Friday, October 16, 2015

Palestine’s Wound

Dr. Hatem Bazian -- October 16, 2015 

Palestine, a gnawing wound eating away at the exposed soul and flesh of Palestinians living under occupation, is facing, yet, another orchestrated episode of Israeli military and settler’s violence.  Where to begin the story in this well-designed Greek tragedy!   We have multiple beginnings, detours, reverses, but for sure, no end in sight.  Even if, a possible end draws near, destruction is unleashed faster than lightning.  Now, the news outlets are interested in what is going on since “violence has returned” implying that it was on vacation or possibly attending the United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York.  Violence just came back from vacation in time to cause death and mayhem.  Violence never left Palestine and in fact, has been sitting center stage daily eating away at the insides of people; but no one notices and no one cares.

You see violence is a very difficult word to comprehend when it comes to Palestine.  The reality is that “violence” has been imprinted onto Palestinian minds and regulates their daily lives.  Violence is the norm since the Israeli occupation injures and peals away parts of Palestinians’ souls on a daily basis in a methodically sadistic way.   Israel’s structured violence reaches Palestinians’ innermost being and attempts to deny the existence of a free, independent and dignified human who are named--Palestinians.   The Israeli violence is the type that denies the existence of a people and creates an absence despite the physical presence. 

The Palestinians face the violence of erasure that manages to wipe out the violence that is committed against them.  They are an occupied and dispossessed population.  More insidiously, Israel’s violence is normalized and regularized while granted “legal” lease by the international community to pummel the occupied population under the rubric of “self-defense” against its captive/imprisoned victims.  One would not permit or praise prison guards when they pummel shackled prisoners, but indeed, this is what is done when Israel unleashes violence upon the Palestinians with weapons and funds provided by the international community!  Palestinians are seeking protection from an international community that has become accustomed to selling bombs and weapons to Israel, as well as, provide protection in legal bodies that might investigate repeated war crimes against an occupied population.  

An occupying power, asserting the right to self-defense against an occupied population that it exercises total control over and regulates every miniscule detail of his/hers daily life, should be seen as a mockery to the logic of self-defense.  Choking a person to death, then claiming self-defense when the person in vain attempts kicking and screaming, is not a valid excuse nor should stand under the scrutiny of international law.  But alas, the guardians of the law have implicated themselves in the crime.  Indeed, the real problem is that international law and the agents acting upon it provide the tools and weapons for the murderer to choke the victim in a professional and well-tested manner.  

The US, EU, Russia, China, India, Arab and Muslim states, as well as other international actors, are pre-occupied in working out their own strategic interests and Israel is intertwined with all of them in all types of machinations, weapons sales, covert operations and dirty games.  Palestinians face Israel’s violence and erasure, Arab and Muslim world machinations (for their own distorted lease on seats of power) and US and EU imperial designs in the region for oil and strategic positioning against Russia and China.  Palestine faces repeated and multiple acts of violence, but are only brought into the global discussion to be asked about violence and how they need to provide protection to their tormentors: the Israeli occupying power and all their settlers.

The news flashes back and forth posing the question whether the new “cycle of violence” is the start of the 3rd intifada, but not bothering to stop and think of the names, faces, stories, dreams and aspiration of a people who have been crushed way too many times to count, and double-crossed by friend and foe alike enough times to die while living.  Third intifada or 14th, is not the issue, but focusing on the event as if the media and talking heads are looking forward to another Super Bowl or World Cup, wall to wall coverage with the outcome already known and not in any doubt.  Covering Palestine while erasing it is a skill and a talent that is honed by reporters and media outlets attuned to the global market and job security, whereby, Palestinians are the props for narrating Israel and its stories rather than its victims.   The story is about Palestine, but Palestinians are spoken for, and never allowed to speak on their own accord. 

Here we have an occupied Palestinian population facing the fourth or possibly fifth most powerful army in the world equipped with every possible death machine the world has made including 500-600 nuclear warheads, and yet, we expect a different outcome.  Pummeling Palestinians has become a sadistic pastime endeavor for an Israeli government and society that has turned fascistically callous toward the daily pain and suffering inflicted on its captive prey.   What else can one call the utter disdain and total disregard for the value of a Palestinian life other than sadistic fascism that is clothed in religious purpose?  

In reality, the Palestinians are the little David who were part of a colonized third world, indigenous, pre-industrial, pre-capitalist, agrarian and shared cropping agricultural based society with a highly distorted, colonially appointed and dysfunctional leadership facing the Zionist Goliath supported initially by a British colonial Goliath, then adopted by an American imperial Goliath, to be funded and nurtured into hegemonic power by the combined wealth and strength of multiple Goliaths, including those in the Arab and Muslim world who worked to strike their own deals to secure seats of power at the expense of the Palestinians. If honesty on the global stage could be entertained for a brief moment, then the real surprise and shock for many is that the little Palestinian David is still hanging around, standing and making noise after facing such overwhelming odds.

The death of 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh, his father Saad, mother Reham and severely injured 4-year-old brother should ring the alarm bells inside and outside Palestine.  However, the Israeli government arresting Meir Ettinger and handing down a six-month sentence only for leading an extremist group and not the murder of the family, is a clear example of the fascist problem at hand.  Violence, death and burning flesh and crop are normal daily routines for Palestinians living under occupation.  But their voices, names and stories are not allowed to be permanent and to register and to represent real humans deserving of justice, freedom and dignity.  

I don’t see a cycle of violence, rather a pure and capable structured violence that is meted against the population daily and intended to humiliate, belittle, degrade and cause a slow and methodical death.  The Apartheid Wall is a structured violence that is dissecting Palestinian towns, villages and cities like a razorblade cutting the metaphorical collective Palestinian body.  Just like the little bully standing tall over an anthill, the Apartheid Wall is the symbol of the permanent Israeli bully engaged in taunting, stealing and devouring Palestine at every corner.   

Violence of the settlements and settlers who are daily goading the Palestinians by burning crops, stealing water, taking land and building incoherent structures that protrude like a sore thumb on the environment and the surroundings.  Architecture of occupation emerges from the confines of colonial discourses rooted in racism, power, control and domination, while exuding an all-around ugliness of taste and a corruption of the human spirit.   A type of violence that is committed against the land itself, topography, mountains and valleys that are transfigured in the occupation process and correspond to the epistemic that shaped the crime in the first place.  The ultimate sign of Israel’s ethical and moral bankruptcy is visible in the violence committed against olive trees and grape orchards but yet environmentalists in the West are silent about it.  

Violence is ever-present in Israel’s actions toward the Palestinians.  The violence in the color coding of car license plates, I.D. cards and systems of control that are designed to count the number while discounting the person indicated by the given document.  This is the violence of being counted as a biological substance and discounted as a human, at the same moment, by a young soldier acting out his sense of control and power over men and women the age of his parents and grandparents.    Yet, what is more violent, is the insistence of this young soldier to intentionally call the old man with a feminine pronoun and the women with a masculine one, while all the while, wearing a smirk as if he/she had conquered the seven heavens.  How do you measure this violence and why could we record or indicate the daily un-cycle, pro-active, one-sided cycle of violence perpetrated on the Palestinians!

The violence of the checkpoints is the cancer of the occupation setting on top of the metaphorical Palestinian chest and preventing it from breathing and leading to slow suffocating death.  Freedom of movement is a basic human right- this is indubitably denied to Palestinians.  This includes in their own private lands you find settlers and soldiers alike interfering to make sure that Israel’s otherization and racism toward them is felt by every individual young or old.  Viewing long lines upon long lines waiting for hours to go through metal gates and corralling pens that had it been made for cattle they would have complained that they are unfit for them and damages the capacity of the animal to be healthy and normal.  Hours upon hours, young and old, sick or healthy, running late or arriving early the checkpoints are intended to stick the sharp nails of the occupation into the depth of people’s minds and souls.  You are not human, not even a cattle but a biological material that is reduced to nothingness at the hands of soldiers well acquainted to the task of dehumanization, and worst yet, they consider it a religious or national duty.

In the face of all this, one would expect Palestinians to lose their humanity and become that which the occupation has ascribed to them--a nameless and faceless people emptied of meaning; but this is not the case. The Palestinians continue to write chapter after chapter in creativity, in living and resisting, as well as, the ability to be global while confined to the local prisons of Israel and its client the PA.  Even in the middle of this 70 year old colonial dispossession and layered violence, the Palestinians always manage to think of the struggles of others and express meaningful solidarity whether in South Africa, El Salvador, Vietnam, and Ireland in the past and Syria, Iraq, Libya, Kashmir and Yemen to name the few in the present.  

More critically, Palestinians have always expressed a close affinity to the cause of African Americans and Native Americans, a concern and a solidarity that has a long and complex history to it, including Malcolm X’s memorable visit to the Gaza Strip in 1964.  It is the mark of strength and greatness to think and act in solidarity with others while facing the darkest moments and the multiple brutalities and erasures in one’s own history.   Palestine has been the site of building and reaffirming global solidarity that is rooted in calls for freedom, dignity and economic wellbeing for all and not only for the few.  

The prisons, checkpoints, settlements, bypass roads, color-coding and Apartheid Wall are symbols of bankruptcy of thought and spirit, of a colonial occupation that is following the brutal logic of its European predecessors that failed to crush a people’s spirit.  When emptiness of thought and brute force becomes the only logic supporting a colonial enterprise then the failure and collapse is a forgone conclusion.  While the violence is difficult and exerting a heavy daily tool on people’s lives, nevertheless, Israel has not succeeded in crushing the Palestinian spirit and it will never be able to do so.  How to respond and end the ongoing brutalization of the Palestinians should be the only focus of conversations and discussions!  Gone are the days of approaching Palestine with a symmetry lens that equates between occupiers and occupied while asserting a call for equality of narrative between the sadistic torturer and its tortured prisoners.  

Palestinians are physically occupied but mentally are a free people.  What Palestinians ask of the global solidarity movement is to break away from their own psychologically constructed occupations and act to free themselves, so as to end their own government’s complicity that enables funds and protects the Israeli occupation at every turn.  Yes, express sympathies and shed tears for Palestine, but more valuable, work to counter the multiple violent Israeli structures that kill and maim Palestinians-- and do so, at the local level.  Don’t focus on whether this is the 3rd of 14th intifada, rather, the time has come for each and everyone to express in deeds, a commitment for a free Palestine and an end to the siege on Gaza.  In this regard, the time is right for a more intense engagement with the boycott, divestment and sanctions, as well as, creating programs and projects that can break the walls of oppression and indifference toward Palestine in every city and alleyway across the world.  In every corner of the world, there is a persecuted people waiting to be free and the time is now and the call for all to join this effort to act locally to bring a global change.

Hatem Bazian, PhD is co-editor and founder of the Islamophobia Studies Journal and director of the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, and a senior lecturer in the Departments of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at University of California, Berkeley.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Quebec Solidaire’s disingenuous role in Canada’s reactionary niqab debate

By Richard Dufour 

15 October 2015

At the initiative of Québec Solidaire—a pseudo-left, pro-Quebec independence party—Quebec’s National Assembly unanimously passed a motion October 1 that expressed “concern” over a spike in “Islamophobic statements” and condemned the “incitement of hatred and violence.”

Two days earlier the media had reported that two teenagers had assaulted a pregnant woman wearing the hijab (Islamic headscarf) in Anjou, a northeastern borough of Montreal. A resurgence of hate speech on social media was also noted. Several rightly blamed the reactionary election campaign hue and cry that the ruling Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois (BQ) have whipped up against Muslim women wearing the niqab (a Muslim veil that covers the face except a band across the eyes) when taking the oath of Canadian citizenship. (See: Canada’s Conservatives stoke anti-Muslim bigotry).

The motion “against islamophobia” sponsored by Québec Solidaire (QS) parliamentary leader Françoise David is pure hypocrisy. The rise of intolerance towards the Muslim minority is the outcome of years of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant demagogy in which the entire Quebec political establishment and ruling elite is complicit. For years, Quebec and “Quebec values” have been depicted as under threat from religious minorities and other “outsiders”—especially Muslim fundamentalists who are said to be intent on imposing their retrograde attitudes toward women in Quebec.

This distorted image of reality is part of a concerted campaign to divert public anger and anxiety over mounting social inequality and economic insecurity and to make immigrants—and Muslims, in particular—scapegoats for the crisis of world capitalism, the real source of the endless assault on jobs, wages and public services.

The posturing from the politicians and newspaper columnists about “gender equality” is also being used to give a pseudo-democratic face to the illegal, predatory wars waged by Washington and its European and Canadian allies in the oil-rich Middle East.

During the campaign for the October 19 federal election, Gilles Duceppe, the leader of the Bloc Québécois (the federal counterpart of the Parti Québécois), has combined bellicose calls for increased Canadian military action in support of the US’ Iraq-Syria war with harsh criticism of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper for not going far enough in his banning of the niqab.

Speaking during the second party leaders’ French-language debate, Duceppe insisted that the niqab should be prohibited not only during the oath of citizenship, but also during voting. “You saw how Ms. David voted during the motion on the covering of the face,” noted Duceppe. “She is against it.”

Duceppe was referring to Québec Solidaire’s support for a motion passed unanimously by the Quebec National Assembly on September 17 that urged the parties contesting the federal election to “make a formal commitment to ban veiled voting.”

Following the September 17 vote, Québec Solidaire Member of the National Assembly Amir Khadir told the press his party had “no difficulty adding its voice to the motion,” then called for a “secular charter” stipulating “that the face must be uncovered when receiving public services, except in emergencies, including in schools and health care facilities.”

Under the guise of “secularism,” Québec Solidaire agrees that observant Muslim women should be deprived of essential services such as health care and education. Thus for all practical purposes, it supports the Quebec Liberal government’s Bill 62. Tabled in the National Assembly last spring, Bill 62 would bar women wearing the niqab or burqa from accessing public services, by stipulating that public services must be “given and received with the face uncovered.”

Québec Solidaire has a long record of legitimizing the trumped up furor over the alleged excessive “accommodation” of religious and ethnic minorities—a campaign initiated in 2007 by the right-wing populist Action Démocratique du Québec and tabloids of the media mogul and current Parti Québécois leader Pierre-Karl Péledeau.

In 2013, Québec Solidaire welcomed the Charter of Quebec values put forward by the PQ government of Pauline Marois. It would have obliged Muslim female public sector workers to stop wearing the hijab or face dismissal.

Québec Solidaire is a party of the privileged middle class that aspires, like its sister party and role-model in Greece, Syriza, to gain access to the corridors of power by demonstrating to the ruling capitalist class that it completely defends the existing socioeconomic and political framework—including when it exudes chauvinism and xenophobia.

The special role that Québec Solidaire plays as the “left” ally of the big business, pro-Quebec independence Parti Québécois is to cover up the reactionary implications of its anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim discourse.

“It’s fine to have a debate on whether the niqab should be worn or not,” said Françoise David, in explaining the reasoning behind her October 1 motion. “But to talk about it for two weeks, and for political parties, particularly the Conservatives, to turn it into the main issue in the elections by posing as defenders of women, then I say, ‘Enough’.”

Through its promotion of anti-Muslim chauvinism, the PQ-led Quebecindépendantiste, or sovereignty, movement finds itself in the same camp as the Conservatives and their neo-conservative leader Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Harper has had no trouble in joining the PQ, BQ and QS in invoking “the equality between men and women” as a cover for appealing to and stoking anti-Muslim prejudice and as part of the campaign to sustain in office his government of war and reaction.

In a political development highly incriminating for Québec Solidaire, Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Québécois—the champion of the struggle against the niqab and for the imperialist war in the Middle East—proved to be Harper’s main ally in this charade.

Françoise David’s motion “against islamophobia” was a political stunt designed to cover the tracks of this compromising alliance and QS’s complicity in it.

Revealingly, the maneuver was almost derailed by the virulent opposition of the Parti Québécois to the inclusion of the word “islamophobia” in the motion. David had to acknowledge in the press that even though the PQ ended up voting for her motion, it “was not entirely heartfelt support.” She quickly added, “Let me be clear, I’m not saying at all that ... the Parti Québécois is islamophobic. Under torture I would not say that.”

This is an extraordinary admission. Since suffering defeat in the 1995 referendum on Quebec’s secession from Canada, the PQ has increasingly effected a tournant identataire (a turn to “identity” issues) that encourages anti-immigrant sentiment. Québec Solidaire is complicit in this embrace of chauvinist exclusivism, which belies the claims of bygone years about the democratic nature of the Quebec independence movement and reveals its true face—the selfish project of a section of the Quebec bourgeoisie to erect its own capitalist state where it would reign over the workers, where it would be, to use the slogan popularized by PQ founder René Lévesque, “maîtres chez-nous” (masters in our own house.)”

As QS co-leader David proclaimed, there is no question of the pseudo-left Québec Solidaire giving up, even “under torture,” its orientation to, and participation, in the indépendantiste movement of the Quebec bourgeoisie, or its repeated offers to the PQ of an electoral alliance. Even if this be at the expense of Muslim women or other minorities in a political climate increasingly marked by ruling-class incited intolerance and xenophobia.


The author also recommends:
Why is Québec Solidaire silent about the betrayal of its “cousin” Syriza? [11 September 2015]