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.


  1. I understand the point about not calling yourself Palestinian--I agree! But perhaps one should limit closely our never's in a sentence. Re your: 'I will never..." Perhaps you will, and that's all the more reason to strengthen your solidarity (not your appropriation, as you rightly point out) with Palestinian. If it's happened to them, it can certainly happen to other groups.

  2. Re-posted due to blogger glitch.
    This is not just about appropriation. It is about historicity, and legacy that cannot be claimed by anyone or any group other than the Palestinians. I am not Palestinian, so I am rightfully sure I will never be. Solidarity, to me, does not mean equating or equalizing your struggle to another's. It means knowing your place in the historical context of their struggle and standing with and behind those leading out of their oppression against their oppressors, without any selfish or imagined sense of "i know how that feels" or "one day, I will know how that feels".

  3. Thank you for your heartfelt response to the demonstration and the reminder that while we can form solidarities we cannot claim the experiences of the Palestinians in our identification with them. We must resist Palestinians and Palestine becoming a radical or utopian fantasy that subsumes the struggles and suffering of others for our self-serving desires.

  4. While I too can't help but find myself silently cringing whenever this song begins at a protest, I think it is important to understand the role that such 'We are all...' slogans have played historically in other struggles. Apart from a few idiot liberals, I don't think anyone in their right mind thinks that their own position or experience is equivalent to a Palestinian's, nor do I think that this is what the song is trying to convey. As far as I know, the 'we are all...' slogan actually originated during and after the second world war when demonstrators claimed 'We are all Jews'. Another example was during the Algerian War when demonstrators in France claimed 'We are all Algerians' and elsewhere various groups have struggled against racism with slogans such as 'we are all immigrants'. Of course most of these people did not think that their experiences were somehow equivalent to the groups they were claiming solidarity with or that they were oppressed in the same way or by the same people. Rather, such slogans were intended as an explicit POLITICAL identification with the said groups and a political dis-identification with oppressive identities such as nationalism. Thus, when French people identified politically with the Algerians they were simultaneously undermining French patriotism and loyalty to the nation-state in a time of 'war'. From my understanding, the idea was to shift the discursive logic from that of absolute victimhood to that of strength and solidarity. In so doing, the logic which seeks always to compare and quantify multiple oppressions and struggles becomes meaningless as the point instead becomes that of demonstrating whose side you are on. Thus, reference to the said groups is less about identification with their experiences than expressing the universal significance of that groups struggle in the path towards freedom and equality for all.

    So while for the most part I agree with you, I do think that there is more to the song than identifying with the experiences of Palestinians by way of some kind of bullshit liberal compassion. Perhaps this message does get lost though and can easily appear narcissistic. Perhaps also the 'we are all...' slogan is not as applicable to solidarity demonstrations with Palestine as it was to, for example, French people demonstrating against the colonial war in Algeria. However, I also think it is a little unfair to dismiss Roger Fowler as just an old, white man. If you have a look at what he has been involved with historically (which includes workers based struggles, Tino Rangatiratanga struggles, campaigns for the rights of prisoners) you would see that he has probably done a lot more than many in Aotearoa to fight against the structures of privilege and oppression that you have mentioned. Anyway, I would be interested to see your response to this.

  5. Credit where credit is due- I really do not want this post to be about one "old white man". This is not so much about Roger's work, but what people like Roger ie older, white men who have claimed years of experience and hard yards in activism, somehow feel entitled to do. I would like to know if one's body of work necessarily entitles the person to speak, write and perform words as if, they're part of the people they are in solidarity with. Regardless of the intended message, one would think that a politically responsible musician immersed in social injustice environments for that long, should have deeply thought through what saying "We are all Palestinians" (PLUS delivered through a country music genre), given his position, would actually do and mean for Palestinians who are caught in this Israeli colonialist death machine fueled by Western powers.

  6. Point taken. However, it is a song used world wide. He didn't write it as far as I know. I read somewhere that the slogan 'we are all Palestinians' actually originated in Egypt in the 1970s during demonstrations there. Again, obviously a very different context to here but I think it is important to know that these words have a history beyond what you heard on Saturday.

  7. Yes, there are many songs that speak of solidarity and revolutions. One does not simply pick one that has a historical relevance specific to movements and peoples and conveniently use it for the sake of solidarity with Palestinians. A privilege aware socially conscious white person would know not to do that.

  8. I think the song actually works as a tool to highlight our privileged status and to motivate people to act.

    'An injury to one is an injury to all' does not literally mean that 'we are all injured if one person is injured' what it does do is evoke solidarity with an injured or oppressed person or people/s. This is where I think the 'We are all' slogans come from, and they have been used in many different struggles around the world for similar purposes - to enhance solidarity, recognise our relative privileges, as well as our obligation to do something about it - in effect something very powerful.

    The chant 'in our thousands and in our millions we are all Palestinians' is not a new one e.g. it was used as one of the main chants as humanitarian and civilian activists (from over 30 countries, including Palestine and many other Arab states) broke the siege in 2010 taking in medical aid to Gaza.

    Also, I think if you were unsure of the intended meaning of a song sung by an 'old white man' at a solidarity rally - why wouldn't you have a chat and perhaps attempt to understand what he's really saying first?