Violence and Brazil: Je Suis Tolerant

I am not sure, but, I suppose that the Je Suis Charlie movement is heartening. Although massacres, kidnappings, disappearances, mass murders, and abuses of all kind are so routine now (and have been throughout history), it still is good to see the French reacting pacifically en masse and, in protest, against the wanton violence.

There is a lot of end of the world depressive reaction, hatred against Islamists and extreme feelings. Some say there is a “conflict of civilizations” (term borrowed from Samuel Huntington, the deceased Harvard professor) and a return to the Middle Ages with Crusaders battling the heathen over holy ground and the greatness of God.

Certainly, we should not deny the geopolitical and religious implications and the ties to the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. Some of this has absolutely to do with colonial and historical heritages and dating back decades and centuries and even back to Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael.

Nevertheless, I would rather look at things in the context of evolving institutions, the rule of the law and the construction of man made living arrangements, which establish and regulate what we call civilization.

And, here we can talk about “Brazilian Civilization” and its nature and evolution. Certainly, Brazil is no stranger to death by gunshot. Over 50 thousand die each year violently in criminal activity and a very high proportion of these deaths are at the hands of uniformed authorities representing the “legitimate” power of the state.

Death squads versus gangs, paramilitary organizations against drug lords and petty armed criminals taking random lives of victims have all been tolerated for generations. This passivity speaks loudly and volumes about Brazil and Brazilian culture. As a society still emerging from the heritage of slavery with an intentional emphasis on ignorance and inequality, violence has been used and tolerated as a means of maintaining class position and privilege. Certain patriarchal attenuations have been in place and thus we have our racial and religious façade of harmony and equality that is so falsely presented to the rest of the world.

While we, in Brazil, may accommodate violence and death on a day-to-day basis, we still react viscerally to death at our doorstep and, by extension, to death in Paris (and other supposed centers of civilization). We are nauseous but gradually, we are awaking and demanding better institutions and even more personal responsibility to reduce our indulgence for abuse, thievery and death. In the long run, we are becoming a bit more civilized (looking inward) and rejecting some of our heritage, even, at times, at the risk of becoming politically correct (witness the condemnation of Renato Aragao and the Trapalhoes) instead of authentic. It also remains to be seen how tolerant we will be in taking up our individual civic and personal obligations in the political and social arena.

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