined sweet little Moab with mass recreation, floods of tourists, and second homeowners looking to invest.

But I joined the rest of the fools out of an experimental belief that it would widen the audience for my journalism – that is, for selfish money-grubbing reasons, the reasons of the true marketeer.

Maybe it did expand my audience. I have no idea. About the only proven use I found was being able to get on Tinder to get laid, as you cannot have a Tinder account without a Facebook account. Thereafter I called it Fuckbook.

Now the experiment is over. Last week I deleted the account. There are many reasons to have never created one. Facebook by the very nature of the platform is a mire of navel-gazing and narcissism, its content a general embarrassment to the human race, its “friendships” defined by algorithms, the idolatry of images, the robotism of shared “likes.” A mockery of real sharing of feeling, understanding, amity, mutuality.

Users with at least half a brain have long known that Facebook exploits their privacy and was probably from the start a vehicle for full-blown surveillance by our spy agencies. I certainly suspected the latter. In 2009, I wrote up a pitch for an investigative piece about Google, Facebook and their connections to the CIA. I published a piece in Counterpunch about the Google angle, but was never able to report out fully what I suspected about Facebook. In the pitch, I wrote:

If personal data could be collected in more concentrated, focused form, with the additional advantage of efficiently collating social networks, complete with personal photos, habits, activities and itineraries freely provided in a centralized system by the users themselves…well, that would be Facebook. The intelligence services’ hand in Facebook is not direct, but publicly available records suggest that venture capital was pumped into Facebook from investment firms whose board members cross-pollinate with a company called In-Q-Tel.

Founded in 1999 to research and invest in new digital technologies focused on intelligence gathering, In-Q-Tel was part of the push for the privatization of national security operations that would become endemic under the Bush Administration. Some $25 million in seed money during Google’s start-up in 1999 arrived in part from the equity firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which works with In-Q-Tel to develop spy technology. In-Q-Tel-funded companies produced the eye-in-the-sky image database that would become Google Earth. In mid-2005, In-Q-Tel’s former director of technology assessment, Rob Painter, joined Google as “senior federal manager,” further cementing Google’s bond with the intelligence community.

Like Google, Facebook is ambiguous in its privacy policies as to how it will share information with third parties. A former CIA officer, speaking anonymously, confirmed the CIA’s interest in Facebook as an intelligence and communications tool, noting that the agency’s use of Facebook for operations is “classified.” The former CIA officer only went so far as to suggest the CIA may be using the site for communications. “It’s a perfect place to hide communications,” says the former CIA officer. “You don’t need secret, expensive satellite systems anymore when you can hide in plain sight with millions of idiots sending photos and inane messages to each other.” When pressed on the subject, the source reiterated: “How it’s employed by [the CIA] is classified, and you shouldn’t write about it.” The Facebook angle for the proposed piece will require further reporting. What’s widely known is that the CIA has been using Facebook since 2006 as a recruiting tool for the clandestine services, which marks the first time the CIA has employed online social networking for the hiring of personnel.

Ah, but denial is a powerful drug, one that produces amnesia, and I soon forgot my own reporting and marched as a guinea pig into the Facebook surveillance system. We now know exactly how Facebook shares information with third parties.

Counterpunch for more

Michio Kaku believes in God, if not that God

April 12th, 2018



Co-founder of string field theory and physicist Michio Kaku made waves last year — or at least seemed to — when it was reported that he’d proven the existence of God. The Geophilosophical Association of Anthropological and Cultural Studies quoted Kaku as saying, “I have concluded that we are in a world made by rules created by an intelligence. To me, it is clear that we exist in a plan which is governed by rules that were created, shaped by a universal intelligence and not by chance.”

Reacting to that public comment, Kaku said: “That’s one of the drawbacks of being in a public sphere: Sometimes you get quoted incorrectly. My own point of view is that you can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God.”

“Science is based on what is testable, reproducible, and falsifiable,” Kaku says. “That’s called ‘science.’ However, there are certain things that are not testable, not reproducible, and not falsifiable. And that would include the existence of God.” He’s noted that discerning whether you live in a Matrix-style construct or not would be another such ‘non-falsifiable’ problem.

Part of the problem, of course, is that “God” has different meanings to different people, and in discussing It/Him/Her, there’s apt to be confusion. And yet believers continue to ask scientists this question, perhaps seeking scientific confirmation for their faith. They want to know if Kaku’s an atheist, but when we can’t agree on what God is, “atheist” has even less meaning.

In any event, when asked about God, Kaku is likely to quote Einstein’s suggestion that there are two types of god: “One god is a personal god, the god that you pray to, the god that smites the Philistines, the god that walks on water. That’s the first god. But there’s another god, and that’s the god of Spinoza. That’s the god of beauty, harmony, simplicity.”

It’s that second “God” to which Kaku is drawn. He tells innovation tech today that the universe could have been random, but that instead “Our universe is rich; it is beautiful, elegant.”

He’s stuck by what he sees as its exquisite simplicity, pointing out that all of the laws of physics could fit on a single sheet of paper, and, “In fact, what I do for a living is to try to get that sheet of paper and summarize it into an equation one inch long.” He asserts that with his string field theory, he had that one-inch explanation of everything, but that with new developments in membrane theory, he needs a little more room. For now.

Still, Kaku says, this will happen. Physics is the opposite of most other fields of study, he says: With every new advance it gets simpler, and in that lies his sense of wonder. “So, that’s the God of Einstein. The God of beauty, [the idea] that says that the universe is simpler the more we study it.”

Kaku recounts:

“When scientists use the word God, they usually mean the God of Order. For example, one of the most important revelations in Einstein’s early childhood took place when he read his first books on science. He immediately realized that most of what he had been taught about religion could not possibly be true. Throughout his career, however, he clung to the belief that a mysterious, divine Order existed in the universe.”

Big Think for more

Marielle Franco, presente!

April 11th, 2018


The late Rio de Janeiro city councilwoman Marielle Franco speaks at a rally in August 2016. PHOTO/Wikimedia Commons/Mídia NINJA

What does the assassination of Rio de Janeiro councilmember Marielle Franco—a prominent LGBTQI activist and socialist, outspoken critic of the police, and Rio’s only black councilmember—mean for the future of Brazil?

“Marielle Franco, presente! Agora e sempre! (Now and Always!)”

The words have rung out across streets, plazas, and on social media in Brazil and beyond since Rio de Janeiro councilmember Marielle Franco was brutally assassinated on the evening of March 14 at the age of 38. Franco was on her way home from a meeting in downtown Rio, which focused on black women’s political participation. An unknown car approached Franco’s car, and assailants shot four police-issue bullets into her head. Her driver was also killed. As the only woman on Rio’s City Council to identify as black, feminist, lesbian, favela resident, human rights defender, and activist against police violence, Franco’s political tenure was associated with a broad range of social justice issues. Her death is a severe blow—and a warning—to anyone working to promote such issues in Brazil, particularly from Rio’s marginalized peripheries.

As Franco’s supporters recover from shock and grief, opponents have already begun to defame her on social media, linking her to drug traffickers to tarnish her reputation. Both anonymously through robots, and openly, false claims have been made that the father of Franco’s daughter was a drug trafficker, that Franco won her seat on the City Council because drug traffickers forced residents to vote for her, and that she was killed because she failed to honor her arrangement with them. Most shocking, perhaps, has been the publication of these allegations by Rio’s High Court judge Marília Castro Neves on her Facebook page. This vilification of Franco follows a recurring pattern in Rio de Janeiro: when someone dies at the hands of the police, slanderous claims that the victims were involved in criminal activity often follow.

The assailant in Franco’s assassination has not been caught, but many assume her murder is somehow related to her denunciation of police violence and her critique of a controversial federal military intervention recently introduced in Rio as a public security measure. A Reuters article even quoted an anonymous police officer saying this was a plausible explanation. The intervention, which aims to curb rising street crime and drug-related gang violence, was introduced on February 16, after Brazilian president Michel Temer signed a decree placing the army in charge of Rio’s security forces. This move has produced considerable controversy. Critics say it harkens back to Brazil’s authoritarian past, echoes the increasing nostalgia for military government on the far right, and ignores the failures and violence produced by the militarization of Rio’s favelas ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympics. According to the daily Extra, homicides and carjacking have actually increased during the first month of the military intervention.

Two days after Franco’s assassination, O Globo reported that the ammunition used to kill her came from a batch sold to the Federal Police in Brasilia in 2006. The Minister of Public Security, Raul Jungman, says the bullets were stolen from the Paraíba headquarters of Brazil’s postal service. Correios issued a statement denying this, and in response, the Ministry of Public Security changed their story–maintaining however, that the bullets in question had been acquired by criminals. Meanwhile, both president Michel Temer and the mainstream media have attempted to use Franco’s assassination as exemplifying the need for the military intervention in Rio, declawing Franco’s critiques of the Brazilian police state.

North American Congress on Latin America for more