Mining for meaning in protests [blog]

It is all too easy to be beguiled by the propaganda of mining protestors. Maybe they are correct when they protest mines & mining in their area. But now we have an example of a protest, not in the mining arena, that proves the fallacious motives & reasoning of mining protestors.

I refer to the recent protests against performance by the MET opera of the operaThe Death of Klinghoffer. At this link we have an intelligent analysis of the protests and the opera by that august magazine, the New Yorker. You may care nothing for opera, and care less about a modern American opera by the foremost modern American opera composer, John Adams. But I urge you to read this posting by the New Yorker and judge it as an example of mindless protest against a worthy undertaking.

To quote:

The Death of Klinghoffer, John Adams’s perennially contentious opera about terrorism at sea, received its first Metropolitan Opera performance on October 20th, twenty-three years after its world première. Beforehand, several hundred people gathered opposite Lincoln Center Plaza to register their unhappiness with the work, which dramatizes a ghastly act: the hijacking, by members of the Palestine Liberation Front, in 1985, of the cruise ship Achille Lauro, and the subsequent murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair-bound American Jewish retiree.

At the rally, people carried signs reading “The Met Opera Glorifies Terrorism,” “No Tenors for Terror,” “Snuff Opera,” and “Gelb, Are You Taking Terror $$$?”—the last a reference to Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met. A leaflet from the Zionist Organization of America described the opera as “anti-Semitic, pro-terrorist, anti-American, anti-British, anti-gay, & anti-western world.” A hundred demonstrators sat, symbolically, in wheelchairs. An array of local politicians, both Republican and Democratic, lined up to attack the piece.

The protest failed because it relied on falsehoods: the opera is not anti-Semitic, nor does it glorify terrorism. The story of the Achille Lauro hijacking is told in oblique, circuitous monologues, delivered by a variety of self-involved narrators, with interpolated choruses in rich, dense poetic language. The terrorists are allowed ecstatic flights, private musings, self-justifications. But none of this should surprise a public accustomed to dark, ambiguous TV shows like “Homeland.” The most specious arguments against “Klinghoffer” elide the terrorists’ bigotry with the attitudes of the creators. By the same logic, one could call Steven Spielberg an anti-Semite because the commandant in “Schindler’s List” compares Jewish women to a virus.

At the very end, downward-slumping phrases in the violas and cellos evoke shudders of grief. Robertson and the Met players, having wrung a maximum of tension from the score, gave that final page a Mahlerian pang—the last throb of a devoted heart. Then the opera simply stops. The most troubling thing about “Klinghoffer” may be that it offers no consolation, no way out.

No way out! Perhaps that is the issue with mining protestors—no way out!

Today we read in the Globe and Mail of calls to rapidly reopen the Mt Polley mine. As this report notes:

The Williams Lake city council, mindful of the uncertain future for hundreds of mine workers, is drafting a letter to BC Premier Christy Clark – expected to be approved this week – to urge her to get the gold-copper mine back to full operation.

The mine is 55 kilometres from Williams Lake, and many of its workers and suppliers reside in the community.

The geotechnical inquiry – the engineers’ explanation of what went wrong – is expected to be complete by the end of January. “For the sake of argument,” she said, “if the geotechnical is done and it appears that what the conservation officers are investigating isn’t germane to the day-to-day safety of operations, we could proceed.”

The government is partly to blame for the long timelines. Last month it changed the law so that an investigation under the Mines Act can take up to three years to lead to charges or fines.

The mining industry – heavy backers of the B.C. Liberal government – would not be thrilled to see an asset such as Mount Polley frozen for three years. Additionally, the Liberals have made the expansion of the mining industry a central part of their jobs plan. To have any mine kept in limbo for any length of time is anathema to that plan.

So let us open the mine to keep people in Williams Lake gainfully employed and not on the dole or thrown out of their homes and made to move to Alberta to work on oil (tar) sands mines.

This plea by the people of responsibility in William Lake is as tragic as the death of Klinghoffer. And it involves as much misinformation and mindless (propaganda) protests as we see in New York in front of an opera house. Indeed the story would make a good opera. Maybe we should commission John Adams to write it? Maybe there is no consolation, no way out. Good music would enlighten us and see into our souls.

In the calls to reopen Mt Polley we have all the contradictions of modern society that also characterize protest against a modern opera. Who is victimized? Who is to blame? Who is glorified? Who is to suffer? And who is to judge?

Must we follow the letter of the law in reopening Mt Polley? Must we ask the daughters of the victims how they feel and what they would do? Should we consider the innocent bystanders, now victims themselves of a mindless act that disrupts their families? Are Jews (First Nations) to be given a greater voice in something that indirectly affects us all. (I have two Jewish grandchildren, so no comments on this remark, please. I am grandfatherly sensitive to this issue. In spite of being a confirmed atheist.)

hould we allow Mt Polley to reopen and place tailings in one of their open pits? Why not? We are disposing of tailings into the Beartooth Pit at Ekati.

Should we simply construct an embankment on the upstream side of the now-empty Mt Polley tailings facility? It would be easy enough to do —-and would involve at least 400 employees. And would not really need the findings of the MVV panel to be made public. If only MEM would make the recent reports public, we could all judge and maybe support reopening of the mine.

Must we and those people soon to be out of work be the victims of MEM’s decision not to make any documents public lest they and their employees be found guilty of gross negligence & incompetence? It is already obvious this is the case. So why victimize those who seek only to work honestly to support their families, because government is shit scared of being found guilty?

I say: let the music play; let the opera go on; let the story unfold. Do not be incapacitated by political motives of those who have not seen the opera or have no salary or wage at stake. As the librettist of the opera says:

Alice Goodman, who wrote the libretto both for “Klinghoffer” told the Guardian: “The whole idea of pogroms emerging from the simulcast of a modern opera is more than faintly absurd.” It is true that the terrorist characters spout hateful slogans—“America is one big Jew,” one says—but a dramatist cannot address hatred without giving hatred a voice onstage. And the terrorists’ words are counterbalanced by the utterances of the victims. In response to the Met cancellation, Adams said, “My opera accords great dignity to the memory of Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer, and it roundly condemns his brutal murder.” Notably, Marilyn has the last word:

If a hundred people were murdered
and their blood
flowed in the wake
Of this ship like
Oil, only then
would the world intervene.
They should have killed me.
I wanted to die.

Anyone who thinks that “Klinghoffer” romanticizes murder probably has not sat through it to the end. Indeed, Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, admits that he has yet to see the opera.

So it is with Mt Polley. Those of sanctimonious turn probably have not seen the site or examined the affected are, which soon enough will probably heal itself—for Mother Nature is stronger than each of us. Let us like Peter Gelb (Jewish himself), the head of the MET opera decide thus:

When I became the 16th general manager in the storied history of the Met, it was not with the intention of deliberately courting controversy. Although I was determined to shake out some of the cobwebs of grand opera, my intentions have always been to do so with new and genuine artistic and public initiatives that would reconnect the Met to the larger cultural conversation. Certainly, putting a greater emphasis on commissioning new work and featuring the presentation of recent masterpieces has been part of my overall artistic mission from the very beginning. But I was taken by surprise by the sudden and virulent reaction in some quarters over our presentation of John Adams’s “The Death of Klinghoffer”, which premieres on Monday, October 20th.

“The Death of Klinghoffer” is arguably the greatest operatic writing from America’s leading composer of contemporary opera. Like other operas of Adams, it deals with contemporary history, in this case the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship and murder of an innocent Jew by Palestinian terrorists. Although it has been accused of being anti-Semitic and a glorification of terrorism (it’s neither), I believe the libretto is guiltless in its attempt to understand the motives of the criminals who perpetrated the Klinghoffer crime.

When I was a child attending Sunday school, I remember being taught by a wise rabbi that we shouldn’t go to bed at night without having learned at least one new thing during the day. I was brought up to be intellectually curious about the world around me and to try to understand the reasons behind human conflict. I was taught that knowledge was the key to understanding.

It would seem that most of those violently objecting to our presentation of Klinghoffer have no interest in knowing what the opera is really about. Without having read the complete libretto or ever having seen the opera, they nonetheless are quick to condemn it. For them, giving any voice to terrorism is a sin in itself.

In any case, whether you’re a fan of Klinghoffer or in a state of Klinghoffer denial, the run of performances will end in November. Opera lovers will then be free to ponder the consequences of operas with a longer historical view, from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, banned by Stalin when it was new but now considered a modern masterpiece by all, to Verdi’s towering Don Carlo, which various religious groups attempted to stop when it was presented by the Met in the 1950s.

Controversial or not, at least grand opera is back in the cultural conversation.

Watch these operas, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and Don Carlo before deciding on the wisdom of reopening Mt Polley. Both operas are disturbing but engrossing and powerful. Thus too the issue of rapidly reopening Mt Polley.

This article appears courtesy of I Think Mining. To read more mining editorials and insights click here.

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