Quite often our collective histories are subconsciously daubed by grandiose metanarratives that more often than not paint a simple and naïve picture of the last 500 odd years. The narration of the last 500 years of our history is significant in the sense that the universal construction of the “other” lies at the bottom of the balance sheet of European enlightenment from which has evolved the present day political paradigms and power equations. The vilified and dehumanized “other” in need of constant reform and guidance eternally associated with extreme violence have always been primordially Muslims and Jews in medieval Europe but since the last century predominantly Muslims, with the Zionist project hijacking the Jewish identity and crossing over to the colonial dark side and essentializing itself as the epitome of settler colonialism.
To seemingly visualise this “other Muslim”, we have to move beyond understanding the modern world, especially the Arab world solely in terms of division of labour and the tireless accumulation of global capital. We have to, according to Professor Ramon Grosfoguel, “shift the geopolitics of knowledge and the body-politics of knowledge from the North oriented gaze of the world system towards a South oriented view to get a different picture of the cartography.” Furthermore, Professor Grosfoguel adds that such a view which diverges from a Marxist narrative “leads to a more complex, non-reductive structural-historical analysis in which Islamophobia as a form of racism against Muslim people is not an epiphenomenon but constitutive of the international division of labour.” It is the failure to recognize these complexities which reflect a colonial matrix of control woven through layers of hierarchical power structures that result in branding any Islamic resistance narratives including Hamas or its affiliate the Izz ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigade as either terrorists or militants. Now this narrative is highly problematic for a myriad of reasons; primarily because it refuses to acknowledge or accept Muslim subjectivity or in this instance Palestinian subjectivity. This lack of acceptance and acknowledgement in turn presents Israel to be viewed largely as a democratic and liberal state who unfortunately suffers from violent short bouts of resorting to savagery, which after a round of serious deliberations by the international community only requires a sort of mild admonishment. Although loaded and charged accusations like racial exclusion, ethnic cleansing and genocide have been levied against Israel for decades now by a host of internationally reputed personalities, we still refuse to digest this fact for the sole reason that our subconscious intellects are mired in mist by the “whiteness” of the Israeli state. We dance to the pied piper’s tune of “the white man does not commit genocide…they are only accidents”!!
Dr. Salman Sayyid in his classic “Fundamental Fear” points out that one of the casualties of the demise of the Soviet Union and the communist political project in the early 1990s has been the extinction of the category called the “Freedom fighter”. In a bipolar world, there existed a duality of the superpowers as opposing forces and a recognition of the freedom fighter in postcolonial societies by either the American or the Soviet bloc depending on who opposed whom, but this category as a genuine reality did exist. Following the dawn of the American century, the freedom fighter ceased to exist. This was primarily because ever since all known dictators, tyrants, repressive regimes and sheikhdoms had and continue to have a symbiotic relationship with the United States and hence the ‘freedom fighter’ was relegated to the category of terrorist. This international Westoxified hegemonic discourse has de-legitimised all resistance to any repressive regime and if that particular repressive regime is in the garb of a neoliberal democratic state, the de-legitimization and dehumanization is complete. Indigenous Islamic resurgence movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas which saw success taking their chances via electoral route were also violently dethroned without a flutter from the international community because democracy too was assumed to be a white only prerogative. Now, despite the unceremonious exit of the Soviet Union from the global scenario, Marxism still thrives as a metanarrative and the ‘left’ discourse although diametrically opposed to the American neoliberal project unfortunately shares with their adversary the same myopic view of indigenous Islamocentric resurgence movements or polity. In this camp, the resistance against imperialism was only genuine as far as it had a left/socialist root. Any other resistance narrative especially based on an Islamic Weltanschauung was similarly viewed derisively and pushed into the realms of purposeful obscurity. This pejorative attitude which is ingrained in contemporary liberal discourse helps immensely in spawning this Islamophobic narrative and cementing this racist power matrix.
Now in the latest phase of the conflict with 1875 Palestinians murdered including children, nearly 8000 wounded and half a million people displaced, but unlike before there has been mass global outrage from all quarters backed by a few heroic countries from the South American block. When we try to place this massive show of solidarity with the Palestinian people in its proper perspective, we come across a few racist hurdles. Benjamin Netanyahu in a press conference in Jerusalem stated Israel was not the enemy of the people of Gaza, rather Israel was the enemy of Hamas and he also added that all civilian casualties was a “tragedy of Hamas’ own making”. Keeping in tow with Netanyahu’s statements we see scores of liberals reiterate almost an identical viewpoint in that “We support the Palestinian people” and in some cases explicitly are seen messages of “we don’t support Hamas”. Why is it that many of us who are sympathetic towards and are staunch supporters of the Palestinian struggle have a problem digesting Hamas? The question begs to be asked; are our expressions just outward temporary sympathy at the sight of murdered and disfigured children or are our protests a political extension of Palestinian political ambitions in their fight against racist settler colonialism, imperialistic designs and genocide.
This hypocrisy is in stark contrast to the attitude we show when we express similar demonstrations of solidarity to other struggles all around the globe. Our slogans and writings just do not blandly state that the Venezuelans defied the US empire or our posters were not just showing any common Venezuelan, nor did we triumphantly just bluntly declare that the South Africans ended apartheid after a long drawn out struggle and had imagery of just any common South African, rather we with immense pride personified and celebrated Hugo Chavez as representing and leading the Venezuelan defiance of empire and even so with Nelson Mandela and the ANC against the white racist supremacists. There always was and is an agency for people’s aspirations and struggles. There is always a structure, a movement and a leadership for resistance and these movements and leaders are representative of the marginalised populace and all expressions of solidarity and support must also support the aspirations and leadership of the people. Moreover, these movements and heroes are romanticised, poetized and idolized and this has always been so in all theatres of anti-imperial resistance be it Vietnam, Latin America, South America, Africa and South Asia but surprisingly in only very limited instances in the Arab-Muslim world.
In colonial discourse which privileges an Eurocentric cosmology, the oppressed is robbed of any subjectivity, in short WE, the liberal, western educated, civilised male masters dictate terms on how the Palestinians must resist, whom they should vote for and what they should negotiate subconsciously
When support for the Palestinian people are expressed against the murderous onslaught of a racist regime, the same tinge of racism clouds us into supporting only the Palestinian people as an entity devoid of any political manifestations. Sweeping statements like “Israeli bombings and Hamas firing rockets are both war crimes”, “both sides should put down their weapons” and crass suggestions like “Israeli-Palestinian hugging chains” and “Gazan women and children to offer roses to Israeli soldiers” and what not, in fact betray the underlying corollary that we only support you as long as you remain passive victims and we deny your right to resist. In colonial discourse which privileges an Eurocentric cosmology, the oppressed is robbed of any subjectivity, in short WE, the liberal, western educated, civilised male masters dictate terms on how the Palestinians must resist, whom they should vote for and what they should negotiate subconsciously abetting ontological imperial subjugation. This condescending paternalism by erasing Muslim subjectivity is also evident in classical Marxism with Marx himself being no exception to this rule.
So, in this global background of Islamophobia when the first words that rush into our consciousness when encountering Islamic manifestations are medieval, barbaric, terror, violence, militant, illiterate and a host of other negative connotations; what is it that we find so reprehensible about Hamas or any other section of the Palestinian resistance. For starters visual imagery plays an important role in the formulation of a prejudiced mindset. The familiar image of a balaclava clad ‘militant’ with ‘foreign’ alphabets in the background is cited by many as to the uncivilized and barbaric nature of the Palestinian resistance which is in serious need for reformative transition in “our” image. When the exact same imagery which is more frequently employed by Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista movement in Mexico, the liberal left mind suddenly loses all assumptions of negative connotations and revolutionary terminologies and a sense of euphoria soon follow and we have romantic narrations, poetry and a series of biographies on this postmodern armed balaclava clad leader and his ‘militant’ movement. Internationally renowned left thinkers and anti-globalization activists sing hymns of praise and are always on the lookout for condemning any action of the Mexican government against the Zapatistas. Why this disparagement in recognizing Hamas in the same imagery? The fact that their faith, Islam, plays a pivotal role and is central to Hamas’ ideology as well as their resistance has something to do with this skewed narrative. The sad reality is that our brains are firmly wired into this ubiquitous narrative and is clearly discernible in that we are more at ease and only slightly pricked at watching the chief spokesperson for the Prime minister of Israel, the Australian-Israeli Mark Regev, propagate mass murder, genocide and ethnic cleansing while our sensitivities are perturbed on listening to the balaclava clad leader of the Izz Ed-Din Al-Qassam brigade which state that they will not target civilians. Maybe the image of a three-piece suit wearing, clean shaven, English speaking white male is more representative of the person we are deep inside ourselves and what we desire to be vis-à-vis a non-English speaking masked freedom fighter, no matter what muck oozes out from the former.
It is only materialistic nation states built on racial class structures by constructing the ‘other’ who have unperturbedly normalised and institutionalised violence for either plundering and looting or reforming and democraticising the ‘other’
The other most unsettling aspect for most “black skinned, white-masked” Palestine supporters is the so-called inherent violence associated with Islamic resurgent groups including Hamas, and the repeated calls for a Palestinian Gandhi. Palestinians abhor violence much more than anybody and they ‘teach life’ as they have been suffering the brunt of genocidal violence for the better part of a century. It is only materialistic nation states built on racial class structures by constructing the ‘other’ who have unperturbedly normalised and institutionalised violence for either plundering and looting or reforming and democraticising the ‘other’. It was not seen as a temporary departure from civilised conduct rather it is what western civilization is constitutive of and their mission oriented scorched earth policy was undertaken which they believed as per divine calling. Now the conundrum we face is that when we hypocritically condemn the Qassam brigade of indulging in warfare (that too defensive), we at the same time compose ballads for Fidel Castro who fought not only in Cuba but also in Columbia, the Dominican Republic and Mexico, we print T-shirts of Che, an Argentinean who fought in Cuba and then later left Cuba to fight in Congo and in Bolivia where he was martyred and he actually authored a book on guerrilla tactics, we name institutes and centres of learning after Nelson Mandela, whose ANC had a fierce armed wing the Umkhonto we Sizwe and Madiba himself while President, conducted military intervention in Lesotho to restore peace and democracy. (It is worthy to note that Nelson Mandela is still considered a terrorist by the state of Israel and it was only in 2008 that he was taken off the terror watch list of the US and even more interesting is the fact that leftist transnational revolutionary efforts are holier than grail in contrast to Islamic transnational resistance which are terrible and connoted as ‘foreign jihadists’). These giants among men and legends including the Zapatista and all other indigenous anti-imperial resistance fighters command our utmost respect, deserve our adulations and much more, but the only lingering issue is the exclusion of Hamas from this narrative and for whom resorting to violence to defend their land and their lives is unanimously tabooed in turn providing fodder for the often repeated ‘Muslims are prone to violence’ racist propaganda.
Palestinians have been engaging in non-violence for decades now and the first rocket to be fired against the Zionists was only after 35 years of occupation. Palestinian Gandhis do exist and they are to be found in buried six-feet deep in Palestinian graves and tortured and chained in Israeli dungeons.
Frantz Fanon, the century’s most compelling theorist of racism and colonialism, in his opening sentence of his seminal The Wretched of the Earth writes “National liberation, national renaissance, restoration of nationhood to the people, commonwealth: whatever maybe the headings used of the new formulas introduced, decolonization is always a violent phenomenon.” Neither does this entail that all indigenous resistance movements including the Algerian revolution to which Fanon was alluding to or Hamas for that matter are brimming with psychotic fantasies but rather that this violence was forced upon them as an essential ingredient of their anti-colonial struggle, nor does it ascertain that these resistance movements have not incorporated peaceful means into their freedom struggle. Palestinians have been engaging in non-violence for decades now and the first rocket to be fired against the Zionists was only after 35 years of occupation. Palestinian Gandhis do exist and they are to be found in buried six-feet deep in Palestinian graves and tortured and chained in Israeli dungeons. Unlike the American establishment and the British Raj which greeted Black Americans and Indians walking arm-in-arm demanding justice and freedom with police beatings and arrests, Palestinian demonstrators are usually greeted with Israeli snipers engaged in target practice and the targets ranging from age 8 to age 70 and worse the world does not appear to notice. Every year the Palestinian News Network reports approximately hundred major exclusively non-violent peaceful demonstrations and protests, but as usual the international media conveniently remembers to forget this. Non-violence as resistance is only as good as the accompanying media coverage. Also we have to get beyond this illusion of non-violence as a sanctified principle of Gandhi. Dr. Irfan Ahmad in his recently published article “Gandhi, Palestine and Israel” refers to when Gandhi felt all gung-ho about violence when practiced on minorities and it is also worth pointing out that Gandhi occasionally departed from his peaceful overtures once even citing Spartan militarism as exemplary and when describing on how to deal with Hitler and the scourge of Nazism which is exactly the same quagmire in which the Palestinians find themselves today.
Once the Israeli Hasbara claim of Hamas using human shields was debunked and taken apart, the next spin was of Hamas purposefully endangering the Palestinian civilian population by resisting (firing rockets) from within civilian areas which has been swallowed hook, line and sinker by our liberals sympathetic to the Gazan women and children. The discussion is not about whether Hamas fires from civilian vicinity or not; that discussion has to do with military strategy and guerrilla tactics to which I have no right to enter, but the discussion is about the Israeli PR juggernaut whitewashing their crimes by trying to delink the resistance from the people. We should be incredibly naïve to assume that indiscriminate Israeli bombings of homes, hospitals and schools are of retaliatory nature in response to these puny rocket attacks. The IDF bombs women and children because its aim is to bomb women and children rockets or no rockets and this has been the normative course of action for the last 60 years and the Israeli armed forces have internalised the barbarianization of Palestinian men, women and children whom their leaders have branded as ‘cockroaches’, ‘crocodiles’, ‘scourge’, more recently who should be taught a lesson by ‘raping their mothers’ and a retired Israeli general stating that there are no civilians in Gaza and all are legitimate military targets, thus depriving them the status of ‘human’ in human rights.
The fact that we believe this racist narrative in which love, affection and caring for ones near and dear ones as a ‘white only Anglo-Saxon’ quality whereas Hamas owing to the fact that they are Muslim-Arab having no qualms in placing their dear and near ones in the line of fire thereby putting Israeli magnanimity to the test to achieve political objectives. By repeating this concocted trash, we are complicit in the repugnant dehumanization of the Palestinian resistance. Ever since the Spanish inquisition, colonial empires have used this narrative of dehumanization of the indigenous population of the global south and their resistance with astounding success. This success can largely be owed to our muted acknowledgement and acceptance.
We have to overcome the suspicion-ridden atmosphere of Islamophobia and view the resistance as an extension of Palestinian aspirations and publicly normalize their image as being essentially constitutive of our larger fight against colonial imperialism.
These underlying truisms are further obfuscated and muddled by Human Rights Watch, the UN and leading journalists calling for investigations into war crimes and violations by both the IDF and Hamas. Their unflinching commitment towards justice, international law and the Geneva Conventions forces them into the ‘holy unbiased neutral’ zone placing both the oppressor and oppressed at parity because in the end we all swear by international law and the Geneva Conventions. Justice is not a neutral entity and we are ensnared into this so called neutrality by the hegemonic epistemology inbuilt into these dictums. Providing a more critical context to the nature of these ‘international’ laws, my friend and legal expert Azeezah Kanji observes “…international humanitarian law in general is not well-suited to colonial situations, the laws of war were based on the paradigm of a conflict between two sovereign (read European) states and so laws regarding occupation, for example, were developed to deal with temporary occupation of one European power’s territory by another. Situations of longstanding colonial occupation were excluded from the ambit of this body of international law, with the colonial serving as the ‘other’ against which the European sovereigns were defined.” These exclusionary European laws sans context and divorcing historical complexities are incapable to deal with the conflict, mete out justice for the Palestinians or hold Israel accountable.
We must aim to overcome this intellectual rigor mortis and liberate our minds from the shackles of colonial enslavement and as sincere lovers of justice and freedom we must identify ourselves with Palestinian aspirations. Hamas and other sections of the Palestinian resistance are in essence in the frontline of the struggle against global imperialism. They have dared to defy an empire backed by international nation states and kingdoms and this time around the edifice of empire has begun to crack. This Palestinian resistance packs enormous geopolitical ramifications which can alter the currently entrenched power matrix and it is only by our unconditional commitment to the Palestinian resistance that we can together continue to chip away at colonial structures of domination and control. We have to overcome the suspicion-ridden atmosphere of Islamophobia and view the resistance as an extension of Palestinian aspirations and publicly normalize their image as being essentially constitutive of our larger fight against colonial imperialism. Our honesty will lie in the fact of how you react when I say I do wish to see Palestinian resistance and the leadership celebrated in banners, posters and T-shirts. The feeling of awkwardness in acknowledging and engaging with Islamic liberation theology/narrative must be thwarted and be seen rather as part of OUR collective stand against imperialism. Indigenous anti-colonial resistance have always evoked awe and inspired millions and at this moment of being awe stuck and inspired by the Palestinian resistance I can only recollect the romanticization of ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Alfred Tennyson as a fitting tribute:
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made.