Saturday, July 26, 2014

I am an indigenous person but I will never call myself Palestinian.

Today was indeed a politically hectic day in Aoteaora New Zealand, especially if you are an activist that cares about both human and non-human animal rights. Protest actions were organised to demand an end to factory farming from about noon, and then the second surge of rallies to highlight the continued injustice and massacre of Palestinians in Gaza right after. It was emotionally, physically and as a Muslim, spiritually draining. I felt like my heart was going to burst but like blocked pipes, I hold, hold, and carry the rage that fuels us to march in mind, body and spirit.

There were three moments that really affected me mostly today. Firstly, I spotted a visibly Muslim woman at the animal rights protest. Yes, okay, she was wearing a hijab and holding a placard saying Stop Factory Farming. It may not matter much to others in the crowd (read: predominantly white, dog-loving activist scene) but for a Muslim vegan whose sense of solidarity is drawn only to an extent by say, 3 - 5 people of colour in the crowd, this was HUGE. I nervously, excitedly and clumsily approached her and asked her name. She saw the farmwatch documentary and that's why she is there. I said okay, that's cool, yeah it's just I am Muslim, and I hardly see or know anyone else who cares about animal issues since I started coming to these things... can we keep in touch, because it does get lonely being the only Muslim sometimes? She said, okay, and are you going to the Palestine one as well, and I was like YES, and she gave me her email and said she only knew about it because her husband told her. I said, oh you look quite young, and she said umm, no, I'm almost 30 my dear. I bit my lower lip and held my tongue.

"It's okay", a friend said to me, "at least she cares."

Then, when the Palestinian rally started, I listened to the politician drones around me interpersonally chit chattering away about the Israeli occupation being about land and natural resources, and not really about religion or racism albeit racism being a by-product of it all. In Arabic-mixed with English, I could make of a few people asking where their sister went. I also saw a person holding a boycott Israel placard while sipping a Starbucks coffee. Yet amidst the cacophony of ironies and hyprocrises, the organisers look determined and serious with the microphones. One of the organisers Nadia was a brilliant speaker, and the line of speakers to me spoke poignantly and powerfully. You could feel the passion. You could also feel the tension.

So when the two Palestinian children stepped to the front and started reading their speeches off their tiny flashcards, addressing a crowd of what looks like at least 500 people at Aotea Square, I broke. I wasn't the only one. I saw two guys in the front with tears streaming down their cheeks. The first one goes, the killing needs to stop. She goes, I am going to save my pocket money and donate it to the children in Gaza to save them. She goes, we thank you for your feelings but what we need now is action. My God, the truth.

As we march and shouted, chanted to fight back, exclaiming things like, Shame to US and Israel, and Charging them with Genocide, and Occupation will die, and long live Palestine, I had a moment when I spotted a placard which wrote, "This is Not About Religion. It's about Humanity" and recalled the conversations, feelings and actions I have yet to have with my people in Singapura. I felt like maybe it is time to throw in the towel. Maybe this is where I belong as a person of colour deemed and self-identifiably a Young Asian Feminist in Aotearoa, marching along, doing my bit to support and act in solidarity with tangata whenua and the struggles of indigenous peoples globally like in Palestine, whose experiences of colonisation is present today and ongoing and killing literally its people, including women and children, one by one, by ten, by hundred, by thousands. I mean, why should I bother with the Malays in Singapura. Even they themselves do not care. They told me, many times - it's too late for us.  They seem to be willing to accept and submit to their own silent death as an indigenous people, being ethnically cleansed through sinocentric-capitalism and duped by narratives of being saved through Islam. When I remarked how amazing Malays in Singapura  have suddenly become political about Gaza, someone replied back, "It is not about religion, it is about humanity." My mind wanders back to here in Auckland. Let it be hashtagged. Let this protest continue.

But then Roger Fowler started singing. The emcee goes, "with the song, We are all Palestinians now." I thought I heard it wrong. I looked quizzingly at the other YAFA members. No that's the song, they said and cringed with me. I don't understand, I said. I started looking around and many were mainly looking to go home probably to start resting and preparing for iftar. I peered through the segregating crowd. The song was chirpy, merry, country. I saw Roger singing smiling, red in the face. I don't understand.

I am an indigenous person whose land has been occupied whose people have been penalised for existing, but I will never call myself Palestinian, I wanted to say. I am Muslim, but I will never know the level of injustice, discrimination and violence faced by Arab Muslims fighting for their survival for centuries until today. I will never know how it feels like to knowingly witness and watch with an entire world the purposive manslaughter of my own people every single day. I will never know based on my history and genealogy, the effects of having an entire people destroyed city by city until the only city left to make a home for our children feels like one where we are forced to pay rent, and feel constantly hounded by landlords whom were never lords of our land to begin with. I will never know how it feels to have to flee from generations of occupation and imperialist wars my ancestors and predecessors died through because of centuries of zionism that were institutionally built with propaganda machines and weaponry in the West to maintain and sustain the oppression of my people. I will never know. I will never understand. I will never call myself Palestinian.

So how is it that this one person can?

It is very hard to organise, let alone mobilise, people to care about any particular issue that is beyond their day to day cause or cycle. You need allies. And importantly when you are the minority or oppressed group concerned, you need to be how should I best put it, "not so choosy or fussy" in how you select your allies. Because you do know that your allies are predominantly people with some level of power. Maybe they are not the bourgeoisie, but they would then be socialists with white male privilege. And of course 99% of the time if you are in a white settler nation, they will turn out to be, well, white. And you need them to assist you in your discovery and mission. That I understand unfortunately, very well.

But like Frantz Fanon once wrote, “When people like me, they like me "in spite of my color." When they dislike me; they point out that it isn't because of my color. Either way, I am locked in to the infernal circle.” Complicities are tricky. One minute we are hollering out at our government on New Zealand's complicity in not imposing pressure on the Israeli nation-state and its allies within the international community on the situation in Gaza. Next minute we are standing beside an old, white man singing about our oppression. Yes, this is not about religion. It is about humanity. But humanity is diverse and interlinked and complicit in each other's survival and struggle, not just in the hands of Governments, and Big Brotherhoods. We are amongst it. Let us not pretend that we are all Palestinians now.




YAFA (Young Asian Feminists Aotearoa) bloc at solidarity with Gaza protest 26 July 2014. I'm the one with the Fuck Zionism sign.