Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Info Session: Discrimination and Racism Among Children

Anti Racism Movement will be hosting an info session on discrimination and racism among children at schools and in other circles.

The session will be led by Mathilde Coussy, INSAN school coordinator. She will be speaking to us about difference problems and issues faced by foreign children at schools in Lebanon, and how they have tried to work them out as they occurred. She will be giving special focus to the latest issues arising with regards to Syrian children integrating in schools here.

We will then open up the discussion for any questions, ideas or initiatives proposed.

Date: Monday, August 5
Place: Nasawiya
Time: 6:00 pm

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صباح الخير بيروت.

شارع البيجو، تقاطع سوق الاحد وطلعة السيوفي

Monday, July 29, 2013

مباشرةً من الطابق الثالث عشر

كيف بفسروا للبشر إنو نهار الأحد يوم عطلة مقدس للكل؟

Luna Safwan's blog

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Debunking the Myth of “Syrian” Crime in Lebanon

It’s a popular tactic among Lebanese to pin blame on Syrians for the bulk of the country’s daily crime. What’s at the root of this knee-jerk racism? And, in order to sustain such racist views, what facts about Lebanese crime are being ignored?
It is now difficult to hide the restlessness of Lebanese concerning the daily influx of Syrians into the country. The reason is not just politics, although it remains an excuse for some to complain about a regime opponent here or a loyalist there. Conflicts are erupting even in villages hosting Syrians who agree with them politically.
However, when Syrians park their car in the wrong place, they get chided for not daring to do so in their country. If they open a restaurant, drive a taxi, or find a humble job, they get accused of crowding the Lebanese out of a living. If they beg in the street, they are viewed as a stain on the city’s image.
This has become the backdrop of news about fights between young Syrian and Lebanese men, but it’s only a glimpse of the entire picture. What if we begin by trying to understand the situation using the Lebanese accusations of “Syrian” crime as a starting point?
“Syrians Are Stealing”
It would be easy to miss the small news items that appear on the National News Agency crime bulletin. “Robberies in Various Areas,” reads one headline. Thefts occur every day and they are on the rise constantly.
However, a news story from last Friday was attention-grabbing, primarily because of the media’s fixation on the nationalities of the victims and perpetrators. The story described four robberies with Syrians as their victims. Having been robbed in various areas, from Baalbeck to Beirut’s Sin el-Fil, the first was robbed while walking alongside the road, the second in a taxi, and the others, migrant workers, at home.
Frankly, for those who are disheartened about daily news of Lebanese racism, it was good news. It is the best reply to claims that Syrians are behind every crime. However, looking into such crimes might bring back some sense. Crimes are committed by criminals, regardless of nationality.
“We Need A Curfew”
This is another recurring news item. Municipalities in various areas of Lebanon are taking precautions to control the movement of Syrians. The newsworthiness of such stories is in the magnitude of discrimination against Syrians in such procedures.
The municipality of Baskinta, among others, declared, for the second time, a curfew on Syrians after 8 pm. The first announcement came in July 2012 and warned “citizens and Syrians that violations and thefts happening at night cannot be solved with compromise or concessions, especially since some town residents intervene to protect the Syrian working for them, even if he’s guilty.”
However, only people following the issue knew about the press conference held by municipality head Tanios Ghanem on 10 April 2013. Ghanem described one of the area’s bigger thefts that had been carried out by Lebanese. He stressed however that they were from the Bekaa, but he didn’t “know their sect or party affiliation.”
Statistics of Lebanese Crime
Responding to a request from Al-Akhbar, the Internal Security Forces (ISF) provided statistics about Syrian victims of crime in Lebanon between March 2011 and 19 March 2013. The figures show that 12 Syrians were murdered, 496 were robbed, 86 pickpocketed, and 117 physically assaulted.
On the other side, statistics concerning Syrians arrested in the same period are connected to 122 murders, 103 robberies, 1,572 thefts, 313 assaults, 352 drug-related, 32 rapes, and 2,593 different crimes (such as begging or quarrels in the streets), for a total of 5,042 detainees.
Before judging, the numbers must be seen in context. First, the arrest of a particular person does not automatically point to guilt. Hundreds of the above detainees have not been subject to trial yet. This means the numbers could be lower.
Knowing the size of the Syrian community in Lebanon (workers and refugees), which is close to 1.5 million people, the numbers seem normal. Moussallem agrees, explaining that “the entry of such a huge number of people into Lebanon, whatever their nationality, will impact security.”
Moussallem objects to linking crime with nationality. “The number of [arrested] Syrians is high, since they are the largest community in Lebanon and this is why the numbers pop up,” he explains. “Available statistics do not show any correlation between crime and nationality.”
Moussallem goes further, adding that Syrians “are also the highest proportion of work accident victims and most daily crimes occur against them.” He indicates that many are robbed in the streets but do not file complaints.

Friday, July 19, 2013

لا للعنصريّة

لأننا كلبنانيين عايشنا الحرب بأنواعها.. ولأننا تهجرنا ونعرف جيدا ما معنى كلمة "لاجئ" ولأنّ الشعب السوري احتضننا يوم اشتدت الحرب علينا. فلنعامله بالمثل ولنقف إلى جانبه في محنته. ولنرفض سويا المعاملة السيئة التي يلقاها العديد من العمال واللاجئين السوريين في لبنان. ولنقل "لا" في وجه العنصريّة بكل أنواعها.

تصوير : علي علوش/ فرح قبيسي

Thursday, July 18, 2013

مسرحية 'فخامة الرئيس' لدعم العائلات النازحة من سوريا

Fb link

دعماً للعائلات النازحة من سوريا الى لبنان
التي تعيش في ظروف معيشية وحياتية قاسية

"سوا لأجل سوريا"
بالتعاون مع الحركة الطلابية البديلة

مسرحية "فخامة الرئيس"، عرض مسرحي كوميدي
تأليف جلال خوري
اخراج فراس بوزين الدين
وذلك ليل ٣٠ تموز الساعة التاسعة والنصف مساءً
في مسرح المدينة - بناية السارولا - الحمرا (بيروت)

سعر التذكرة : 10 $

فلا تتأخروا واحجزوا مقاعد لكم ولأصدقائكم عبر الإتصال ب : 71647663

أو بمقهى ة في الحمرا إبتداءً من نهار الإثنين

In an act of support for the family refugees coming from
Syria to Lebanon, facing very harsh living conditions

Sawa For Syria
in collaboration with Alternative Student Movement



a Comedy Theatre Production
written by Jalal Khoury
directed by Firas BouZeineddine

Place: Al Madina Theatre
Date : July 30th
Time: 9:30 pm

- Ticket : $10 - Free Seating

Don't be late to reserve your seats and your friends' seats: 71647663
Or in T-Marbouta Café in Hamra starting Monday 22nd

Trafficking of Migrant Domestic Workers: A Tale of Two Cities

The Institute of Middle East Studies


Human Trafficking has been defined as:
“The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.”[1]
I am of the strong personal opinion that this definition applies to far too many migrant domestic workers living within Lebanon and wider MENA region.


The central issue within Lebanon and many other Middle Eastern countries is that of the ‘sponsorship system’, a system that ‘ties’ migrant domestic workers to their employers. Migrant domestic workers are not protected by Lebanese labor laws and as a result become vulnerable to abuse.
As if this is not bad enough, employers are in fact required, under contractual agreement with the agencies responsible for ‘procuring’ domestic workers, to retain their employees’ passports. This naturally results in a situation whereby migrant domestic workers who escape from abusive situations become automatically criminalized. And if caught, they potentially face additional punishment, rather than protection, at the hands of the Lebanese authorities.
The isolated nature of domestic labour, coupled with the systemic neglect of migrant workers’ rights on such a large scale, is something that should be far more shocking than the individual case of a Saudi princess, though I certainly hope this case continues to heighten awareness about the suffering of many of the world’s most vulnerable.
During the week of the Middle East Conference, the US State Department published their annual and highly respected Trafficking in Persons Report. Lebanon, for the second year in a row, was designated a Tier 2 (Watch List) country.
This essentially means that:
  1. The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing,
  2. There is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year, including increased investigations, prosecution, and convictions of trafficking crimes, increased assistance to victims, and decreasing evidence of complicity in severe forms of trafficking by government officials, or,
  3. The determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards, as based on commitments by the country to take additional steps over the next year.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A "Racist" Lebanese Travels to Sri Lanka

What makes the Land of the Cedars more unique than the Land of Luxury Tea? The answer is nothing. Sri Lanka goes forward on the path to development, while Lebanon treads the path of backwardness.
Colombo – Sri Lanka is a nationality, not a profession. This should be clear to everyone. However, in Lebanon, the situation is different. A “Sri Lankan,” here, could be from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, or the Philippines. The identity has become a synonym for domestic service workers. In Lebanon, it’s normal to hear someone asking her friend, "Which country is your 'Sri Lankan' from?" The question is full of ignorance, even hatred and irrational racism, pointing to a feeling of Lebanese superiority toward the people of Sri Lanka.
Those who ask it are ignorant that there is a full-fledged country called Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon and, in ancient times, Serendipity. It has a civilization which goes further back in time, ages before Christ. Yet the people who live there are reduced by some idiots here to the status of “servant.” Some are unaware that their favorite tea was grown, manufactured, and made famous by that people.
In fact, the issue goes beyond domestic workers. The moniker “Sri Lankan” in Lebanon refers to anything considered “lower.” One often hears Lebanese comparing a woman to a Sri Lankan, as a form of denigration.
One of the quickest ways to hear some phrases is when one declares they will be visiting Sri Lanka for tourism. "Are you really going to Sri Lanka?" one would ask, as if one had mentioned an incredible event. But why this disgusting arrogance?

Lamentable Comparisons
The comparisons begin as soon as you step on Sri Lanka's soil. The airport in the capital Colombo is where the surprises begin. The prepaid mobile phone card is not just cheap, compared to Lebanon, but high-speed Internet mobile service, 4G, has been available throughout the country, which is five times the size of Lebanon, for over a year. In Lebanon, it is still under trial and limited to some neighborhoods in Beirut.
The 3G service, which has recently arrived in Lebanon, has been available in Sri Lanka for the past four years. The network does not break, whether in Colombo in the west, Kandy in the center of the country, or Trincomalee in the north. The service is fast and dependable. Nobody curses the Internet like in Lebanon.
Public highways in Sri Lanka are more similar to those in Europe. The white lines on the highways are as bright as snow. The roads are illuminated throughout the night. There is nothing here, in any city, which resembles the dark highway between Tripoli and Beirut.
In a country of 20 million, you rarely hear erratic car horns and might think silence is inscribed in the law. Later, you would find out that the people hate noise and prefer serenity. They have no idea about car gliding.
We ask our taxi driver, Atholinaka, about power cuts. "Employees fix whatever malfunctions occur on the power lines due to the weather. It happens an average of four times a month and only lasts for a few hours," he answers. He is unaware of what this question means in Lebanon.
Power cuts only occur during emergency malfunctions. Electricity is a given and there is no need to discuss it. In short, electricity in Sri Lanka is not rationed. After a few days spent around the luxurious tea farms, you ask yourself, is Lebanon better than Sri Lanka in anything?
In Politics Too
Some might say Lebanon went through a civil war and is today dealing with its consequences. But they would soon be disappointed to find out that Sri Lanka had a 25-year civil war between its two main ethnicities, the Hindu Tamil Tigers and the majority Buddhists who controlled the government. It ended four years ago and Sri Lanka is moving forward.
Thus, there is no excuse for Lebanon. There is no reason for this sense of superiority. If there should be discrimination, indicators point to Lebanon as being inferior. The Lebanese, infamous for their jokes about other nations, are discovering that those nations are more civilized and advanced. Thus, the joke is on the Lebanese, whether they know it or not.
While the Lebanese parliament was extending its term after failing to issue a new electoral law, Sri Lanka was enjoying an electoral process based on proportional representation. The Lebanese cannot dream of such a law, under the pretext of parity, quotas, not to mention the most famous mantra, “coexistence.”
Again, such pretexts collapse at Sri Lanka's borders, even though the country, like Lebanon, is composed of various religions and sects, mainly Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. Moreover, Lebanon does not suffer from ethnic conflicts, while Sri Lanka has several ethnicities, the Sinhalese, Tamil, Moro, and Malawi.
Everyone over 18 years old can vote in Sri Lanka. Do the activists in Lebanon, who have not stopped calling for lowering the voting age, know about this?
In recent years, many people have become aware of the occupation of Lebanon’s public beachfront. Citizens cannot go to the beach without first having to pay a resort for access even though beach access is a legal right for every citizen. However, the corrupt and influential barons are stronger than the law.
This is something you will not see in Sri Lanka. The country’s beaches facing the Indian Ocean outnumber those of Lebanon. Furthermore, they are the property of all citizens. Poor people can walk along the sand across from the fanciest hotels and resorts in Colombo, alongside the tourists and the wealthy. The same goes for all the coastal cities, from Negombo to Galle.
This might annoy some tourists, but so what? The priority is for citizens. This is how tourists are seen by the people of Sri Lanka. It’s what the grocer, fishmonger, and leather merchant say. It is a general culture, opposite to what we have here. They do not suffer from feelings of inferiority to the white man and are proud of their civilization and current situation.
Culture and Farming
A visitor to Sri Lanka does not need much time to discover the level of culture and education. Most city dwellers speak English, going back to British colonialism in the island, which ended in 1948. However, the educational system is sophisticated, free from elementary to university, and compulsory until 14 years of age. Therefore, 90 percent of 15-year-old Sri Lankans are literate. In Lebanon, on the other hand, education is not free and not compulsory after the age of 13.
Sri Lanka is an agricultural country of the finest type. People here eat what they grow. Their relation to the land is strong. The country is the number one exporter of tea worldwide, but it is also famous for its rice, coconut, and rubber. Agricultural activity absorbs 50 percent of the workforce, with the remaining work is distributed between industry and services. Today, all that is left of the relationship between Lebanese and their land are chants and traditional songs. If it was not for imports, we would not find anything to eat.
As for transportation, in addition to cars, the use of motorcycles is encouraged by the state (as opposed to their arbitrary suppression in Lebanon due to the inability to organize them). There is also a network of rail that covers the country. Indian-made Tok Toks are also prevalent. Rarely does one find someone on a motorcycle here without a helmet. The percentage of women drivers is almost that of the men. The culture of “breaking the law” is not very popular there. Everyone fears policemen and respects them.
Even animal rights supporters will find what they are looking for in Sri Lanka. Dogs sleep in the street. Cars tend to avoid them, not the opposite. People's relationship with animals is humanistic. They do not hurt them and provide them with food on the roadside, as part of the popular culture.
This could be the impact of Buddhism, which forbids the harming of animals. There is no need for organizations calling for animal rights here.
This is Sri Lanka, or some of it at least, the country whose citizens do not know much about Lebanon, except that it is an Arab country, "like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf." A tour guide in the Sigiriya region says the only thing he knows about Arabs is that "a Sri Lankan domestic worker was beheaded by sword last month after being falsely accused."
The man, in his 70s, knows only this about Arabs. You are forced to tell him that you are Arab but not from Saudi. However, you feel ashamed about telling him what happens to the domestic workers in Lebanon, of all nationalities, who are treated like slaves under the oppressive "sponsorship" system.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Elephant In the Racialised Room: The Conundrum of Black-Arabness

Beautiful pice by Bedour Alagraa

Race remains inscribed into and through the body, its reading an embodied and inescapable reality effecting how we are seen and how we too come to see ourselves. In her personal essay, Bedour Alagraa explores the elephant in the room as a Black-Arab and the traumatic tension that ensues in the spaces between them. 
I’m a Black Arab. Not half-Black/half-Arab, but Black-Arab. My family is from Sudan, a country so diverse and with such a violent history of slavery and colonialism, and with such an intensely divisive pigmentocracy that perhaps my chosen nomenclature of ‘Black-Arabness’ might very well be considered a point of conflict for those still living in the newly split nation and those members of the Afro-diaspora at large.
My presence has been unsettling to the insidious forces of racism and colourism among White-passing and self-identified Brown Arabs. The prevailing attitude is that nobody really wants to be black unless they absolutely have to, right?
My father attended a missionary school until he reached university, and colonialism is a part of his first-hand memory. My father never missed a beat: “Sudan is located in the heart of Africa! We’re the largest country on the continent! We’re the land of the Nile! We share more borders with more countries than any other nation! We received independence before Ghana, don’t let those history books tell you they were the first!” I consider myself lucky insofar as I have a mother that never played into the pigmentocracy that underpins most of the globe.
I basked, and still do, in an undeniable shade privilege among black colleagues and peers despite being subject to virulent colourism and racism from white-passing and brown-identified Arabs. Despite having these privileges in my back pocket, as a child and preteen I tried to downlplay the ‘African’ part of me, as if it were so easy to amputate the country that gave me my name, my history, my parents’ distinct dialect. “I’m Arab too!” I would shriek. “Sudan shares a border with Egypt so we’re totally Arab!”
For most of my life (including the present) I’ve felt the stinging pains of anti-Black racism more so than anti-Arab racism, mostly because the world has read my body as Black for my entire life, and also because I’m proudly pro-Black and identify with Blackness with greater ease than I do Arabness. Why then, as a child, did I so desperately cling to an Arabness that would never be affirmed by other Arabs and indeed the world?
The trauma of racism as a child made me grasp for something within myself that was as close to whiteness as I could muster. For me, this association was Arabness, as if being a Black Arab meant I had no legitimate claims to Arabness in the first place.
In attempting to climb the apparent rung of racial hierarchy, in an attempt to pull myself closer to whiteness through Arabness, my anxiety about how my body is read vs. how I wished to be read, as a Black Arab, began to intensify. In turn, any expression of my parents’ language made me feel like a fraud, as if nobody would in turn legitimize said Arabness. I began a life long torture of pushing away and closer to both Blackness and Arabness depending on where the most recent trauma was located. Little did I know that the trauma was located between those two.
9/11 really complicated things. My twin brother, a Black-Arab male, became trapped in the concentric rings of oppression that came with Black-Arabness. He grew increasingly frustrated at the flagrant racial profiling he experienced as a Black male in Toronto. We both grew equally frustrated at the hours and hours of extra border screening because of our Muslim names and birthplace of Doha, Qatar. It became clear to my family and many other Black Arabs that it would be difficult to escape the crushing particularity of the intercept between anti-Black racism and Islamophobia.
As I grew into my politics in my later high-school years and my early university years, a few things came into very sharp focus. Among white-passing and Brown-identified Arabs, my colour was undeniably Black, as Black as it gets. Black, Black, Black.
My shade privilege among Black folks was (and still is) intense, and I rode this aesthetic privilege all the while honing my pro-Black politics in a desperate and embarrassing display of the aptly named “Huey Newton Complex.” This experience was served as a useful counterpoint at the existential conundrum my Black-Arabness presented, particularly as I reached university and my politics began to crystallize. One professor of mine even went as far as to approach me and, without even a greeting, asked me if I was a Moor. Really. After my initial astonishment I politely informed him that North Africa had countries and my name was not and never will be Othello.
Last year I completed my Master’s degree in Race, Ethnicity, and Postcolonial studies. I salivated at the thought of meeting peers that might finally understand the language I use to describe myself, and might even respect my choices re. personal identifiers!
My expectations were shattered when one classmate remarked “Oh, you’re Black-Arab? Cool, very Homi K. Bhabha-Hybridityesque!” Now, if there’s one thing I hate more than Homi Bhabha’s deployment of the rather eugenic-sounding hybridity, it’s having what Junot Diaz calls a ‘low-budget Foucault’ making a term paper out of my experiences.
I’ve learned to find some humor in my ongoing racial melodrama. One of my favourite pastimes is going ‘incognegro’, where I eavesdrop on Arabs having conversations in Arabic and surprise them with a confrontation at their racism (directed at others or towards myself). Shaming people out of their racism isn’t the best tactic, but it’s hard to control myself when I realize that these candidly racist conversations between Arabs happen in my presence because of two assumptions: (1) people nearby won’t understand them, and (2) I won’t understand them because there’s no such thing as a Black Arab.
I’m here to assert that Afro-Arabs and Black Arabs do exist. Not only do we exist, we create a necessary tension in the articulations of Brownness/Blackness, we disturb the rigidity of the Black/Brown/Yellow/Indigenous markers that fall under the juggernaut ‘Person of Colour’ identifier, and we inspire a necessary appreciation of the multiplicities that might be produced within this rather dogmatic racial order.
I am a Black Arab, and I will not conform to the regimes of the body and to the whims of a body politic that tells me I do not exist.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Maid found hanging in East Lebanon

Good morning Lebanon.
Just another regular day here.

A 29-year-old foreign domestic worker was found hanging by the neck in her employer's East Lebanon home Sunday in an apparent suicide, state news reported.

The National News agency said the Bangladeshi woman used clothes to hang herself in the Zahle town of al-Marj. The report said the woman was a victim of human trafficking by a local tribe.

Suicides are common among Lebanon's domestic workers, many of whom face slavery-like conditions inside family homes.

Full piece on Al-Akhbar English.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Wedding in Lebanon

Last night, at some hotel where we had dinner, we saw a sign indicating that there is a wedding in a hall. We starred at it reading the names of the bride and groom, and then starred at the security guard with questioning eyes. He smiled and said: "yes, you can have a look!". So we went up the stairs, too curious to let our timidity stop us. A woman in the wedding hall saw us approaching hesitantly and all embarrassed, so she waved at us inviting us in. We paused and blushed even more. She waved again, insisting, with a big smile, and very fast other people joined. So we came in, having attracted too much attention already. The beautiful woman stood up, introduced herself as the cousin of the bride, explained a few words about both families of the married couples, showed us around and introduced us to the grooms - both absolutely gorgeous, very young, shy and joyful. A man, probably the father of one of the grooms, was so proud of the beautiful bride, he asked her to show us her jewelry and body henne... She did it with the most natural smile. Other people in the room just continued eating and chatting... The cousin and father invited us to stay with them, but we gratefully thanked them, wished them happiness and left, filled with the gift of their smiles and generosity.

Now imagine the opposite situation. Imagine a wedding in Lebanon, and 2 Indian women sneaking in.

(Beautiful story by beautiful Yalda Y)

Friday, July 12, 2013

Confronting anti-black racism in the Arab world

(Beautiful piece)

In response to an essay I wrote recently regarding the "essential blackness" of the Palestinian struggle, I received this reaction, among others: "What about Arab anti-black racism? Or the Arab slave trade?"
The Arab slave trade is a fact of history and anti-black racism is a fact of current reality, a shameful thing that must be confronted in Arab societies. Though I claim no expertise on the subject, I think that applying notions of racism as it exists in the US will preclude a real understanding of the subject in the Arab world.
I spent much of much of my youth in the Arab world and I do not recall having a race consciousness until I came to the United States at the age of 13. My knowledge of Arab anti-black racism comes predominantly from Arab Americans. Like other immigrant communities, they adopt the prevailing racist sentiments of the power structure in the US, which decidedly holds African-Americans in contempt.
This attitude is also becoming more prevalent in Arab countries for various reasons, but mostly because Arab governments, particularly those that import foreign labour from Africa and Southeast Asia, have failed to implement or enforce anti-discrimination and anti-exploitation laws.
In many Arab nations, including Kuwait where I was born, workers are lured into menial jobs where their passports are confiscated upon arrival and they are forced into humiliating and often inhuman working conditions. They have little to no protection under the law and are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, including extraordinarily long working hours, withholding of salaries, sexual, mental, and physical abuse, and denial of travel.
The recent case of Alem Dechesa brought to light the horrors faced by migrant workers in Lebanon. Dechesa, a domestic worker from Ethiopia, committed suicide after suffering terrible mental and physical abuse at the hands of her Lebanese employers, whose savage beating of her in front of the Ethiopian Consulate went viral last year.
Defining beauty
An extension to Arab anti-black racism is an aspiration to all that our former - and current - colonisers possess. Individuals aspire to what is powerful and rich, and the images of that power and wealth have light skin, straight hair, small noses, ruddy cheeks and tall, skinny bodies. That image rejects melanin-rich skin, coiled hair, broad or pointy noses, short stature, broad hips and big legs. So we, too, reject these features, despising them in others and in ourselves as symbols of inferiority, laziness, and poverty. That's why the anglicising industries of skin bleaching and hair straightening are so profitable.
And yet, when Palestine went to the UN for recognition of statehood, the vast majority of nations who voted yes were southern nations. The same is true when Palestine asked for admission to UNESCO. In fact, when the US cut off funding to UNESCO in response to its members' democratic vote to admit Palestine, it was the African nation of Gabon that immediately stepped up with a $2m donation to UNESCO to help offset the loss of income.
It was not Saudi Arabia, or Kuwait, or Qatar, or Lebanon, or Sweden, or France. It was Gabon. How many Palestinians know that, much less expressed gratitude for it?
So concerned are Palestinians with what the European Union and the United States think of us. So engrossed are we in grovelling for their favour and handouts as they support a system of Jewish supremacy pushing our ancient society into extinction. We dance like clowns any time a European leader spares us a thought. Have we no sense of history? No sense of pride? No comprehension of who is truly standing with us and who is sabotaging us?
In a world order that peddles notions of entire continents or regions as irreducible monoliths, the conversation among Arabs becomes a dichotomous "Arab" versus "African", ignoring millennia of shared histories ranging from extensive trade and commerce, to the horrors of the Arab slave trade, to the solidarity of African-Arab anti-colonial unity, to the current state of ignorance that does not know history and cannot connect the dots when it comes to national liberation struggles.
Arab slave trade
When I was researching the subject of the Arab slave trade, I came upon a veritable treasure of a website established by The African Holocaust Society, or Mafaa [Swahili for "holocaust"], a non-profit organisation of scholars, artists, filmmakers, academics, and activists dedicated to reclaiming the narratives of African histories, cultures, and identities. Included in this great body of scholarly works is a comprehensive section on the Arab slave trade, as well as the Jewish slave trade, African-Arab relations over the centuries, and more, by Owen Alik Shahadah, an activist, scholar and filmmaker.
Reading this part of our shared history, we can see how a large proportion of Arabs, including those among us who harbour anti-black racism, are the sons and daughters of African women, who were kidnapped from Eastern African nations as sex slaves.
Unlike the European slave trade, the Arab slave trade was not an important feature of Arab economies and it predominantly targeted women, who became members of harems and whose children were full heirs to their father's names, legacies and fortunes, without regard to their physical features. The enslaved were not bought and sold as chattel the way we understand the slave trade here, but were captured in warfare, or kidnapped outright and hauled across the Sahara.
Race was not a defining line and enslaved peoples were not locked into a single fate, but had opportunity for upward mobility though various means, including bearing children or conversion to Islam. No-one knows the true numbers of how many African women were enslaved by Arabs, but one need only look at ourselves to see the shadows of these African mothers who gave birth to us and lost their African identities.
But while African scholars at the Mafaa Society make important distinctions between the Arab and European slave trades, enslavement of human beings is a horror of incomprehensible proportions by any standard, and that's what it was in the Arab world as it was - or is - anywhere. There are some who argue that the Arab slave traders were themselves indistinguishable from those whom they enslaved because the word "Arab" had cultural relevance, not racial.
One-way street
This argument goes hand-in-hand with the discredited excuse that Africans themselves were involved in the slave trade, with warring tribes capturing and selling each other. But no matter how you look at it, the slave trade was a one-way street, with Africans always the enslaved victims. I know of no African tribe that kidnapped Europeans and put them in bondage for generations; nor do I know of an African tribe that captured Arab women for centuries and made them sex slaves.
I think humanity has truly never known a holocaust of greater magnitude, savagery, or longevity than that perpetrated against the peoples of Africa. This Mafaa has never been fully acknowledged and certainly never atoned for - not that the wounds or enduring legacies of turning human beings into chattel for centuries can ever be fully comprehended or atoned for. But one must try, because just as we inherit privilege from our ancestors, so do we inherit their sins and the responsibility for those sins.
Gaddafi's role
The late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi understood this and he used his power and wealth to try to redeem our shared history. He was the first Arab leader to apologise on behalf of Arab peoples to our African brothers and sisters for the Arab slave trade and the Arab role in the European slave trade.
He funnelled money into the African Union and used Libya's wealth to empower the African continent and promote pan-Africanism. He was a force of reconciliation, socialism, and empowerment for both African and Arab peoples. Gaddafi's actions threatened to renew African-Arab reconciliation and alliances similar to that which occurred at the height of the Non-Aligned Movement during the presidencies of Jamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.
Thus, NATO's urgency to prevent "massacres" and "slaughter" in Libya was manufactured and sold wholesale. The fear of African-Arab solidarity can be seen in the way the US-backed Libyan insurgency spread rumours that "black African" mercenaries were committing atrocities against Libyans. Gaddafi became an even bigger threat when an agreement was reached with the great anti-imperialist force in South America, Hugo Chavez, to mediate a solution to the uprising in Libya.
Now both of these champions of their people are gone, and the so-called Libyan revolutionaries are executing "black Africans" throughout the country. Gone, too, is NATO's worry about slaughter in Libya, and another high-functioning Arab nation lies in ruin, waste and civil strife - primed for rampant corporate looting.
I wrote previously that the Palestinian struggle against the erasure of our existence, history and identity was spiritually and politically black in nature. So, too, are other struggles, like that of migrant workers throughout many Arab nations. These are our comrades. They are the wretched, exploited, robbed, and/or, at last, liberated.
I refer to Black as a political term, not necessarily a racial or ethnic descriptor. In the words of Owen Alik Shehadah: "Black People is a construction which articulates a recent social-political reality of people of colour (pigmented people). Black is not a racial family, an ethnic group or a super-ethnic group. Political Blackness is thus not an identity but moreover a social-political consequence of a world which after colonialism and slavery existed in those colour terms. The word "Black" has no historical or cultural association, it was a name born when Africans were broken down into transferable labour units and transported as chattel to the Americas."
But that word has been reclaimed, redefined, and injected with all the power, love, defiance, and beauty that is Africa. For the rest of us, and without appropriating the word, "black" is a phenomenon of resistance, steadfastness - what we Palestinians call sumud - and the beauty of culture that is reborn out of bondage and oppression.
Right to look the other way
Finally, solidarity from Africans is not equivalent to that which comes from our European comrades, whose governments are responsible for the ongoing erasure of Palestine. African peoples have every reason to look the other way. Ethiopians have every reason to say: "You deserve what you get for the centuries of enslavement and neo-enslavement industry by your Arab neighbours." African Americans have every reason to say: "Why should I show solidarity with Arabs who come here to treat us like white people do, and sometimes worse?"
Malcolm X once said: "If I was that [anti-American], I'd have a right to be that - after what America has done to us. This government should feel lucky that our people aren't anti-American."
We can substitute the word "Arab" for "American" in that sentence and it would be a valid statement. And yet, Africa is right there with us. African American intellectuals are the greatest champions of our struggle in the United States. The impact of solidarity from four particular individuals - Desmond Tutu, Alice Walker, Angela Davis and Cynthia McKinney - can never be overestimated.
Last month, the former South African ambassador to Israel refused a "certificate" from Israel confirming the planting of trees in his name. In his letter, he called Israel a racist, apartheid state and said the gift was an "offence to my dignity and integrity". He added: "I was not a party to, and never will be, to the planting of '18 trees', in my 'honour', on expropriated and stolen land."
I would like my countrymen to think long and hard about this until they truly comprehend the humbling beauty of this solidarity from people who have every reason to be anti-Arab. I wish my countrymen could look through my eyes. They would see that black is profoundly beautiful. They would see that Africa runs through our veins, too. Our enslaved African foremothers deserve to be honoured and loved by their Arab children. And it is for us to redeem their pain with the recognition and atonement long owed.
Arriving at this understanding is a good starting place for reciprocal solidarity with nations and peoples who are standing with us, in heart and in action.
Susan Abulhawa is a Palestinian writer and the author of the international bestselling novel, Mornings in Jenin (Bloomsbury 2010). She is also the founder of Playgrounds for Palestine, an NGO for children.
Follow her on Twitter: @sjabulhawa

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


سؤال يطرح:
"هل لنا أن نطمع من أصدقائنا المصريين بتحرّكٍ ما ضدّ التحريض الذي يتعرّض له اللاجئون السوريون؟"

Beautiful New Initiative

We need more people like this. And more personal initiatives like that.
Sawa for Syria's page.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Racism in the Modern Arab World

Lots of great pieces out lately.

“This attitude is also becoming more prevalent in Arab countries for various reasons, but mostly because Arab governments, particularly those that import foreign labour from Africa and Southeast Asia, have failed to implement or enforce anti-discrimination and anti-exploitation laws.”
More from the great Sawsan Abulhawa here.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Remembering Alem

What happened to that investigation?
Any clue?
Any thread?

Alem Dechasa left Ethiopia in January to work as a maid in Lebanon, where she apparently killed herself. Her journey started in Burayu, a poor settlement outside Addis Ababa

Full piece on the Guardian.