Tradition and ‘Cultural Appropriation’

Pictured: Great Mosque of Xi’an, China

‘Appropriation’. The term refers to taking something for one’s own use, usually without first obtaining permission from whomever the thing in question ‘belongs’ to.

Recently, on Twitter, the conversation surrounding the notion of ‘cultural appropriation’ would appear to have been re-ignited: this time, from certain (online-presented) corners of the Muslim world. White reverts* being accused of the crime, as a result of, for example, wearing thobes to the masjid.

            These are just my own personal views on the subject, but frankly I think that such accusations are absurd. I find it especially uncomfortable – ridiculous – that some individuals are childish enough to treat individual white people as though they are guilty for some of their ancestors’, perhaps, misdeeds.

Firstly, in Islam, we are reminded (through the words of the Qur’an) that those who have lived and passed on have lived and passed on: the people who are alive today “will not be asked about what they used to do.”

“That is a nation which has passed on. It will have [the consequence of] what it earned, and you will have what you have earned. And you will not be asked about what they used to do.” [Qur’an, (2:141)]

Accusing somebody of ‘fetishising’ a ‘culture’, because they have donned a scarf or a dress or a coat or something that tends to be associated with that ‘culture’ is quite unfair, and it would appear to be rooted in a mentality that is quite… ahistorical. This attempted ‘reification’ of culture; this (quite modern) idea that ‘nations’ and ‘cultures’ are these solid, solidly consistent, entities. That these food items, artistic tendencies, clothing styles ‘belong’ to these cultures; those ones ‘belong’ to those.

“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other.” [Qur’an, (49:13)]

There is a clear difference between mocking what is associated with a group of people, and with appreciating something that may be common among them. ‘Blackface’ belongs to the former category. A white revert wearing a Moroccan-style thobe… is, most likely, of the latter.

The Muslim idea is that every human being in existence had been born of, by Allah’s decree, a single male, and a single female: Adam and Eve. Every single group of people – every nation, every tribe – had eventuated as a result of this primal partnership. We were made into various “nations and tribes”, in order to recognise one another; in order to learn from one another; in order to interact and converse with one another.

In conversations between people, we become inspired by what others do. We learn from them. We often proceed to (sometimes subconsciously) imitate what we like, of them. Some of the things they may say; some of the ‘life hacks’ that they may swear by; some elements of their clothing styles.

And this phenomenon of conversation and exchange is precisely what takes place on the macro level, also. Like the way that ‘Karak chai’ – a cardamom tea beverage that is extremely popular across the Arab world – had come about as a result of South Asian expats drinking their masala chai in the Khaleeji nations. ‘Vimto’, also, a drink commonly associated with ‘Pakistani culture’, apparently (as I learned this week) had actually originated in Manchester, England. What we, here in the West, refer to as night robes (or, as ‘housecoats’) had actually been inspired by robes that are commonly worn in ‘East Asian cultures’. Things – and new styles, developed ways of doing things – come about as a result of being inspired by other things; through people’s, and nations’, and tribes’, interactions with one another.

The vast collection of stories that make up human history. Some of these subtle tales find themselves woven into our languages. Another random example: the word ‘camiseta’ in Spanish, which means ‘shirt’. ‘Shirt’ in Arabic is ‘قميص’ (‘qamees’). In Urdu, one of the words for ‘shirt’ is ‘kameez’. And then, in Bengali, we also say ‘kameez’. Fascinatingly, the word ‘camisia’ is ‘shirt’ in Late Latin. Awesome sauce. The links between parts of Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. Nations and tribes, getting to know one another: through trade, through friendships, through marriage, (through bloody wars). Taking on the things they have liked, of one another.

Tea, also. Tea ‘is’ Indian, and it is Chinese. British, and Arab. ‘Tea’ is ‘té’ en español, ‘te’ in Danish, and ‘tee’ in Afrikaans. ‘Chai’ in Hindi; ‘shai’ in Arabic; ‘cha’ (or ‘sa’) in Bangla; ‘tsaa’ in Tagalog. The result of different nations and tribes, coming to know [parts of] one another. Sharing tea; sharing words, and more.

Am I ‘appropriating’ – taking something that is not mine, and without permission from whomever it ‘belongs’ to, if, say, I wear the clothes I had bought while on holiday in Turkey? Am I ‘appropriating’ if I enjoy some mint tea in a ‘Moroccan-style’ cup? What if I had a bag with some Japanese floral artwork on it? If no, then would the rules have to somehow be different for me, if, say, I were white?

Is ‘cultural appropriation’ only a thing of clothes? Or is it meant to extend to other things – like food, recreational activities and art – also?

Human personalities are certainly not solid, reified entities that are set in stone. As time goes on, we are ever-changing, ever-learning and -developing. The same thing is true for what humans are on larger scales: nations, tribes, societies, ‘cultures’.

Identities are living, breathing things, almost. [‘Culture’ is defined as ‘the complete way of life of a particular group of people’, and so therefore:] Our ‘cultures’: micro (e.g. the nuclear families that we belong to) and macro (e.g. ‘Desi culture’). We are theirs, and they are ours, and none of it is set in stone! We, past and present (and ‘future’) are constantly in active conversation with, affecting, one another.

I know that I, for instance, as a second-generation Bengali (Sylheti) immigrant, here in East London do not speak, nor think, nor even eat, the same (things) as my grandmother does. So what is ‘Bengali culture’, then? Well, it is my lived – living – experience, and it is also her own; it is millions of others’, too. It is the age-old traditions that we accept and follow, and it is also the things we change, and/or introduce, as a result of our interactions, our conversations, with various other people(s).

What is important, for us, is our conscious adherence to Objective Morality. Everything else is not really set in stone. There is so much room for discovery, and for creativity, and for individuality; for learning, inspiration, and development. [Islam is not ‘the Arab man’s religion’. You can keep whatever is yours, granted it fits into Islam’s moral frameworks, and be 100% Muslim. If you are a revert, you can keep your name, also!]

Some white British Muslims, perhaps, like to wear thobes sometimes, and classic tweed jackets at other times. Some Bengalis love the taste of ‘Korean-style’ chicken; find it so fascinating that some Bengalis have the (generally-associated-with-Portuguese-people) surname ‘Pereira’, as a result of certain historical interactions between the two places, and so on.

Tres cool, tres cool indeed. And instead of closing our eyes to these truths, and defensively seeking to present our identities as being solid, untouchable entities that somehow ‘belong’ to us and only us (probably out of insecurity, fear of losing them, somehow), perhaps we ought to act more in line with our belief that… everything in existence is from Allah. Some things we do, we have learnt from what our ancestors have done, perhaps for centuries. And some things we do are newer.

(So let the man wear his jubbah and Converses to the masjid in peace!)

“This story has not happened before. […]

Let the future begin.

Anne Carson

*We tend to use the term ‘revert’ to describe people who have come to Islam from other faiths. This is because we believe that every human being is born upon Fitrah – the innate disposition – naturally, as a Pure Monotheist.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Breaking the Idol of Mockery — Tamim Faruk

https://www.safinasociety.org/post/breaking-the-idol-of-mockery

Me gusta this article, and I have decided to (procrastinate a little and) think about my thoughts on it:

You cannot consider ‘liberalism’ – which, all in all, holds that ‘liberty’ is the most important thing – without due consideration of its colonial histories. To be ‘free’ means to be without (or, to act in spite of) constraints. And when liberty, in and of itself, becomes the primary value for a people, abstract values (for example, concerning the sanctity of certain things, and the mutuality of social rights and responsibilities) become less important; a threat, even, to liberalism’s primary focus. ‘Individual freedoms’.

If one is to be ‘free’, then one is free to offend. One is free to cause harm. One is free to exploit others, and to generate endless amounts of wealth, at the expense(s) of just about anything.

Truly, in ‘liberal’ societies such as France, who is ‘free’ to act in accordance with their own individual desires? The powerful or the (comparatively) powerless? Would an Islamic magazine satirising, say, the concept of democracy (which even Plato, for example, had criticised) garner the same response, from the French public, as secular magazines mocking Muhammad (SAW)? Probably not. Based on the nuances of history, and as a result of ensuing sensitivities, such a thing would likely stir up a lot of anger, fear, and intolerance… just as the donning of the headscarf would appear to do, in France.

In its colonial past, France has had control (gained and maintained through violence — through one group exercising their ‘freedoms’) over a number of different nations, including a handful of Muslim-majority ones. Bloody and brutal are many aspects of this history, and now France has, within its borders, roughly five million citizens who are of Muslim descent.

The definition of bullying is using power in order to belittle, taunt, and degrade those who are less powerful than oneself. Muhammad (SAW) is a very important figure, in Islam; to Muslims. Just as Jesus is, to (believing) Christians.

Fundamentally, as the author of the above article mentions, there is a difference between bullying and mockery, and attempting to engage in discussion and debate. In fact, the former tends to be designed in order to, a) stifle the latter, and to b) evoke strong emotional responses… for the sadistic pleasure, I suppose, of the powerful.

And, yes, one can bully another not solely directly by insulting them, but also by insulting what is important to them. You know, how some insult others’ mothers, to bring about a potent emotional reaction in them? Like that, no?

The point of satire, in general, is to keep governmental authority and such in check. But when the relatively powerless are mocked, or when something or someone deeply important to them is mocked, it is bullying.

I like to think in terms of abstract things and comparisons, I guess. So: if there were two households, and Household A were to take some of Household B’s belongings, brutalise some of their family members, and put them at a strong economic disadvantage… and then, if they were to blame Household B for their own suffering, labelling them “savages” and “barbarians” and then, several years later, if later members of Household A were to openly mock B’s religion and/or whatever is, or has been, sacred to them… Would this be, in any way, morally justifiable? In the name of ‘liberty’, and through feigning the moral upper hand?

Liberalism. Liberalism for whom, and at the expense of what and whom? I think, when one group freely, and without accountability, indulges in their ‘freedoms’ (which are naturally augmented as a result of power, and also in turn leads to the augmentation of power) necessarily, another group’s ‘freedoms’ – those of the less powerful – are constricted. Read: the colonial history of France, and the supposed bastion of ‘liberty’ the nation has become, today.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Why I am unapologetically pro-Palestine: Exploring colonialism and ethnic cleansing

  The Palestinian-Israeli conflict: a complex, multi-faceted topic that many people avoid like the plague. In this blog article, I want to explore the roots of Zionism (as well as how it sprung from normalised anti-Semitism), the abuse of Palestinian human rights, and the dozens of misconceptions surrounding the debate. The liberation of Palestinians is an issue that I am particularly passionate about: it concerns a combination of different branches of social justice, including (but, by no means, limited to) feminism, Islamophobia, white supremacy, colonialism and imperialism, and (at its core) systematic oppression and the belittlement of a native group of people.

Before I begin, I’d like to clarify that supporting Palestine is not synonymous with supporting terrorism or violent organisations. I am in favour of the protection of the human rights of Palestinians; this does not necessarily mean that I am pro-Hamas. That being said, I find it intensely hypocritical that governments recognise Hamas as a terrorist organisation, but the same criteria for identifying terrorist organisations does not seem to apply for the manipulative and powerful Israeli government… Besides, we all know that Western imperialism leads to political and economic instability, which, in turn, creates a perfect breeding ground for violence and radicalism. Need some examples? Just take a look at Iraq, Pakistan and India.

The essential nature of Israel is that it is an instrument of, and an enforcer for, imperialism. Few know about its background as an ambassador of US imperialist war crimes, such as how it played a pivotal role in the genocide of around 200,000 Guatemalan peasants. Of course, to legitimize Israel’s actions, it is depicted as a central force fighting against Jihadism– as a defenseless little nation trapped in a sea of ‘intolerant Islamic countries’.

It cannot be denied that Israel created a Jewish majority through its use of ethnic cleansing. Zionist advocates might argue that this is just an example of the Jewish community finally gaining some autonomy, but self-determination is not (and has never been) synonymous with the right to colonise and expel the native people of a land, nor should it equate to granting a group countless privileges at the expense of the indigenous population. De facto, this endeavor to induce ‘self-determination’ becomes a form of systematic, institutionalized discrimination. The Israeli government dictates when Palestinians can be outside, when they can have water and electricity in their homes, their housing and citizenship rights, whom they can marry, and more. Some might call this oppression; others might call it apartheid.

I have been called a terrorist on a number of occasions by pro-Israeli campaigners, merely for pointing out that Palestinians exist, and they might just feel pain too. It seems that the term ‘terrorist’ is used rather selectively; Israel and the USA are practically immune to being receptors of this label. Through this article, I would like to prove that Palestine deserves our attention, and not exclusively from a Muslim perspective.

May 15th 2017 marked the 69th anniversary of the Palestinian exodus, or the Nakba (Arabic for ‘catastrophe’), when more than 70% of all Palestinians were removed from their homeland, through the use of force and fear. This mass expulsion later evolved to become an unprecedented form of ‘ethnic cleansing’, and throughout this process, Israel showed little regard for international regulations or sanctions. After all, why would it? America would leap to its defence under any circumstance.

 

The Nakba is not a mere event in history. It is an ongoing aggression on, and dehumanisation of, the Palestinians: robbery of their homes and lands, and the denial of their right to live with dignity.

 

Metaphorically speaking, America and Israel are best friends. America is Israel’s role model; its beginnings (the genocide of Native Americans and the subsequent suppression of black people) closely resemble those of Israel. If the colonisation of Central America had been a modern occurrence, the original Native American inhabitants would have undoubtedly been labelled ‘terrorists’ (and perhaps even ‘anti-white’) too.

 

http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/specialseries/2013/05/20135612348774619.html

 

Earlier this summer, I attended ‘Palestine Expo’ (the largest Palestinian social and cultural event in Europe) where there were talks given by Jewish and Muslim professors and authors, photo booths, theatrical shows, historical artefacts- all to bring awareness to the fact that Palestinian culture does exist (and has existed for many centuries), despite Israel’s desperate attempts to obliterate it completely. Outside the Expo, a group of pro-Israeli demonstrators stood against a wall, holding a large Israeli flag, screaming at the top of their lungs using megaphones, denouncing the event and accusing all those in attendance of being “TERRORISTS!” I even argued with a police officer that was protecting the Israel protest; he insisted that pro-Palestinian campaigners have “more freedom of speech” than pro-Israeli ones, and when I informed him about some of the many examples of censorship and silencing Palestinian voices, he conceded and said, “Well, I didn’t know about that, but I’ll do my research.”

As I was leaving the Expo, I spoke to my friend about how much I would like to visit Palestine- to see the places that are not just holy to me, but also to my Christian and Jewish friends. Nearby, a Jewish woman sporting a Palestinian scarf told me to “Just go. It will break your heart and change your life.”

I also attended a Marxism convention (Marxism 2017) where there were similar speeches on Palestine, delivered by leading Jewish academics. They were also deeply concerned about the level of censorship that they have been subjected to. Meetings at various locations have mysteriously been cancelled, and a professor was even threatened by his university for having a ‘BDS’ poster on his door. At the end of one talk about Palestine, a Jewish Marxist activist stood up on stage and yelled, “FREE FREE” and the audience enthusiastically responded, “PALESTINE!”

The acronym ‘BDS’ stands for ‘Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions’. This strategy is centred on non-violent protest, and was developed by a number of pro-Palestine activists across the globe. The movement calls for various organisations to put economic and political pressure to encourage Israel to end the colonisation and occupation of Arab land (and to dismantle the Apartheid wall); full equality for all Palestinians living in Israel; the right of return for all Palestinian refugees (of which there are roughly 13 million).

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CJw2epEJ-4

 

Both at PalExpo and Marxism, I found the Jewish speakers’ views particularly fascinating; many agreed that Zionism is at odds with their religious teachings. One professor told the audience about how, as he was growing up, he and his community perceived Israel as a progressive place- it was especially popular amongst younger generations. He stated that, for younger Jewish people, Kibbutzim were a popular holiday destination. Now, thousands visit Palestinian villages instead. This professor’s university received a legal threat from an Israeli lobby organisation, when he placed a ‘Free Palestine’ poster on his door. At the conference, he made it a point to declare that Zionism is a political (and not an inherently Jewish) movement. He believes that Western leaders were so passionate about the movement because they did not want Jewish people on their streets; while Zionism was gaining traction, anti-Jewish sentiment was absolutely rife in Europe.

Of course, it is vital to explore the origins of anti-Semitism and Zionism, and how these origins shape the friction. A spokesperson from Jews for Justice UK proclaimed that anti-Semitism bloomed as a result of social and economic instability: generally speaking, wealthier Jews tended to have powerful economic roles, as bankers, estate managers, and more. Then, many were scapegoated and blamed for societal problems at times of political uncertainty, and during economic crises. While anti-Jewish sentiment grew, so did the popularity of Zionism. This proliferated in the earlier part of the 20th century. It is completely understandable that Jews (as an oppressed minority in many European countries) wanted a place to call home. But the means by which this notion is pursued cannot be rooted in violence and oppressing others, although this is precisely what the Israeli government seems to be doing.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LO7Am6sapxY

 

In 1917, the Zionist movement existed, but historians agree that it was politically insignificant. Then, a refugee crisis arose when Jewish people fled the anti-Jewish Pogroms of the Russian Empire. In 1905, the UK passed the ‘Alien’s Act’, which introduced immigration controls to regulate the flow of Jewish immigrants fleeing from other areas in Europe. Later on, in 1917, the notorious Balfour Declaration was signed:

Essentially, like the rest of Europe, Britain did not want Jewish people on its soil. The background of the Balfour Declaration is centred on playing the ‘race card’ to divert British Jews to their ‘homeland’. I find it interesting how the author seeks to give away land that he had no rights over, acknowledges that Palestine did exist before the establishment of Israel (as opposed to what many Zionists claim), and finally, the fact that the letter outlines how the “civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” should not be prejudiced. It is tragic and ironic that the exact opposite of this request is happening there.

In 1956, following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, Israel invaded the Egyptian Sinai, once again leading to heightened tensions, and instigating a bloody (often forgotten) war that lasted just under six days (the Six-Day War). Arab casualties were far heavier than those of Israel; up to 20,000 Arabs died, compared to a handful of Israeli troops. Israel was, unsurprisingly, supported by the US and, being an expert at casually and pointlessly involving itself in wars, the US helped the Israeli air-force maintain air and ground superiority. Israel’s international standing was heightened, and the amount of land it had stolen tripled. 300,000 more Palestinians became refugees, while hostility towards Jewish communities grew in Arab countries, causing yet another refugee crisis. Many of these Jews fled to Europe and Israel, and so, as a cyclical outcome of Israel’s initial aggressions, the country grew in size and popularity. The outcome of this war was also deeply regretful, as anti-Jewish sentiment was not widespread among Muslims and Arabs until this particular incident. I acknowledge (and detest) how some Muslims claim to be ‘pro-Palestine’, but in actuality, are uneducated anti-Semites, who do not understand the complexity of the situation. That being said, I must reiterate that ‘pro-Palestine’ and ‘uneducated anti-Semite’ are not interchangeable labels.

Simply put, supporting Palestine means supporting the right of millions of displaced Palestinians to return to their homeland and (for the thousands of indigenous Palestinians that remain there) it means supporting their basic human rights- their rights to clean and adequate amounts of water, electricity, education, and, crucially, their collective right to exist on their own land, all without the fear of being attacked.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MON2HL02mec

 

Moreover, condemning Israeli policies and actions is not to be confused with Jew-hating or supporting the annihilation of Israel nor the exodus of its current people. Rather, this is about breaking the silence. Many countries and organisations have chosen to refuse to acknowledge Palestine as a separate country, and some even go so far as to say that Palestinians deserve what they get.

  • An increasingly alarming tactic being employed by the IDF takes place when Palestinians go on holiday abroad; squatters break in, and take over, adorning their houses with Israeli flags, violently taunting them upon their returns. Incidents like this take place across the country, on a daily basis, and Palestinian citizens are actively bullied. “We pour kerosene on Arab tomatoes,” an inhabitant of an illegal settlement once said, publicly.

Numerous individuals- ranging from rappers to TV presenters- have attempted to review the conflict in a non-Partisan manner. Many unintentionally focus on the ‘terrorist’ nature of Hamas, while overlooking some other crucial factors pertaining to the Israeli government, some of which include:

  • Israel is the only Middle Eastern country to possess nuclear weapons (many of which are directly subsidised by the American government)
  • Israel also refuses to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and bars international inspections
  • In direct defiance of UN resolutions, Israel seized the sovereign territory of Palestine using military aggression, and continues to illegally occupy it
  • It routinely uses warplanes, artillery, and naval forces to violate international borders. These aggressions are globally seen as necessary to defending the nation in the ‘war against terror’
  • It practises ‘exporting terrorism’ (and has done so for years). This involves sending assassins into other countries to kill political enemies. What’s more, terrorist groups such as the Urgun gang were effective in establishing the state of Israel.
  • Criminals from other countries who have Jewish heritage can ‘return home’ to Israel, without being prosecuted for their crimes
  • High-ranking Israeli military officers have publicly admitted that unarmed Palestinian ‘prisoners of war’ have been executed. In fact, there is a large campaign called Breaking the Silence, which features Israeli military officials exposing and condemning the actions of their national government

 

http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il

 

 

  • The occupation of Palestine has led to over 762,000 people becoming refugees; they are actively prevented from returning to their homes, farms, and businesses. 1 in 3 refugees around the world are Palestinian, and there are roughly 30,000 refugees living in the Gaza camp alone.
  • Around half of all Palestinian children suffer from PTSD; some have been arrested for up to 15 years for throwing rocks at tanks. Many have even been shot multiple times, by army officials. 8-year-olds have been handcuffed and bullied by soldiers, and since 2000, over 3000 Palestinian children have been murdered, in cold blood, by Israeli soldiers
  • An Israeli who ordered the successful assassination of a high-ranking UN diplomat went on to become the prime minister of the country
  • Israel (by governmental orders) blew up an American diplomatic facility in Egypt and attacked a US ship in international waters, killing 34 and wounding 171 sailors. Despite this, America continues to pay gargantuan sums towards the maintenance and expansion of the Israeli military
  • In the past, Israel has hired spies to steal classified documents, and then gave some of them to the Soviet Union
  • The Israeli government frequently speaks out against hate- namely, terrorism, homophobia and sexism- and yet a shrine and a memorial were built in honour of a man who killed 29 Palestinian worshippers in Al-Aqsa
  • Pro-Zionists might argue that “the whole world is against them”, however Israel has the second most powerful lobby in the US (comprising a number of high-ranking lawyers, among others)
  • Israel deliberately targeted a refugee camp in Lebanon, killing 103 people (most of whom were children)
  • Israel is in direct defiance of 69 UN Security Council resolutions
  • Israel is the 16th richest country in the world, but still receives a staggering 1/3 of all US financial aid; it also receives American weaponry for free, and sometimes then discloses the technology (at a dear price) to China.
  • The Israeli prime minister once openly said to his staff, “We control America”. He wasn’t wrong
  • Injured and terminally ill Palestinian patients are often denied treatment, but they are also rejected when they apply to gain permission to go abroad for treatment
  • According to Amnesty International, more than 4000 civilian Palestinian homes were recently demolished. This is, no doubt, a method used to accelerate Israel’s objectives surrounding ethnic cleansing
  • Israel habitually arrests and brutalises children (usually around the age of 8, and sometimes even below). Many have been killed for simply throwing rocks at tanks
  • In spite of signing the Oslo Accords (which involved promising to stop building any more illegal settlements) 270 new settlements have been constructed since the signing. These illegal settlements are not pathetic makeshift shacks; they tend to be tall luxury apartments. Altogether, roughly 48,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished to clear land for settlers’ use, and there are around 650,000 Israeli settlers, many of whom display brutal and aggressive behaviour towards natives
  • Settlers often throw rocks at Palestinian schoolchildren. In a recent instance, a settler set fire to a Palestinian home, killing a baby and its family
  • Israel (rather like its soul-mate America) makes excuses to attempt to justify methods of torture used in prisons
  • Israel has assassinated more than 100 rival political officials, and has murdered thousands of civilians. In addition to this, many more innocent inhabitants of Gaza are also being killed due to the Israeli government’s decision to significantly reduce and impose curfews on Palestinian water and electrical supplies; they usually receive electricity for less than four hours a day, and this affects over 2 million people. This means that university students are forced to study under candlelight, and premature babies often die in their cots, while their incubators are switched off. During heatwaves, copious amounts of water are supplied to the illegal settlements (to be used in swimming pools, and for cooling) while Palestinians remain thirsty. When they do receive water, it is usually contaminated with microbes and other pollutants
  • Israel regularly violates the Geneva Convention by imposing collective punishment (an act of Barbarianism) on entire towns, villages, and camps. Sometimes entire villages are destroyed while people are still in their homes.

 

Some might argue that Arabs are not oppressed in Israel. After all, there are Arab Muslims in the Knesset- the Israeli government. Could the same be said about America? Can we say that racism is an erstwhile concept because Barack Obama became president? Arguing that Palestinians have equal rights to Israelis simply because they are granted basic civil rights is a futile argument. It is like a person stealing a loaf of bread from another person, handing them back a single crumb, and expecting them to be grateful for it. These civil rights are not somehow an extraordinary act of generosity or kindness, especially against the backdrop of what is really going on.

Israel is a colonial settler state with an organised apartheid system to maintain the power of one ethnic group over the native one. It often resorts to brute force to maintain this power, but criticising these violent and unfair operations are seen as anti-Semitic, even when the critics are Jewish. If it is anti-Semitic and a gesture of ‘self-hatred’ for Jews to criticise Israel, is it an Islamophobic act of ‘self-hating’ for me to criticise the Saudi Arabian monarchical government? No, obviously not. Irrespective of the fact that members of the Saudi government identify as Muslim, I (as a decent human being) am deeply critical of their policies. Likewise, many Jewish academics have spoken out against Israel, and have (in return) received torrents of hate. In recent months, the weapon of choice to attack Jeremy Corbyn was anti-Semitism (led by supporters of Israel) particularly due to his views on Palestine.

In a statement made in 2015, Mr Corbyn said: “Last October parliament made a historic decision to recognize the state of Palestine. As Labour Leader I would not only reaffirm that decision, I would seek to build on it by lobbying support for Palestinian statehood in the international community. This recognition is not only essential for establishing the principle of equality between Israeli and Palestinian, it is also in the long term interests of the sovereignty of Israel that we end the double standards whereby Israeli rights to nationhood and recognized, but Palestinian rights are denied. […]

“I share the growing concern over the failure to stop Israel’s violation of international human rights law. Add to that the impact of the Gaza blockade (which spanned for roughly a decade, and involved a series of ground and aerial bombardments), the random and arrest without trail of civilians including children, and the harassment and humiliation of Palestinians as they go about their everyday life, it is clear that human rights violations are fuelling the conflict.

“It is wrong that we continue to sell arms to Israel and I fully support the calls for an arms embargo.

“While I support Israel’s right to safeguard its citizens I agree with the views of  many Israeli human rights organisations that the route of the Separation is designed to annex Palestinian land and undermine chances for a future peace settlement. In addition, it has adverse effects on Palestinian human rights by restricting movements, increasing difficulties in accessing medical and education services and water supplies.

“I echo the calls of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWE) that the blockade must be lifted. It is now one of the longest blockades in history and it impact on the 1.76 million people who live in the Gaza strip, the vast majority of them refugees, has been to further improvise and already desperately poor, improvised people.

“Both British and American governments have rightly criticised the illegal settlements. Not only are they in violation of international law but they a conscious policy to deliberately  undermine any prospect of a viable Palestinian state and with it any two-state solution. It is clear the only hope to stop this policy is if the international community intensify pressure. To that end I fully support the call to end all trade and investments with the illegal settlements.” (Source: Stop The War Coalition)

 

To summarise Mr. Corbyn’s main points, to achieve peace through a viable two-state solution, the following must happen: Israel must obey UN laws and conform to international border regulations; the Labour party should support the establishment of a peaceful, safe, viable Palestinian state alongside an Israeli one; we must point out Israel’s violations of human rights laws, such as the detention of children and political prisoners without trial; the wall (a direct contravention of ICJ international law, almost twice as tall as the Berlin wall, which also existed to cut communities off) must be demolished; the siege of Gaza must be ended, and the free flow of trade and aid should be allowed; we must call for a complete freeze on illegal settlement growth.

Visible violations of human rights might include movement restrictions such as closures and checkpoints where IDF soldiers bearing rifle guns spit at Palestinians and hurl racist insults at them. Any opposition to this can be conducive to bloodshed or imprisonment. These policies also have an unseen effect: they undermine the Palestinians’ capacity to live freely. Their lives are being policed- what they can say, where they can go, at what times they can go there. This also raises another concern, pertaining to education. In addition to this, many children have to walk up to 6km to get to school, and must also go through checkpoints.

The concerns surrounding this regime are shared by respected and courageous Israeli human rights organisations like Breaking the Silence, Gush Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights and B’tselem, as well as international organisations like Save the Children and Oxfam.

 

Many parallels can be drawn between the South African Apartheid and also to the French colonisation of Algeria, and the current situation in Palestine. The aforesaid strategies were each centred on racism, aggression, and an attempt to suppress and criminalise native peoples, denying them their right to self-determination. Apartheid can be defined as “a system of institutionalised racial segregation and discrimination”, and this is precisely what is taking place in Palestine. Imagine if the situation had been different- if, say, Syria, had attempted to colonise Britain, systematically subjugating its indigenous people, building walls and illegal settlements, controlling our utilities. There would have been a global outcry, but for the Palestinians, there is no global solidarity- only labels used to muffle their cries.

 

In 2016, an Israeli spokesperson stated, almost boastfully,that “enforcement [in Israel] is far more severe to Palestinians than to [settlers]”.

 

The plight of Palestinians is not a ‘Muslim problem’, as it is often dismissed as. Palestinians have their own distinct culture- from the extraordinary ‘Dabke’ dance, to their eye-catching Tatreez dresses, there is no doubt that Palestinian culture is deeply rich and beautiful. It is distinct and had been characteristic of the region for centuries. However, the Israeli government is cunningly erasing Palestinian history and culture, by doctoring school curriculums and by asserting their own nationalistic propaganda to young and impressionable children. These young Israelis grow to resent their Arab counterparts, and this growing hatred quickly becomes an effective force in driving young Israelis to join the IDF and advocate Zionism.

When it comes to this particular conflict, valid arguments (necessary to result in fruitful dialogues) are habitually derailed. The collective fear of terrorism, as well as cries of anti-Semitism, indubitably drive the global agenda.

Prima facie, it seems like we already have a two-state solution: the West Bank exists, and so does Israel. But illegal settlers still live in Palestinian territory, dividing the land and restricting freedom of movement. These settlements (usually tall luxury buildings) are constantly expanding, while illegal settlers frequently incite violence, throwing stones at natives, and (occasionally) violently beating them, and running them over with their cars. Numerous modern intellectuals agree that the Gaza Strip is like a prison; in fact, David Cameron called it the biggest “prison camp” in the world.

Fairly recently, a group of Jewish anti-Zionists took a ship to Israel. It was boarded by the Israeli Navy, and the passengers onboard were arrested, simply for trying to bring attention to the situation. Similarly, in 2003, an American peace activist, Rachel Corrie, was deliberately run over by an Israeli bulldozer, and since her death and the lawsuit that follows, the Israeli establishment’s intolerance of any sort of activism (in the pursuit of peace) has proliferated. And let’s not forget about when, in 2010, the Israeli military attacked the Gaza flotilla- an aid boat, carrying supplies to the Gaza Strip.

Ultimately, my view is not that all Israeli people are Muslim-loathing, self-righteous imbeciles: I simply believe that it should be acknowledged that Israel’s beginnings were rooted in racism and colonialism. I also believe that it is despicable that attempts to raise awareness about the suffering of Palestinians are frequently brushed to the side. When young Palestinian boys throw rocks at tanks, they are perceived as ‘young terrorists’, yet when settlers run natives over with their cars, this is seen only as a manifestation of the tension in the region- nobody’s fault, of course.

The level of censorship and deliberate disregard the world is displaying appals me, especially when pro-Palestinian voices are silenced on university campuses, while allowing pro-Zionists to speak out, loudly and proudly. What I found particularly shocking was when Leanne Mohamed (a Palestinian-British schoolgirl) was prohibited from taking up her place at the (ironically named) Jack Petchey ‘Speak Out’ Competition; her speech was found to be ‘offensive’. We need to protect freedom of speech in academic institutions.

“I am Palestinian, and I am human,” she said. “I shouldn’t have to remind the world of that.”

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhU1W5q2dFg

 

Meanwhile, atrocities carried out by the state of Israel are seen as a genuinely positive thing- they are leading pioneers, warriors fighting against terrorism. Numerous NGOs and human rights organisations (and even prominent artists like Banksy) unanimously agree that Israel’s actions are absolutely unacceptable, however these groups are severely restricted in what they can and cannot say about Israel’s crimes.

 

There is literally no safe place for civilians in Gaza” – Jens Laerke, UN Spokesperson

 

Terrorism is defined as “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims”. This is precisely how Israel obtained (and currently maintains) control. Israel is a terrorist state, and perhaps if the roles were reversed- if a predominantly Muslim group had been the settlers- perhaps then this fact would have been acknowledged.

Official UN statistics reveal that this year, settler violence has risen by 88%. Fences have been installed above streets that are mostly populated by Arabs, to catch rubbish that settlers throw from overhead. This is bullying on a large scale, a constant stream of negativity that has one sole purpose: to fuel erasure and silence.

In 2014, an Israeli offensive strategy (Operation ‘Protective Edge’) resulted in the deaths of 2104 individuals, of whom 495 were innocent children. This, combined with the ever-increasing lone attacks on Palestinians produces an unacceptable figure. Such attacks are popularly perceived as defensive retaliations, however (although I do acknowledge that some Palestinians have resorted to violent means) the proportion of deaths caused by Israeli forces is significantly lower than those caused by Palestinian ‘freedom fighters’.

My unwavering belief is that, to bring about any sort of justice, a balanced discussion is necessary. At present, the ‘dialogue’ is very asymmetrical; while America is providing billions of dollars to Israeli military forces, many oblivious individuals instinctively sympathise only with Israel, while actively berating Palestine. The Palestinian cause is one for “Leftists, Islamists and Jew-haters”, they say. In fact, many similar comments were thrown at me when I posted about the recent Palestine Expo, on Twitter.

Nelson Mandela once said, “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of Palestinians”. In fact, one professor from the University of Johannesburg stated that the discriminatory system in Palestine is even worse than Apartheid. Palestinians are being confined and controlled, and this methodical persecution is being commended by some governments.

To rebut claims of Israel being an apartheid state, it is commonly argued that the country is, in actuality, a vibrant democracy, because Arabs are politically involved in the Knesset. In spite of this, they cannot pass any policies to protect their own rights. Their positions are tokenistic and futile. Palestinian residents are not immigrants- they are the indigenous people. Taking part in national politics is not somehow a profound act of generosity, nor is it in any way a symbol of equality or privilege; it is a basic human democratic right. Even though 20% of Israel’s population (after the cluster of refugee crises) is Palestinian, over 69 years, only 3 out of 600 ministers have been non-Jewish. This is just 0.5%.

For the rest of the world, it is easy to point fingers at the political instability within other regions of the Middle East. It is easy to overlook the roots of these issues (another nod to good old western imperialism) and argue that Muslim governments are always crazy and belligerent. This could lead to some asking why Jewish people shouldn’t have the right to have their own country, when Muslims have many of their own. But Israel is not a victim, nor is it a pacifist nation. It has waged war, and contemplated waging war on, many countries, including Lebanon, Syria, and Iran. Moreover, this is not a theoretical discussion about whether Jewish people should have their own country. This is a specific situation, where the human rights of millions of people have been, and are still being, violated. This is a contemporary political reality, and we need to wake up to it.

Here are some more important factors to consider in addressing the issue (derived from a Tumblr thread entitled ‘How to Pro-Palestine 101, created by Palestinian Tumblr users):

 

  • Understand this whole conflict is about land and not religion, we are not fighting over whether we should fast on Ramadan or on Yom Kippur, or fighting Israelis just because the majority of them is Jewish.
  • Understand that not all Palestinians are Muslims, about 15%-20% of Palestinians aren’t.
  • You support Palestinians for losing their land and facing atrocities, you don’t support Palestinians just because Palestine is holy to you.
  • You support all Palestinians equally, don’t put Muslim Palestinians over non-Muslim Palestinians and vice-versa, we are all going through the same struggle.
  • Don’t support us just because you hate Jews; we don’t want your anti-Semitism.
  • Don’t turn Palestine into a Muslim issue.
  • Understand that there are diverse opinions amongst Palestinians, both in the diaspora and at home.
  • Bringing awareness to Palestinians should not be done through grotesque means; in other words, Nazi comparisons or even spreading pictures of dead bodies everywhere.
  • Do not try to pit Christian Palestinians against Muslim Palestinians or Palestinians of any other religion, and don’t import your Islamophobia into our struggle by lending your support only to one group. We are one people you take us all or not at all
  • Do not erase Palestinians of different races in order to present Palestine as an Arab nation when there are Arab Palestinians, afro Palestinians, Armenian Palestinians, Chechnyan Palestinians, Jewish Palestinians and more
  • Absolutely do not claim to support us if you deny the rights of other oppressed groups or deny the oppression or genocide of other groups
  • Do not criticize their method of resistance. You are not the one suffering from the consequences.
  • Boycott Israeli products
  • Attend protests and rallies for Palestine
  • Talk about Palestinian refugees. They cannot return home, but Jewish people around the world, irrespective of ancestry, have a ‘right’ to live in Israel. This leads to further expansion.
  • Talk about the attacks on the religious freedom of Palestinians- on BOTH Muslim and Christian Palestinians
  • Support Palestinians, and don’t police them- even when they criticize Arab governments and the PNA- and point out their mistreatment of Palestinians
  • Help bring awareness to Palestine. Don’t let them forget us.

 

I fiercely oppose anti-Semitism and ‘Islamist’ zealotry, however I refuse to allow the evident biases of the government and the mass media to dictate my views. As an anti-racism activist, an egalitarian, and a history enthusiast, I am completely, and unequivocally, pro-Palestine. I am extremely critical of governments whose actions epitomize concepts like blind capitalism, colonialism, and systematic oppression- countries like the USA, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. Yes, Israel might be portrayed as a tremendously progressive country (what with its military recruitment of women and its open acceptance of LGBTQ+ people) when compared to the ‘backwards and intolerant’ religion of Islam, but there are also orthodox areas where such progressive values are not shared, and also, its progressiveness is severely restricted by its policies towards Palestinians, as well as its maltreatment of African (especially Ethiopian) Jews. In addition to this, I am fiercely unsympathetic towards any brand of feminism that forces all women to spend two years in the military, and bombs houses where innocent women and girls live.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiO0iqZss04

 

In the past, there existed a popular concept known as ‘Liberal Zionism’, a movement that sought to establish a Jewish homeland, without a brutal occupation. Even without the violence necessary to execute such an endeavor, many Jewish people would still vehemently argue against Zionism: after all, Jewish culture and identity has existed for around 2500 years before colonial Zionism. This concept is clearly a modern political ideology.

From a purely Marxist perspective, voicing our anger against Israel has little to do with religion or attacking the legitimacy of the Israeli state. It needs to be acknowledged, however, that Israel was built on settler colonialism, imperialism, and ethnic cleansing, and that its policies are profoundly detrimental. We can view this issue in terms of class struggles: it is clear that Israel represents capitalism- how its government is funded by other nations, and how companies such as Coca-Cola and McDonalds operate on illegal settlements. These arguments need to stop being dismissed and derailed persistently by Zionists.

 

Individuals and groups who write about the conflict:

 

 

Numerous celebrities have spoken out against Israeli war crimes, and have expressed support for marginalised Palestinians. These celebrities include (but are not limited to) Zayn Malik, Whoopi Goldberg, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Rihanna. Expectedly, each one of the aforesaid received a tirade of abuse after showing their support for Palestine, and there was a similar uproar when 23 Oscar nominees turned down a free invitation to Israel, in protest against its abhorrent actions.

 

http://mvslim.com/10-celebrities-didnt-know-pro-palestine/

 

Hamas is notorious for having rejected ‘peace attempts’ in the past, however to truly achieve peace, the following must happen:

  • Israel must end the occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land; the apartheid wall must also be dismantled, and Jerusalem should be accessible to people of all faiths
  • All Palestinians living in Israel must be given full equality and protection as citizens
  • Palestinian refugees should be given the right of return

 

Recommended reading list:

To put it succinctly, a popular slogan used by Zionists is “a land without a people for a people without a land”. But, in reality, the land did have a people- indigenous Muslims and Christians and Jews who resided peacefully, side-by-side, for centuries. Do we expect Palestinians to sit back and watch their land get stolen from them? Morale is low: while Israel deploys brute force and highly skilled soldiers and bombs and jets and laws and curfews, Palestinians have been left with nothing. Palestinians are practically invisible to the world, except when a handful retaliate in the only way they can- through violence. These ones are ‘terrorists’, and Israel’s actions can easily be justified because they are acting ‘in the interest of national security’.

Remember the Nakba. Remember the murdered. Remember the refugees, the illegal occupation, the massacres, and the villages that were (and are currently being) annihilated. Remember how the British government gave away (Palestinian) land that it did not own. Remember the 2014 Gaza war that resulted in the deaths of more than 2200 Palestinians. Remember how the world didn’t care, until 66 Israeli military personnel were killed in retaliation. Remember Operation Cast Lead, Operation Pillar of Defence and Operation Protective Edge, and how Israel used advanced weaponry (such as white phosphoric acid) against Palestinian civilians, as well as how it did not act in accordance with international laws during these hostile military offensives. Understand that Apartheid is currently being practised in Palestine, under the guise of combatting terrorism and anti-Semitism. Understand that (until the emergence of Hamas) the issue has never quite been about religion; it has always been about racism and colonialism. Understand that many (including governments and media outlets) want to silence Palestinians and erase their history, but we will remember Ramallah. We will remember the West Bank. We will remember Gaza. We will remember Palestine.

From the river to the sea-

Free, Free Palestine!


Sadia Ahmed, 2017