identity politics cached version 13/02/2019 07:24:21 en Why criticisms of identity politics sound ridiculous to me <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p><span class="image-caption">Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional Rally/March, Pittsburgh East Liberty Women's March 2017. Credit: <a href="">Flickr/feral godmother</a>. <a href="">CC BY-NC-SA 2.0</a>.</span><span></span></p> <p>I&nbsp;remember the first time I was called a nigger.</p> <p>I was in the 4th grade. I remember being in a classroom, joking with a friend (a white girl) and calling her a nincompoop. She looked to me, her smile melting into a look of contempt, and replied, “You’re wrong…<em>you’re</em>&nbsp;the nigger.”</p> <p>She had obviously misheard me, but that didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I wasn’t quite sure what she was talking about yet I understood, on a visceral level, the underlying message and how it made me feel: small, ugly…&nbsp;<em>less than</em>.</p> <p>Since that unwitting attempt to “put me in my place,” I’ve endured countless scenarios — sometimes casual, sometimes hostile—that made me feel one or more of those things throughout my life, a consequence of navigating a white-dominated society with an anti-black value system woven into the tapestry of its white-oriented culture.</p> <p>The thing is, I’m not just Black: I’m also an&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">atheist</a>. While far more benign compared to anti-blackness, being an atheist tacks on a more uncommon layer of prejudice that I contend with given our Christian hegemonic society, even within the Black community. Since most are reared in a social environment that constantly encourages and reinforces some type of religious or theistic belief, many view these normative ideas as being identical to truth.</p> <p>This view results in thinking something traumatic must have happened to those who reject these normative beliefs, or that they must hate god (which is&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">misotheism</a>,&nbsp;<em>not</em>&nbsp;atheism), or that there must be something wrong with them mentally—because, somehow, we’ve been conditioned to believe that no sane individual would reject the idea of an invisible yet omnipresent supernatural being we’ve never seen and are only familiar with through primitive stories and hearsay.</p> <p>But I’m not just an atheist. I must deal with a wide range of animus, fear, bias, ignorance, microaggressions, alienation, and erasure reserved not just for atheists, and not just for Blacks, but for the intersection of blackness and atheism. I’ll always be an outspoken atheist as well as&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">unapologetically Black</a>&nbsp;(that is, I despise&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">respectability politics</a>, readily speak to the real-lived texture of Black life, and choose to not diminish issues disproportionately impacting Black America).</p> <p>Those who suggest I ignore either of these essential pieces of my being, depending on which space I occupy, are really asking me to deny who I am for their comfort and their allegiance to social norms declaring those aspects of my identity matter less. Being a Black atheist within white-centered atheist spaces that satiate the concerns and interests of white atheists really helped me realize the importance of the questions, “<em>Who’s being left out—and why</em>?”</p> <p>Thinking deeply about this also helped shape my appreciation of the ways I hold many social advantages as an able-bodied,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">cisgender</a>, heterosexual male in a society that confers a surplus of meaning to those occupying these identities while delegitimizing the humanity of those who do not. So, for me, the reason why intersectionality is vital is apparent: it’s both a metaphor and frame of understanding that acknowledges multiple “avenues” of prejudice and marginalization exist, and that these “avenues” intersect.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Intersectionality</a>&nbsp;reminds us to consider how we are all impacted differently due to the complex, intersecting nature of social power dynamics. Still, there remain many who disparage or otherwise question the need for intersectionality. This usually happens for three reasons.</p> <p><strong>1. Naysayers don’t understand identity or its impact on our shared social&nbsp;reality.</strong></p> <p>There are many assumptions we take for granted when it comes to identity and the patterned social arrangements of society. Before speaking further about the significance of an intersectional analysis, it’s necessary to unpack some fundamentals of what identity does and does not entail.</p> <p>Identities&nbsp;<em>are</em>&nbsp;systematized descriptors that reference objective and causally relevant characteristics of a shared reality.</p> <p>Identities&nbsp;<em>are</em>&nbsp;based on specific cultural contexts, social histories, and lived experiences.</p> <p>Identities&nbsp;<em>are</em>&nbsp;the conditional products of social interaction and social institutions, subject to occupying particular locations within time, social space, and historical communities.</p> <p>Identities&nbsp;<em>are not</em>&nbsp;an attempt to reduce an entire group to an essential, coherent monolith. To share an identity with others is to share in only one facet of a multifaceted reality. There is no contradiction between identifying with specific social groups and being a complex, unique individual.</p> <p>When discussing common identity—separate from individual identity—we’re describing what’s imposed on us by an established history of social standards, stratification, controlling images, and stereotypes.</p> <p>To affirm that we have an identity, or to state that we’re a part of a particular identity group, is to simply agree that we have a location in social space informed by the interlocking social structures we inhabit.</p> <p>It’s necessary to increase awareness regarding the ways in which this complicated social reality impacts people differently if we want to build a society where the most vulnerable among us are recognized and listened to in hopes of alleviating (and ultimately,&nbsp;<em>eliminating</em>) their vulnerable status.</p> <p>This is why Kimberlé Crenshaw, scholar and civil rights activist who coined the term intersectionality,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">once described intersectionality</a>&nbsp;as being “an analytic sensibility” and “a way of thinking about identity and its relationship to power.”</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">She’s also articulated how intersectionality helps us</a>&nbsp;increase attentiveness to identity-based “blind spots” when it comes to aspects of unequal social power dynamics we don’t ourselves experience.</p> <p><strong>2. Naysayers associate intersectionality with their favorite bogey monster: “identity politics.”</strong></p> <p>The phrase “identity politics” is merely a pejorative blanket term that invokes a variety of ambiguous, cherry-picked ideas of political failings.</p> <p>Declaring something is “identity politics” is often a measure taken to trivialize identity-based issues that make many members of dominant social groups uncomfortable (e.g., Black Lives Matter critiquing anti-black racism, feminists critiquing sexism, LGBTQ activists critiquing cis-heteronormativity, etc.).</p> <p>Basically, “identity politics” is used as an expression to identify political deviance — to describe political actions defying imbalanced political structures we’ve been conditioned to accept.</p> <p>What’s ironic is politics are unavoidably connected to identity&nbsp;<em>for everyone</em>. Who and what we are is rooted in our identities. Identities are forged by socio-historical context, and they directly impact&nbsp;<em>interpellation</em>&nbsp;(the means by which we encounter our culture’s values and internalize them) as well as our lived experiences. Experiences correlate with identity to provide both an epistemic&nbsp;<em>and a political</em>&nbsp;basis for interpreting the world we exist in.</p> <p>Consider&nbsp;<em>white-centeredness</em>, a deeply-rooted cultural feature of this nation. The term “white-centeredness” describes the centrality of white representation that permeates every facet of dominant culture. This representation upholds as “normal” the ubiquity of language, ideas, values, social mores, and worldviews established by the white perspective.</p> <p>White-centeredness standardizes whiteness. This standardization saturates what we refer to as the “status quo.” The maintenance of this social order&nbsp;<em>is&nbsp;</em>white identity politics, as engaging in political activities to preserve these ideas and structures demands prioritizing the collective interests of white America.</p> <p>The thing is, nobody distinguishes political motivations, political judgments, or political maneuvering that enshrines white-centeredness as being white identity politics. Instead, white identity politics go “undetected,” as we’re socialized to regard the sustaining of dominant culture as “what is expected” or “the way things&nbsp;<em>ought</em>&nbsp;to be.”</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos</a>, a sociologist with Swinburne University, echoes this sentiment, stating:</p> <p>If the phrase has any value at all—and it really doesn’t—“identity politics” calls attention to the ways that people from majority groups, especially White people, do not “see” how their identities are governed by politics.</p> <p>This is how Whiteness works: White culture is embedded into all fields of public life, from education, to the media, to science, to religion and beyond. White culture is constructed as the norm, so it becomes the taken-for-granted ideal with which other cultures are judged against by White people.</p> <p>Hence, White people do not recognise how their race shapes their understanding of politics, and their relationships with minority groups.</p> <p>It shouldn’t be surprising that those who occupy positions of social dominance seek to discredit identity politics wielded by those with restricted social power.</p> <p>They’ll refer to it as “divisive” or “tribalism,” neglecting the fact that the political activism they belittle is&nbsp;<em>in response to&nbsp;</em>pre-existing social divisions situating certain social groups (<em>tribes</em>) with greater sociopolitical power at the expense of subordinating other social groups.</p> <p>They’ll go to great lengths to invalidate missions for increased social and political power by those from&nbsp;<em>marginalized social groups</em>—communities systematically disenfranchised in ways that restrict access to resources, rights, or opportunities made fully available to other social groups.</p> <p>In other words, the term “identity politics” is typically employed as a linguistic Trojan horse to stigmatize campaigns for civil rights.</p> <p>In 1977, a Black feminist lesbian organization known as the&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Combahee River Collective issued a statement</a>&nbsp;that may be considered the historical genesis of explicit identity politics. In it, the group expresses the relevance of identity to politics and how shared aspects of identity produces solidarity when confronting unique forms of oppression that target specific identities.</p> <p>The group was formed after issues related to their particular life circumstances were continually disregarded due to pervasive heterosexism, erasure within the&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">white-dominated women’s movement</a>, and erasure within the male-dominated Black liberation movement.</p> <p>For marginalized social groups, what is perceived as explicit identity politics is a challenge to status quo, and used as a means of seeking increased sociopolitical power currently not being distributed in an equal or just manner. This form of political engagement—which emphasizes issues and perspectives relevant to shared aspects of an identity— erves to address social ills that disproportionately impact the lives of marginalized social groups in clear and specific ways.</p> <p>A laser focus on matters related to our own social positions breeds insularity and complacency, obstructing our emotional and intellectual connection to disparate social realities we don’t experience. This is why we need intersectionality—to challenge and expand that narrowed focus.</p> <p>Speaking to how intersectionality forces us to move beyond more simplistic notions of complex social matters, Zevallos says:</p> <p>Intersectionality is not about “identity politics,” a term used to denigrate minorities’ contributions to activism, academia and other public discussions. Intersectionality is a framework used to illustrate how systems of discrimination are interconnected.</p> <p>Black women struggled against industrial relations law as they experience co-occurring incidents of racism and sexism in the workplace. The law puts Black women into a tricky position by forcing them to focus workplace complaints in either the area of race discrimination or gender discrimination.</p> <p>Professor Crenshaw’s use of intersectionality shines a light on how existing processes act as if individuals belong to discrete groups, when, in fact, Black women face multiple inequalities at the same time. Over the decades, theorists, including Professor Crenshaw, have further developed intersectionality to show how other relations of power structure inequality.</p> <p>For example, a Black woman activist at a Black Lives Matter protest unfortunately could not expect the police to protect her safety, as we have seen all over the world — <a href="" target="_blank">while a White woman activist at a Women’s March protest</a>&nbsp;can expect the police to provide a peaceful environment for her to march across the city. Race offers a buffer for one gender group (White women), but not another (Black women); hence, interconnections of race, gender and other forms of disadvantage require concurrent attention.</p> <p><strong>3. Naysayers don’t want seismic social&nbsp;change.</strong><strong></strong></p> <p>Many people simply don’t want radical social progress, or significant societal changes that would create a more inclusive social order, as this requires casting asunder oppressive ideas and systems codified into the status quo that dominant social groups benefit from.</p> <p>When you’re socially and politically exempt from&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">systemic inequality</a>, it isn’t unusual to focus on matters that relate more to your vantage point and to greet treating matters that decenter your purview with indifference, defensiveness, bewilderment, or hostility.</p> <p>Editor at Large of&nbsp;<em>The Establishment</em>&nbsp;Ijeoma Oluo, who spoke to this tendency in her article&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank"><em>Thank God For Identity Politics</em></a>, describes those who take issue with intersectionality as “people who are threatened because they see intersectionality as something that is forcing them to change, to see themselves as something other than the aggrieved party.”</p> <p>This brings to mind the recent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. No, it wasn’t a “We Hate Intersectionality” protest, but it damn sure was a flagrant display of white folks&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">espousing exclusionary beliefs</a>&nbsp;(e.g., chanting “You will not replace us,” parading KKK and neo-Nazi symbols) and expressing dissatisfaction with steps toward social progress: removing&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">monuments commemorating white supremacy</a>.</p> <p>Despite being white and existing within a white-dominated society steeped in a white-centered culture, both the protestors and their sympathizers are unable to see themselves as anything other than “victims” of a changing world gradually eroding their hegemonic status.</p> <p>This imagined distress of the privileged is encapsulated by the popular quote, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”</p> <p>We Need Accountability<strong></strong></p> <p>I asked Oluo about her opinion regarding the criticism that intersectionality creates a “hierarchy of suffering,” to which she responded:</p> <p>I think that it is the lack of intersectionality that creates a hierarchy of suffering. Intersectionality does just the opposite: it adjusts to the nuances of individual situations, and holds us all accountable to each other.</p> <p>This. Right. Here.</p> <p>Intersectionality demands&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">accountability</a>. Those occupying dominant social positions tend to be less accustomed to taking responsibility for attitudes or behaviors that adversely affect non-dominant group members.</p> <p>This is something I’m intimately familiar with when it comes to Black men who embrace shallow “Black first” ideas of wokeness that’s hip to the antiblackness ever-present within our white supremacist society while also reproducing ideologies that overlook or cosign <a href="" target="_blank">misogynoir</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">heterosexism</a>. This is why Oluo affirms, “You cannot only pick up the parts of revolution that free you and then fight against those working to free themselves and still call yourself a revolutionary.”</p> <p>We’ve all been socialized within a profoundly oppressive culture wherein widely accepted social mores cater to dominant social groups, whether based on gender, class, race, sexuality, ability, religion, or a combination of these and more.</p> <p>The exercise of intersectionality intervenes on the everyday assumptions, expectations, and interests we uncritically accept that routinely eclipse the concerns of&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">marginalized communities</a>.</p> <p>Writer, educator, and social activist&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Sikivu Hutchinson</a>&nbsp;explains it this way:</p> <p>Intersectionality is the human condition. It addresses the multiple positions of privilege and disadvantage that human beings occupy and experience in a global context shaped by white supremacy, capitalism, neoliberalism, patriarchy, heterosexism, ableism, segregation and state violence.</p> <p>Intersectionality upends the single variable politics of being “left” or “right.” It speaks to the very nature of positionality in a world in which it’s impossible to stake a claim on a solitary fixed identity that isn’t informed by one’s relationship to social, political and economic structures of power, authority and control that are themselves rooted in specific histories.</p> <p>As Oluo puts it, intersectionality requires folks to “set aside their egos and realize that we can always do better, and should always strive to do better, if we really want to be better.”</p> <p>For the sake of realizing a society more inclusive of the disadvantaged and the underrepresented so that increased access to well-being and autonomy is possible, it’s vital we take advantage of an analytical tool that deliberately seeks out those who exist on the margins. And that tool is intersectionality.</p> <p><em>This article was first published on <a href="">The Establishment</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/lori-lakin-hutcherson/my-white-friend-asked-me-to-explain-white-privilege-so-i-decide">My white friend asked me to explain white privilege, so I decided to be honest.</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/jennifer-lentfer/wrestling-with-my-white-fragility">Wrestling with my white fragility</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/scot-nakagawa/blacklivesmatter-and-white-progressive-colorblindness">#Blacklivesmatter and white progressive colorblindness</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation identity politics Sincere Kirabo Liberation Intersectionality Sun, 01 Jul 2018 19:05:56 +0000 Sincere Kirabo 118257 at Why misunderstanding identity politics undermines the goals of a just society <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>'Ideal citizens' should not be defined by a white patriarchal system.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">The&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">crisis&nbsp;</a>of identity politics has undermined the concept of <a href="" target="_blank">intersectionality</a>, which&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">is viewed&nbsp;</a>as critical to the struggle for liberation from all forms of oppression. Credit: Hero Images/Getty Images via YES! Magazine. All rights reserved.&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2018, the term “identity politics” is often associated with the promotion of&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">tokenized personalities&nbsp;</a>rather than on the representation and advancement of oppressed communities within society. This form of&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">identity politics&nbsp;</a>often revolves around&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">empty partisan placards&nbsp;</a>and exclusive single-issue platforms rather than on forming inclusive alliances meant to stimulate fundamental structural change. As such, it reinforces a populism that serves white supremacy and patriarchy.</p> <p>The&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">crisis&nbsp;</a>of identity politics has undermined the concept of&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">intersectionality</a>, which&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">is viewed&nbsp;</a>as critical to the struggle for liberation from all forms of oppression. The recent assassination of the Brazilian Black queer activist&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Marielle Franco&nbsp;</a>and the consequent public uproar demonstrate the threat intersectional leaders pose to the ruling establishment that uses division and preserves privilege to stifle change. Leaders such as Franco serve a vital unifying role in a peoples’&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">transnational solidarity&nbsp;</a>movement that embraces—rather than eliminates—identities.</p> <p>Ashanti Monts-Treviska co-manages a social enterprise, Cascadia Deaf Nation, which focuses on creating a member-owned cooperative model that co-creates thriving spaces with Deaf Black Indigenous People of Color (DBIPOC*) in British Columbia, Washington State and Oregon. Monts-Treviska is a doctoral student in transformative studies and consciousness at the California Institute of Integral Studies.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Gerry Ebalaroza-Tunnell&nbsp;</a>is a Pacific Indigenous scholar and&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">transformative coach&nbsp;</a>who intermingles Indigenous epistemology and Western philosophies. Together, Monts-Treviska and Ebalaroza-Tunnell facilitate spaces for dialogue that shift paradigms and challenge the status quo. They are now working on producing a&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">resilience and adaptability workshop&nbsp;</a>to address the dynamics between trigger and response. In this interview, Monts-Treviska and Ebalaroza-Tunnell discuss the importance of intersectionality and decolonization as fundamental aspects of building a just and equitable society.</p> <p><strong>Yoav Litvin</strong>: Discuss the various components of your identity and the prejudices they invoke. Do you give preference to one over the other, or do you agree with Audre Lorde, who stated that “there is no hierarchy of oppressions”?</p> <p><strong>Ashanti Monts-Treviska</strong>: I appreciate the term “intersectionality,” coined by&nbsp;<a href=";t=6s" target="_blank">Kimberlé Crenshaw</a>. Without the understanding of intersectionality, it would be difficult to express exactly what I have experienced with all of my identities.</p> <p>I view the various components of my identity as aspects of my experience. They are not separated from each other. The complexity of my identity is unique because it allows me to interact and connect with almost everyone through resilient empathy, compassion, and conscious understanding, while dealing with a whole stack of biases against me.</p> <p>Before I unpacked myself several years ago, I primarily adopted my most oppressed component, being deaf, because of communication barriers due to&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">audism&nbsp;</a>in my family, in my learning environments, in various communities including Black communities and communities of color and other spaces.</p> <p>Audism is best described as oppression or discrimination against people who identify with the spectrum of deaf experience (deaf, hard of hearing, late deafened, etc.). It is basically a normalization of the devaluing of the experience of an inability to hear or inability to hear everything in the normal range of sounds. Audism is one of the manifestations of the white patriarchal supremacist system, which defines the parameters of ideal model citizens. It is an overarching paradigm of lateral and horizontal oppressions. Within audism exists cultural-linguistic audism, linguistic audism, lateral audism, dysconscious audism, and passive and active audism. Most hearing people practice&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">dysconscious audism</a>, intentionally or unintentionally.</p> <p>Through the journey of unpacking myself, I realized it was a deep mistake to stick with the most oppressed aspect of my identity while ignoring or repressing its other components: being a Black Indigenous womxn. Each aspect has its own contributions to my overall growth.</p> <p>My choice of a complex identity as a Deaf Black Indigenous Womxn of Color (DBIWOC*) means that I equitably acknowledge and embrace the Afro-Cuban and Native aspects of myself along with the resilient experience of being a deaf womxn. As a womxn, I am gender fluid when it comes to clothes, and I am a queer when it comes to relationships. It means I would be with a person because of the soul attraction and the way they carry themselves.</p> <p>In terms of my own deafhood, most people tend to pity me because I cannot share an experience defined by sound. I am extremely sorry for people who choose to believe that deafness, as a pathological or medical anomaly, needs to be cured or fixed. I view the deaf experience as an organic one (including the ability to express myself creatively in American Sign Language) because it is a different way of processing information. There is an uncontaminated beauty in that.</p> <p><strong>Litvin:&nbsp;</strong>How does the Hawaiian anti-colonialist struggle play into your personal experience of decolonization?</p> <p><strong>Gerry Ebalaroza-Tunnell</strong>: Growing up on the island of Oahu meant that I was part of a unique culture that is a blend of many ethnicities that make up Hawaii. On my birth certificate, it states that I am of Filipino, Spanish, Chinese and Portuguese descent. But according to my DNA test, I am also 32 percent Polynesian.</p> <p>In Hawaii, everyone looks like me, speaks the same Native tongue as I do, and experiences life under the collective banner of “Aloha.” In mainland U.S., I discovered that people live under an individualistic banner and in doing so, isolate themselves from one another.</p> <p>My genetic makeup and life experiences meant that I was not only a member of those oppressed, but also the oppressors. My partaking in the system of hierarchical oppression, regardless of where I stood within it, was one of the colonizer.</p> <p>The struggle to de-colonize myself came through education—colonized education. As I worked on my Masters, and then my Ph.D., I read, processed and struggled. Finally, I came to understand that my mind was not my own: It had been colonized.</p> <p>I have come to appreciate Audre Lorde’s statement that, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master's house.” But throughout my studies, I believed this statement was false; that colonized education could be used to dismantle the systems of oppression. I eventually discovered that the decolonization of one’s mind is not only rooted in the access to knowledge, but in the willingness to dismantle rooted and programmed belief systems. I utilized Western epistemology to inform myself about myself. It is now apparent to me that as a Pasifika Indigenous scholar and cultural practitioner, I must learn and teach to walk in both worlds to ensure that my voice and the voices of all future generations are not oppressed.</p> <p>In fact, it was through the lens of the Hawaiian struggle for decolonization that I have come to find my decolonized self. I came to realize that Hawaii, through Aloha, retains a fragment of an uncolonized civilization. By its very nature,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">the collective spirit of Aloha&nbsp;</a>welcomes all to participate and be a part of it. The practice of Aloha on an island far out in the Pacific creates a bubble of potential that could be leveraged toward a decolonized culture of modern human beings.</p> <p><strong>Litvin</strong>:&nbsp;What have been some of the difficulties in cultivating a nurturing social environment that respects all components of your identity? How do you define your community?</p> <p><strong>Monts-Treviska</strong>: It was very difficult to work with or fit in with various communities because of my intersectional experience. It is hard to ignore my Latinx and Native background as well as my deaf experience when interacting with Black communities. My unique intersectional background left me with almost no community because most people do not understand the meaning of co-creating a cohesive community.</p> <p>Many are taught that charity is the best way to help those who are in need. Charity is practiced out of a sense of pity and is a means to avoid questioning the system of oppression. At Cascadia Deaf Nation, we believe in “sharity”: a sense of sharing the collective wealth within thriving spaces.</p> <p>I work on reframing the cultural-linguistic narratives through a new concept of deafhood of color as a possible&nbsp;<a href="">third space</a>. Deafhood, in contrast to deafness, is a spiritual or transpersonal journey of discovering the deaf experience and expressing it truthfully and creatively. Deafhood is also a decolonization process of dismantling the dominant status quo. Audre Lorde's work, along with various third spaces, validated the need for a deeper understanding of deafhood to co-create a shift in collective awareness on multiple social levels.</p> <p><strong>Litvin:&nbsp;</strong>What is the importance of deconstructing privilege with the goal of building a just and equal society free of colonization?</p> <p><strong>Ebalaroza-Tunnell</strong>: If we are to decolonize ourselves collectively, we must start with decolonizing ourselves individually. To do this, we must reach back and connect with our own Indigenous ways and the means in which they were colonized.</p> <p>Throughout the process of my decolonization, I found myself shying away from the principles embedded in traditional knowledge and moving toward the Western cultural values of acceptance and integration. I stopped believing that my Indigenousness was an integrated state of being, and I unwittingly gave up this important component of my identity. The realization of my oppression caused me to mourn, and I felt a deep sense of loss and sorrow as I became aware of the broken relationships and pain that I caused due to my shallow sense of power and privilege. Part of me inclined to take shelter behind the excuses for my behavior. I detached from those who I injured to safeguard myself.</p> <p>It is instructive to examine the ancient story of the Tower of Babel, which has different versions in many global cultures: The tale of humanity and its great ability to work together to build a tower toward the heavens and touch the gods. In this story, humanity is scattered and languages are confused to ensure such a feat could never happen again.</p> <p>Symbolically, this story exudes the self-organization necessary to build a tower and the collective imagination to dream it. What it also exemplifies is a disempowering force imposed on humanity. This power is colonization. We have come full circle here at the dawn of the 21st century: We have built a tower of human culture in which the stones are made up of a monetary illusion that is incredibly effective at allowing [nearly] 8 billion of us to simultaneously exist on this planet. To do so, we have erected a system that is very structurally demanding; a reality that requires reckless consumption. This is sustained through the protection of privilege and the establishment of firm hierarchies.</p> <p>This societal structure was born through the dismantling of Indigenous epistemologies. All human cultures have been assimilated into this tower that we have created for ourselves.</p> <p><strong>Litvin:&nbsp;</strong>What is the nature of the transition from oppressed to the oppressor?</p> <p><strong>Monts-Treviska</strong>: In our culture, privilege is often unexamined. Deconstructing privilege is one of the first steps to decolonizing the self from the narrative of the privileged group. In order to acknowledge privilege, one first needs to understand its roots. Second comes the question [of] whether those privileges help to preserve or dismantle the system of oppression.</p> <p>I am especially interested in the expression of privilege in social justice and equity spaces as it provides insight into how these dynamics work in society in general.</p> <p>Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed afforded me deep insight into how people become oppressors within their oppressed group. As a deaf person of color, I could be an oppressor toward another deaf person of color or deaf-blind person or a deaf-disabled person within the deaf community because of my privileges that were either earned or awarded. Owning privileges and keeping them in check through humility enables a person the ability to share power and relinquish a hierarchical power structure. This is achieved by harnessing the power of listening, solidarity, humility, mindfulness, words and intuition.</p> <p>Without acknowledging privilege, people easily fall into a dynamic of lateral oppression within oppressed communities. For example, in my case, a hearing Black person can choose to represent him/herself by using voice to overshadow a deaf Black person such as myself. As such, I had to learn to be more creative in bringing a different narrative to the critical issues. Unfortunately, I have to work harder to make that happen because I have less privileges in some areas.</p> <p><strong>Litvin:</strong>&nbsp;How do you view violence? What are safe spaces, and how do you go about constructing them?</p> <p><strong>Monts-Treviska</strong>: Most people associate violence with physical and sexual manifestations, but are unaware or desensitized to many other, subtler forms. In fact, many people are oblivious to the fact that they are being consistently violated through various channels of violence.</p> <p>The problem is that we do not know how to honor each other's existence because we are taught to exist in survival mode rather than in an internal space in which we can thrive. Thus, we compete and are violent toward one another.</p> <p>Audism is violence. Racism is violence. Saying something to disempower yourself and to disempower people around you is violence. Reading something that makes one group of people look bad through destructive stereotyping is violence. Dictating how a woman’s body should look like is violence.</p> <p>We lack an understanding of what actually creates a nurturing culture that provides both “safe” and “sacred” spaces simultaneously. But what is really safe? All-Black or all-POC or all-deaf spaces are considered “safe” for these marginalized groups, but they are not always safe for people who have intersectional identities. Here, people can become oppressors toward their own people through lateral violence because of the systemic internalizations being unchallenged.</p> <p>That’s why I would rather go with “sacred” spaces—to acknowledge that each person’s journey and life experience is sacred. In the “safe space,” we unintentionally project our privileges onto different people who are underrepresented or who are less privileged within that space. If I were to reframe the meaning of “safe,” I would use the word “sacred welcoming”—similar to the approach of welcoming a newborn every minute of our lives. Each person's soul is sacred; however, we contaminate the sacredness of our souls by internalizing the toxicities of our oppressive systems, which serve to divide people.</p> <p><strong>Litvin:&nbsp;</strong>Discuss the importance and transformational qualities of storytelling. What role does it play in effectively countering colonialism, while rebuilding community?</p> <p><strong>Ebalaroza-Tunnell</strong>: Alo—meaning “front” and Ha—meaning “breath.” Aloha means the exchange of the breath of life. That is what storytelling is: the exchange of ideas, the resolution of conflict, the changing of perspectives and the evolution of our collective being. Much can be accomplished by the sharing of individual stories.</p> <p>From a Pasifika Indigenous worldview, storytelling is the most natural way for Indigenous wisdom to be passed on. The method of story gathering and story making/building can help us make sense of complex interconnected situations. It can serve as a tool for people to explore better ways to connect with each other by engaging in deep listening and transformative dialogue about issues that divide us.</p> <p>Whether in caves or cities, the stories we tell remain the most typical and essential form of communication. All of us tell stories. We do not see our own stories as “stories” because we see experience through them. Narratives are not abstractions of life, but how we find ourselves engaging with it. We make stories, and those stories make us human. We can awaken into stories as we awaken into language or culture, which is present before us and will continue after we are gone.</p> <p>Our stories possess truths and motivations, and they are wholly our own. We come together collectively—as two or more—with the incredible feat of melding these narratives together. These collective narratives could be anything we wish them to be and [we] should not settle for what we are told they should be.</p> <p>Media and screens have us tethered and tied to a collective truth that is growing long in the tooth: The story of what it is to be a modern human—a colonized human. The reality of ourselves is so much grander than this foolish tale of dominion over all we survey. We could be way-finders once again, navigating across the sea by following the stars if only we chose to weave such a story for ourselves. The things we believe to be fictions are only a collective agreement away from becoming our reality.</p> <p><strong>Litvin:</strong>&nbsp;How do you view the culture of “political correctness”? What are some of its qualities that lend to oppression and the oppression of language?</p> <p><strong>Monts-Treviska</strong>: Most people think that they know how to say the right things. However, they do not bother to inquire about the intersectional experiences of different people, including deaf POC. It happens because most people are afraid of what they do not know or understand.</p> <p>Words either disempower or empower us individually and collectively. A deep understanding of the power of words is an essential key to uncovering the root causes of oppressions. Political correctness is similar to an easy “one-size-fits-all” approach when it comes to dealing with various critical issues. Political correctness instills fears in people about appropriateness rather than encourages them to investigate the “other.”</p> <p>When deaf people internalize the political correctness from the dominant majority (i.e. hearing people) and project it into their culture and communities, it creates oppression of subgroups within deaf communities.</p> <p>If I were to reframe “political correctness,” I would frame it as “reality experience”; each person's reality is different from another person’s. We need to give people the space to embrace their own journeys. In order to decolonize our views on political correctness, we must learn from different people’s reality experiences without judgement. In that sense, we could embrace different people’s journeys and acknowledge their ability to contribute to humanity’s evolution of collective consciousness in an equitable manner.</p> <p><strong>Litvin:</strong>&nbsp;How do you avoid being used as a token within a predominantly white supremacist and patriarchic culture?</p> <p><strong>Ebalaroza-Tunnell</strong>: I take my work as the opportunity to teach. I wouldn't consider myself very popular within the supremacist and patriarchal models of our culture. If I were, these entities would approach me not to co-create communities, but along the lines of self-aggrandizement. Thus far, that has not happened. When it does—if it does—I suppose it will be as much of a battle as it would be for any teacher who challenges the status quo.</p> <p>I must be true to myself and willing to sacrifice. I am no different than anyone else in this world. I would welcome more comfort than I currently have and relief from the discomfort I experience. How to find that and not sell myself out is the trick. It is a challenge to avoid self-colonization and that is the very struggle for enlightenment we all seek. Some days I am successful and others, I am not.</p> <p class="image-caption">This article was originally published by&nbsp;<a href="" target="_self">Truthout</a> and re-published by <a href="">YES! Magazine</a> in an edited form.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/sofa-gradin/is-there-really-crisis-around-identity-politics-on-left">Is there really a crisis around identity politics on the left?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/lori-lakin-hutcherson/my-white-friend-asked-me-to-explain-white-privilege-so-i-decide">My white friend asked me to explain white privilege, so I decided to be honest.</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/chitra-nagarajan/enough-talk-about-intersectionality-lets-get-on-with-it">Enough talk about intersectionality. Let&#039;s get on with it</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation identity politics Yoav Litvin Liberation Intersectionality Thu, 17 May 2018 20:44:47 +0000 Yoav Litvin 117618 at In search of cardinal virtues in Iraq <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Political violence has ascended into a mode of governance in Iraq today, wherein religious identity reigns&nbsp;supreme.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Bullets on the ground in Mosul, Iraq, 01 June 2017. Picture by Noe Falk Nielsen/NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All right reserved. </span></span></span>I arrived in Baghdad in November 2013. It was part of my doctoral research on the afterlives of the Iraqi Baʿth state’s al-Anfāl genocide (1987-1991). I wanted to record how the Iraqi federal government shows its responsibility for the past, present, and future of Iraq. I saw the future of Iraq to be entirely wrapped in women survivors’ persistent demands for legal and ethical justice, for tracing, exhuming, identifying and returning the remains of their loved ones scattered in unknown mass graves in the country. In Iraq women survivors remain the voice that translates into the ethical urgency for building a more responsible and virtuous Iraq.</p> <p>With modern bureaucracy the Iraqi Baʿth regime pulled religion and the constitution together to justify and to make legitimate genocidal violence. The state’s decree no. 4008, dated June 20, 1987, declares the Kurdish rural areas and village as outlawed, and that they “shall be regarded as operational zones strictly out of bound to all persons and animals […] in which the troops can <em>open fire at will</em> […] The Corps shall carry out random bombardment, using artillery, helicopter and aircraft […] in order to kill the largest number of persons in the outlawed areas.” Jointly with thousands of other al-Anfāl documents, the decree became a key legal evidence during the al-Anfāl trials (2006-2007) and was used against Ali Hassan al-Majid, the Secretary General of the Northern Bureau from 1987-1989. Al-Majid was the one who had signed the decree. Following the trials, the verdict judged al-Anfāl as genocide.</p> <p class="mag-quote-right">“This is life in Baghdad. It is a biological duration”</p><p>In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, it is now remembered to have resulted in the killing and disappearance of ‘182.000’ people, displacement of ‘1.5 million’ people, and complete destruction of ‘4.500’ villages. </p> <p>At the time of my arrival, ten years after the United States turned “de-Baʿthification” of Iraq into law, Baghdad was still dotted with checkpoints. It was a city under siege as mobile military units and armored vehicles roamed the streets. Occupying the dangerous sidewalk of the road between the liberation monument in Tahrir Square and the “green zone,” where the Iraqi parliament, the Council of Representatives of Iraq, and the respective American and British embassies are located, vendors were forming a line and displayed their goods. As the driver saw me watching the vendors, he told me, “This is life in Baghdad. It is a biological duration.” He was telling me whose life is at stake.</p> <p>I soon observed that al-Anfāl was not of concern to the Iraqi government in the green zone. What happened had disappeared into a past without trace. The dominant question in the pressroom of the Iraqi parliament was whether to maintain or decrease the monthly food rations (e.g. flour, rice, cooking oil etc.) to the Iraqi population. This public distribution food program became a policy when sanctions were imposed on Iraq. It was the punishment for Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in the beginning of August 1990. The United Nations’ “oil for food” program in 1996, and the Iraqi food program increasingly turned the Iraqi peoples into biological duration.</p> <p>A specially trained Kurdish Peshmerga (lit. ‘before death’) force and a British Security company with employees from the Republic of Fiji were responsible for the security of the parliament. “I am surprised to see Peshmerga here,” I voiced my inquisitiveness to a Peshmerga who scanned my body at the entrance. “Shīʿītes and Sunnīs do not trust each other, but they both trust us. There were bloodbaths here before we came,” he responded. Yet, the then President Jalal Talabani had left the Presidential Palace to the city of Sulaimani in the Kurdistan Region. I was told that he is in conflict with Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister at the time. “He will come back. This is how politics is done in Iraq. People get angry at each other and they threaten to kill each other, and then suddenly they are back together as if nothing ever happened between them. It is the Iraqi civilians who suffer,” an Iraqi parliamentarian told me over dinner at a small restaurant outside of the green zone. Two boys, 17 years old and 18 years old respectively were running the restaurant. The restaurant was 16 square meters, and it was also where the two boys slept at night. “We are from the south of Iraq, and have nowhere else to go to at night,” said the 17 year old boy.</p> <p class="mag-quote-left">Politics as irresponsibility and unaccountability is at the heart of the modern political history of Iraq.</p><p>The 2005 Iraqi state’s constitution that hosts rights and freedoms neither had a place at the restaurant nor in the everyday life of the two boys and their families. “Our families can put bread on the table because we send them money every month,” said the 18 year old boy. The money had to be given to their respective mothers who in turn would use it to take care of other children. If one doesn’t immediately acknowledge that love, ethics, responsibility, accountability, care and justice are always at work at this level of the current Iraqi society then one denies the history and the future of Iraq.</p> <p>The green zone is at work creating another Iraq, taking a different stance in relation to the past, present, and future. Politics as irresponsibility and unaccountability is at the heart of the modern political history of Iraq. Because of his titanic depravity, Nouri al-Maliki was replaced with Haider al-Abadi. Yet, he remains a powerful figure in the Iraqi government. An electric engineer, al-Abadi is now doing apoplectic politics in continuity with a particular reading of religion. While claiming to be a strict constitutional leader and reader, he continues to militarize Iraq to be prepared to carry out constitutional and religious wars against the <em>Iraqi Kurdish</em> <em>citizens </em>at any time. Al-Abadi’s matter of concern is not the living conditions, national infrastructure, and promotion of national education in all fields, health care, and cultural life, but the politics of violence that has brought him closer to Iran and Turkey.</p> <p>Violence is entrenched in the evolvement of what is now Iraq. Apart from the violence of the Ottomans, the British and the Americans that are yet to be accounted for, certain interpretations of religion are a constitutive part of six separate genocidal violence in Iraq in the twentieth and twenty-first century. <em>The Summayl massacre</em> against the Assyrians, an Iraqi Christian minority, on August 11, 1933; <em>Al-Far</em><em>ḥ</em><em>ūd</em> became the name for public hangings, massacre, and violent dispossession of the Iraqi Jews in early 1941; <em>The Dujail massacre</em> targeting the Iraqi Shīʿītes between 1982-1985; <em>Al-Anfāl operations</em> targeting mainly the Kurds but also absorbing Êzîdîs and Christians between 1987-1991; Shīʿīte religious cleansing of the Sunnīs in 2006-2007; the <em>Sinjar operations</em> of the “Islamic state” against Êzîdîs, and its exterminatory violence against Christians, Kāka’ees, and Shabak between 2014-2017.</p> <p class="mag-quote-right">Political violence has ascended into a mode of governance in Iraq today</p><p>Political violence has ascended into a mode of governance in Iraq today, wherein religious identity reigns supreme. The arrival and settlement of the “popular mobilization forces” (<em>Al</em><em>-Hashd al-shaʿbī</em>)<em> </em>in the city of Kirkuk on October 16, 2017, attests to how freedoms and rights break down and the control over the oil reserves takes precedence. In its visible form, it is a Shīʿīte army<em> </em>acting rather in the name of God, and making public the growing solidarity between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Haider al-Abadi. A shared religious identity, Shīʿīsm is subjected to a political translation that shapes a new but asymmetric relationship between Baghdad and Tehran. The Iranian state is only at work foisting its own reading of Shīʿīte identity on the entire region. This particular mode of existence is the Islamic Republic’s only contribution to the modern history of the Middle East, and it remains its only option of survival. Its survival and its acts of violence both within Iran and in the region are inseparable. An identity that makes invisible all other identities, as Amartya Sen writes, “can kill – and kill with abandon.”</p> <p>Dichotomized religious identities have advanced into an Iraqi ordinance. Together with other friends, I had the privilege of visiting a renowned Iraqi artist while in Bagdad. Lamenting the loss of cultural life in Baghdad, the artist reflected on how the politicization of Islam is gradually cleaning all traces of art and aesthetics in the memory of the city. Later on, one of the hosts invited me to an art exhibition and while walking he whispered to me how the Iraqi Sunnīs were transformed into a measurable enemy and identified on the basis of their names or their location inscribed on their national identification cards. “Many Sunnīs were exterminated and their bodies were thrown into the Tigris River,” he told me. He continued saying how this policy precipitously turned neighbors and communities into historical religious enemies and brought the everyday living together to an ultimate end.</p> <p>The very exclusive religious mission of <em>Al</em><em>-Hashd al-shaʿbī</em> brings it closer to the Islamic states’ phantasmagoria, informing the Iraqis that they are exclusively Shīʿīte. This comes to life during the&nbsp;holy Day of Ashura,&nbsp;when some organized groups occupy the streets with swords and chains, cutting and whipping their own bodies. Physical pain and bleeding become evidence of religious duty and identity, remembering the killing of ḥussein Ibn ʿAli at the Battle of Karbala&nbsp;in 680 CE. The politics of viscerality is an act that sanctifies the self and the land where ʿAli, Prophet Mohammed’s first cousin and son-in-law, and ḥussein, ʿAli’s son, and other martyrs of the Battle of Karbala&nbsp;are buried. Located at the heart of Iraq, Karbala and the city of Najaf fall within the area where Sunnīs and Shīʿītes sacrificed lives and spilled blood in their battles over who would become the ultimate face of Islam on earth, following the death of the Prophet Mohammed in 632 CE.</p> <p class="mag-quote-right">Dichotomized religious identities have advanced into an Iraqi ordinance.</p><p><em>Al</em><em>-Hashd al-shaʿbī </em>cannot, therefore, be confined to what the name proposes. <em>Al-shaʿbī</em> is a euphemism for <em>al-</em><em>Shīʿīte, </em>just as al-Anfāl was a euphemism for genocide. Born from a religious declaration (<em>fatwā</em>) of Al-Sayyed Ali al-Sistani, the highest Shīʿa authority in Iraq, on 15 June 2014 <em>Al-Hashd al-shaʿbī</em> is the manifestation of divine punishment. Its mission was to descend into war with the “Islamic state.” It has now advanced into a force that can suspend law and ethics and make and unmake the humanity of its target group with impunity. Its reputation as a merciless armed force renders it foreign to the principle that each and every person has civil and political rights that she/he should be able to express and realize freely and without any fear of death. It makes infinitely public al-Abadi’s religious reading of the Iraqi constitution, in the name of which he claims to order and command military operations. <em>The operations target Iraqi citizens (Kurds) whose rights and freedoms are also guaranteed by the same constitution</em>. The constitution was written under the US-UK rule. In his book,<em> Constitution Making Under Occupation</em>, Andrew Arato writes that a “short time period was provided for the making of the permanent constitution (seven months), some of this was eaten up by the problems of government formation and the formation of the Constitutional Committee itself (three and a half months in all), and it took another two months to include Sunni representatives.”</p> <p>The paradox embedded in the relation of religion to the constitution continues to be integral to the justification of violence or the right of the state to kill. While Article 2 insists, “Islam is the official religion of the State and is a foundation source of legislation,” <em>Section Two: Rights and Freedoms</em> of the constitution encapsulates the rights and freedoms of all persons, that are taken to be independent of “gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, origin, color, religion, sect, belief or opinion, or economic or social status” (Article 14). These rights are enshrined in the Universal Declarations of Human Rights of which Iraq is a signatory state. In this respect, as it is also inscribed in Article 8, the Iraqi state is made nationally and internationally accountable for any violations of fundamental rights and freedoms.</p> <p><span class="mag-quote-center">It is characteristic of neoliberal democracy that one sings democracy at “home” and participates in annihilatory violence elsewhere – that one is at once a democrat and a monster.</span>&nbsp;</p><p>The terrorizing invasion of Tuz Khurmatu, Kirkuk, Khanaqin, and Sinjar and the forced displacement of the Kurdish civilians from what Article 140 of the constitution gathers together under the name “disputed territories” are rather trends toward violation of all rights and freedoms. The name also turns the inhabitants into “disputed populations.” Sinjar is yet to get free of the genocidal violence of the “Islamic state,” and its inhabitants, Êzîdîs, continue to live in the shadow of that violence in camps for “internally displaced persons” in the Kurdistan Region. The Shīʿīte dominated Iraqi government’s unwillingness to break free of terror and violence and the active deferral of the constitution, has securely turned the <em>no longer valid</em> Article 140 into annihilatory violence. Paragraph 2 of Article 140, insists that the “Iraqi Transitional Government stipulated in Article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law,” shall through “a referendum in Kirkuk and other disputed territories … determine the will of their citizens … by a date not to exceed the 31st of December 2007.” Noticing the date (<em>31st </em><em>of December 2007</em>), Article 140 must be <em>a thing of the past</em>.</p> <p>What Article 140 archives is <em>now</em> actualized violence. The arrival and presence of <em>Al</em><em>-Hashd al-shaʿbī </em>with sophisticated weapons, turning the disputed territories into a <em>war zone,</em> cannot display protection of “The will of [Iraqi] citizens.” Fundamental to the annihilatory force of <em>Al</em><em>-Hashd al-shaʿbī </em>is the modernity’s technics of extermination. This is what connects it to the global arms trade for which no one is held accountable. This dimension reveals how weapons produced in democracies, e.g. the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, and traded with Iraq, inevitably makes them complicit. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute <em>Yearbook 2017</em>, these democracies are among the main exporters of weapons and Iraq is among the main importers of these weapons. <strong>It is characteristic of neoliberal democracy that one sings democracy at “home” and participates in annihilatory violence elsewhere – that one is at once a democrat and a monster. </strong><strong>“</strong>In politics,” wrote Hannah Arendt, “obedience and support are the same.”</p><p>In fear of terrorization and death, more than a hundred thousand Kurdish civilians in Sinjar, Tuz Khurmatu, and Kirkuk left their <em>homes </em>already on October 16-17, 2017. Homelessness and statelessness are again turning families, many of whom are survivors of al-Anfāl, into depoliticized bodies. The homes that have been set on fire and worldly possessions looted in Tuz Khurmatu and Kirkuk must testify to how the state materialized in <em>Al</em><em>-Hashd al-shaʿbī </em>displays its will to erase human plurality while <em>miniaturizing</em> Iraq, as Amartya Sen would say. This is already an appalling marker of how the state <em>forgets</em> the constitution. Apart from “public morality,” and the “right to individual privacy,” Article 17 of the Iraqi constitution states: “The sanctity of the homes shall be protected. Homes may not be entered, searched, or violated, except by a judicial decision in accordance with the law.”</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">The unprecedented rapprochement between Iran, Turkey and Haider al-Abadi is a political reversal – friends becoming enemies and enemies becoming friends.</p><p>The referendum [The will of Iraqi citizens] for independence in the Kurdistan Region is made responsible for terrorization and threat of annihilation, forced displacement and the burning of homes. Al-Abadi describes the referendum as “a thing of the past” that is both “unconstitutional” and a threat to state “sovereignty.” The constitution and sovereignty are thus taken as sufficient source for the <em>forgetfulness of the past</em> and the legitimization of <em>Al</em><em>-Hashd al-shaʿbī </em>as a fearful armed force. State sovereignty is not seen to be applicable to the dominant military presence and participation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, operating through Qasem Suleimani, commander of Iran’s “Quds Force” with a commitment to extraterritorial wars. It is also the Islamic Republic of Iran that has divided and controls the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan as a Kafkaian gatekeeper and shapes its politics of withdrawal at any moment. Like the Kurdistan Democratic Party, it, too, remains to be held accountable for its history of political violence. What link together these Kurdish political parties with the the Islamic Dawa party in Baghdad, are their political translation of “Kurdish and Shīʿīte victimhood” and their unaccountable abuse of national wealth.</p> <p><strong>The unprecedented rapprochement between Iran, Turkey and Haider al-Abadi is a political reversal – friends becoming enemies and enemies becoming friends</strong>. They are now suddenly each other’s only hope. Iran and Turkey were “friends” of the two most powerful Kurdish political parties before the referendum. Together with al-Abadi they are now at work drawing a cartographic control of the Iraqi Kurdish citizens. Politics and religious identity are made indivisible. The<em> </em>conquest of the disputed territories is a viscerally arresting testimony. This shows how humiliation and symbolic violence – taking off, throwing away, trampling on, and burning the Kurdish flag and homes – embody a politics of religious identity that feed on hatred between different human collectives in Iraq. As acts of genocide throughout the world can plainly demonstrate, hatred is intrinsically genocidal. If the future of <em>Al-Hashd al-shaʿbī</em> in the disputed territories<em> </em>cannot be fully calculated, their right to render rightless continues to create Iraq as the legitimate domain of the <em>Shīʿīte.</em> It produces radical identitarianism that points at a monstrous future.</p> <p>Al-Anfāl operations, too, produced the Kurdish rural civilians and political demand an internal threat to the Iraqi state sovereignty and national security. Saddam Hussein, then the president of Iraq, also claimed to be an adherent to the Interim Constitution of July 1970, which it had at its disposal. While during the reign of the Baʿth party the constitution was due mainly to political violence, today for the Islamic Dawa party it is due to violence founded on religious identity beyond the national borders of Iraq. The carryover of centralization of political power and monopolization of violence clearly marks how the overthrow of the genocidal Baʿth party has not guaranteed fundamental rights and freedoms of all Iraqis.</p> <p>Contrary to the politics that has given birth to hatred and mass murder again and again in Iraq, what I physically encountered and heard in Baghdad and in villages and cities in the Kurdistan Region is an urgent call for what W. E. B. Du Bois called <em>cardinal virtues</em>: “individual prudence, courage, temperance, and justice, and the more modern faith, hope and love.” These virtues as a complete opening up of the Iraqi political configuration places the future in Iraq, if not in the rest of the world, on the side of the <em>urgent</em> political and ethical demands of all Iraqis outside of the green zone.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/fazil-moradi/iraq-and-rest-of-humanity">Iraq and rest of humanity</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/fazil-moradi-hawar-moradi/can-president-of-kurdistan-region-of-iraq-cry">Can the president of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq cry?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/iheb-guermazi/but-what-was-so-appealing-about-isis-tunisian-story">But what was so appealing about ISIS?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Iraq </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Iraq Conflict violence war sectarianism identity politics Fazil Moradi Fri, 01 Dec 2017 10:59:36 +0000 Fazil Moradi 114967 at Lebanon’s enduring contradictions <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A century later, and after several civil wars and invasions, not much has changed in how different Lebanese communities invent and reinvent their national identities.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="AA/ABACA/Press Association Images. All rights reserved."><img src="//" alt="AA/ABACA/Press Association Images. All rights reserved." title="AA/ABACA/Press Association Images. All rights reserved." width="460" height="309" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Representatives of Lebanon's religious communities stand with protesters behind a banner reading "We only have each other" as they take part in a demonstration against the possibility of a civil war outside the National Museum of Beirut on May 31, 2012. AA/ABACA/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Ever since it was created by the French colonial (or mandatory) authorities in 1920, Lebanon was dotted by all sorts of ideological, social, and economic contradictions. The cultural identity of the new polity has always been at the core of these contradictions.</p> <p>Two competing ‘visions of Lebanon’<a name="_ftnref1"></a><a href="#_ftn1">[1]</a> – in Albert Hourani’s memorable words – emerged at the time: Lebanism and Arabism, associated respectively with the Christian and Muslim communities.</p> <p>Whereas the former anchored Lebanon’s identity, cultural orientation, and foreign policy in the west, the latter insisted on the new country’s Arab origins, culture, and political choices. Ultimately, as Hourani noted, new visions of Lebanon would emerge, but especially that championed by Lebanon’s (then) ascending Shia community.&nbsp;</p> <p>A recent debate suggests that a century later, and after several civil wars and invasions, not much has changed in how different Lebanese communities invent and reinvent their national identities, with devastating consequences for the prospects of living peacefully in a deeply divided society.</p> <p>It is a classic example of what Julien Benda famously <a href="">labelled</a> <em>La Trahison des Clercs, </em>in this case the treason of sectarian entrepreneurs bent on stirring political discord for purely populist purposes. Its main protagonists are two MPs: the Sunni Khaled al-Daher and the Maronite Neamatallah Abi Nasr.</p> <p>Daher is behind a proposal in Parliament demanding the state recognize a new official weekend, Friday and Sunday, instead of the commonly practiced western weekend. After all, Daher contends, Friday is the standard Islamic holiday in most Muslim countries. He is supported by no other than the Sunni Mufti of the republic. </p> <p>In response, Abi Nasr introduced a proposal demanding that 1 September, the date commemorating the French declaration of the founding of <em>Grand Liban</em> in 1920, also be declared a national holiday.</p> <p>The first proposal would cut Lebanon off western economies for one full day, and is bound to be ignored in Christian areas and by many private schools. The second would add another useless holiday in a national calendar laden with sectarian vacations. After all, in Lebanon each sect celebrates the holiday that best fits its own vision of Lebanon and ignores those of other communities. At least for now, both proposals are buried in barren parliamentary committees.&nbsp;</p> <p>Here we have an example of sectarian entrepreneurs deploying populism callously at the service of mobilizing sectarian votes and electoral constituencies, always at the expense of the greater national good. It is also a vivid reminder of how the ‘invented’ foundational visions of what Lebanon is and should be have changed little since 1920.</p> <p>For embedded in Daher’s proposal is the insistence that Lebanon is first and foremost a Muslim Arab country; its Muslim cultural identity supplants any other mongrel or composite one. By contrast, Abi Nasr’s counter proposal attempts to celebrate Lebanon’s Christian western orientation. It should be viewed as a demographic minority’s struggle to defend its own vision of Lebanon and its political economic role in it, now and in the future, against what it views as an irreversible Islamisation of the country.&nbsp;</p> <p>Such binaries do not build an intercultural nation at peace with its diversity, however; they raise communities ghettoised behind sectarian barricades.</p> <p>We have a devastating glimpse into the psychological workings of these barricades in Toni (a diehard supporter of the Maronite Lebanese Forces); he is one of the main protagonists in Lebanese cinematographer, film director, and writer Ziad Doueiri’s new film <a href="">The Insult</a>&nbsp;(2017).&nbsp;</p> <p>Doueiri’s first, semi-autobiographical, movie West Beirut (1998) took Lebanon by storm as it followed the lives of two young boys growing up during the civil war in Beirut. The film ignited debates about the war and Lebanon’s cultural identity and political divisions. The Insult continues this critical interrogation of the war and its memory.</p> <p>A confrontation between Toni and Yasser, a Palestinian engineer working illegally for a Lebanese contractor over an illegal water pipe blows out of proportion and divides the country along religious and political lines.&nbsp;</p> <p>An insult by Yasser enrages Toni, who decides to sue him, a situation that becomes more complicated after Yasser throws a fist at Toni when the latter makes a hateful reference to Ariel Sharon and the Palestinians.&nbsp;</p> <p>Toni is haunted by wartime memories, but especially the massacre perpetrated against the inhabitants of his southern Christian village, Damour, by (pro-Syrian) Palestinian guerrillas. He is obsessed by what he takes to be the marginalisation of the Christians in post-war Lebanon. He feels that, like the Palestinians, post-war Christians have become ‘the victims of the victims’. He seeks refuge in assassinated Maronite leader Bashir Gemayel’s wartime speeches berating the Palestinians as the cause of all of Lebanon’s miseries, and in his unshakable post-war support of the Lebanese Forces and its leader – who, oddly, comes out in the film as a bigger than life character.&nbsp;</p> <p>The spectacle in the courtroom, as the lawyers build their cases against or in defence of Yasser, reveals a country still divided along mainly religious lines, and the failure of post-war generations to interrogate critically the horrors – more precisely, the many massacres – committed during the war.&nbsp;</p> <p>This is almost virgin territory in a country where – unlike other post-war societies, whether in Rwanda, South Africa, or East Timur – no truth and reconciliation commissions were established after the end of the civil war. Amnesia was considered a better elixir than truth-telling.</p> <p>Doueiri seems to suggest that there is no hope for true post-war reconciliation unless the Lebanese face up to, and seek the truth behind, their past crimes. At this level, all are war victims: Christian, Muslims, and Palestinians.&nbsp;</p> <p>Doueiri’s movie is not unproblematic, however. It rightly introduces a new generation of Lebanese to devastating footage of the horrific 1976 Damour massacre, but there is no mention of the countless other massacres committed on all sides of the barricades, or of the infamous Sabra and Shatila massacres perpetrated by Lebanese Forces militias bent on avenging Bashir’s assassination – this, despite the aforementioned reference to Sharon, one that prompted Yasser to assault Toni in the first place.&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also something odd about Doueiri’s insistence on privileging religious (Muslim-Christian) and national (Lebanese-Palestinian) divisions over what are currently more powerful sectarian divisions.</p> <p>This is not to say that religious divisions are not important in post-war Lebanon, as the aforementioned Daher-Abi Nasr episode suggests. But Toni’s fixations with the threat of the Palestinian ‘other’ seems to belong to a different time, and may have been overtaken by what many Christians now consider to be more dangerous Sunni and Shia ‘others’.</p> <p>But perhaps this is what irks Toni so much: that his community is doomed politically and culturally, and has simply replaced one existential threat by another.</p> <p>On this view, then, Doueiri wants post-war generations to realise that nothing has changed in their country; that different generations invent their own visions of Lebanon, and in the process their own demonized others. A perfect recipe for perpetual disasters.</p> <hr size="1" /> <p><a name="_ftn1"></a><a href="#_ftnref1">[1]</a> Albert Hourani, “Visions of Lebanon,” in Toward a Viable Lebanon, ed. Halim Barakat (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 1988).</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/walid-el-houri/lebanon-between-normalised-violence-and-politics-of-kindness">Lebanon: between normalised violence and a politics of kindness</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/ola-al-missyati/lost-in-lebanon-explores-restless-wait-for-return">‘Lost in Lebanon’ explores restless wait for return</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/diala-haidar/can-lebanon-s-sectarian-elite-agree-on-electoral-law">Can Lebanon’s sectarian elite agree on an electoral law?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/rowan-el-shimi/intellectuals-don-t-have-answers-lebanese-documentary-wins-at-berlinal">‘The intellectuals don’t have the answers’: Lebanese documentary wins at Berlinale</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Lebanon </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Lebanon Conflict Culture Democracy and government social economy culture identity politics Identity Religion Bassel F. Salloukh Wed, 11 Oct 2017 19:18:36 +0000 Bassel F. Salloukh 113962 at Why sectarianism fails at explaining the conflict in Syria <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>While sectarianism may be a component, its role as the primary cause of the war remains secondary.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="NurPhoto SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved."><img src="//" alt="NurPhoto SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved." title="NurPhoto SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved." class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>NurPhoto SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The primordialist assumption that the war in Syria is of an exclusively sectarian nature is fundamentally flawed. Sectarianism may be a component in the conflict, however its role as a generating cause of the unrest falls under scrutiny. &nbsp;</p> <p>The brutal conflict now approaching its sixth year is generally considered sectarian in character, as a popular majority Sunni struggle against a minority led government, but this is highly simplistic and ignores the significant cross-religious attachments and ties which have served as the greatest counter-reaction to sectarianism in Syria. </p> <p>There is no evidence to suggest that in the lead up to the 2011 uprising, sectarianism was rife in Syria, or that the country’s religious groupings were at breaking point.</p> <p>With a population of roughly 24 million, Syria's ethnic and religious diversity is unique, with up to 60 percent&nbsp;Sunni Muslim and a wide array of minorities from Alawites, Christians, Kurds and Druze making up the remainder, it has an explosive socio-religious mix and has been dominated by a secular Baathist ideology for over half a century.</p> <p>It could be argued that sectarianism in Syria was overshadowed significantly by a strong sense of national identity; Syria prior to the current conflict did not have a sectarian problem on a significant scale. There were some tensions and soft rivalries between different religious communities, but the strong sense of Syrian identity was at large.</p> <p>Sectarian identity was clearly a secondary aspect of the conflict, the lack of interest in partition of the country on religious or ethnic lines is the prime manifestation of this. As Jorg Dostol, fellow at the Center For Syria Studies <a href="">explains</a>, “in fact, there exists no serious domestic demand in Syria to solve the current crisis by splitting the country into ethnically homogenous smaller states”.&nbsp;</p> <p>The 1982 Muslim Brotherhood <a href="">uprising</a> is an ideal example: it was located in the central heartland of Syria in the traditionally conservative city of Hama, however equally conservative Sunni-mojority areas such as Daraa and Idleb were free from revolt.</p><p>The Daraa region where the uprising was sparked in 2011, is predominantly populated by Sunni Arabs but traditionally known for upholding an unwavering history of loyalty to the Syrian government. Daraa has produced more than its fair share of party and state officials. This suggests that socio-economic disparity was a fundamental factor for the political unrest. </p><p>A comparison between the 1982 and 2011, shows that sect or religious identity based on old aged ideological ties had no relation to the actions of communities in Syria.</p> <p>The presence of religious militias and fighters from both sides of the conflict with the religious tensions and ideological escalation they bring, has given the Syrian arena a sectarian dimension, however this was a phenomenon externally imposed rather than one with deep roots within the country's social fabric. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <h2>The economy or the sect? </h2> <p>The role of political economy as a conduit for social protest and discord cannot be disregarded. Economic grievances were an important factor central to the uprising against the Syrian government in March 2011. This dissatisfaction could be directed towards a sectarian narrative as Syria expert Nicholas Van Dam <a href="">elucidates:</a> “The overlap of sectarian, regional and socio-economic contrasts could have a mutually strengthening effect. Popular discontent and socio-economic tensions could sometimes be directed and even stimulated through sectarian channels”. </p><p>The socio-economic conditions that allow sectarianism to thrive are therefore equally important to the presence of sectarianism itself. Bashar Al-Assad's biographer, David Lesch, <a href="">predicted</a> in 2005 that economic problems could lead to popular unrest, “at worst the country could implode, with regime instability leading to a potential civil war among Syria’s varied ethnicities and religious sects, with radical Islamist groups waiting in the wings to assert themselves as the political, social, and economic environment deteriorates”.</p> <p>Corrupt business networks and circles were the norm in the Syrian economy in the lead up to 2011. In 2010 Syria was in 127th place on the index of financial transparency. In a country where economic growth was stagnating, the discontent and anger were at times channeled through sectarian avenues. </p><h3>Colonial divisions</h3><p>The history of identity politics and colonial division in Syria shows episodes where national unity has triumphed in the face of division.</p> <p>The Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916 partitioned the Arab world into sub-states to be merged into the respective British and French empires. Syria fell under a French mandate heralding another phase of colonialism after the centuries led rule of the Ottoman Empire. </p> <p>From the beginning of their colonial rule, the French sought to divide Syria into four sectarian sub-states in order to make ruling the country easier. This plan for partition was heavily opposed by the indigenous and heterogeneous Syrian population. The French plan to divide Syria backfired spectacularly sparking a series of local tensions and led to the <a href="">Great Syrian revolt in 1925</a>, in which all sects and religious groups participated.</p> <p>The primordialist approach that sectarianism is a reflection of old age historic differences cannot be applied in Syria, it has been proven to be simplistic and lacking in depth. Other factors contributed to sectarianism, but unlike Iraq, Syria does not have a history of genuine sectarian division.</p> <p>A close inspection of the narrative surrounding the crisis exposes numerous assumptions regarding the nature of political identity in the country, with a strong disregard for political economy,&nbsp;social fabric, ideology and colonialism. While sectarianism may be a component, its role as the primary cause of the war remains secondary.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/jameela-freitas/exiled-syrian-actress-helping-young-refugees-deal-with-trauma-with-th">The exiled Syrian actress helping young refugees deal with trauma using theater</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/joseph-daher/syria-grassroots-democracy-future-prospects-part-ii">Syria: grassroots democracy, future prospects (Part II)</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/loubna-mrie/aleppos-forgotten-revolutionaries">Aleppo&#039;s forgotten revolutionaries</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/irfan-chowdhury/syria-prospects-and-solutions">Syria: prospects and solutions</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/umar-lateef-misgar/fall-of-aleppo-day-after">Fall of Aleppo, the day after</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/murtaza-hussain-marwan-hisham/syria-s-voice-of-conscience-has-message-for-west">Syria’s “voice of conscience” has a message for the west</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/nicolas-pirsoul/fight-for-mosul-danger-of-arming-sunni-opponents-to-daesh-and-sunnish">The fight for Mosul: the danger of arming Sunni opponents to Daesh and the Sunni/Shia power struggle </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/yazan-al-shrif/i-am-human-speaking-to-you">I am a human, speaking to you</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Conflict Culture Democracy and government sectarianism Identity identity politics Danny Makki Violent transitions Revolution Sun, 05 Feb 2017 18:20:34 +0000 Danny Makki 108591 at Religion, class, and Turkey’s new left <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A response to Kenan Malik, arguing that though he is right to worry about identity politics, in the case of Turkey he is worried about the wrong people.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// (1).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="339" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><span class="image-caption">Avni Kantan/Demotix. All right reserved.</span></p> <p><span>In his 14&nbsp;</span><a href="">June editorial</a><span>&nbsp;in the&nbsp;</span><em>Guardian</em><span>, Kenan Malik rightly warns against oversimplifying Middle Eastern politics along the binary opposition of religion and secularism. Yet in the case of Turkey, Malik himself oversimplifies.</span></p> <p>His article leaves one with the mistaken impression that Kemalist ideology ruled Turkey uninterrupted until overthrown by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002. His view seems to be that Turkish secularism lacks a popular basis, yet managed to hold onto power until relatively recently due to military and elite connections.</p> <p>Malik’s arguments underestimate both the extent to which the secularist project has taken root in Turkish society, and the presence of Islamism on the political landscape long before its recent incarnation. </p> <p>Already in the 1960’s the center-right Justice Party (AP) <a href="">employed</a>&nbsp;Islamic rhetoric fused with anti-communism&nbsp;to combat the Republican People’s Party (CHP), which in those days enjoyed widespread support among the urban proletariat.&nbsp;<em>Pace&nbsp;</em>Malik, the secular social democrats had a popular base broad enough to make Bülent Ecevit prime minister in the 1970’s—though even he was willing to form a coalition with Necmettin Erbakan’s avowedly Islamist Party of National Salvation (MSP), the forerunners of today’s AKP.</p> <p>Conservative Islamist politics did not start with the AKP, nor has its ascendency been a mere backlash against authoritarian secularism. Rather, the rising star of Sunni conservatism was intimately bound up with the Cold War, helped along by the very military so often enlisted as the bogeyman of the secularist diktat.</p> <p>The coups that have done the most to shape the subsequent political landscape were those of 1971 and 1980, neither of which had much to do with restraining Islamist urges. The military regime that reigned in the early eighties did its part to weaken official secularism, instituting mandatory Sunni religion classes in public schools in a concerted effort to depoliticise a fractious youth and tame the left. </p> <p>Turgut Özal, who came to power in the wake of the coup after having served as the generals’ economic advisor, greatly expanded the number of religious public schools (<em>İmam-Hatip okulları</em>) tasked formally with training members of the clergy, but increasingly seen as a publically funded alternative to the secular education envisioned by Atatürk.</p> <p>Still more crucial to an understanding of Turkey’s current cultural conflicts is Özal’s other legacy: the long transition to neoliberalism that began on the eve of the coup and has come to completion under the AKP. From a heavily unionised country with import-substitution policies and a strong agricultural sector, Turkey became a free-trading exporter of low-value-added industrial products made by workers in increasingly precarious conditions.</p> <p>Turkey’s neoliberal turn created an informal proletariat ill served by the traditional labour movement—hampered as it was by restrictive legislation and coup-era repression—and inclined to look instead to ethnic and religious bonds as sources of solidarity. As labour sociologist&nbsp;Erdem Yörük <a href="">has shown</a>, the AKP and its Islamist predecessor parties have excelled at addressing this demographic, offering not only religious community but also an expanding network of informal welfare programs that kept the poorest from complete ruination.</p> <p>Nowhere is the deep contradiction of Turkey’s political economy more apparent than in the mine explosion that killed over three hundred workers in Soma last spring. Having been turned over by the AKP to a company that&nbsp;<a href=";nID=66448&amp;NewsCatID=345">boasted</a> of cutting operating costs&nbsp;by over 80 percent (implicitly, by skimping on safety measures), the recently privatised mine provided coal to the government at below market price: which coal the party then distributed to poor urban families at election time. </p> <p>In response to this and other such accidents, Erdoğan’s rhetoric&nbsp;<a href="">naturalised</a> the event&nbsp;through heavy use of the terms&nbsp;<em>kader</em>&nbsp;(“fate”) and&nbsp;<em>fıtrat&nbsp;</em>(“nature, appointed role”), both explicitly Islamic concepts invoking submission to the way things are. Soma laid bare the contradictory triangle of AKP political practice: exploitation—welfare—religion.</p> <p>The second of these terms is not to be underestimated, for material concerns motivate AKP voters at least as much as do religious identity politics. On both fronts the left has to convince the working class that it has something better to offer. Here the HDP’s electoral advances are a step in the right direction. The HDP did not achieve this step by embracing identity politics, but by working to transcend it.</p> <p>While Kurdish politics have long featured strident demands for such ‘cultural’ rights as the free use of the Kurdish language in politics and education, in this election the party chairman was careful to articulate such demands in the language of local autonomy, in principle applicable everywhere. Municipalities, he <a href="">said</a>, should have control&nbsp;over their own schools and police forces. He has argued that such decentralisation is not “separatism” but rather a project to make Turkey more democratic.</p> <p>That the HDP’s cultural heritage is more visible to western journalists than its social-democratic program may have something to do with the eye of the beholder. When workers in the automotive sector responded to their union’s failure to represent them with wildcat strikes and walkouts, Demirtaş sent messages of support that were largely ignored by international media keen on presenting him as the “<a href="">Kurdish Obama</a>.”</p> <p>The HDP campaign made alliances with women’s and LGBT groups, at the risk of offending conservative Kurds. On questions of secularism, the party staked out a position respectful to religion but hostile to its instrumentalisation by the state. </p> <p>On these grounds Demirtaş <a href="">called</a> for the&nbsp;abolition of the state Directory of Religious Affairs, and continued to do so in the face of poll numbers indicating that his stance was&nbsp;<a href="">losing him votes</a>. A 2012 education reform law that effectively facilitated the removal of many high school-aged girls from school met with&nbsp;<a href="">steadfast opposition</a>&nbsp;not only from the traditionally Kemalist CHP, but from the HDP as well. There is nothing self-evidently Kurdish in these choices.</p> <p>The HDP’s origins in the Kurdish national movement do not preclude its potential to help revive universalist left-wing politics in Turkey, especially if it gets the chance to work together with a CHP moving in similarly progressive directions. </p> <p>That party’s support for Kobanê last fall, its populist&nbsp;<a href="">calls</a> for a higher minimum wage and the&nbsp;<a href="">greater inclusivity</a>&nbsp;of its candidate list this year, which included more women and members of ethnic minorities, are causes for hope. Such measures are not concessions to identity politics so much as departures from the Turkish nationalism historically central to the identity of the party founded by Mustafa Kemal.</p> <p>While it will be no small feat for Atatürk’s admirers and those of Abdullah Öcalan to work together, a mutual enemy as strong as the AKP has taught the more thoughtful in both camps what they have in common. Kenan Malik is right to worry about the potential of identity politics to undermine the emancipatory and universalist agenda traditionally expected of the left. In the case of Turkey, however, he is worried about the wrong people. </p> <p>As the HDP transforms itself from the Kurdish party to a partner in the reconstruction of the Turkish left, identity politics may soon become a preserve of the right: which is where, for the most part, it belongs.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/buket-t%C3%BCrkmen/from-gezi-park-to-turkey%E2%80%99s-transformed-political-landscape"> From Gezi Park to Turkey’s transformed political landscape</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/halil-gurhanli/turkey%E2%80%99s-election-failings-may-lead-to-yet-another-legitimacy-crisis-f">Turkey’s election failings may lead to yet another legitimacy crisis for Erdoğan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/arnaud-castaignet/will-turkey%E2%80%99s-centreleft-dare-to-reform-itself">Will Turkey’s centre-left dare to reform itself?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/safak-pavey/rise-of-political-islam-in-turkey-how-west-got-it-wrong">The rise of political Islam in Turkey: how the west got it wrong </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Turkey </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Turkey Democracy and government middle east Turkish Dawn identity politics elections Secularism Islamism Justus Links The future: Islam and democracy Geopolitics Mon, 13 Jul 2015 17:40:19 +0000 Justus Links 94243 at On power in the Arab World <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src=" Pic (1)_0.jpg" alt="Maged Mandour" hspace="5" width="80" align="left" /></p><p>Arab autocrats’ power depends on more than physical coercion or the rise of Islamist extremism: it has deeper roots in the role of civil society, orientalism, and identity politics.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="288" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><span class="image-caption">Adham Khorshed/Demotix. All rights reserved.</span></p><p><span>Considering the current state of Arab political order—ravaged by years of civil war, revolution, and political unrest—the&nbsp;ability of the current elites to remain in power seems to be counterintuitive.</span></p> <p>The use of overwhelming physical force, along with the rhetoric of the “war on terror” and the rise of Islamist extremist groups, seem to be the main tactics used by Arab autocrats to regain their grip on power. The rise of these groups has provided them with the ideological justification for repression as well as a solid support base, particularly among urban middle classes and minority groups. </p> <p>This partially explains the anatomy of power in the Arab World, but ignores its nature. Civil society, orientalism and identity politics have been playing a significant role in the foundations of Arab autocracy long before these revolutions kicked off. </p> <h2><strong>Civil society</strong></h2> <p>Civil society here is defined in the broadest sense of the word, and includes schools, trade unions, even the family as an extension of the state. In other words, there is no distinction between civil and political society; there is no space for ideologically driven oppositional movements to appear and develop within the confines of civil society. </p> <p>Dissent, in all its forms, is severely repressed by one or more of these civil society groups, without the need for intervention by the state. As such, repression is decentralized. This was a major factor contributing to the fragmentation of Arab revolutionary movements and their inability to form cohesive fronts against the autocrats. The state’s suffocation of civil society has effectively inhibited the development of sophisticated oppositional movements capable of challenging the regime. </p> <p>The development of a social class’ self-consciousness, as a distinct group that has class interests that are opposed to the interests of the ruling elites, has been inhibited. This is why there was no ideological clarity when the revolts kicked off. This made revolutionary movements rejectionist in nature, and allowed the elites to easily outmaneuver them. </p> <p>Additionally, this lack of ideological clarity reduced the ability of revolutionary movements to attract followers from the masses, and from those who were politically apathetic prior to the revolt. In this new era of mass politics, lack of an ideological message proved to be the Achilles heel of revolutionary movements. </p> <p>The suffocation of civil society combined with the weakness of civil resistance movements, can partially explain the rise of armed extremist groups across the Arab world. </p> <p>When the state seals off the realm of civil society, there is no alternative but for the opposition to take up arms. The starkest example is that of Libya, where civil society groups were completely swallowed up by the state. In Tunisia, on the other hand, trade unions remained independent and outside state control. This is why they are now playing an effective role in Tunisia’s transition to democracy.</p> <h2><strong>Orientalism</strong></h2> <p>The inferiority Arabs feel creates a sense of alienation from one’s self, culture and identity. The Arab does not only feel inferior, he/she also feels trapped in an inferior world that cannot be escaped, which also contributes to the antidemocratic tendency among the urban middle classes and their support for autocracy. </p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Ragnar Weilandt/Flickr. All rights reserved."><img src="//" alt="" title="Ragnar Weilandt/Flickr. All rights reserved." width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><span class="image-caption">Ragnar Weilandt/Flickr. All rights reserved.</span></p><p>The post-colonial Arab elites seem to have adopted the same ideological justification for the repression of the masses as their previous colonial masters: the supposed inferiority of the “oriental”, and the need to educate and reform them. This racism is not only confined to the upper strata of society, it cuts across classes and ideologies. It can even be seen among Islamist groups, to devastating effect.</p><p><span>In the context of colonial history, the center of life for the Europeans was the colonial capital, and there is astonishing continuity in the post-colonial epoch in terms of the views held by the rural poor towards the urban center, which is culturally associated with the urban middle classes.</span></p> <p>There is a genuine widespread belief in the superiority of elites, especially the urban middle class. These views seep into everyday language. In Egypt, for example, the rural poor call Cairo “Masr”, which means Egypt. This shows the inherent belief in the superiority of the urban center by the rural periphery, and the association of the center with civilization and the periphery with backwardness and barbarism.</p> <p>In essence, the rural poor view themselves as inferior to the urban center, justifying and reinforcing the view held by the urban elites. It was only a few days ago that an Egyptian justice minister claimed that the son of a garbage man could never be a judge, because of his social class. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>This orientalism not only acts as justification for repression by the elites, but also acts as a hindrance to the intellectual development of Arab political movements. The inferiority that Arab intellectuals feel results in the stunting of the development of ideologies, which could potentially offer indigenous solutions to the current problems of the Arab world. This sense of inferiority has intensified with the failure of the Arab revolt. </p> <h2>Identity politics</h2> <p>The politics of identity have steadily been shifting away from inclusive towards more exclusive identities, allowing Arab elites to play &nbsp;different social groups against each other in order to consolidate their grip on power. </p> <p>This process can be traced back to the gradual decay of Arab identity, which allowed the different regimes to compete with each other for leadership of the Arab world.&nbsp;<span>This process of fragmentation mirrors the decay of the political order, caused by the declining support base of Arab elites. </span></p><p><span>As this base decreased, so did the ability and desire of these elites to project their power beyond their borders, focusing instead on domestic consolidation. This led to the emergence of subnational identities, allowing the regime to consolidate its position by representing one of these groups.</span></p> <p>Identity politics include not only sectarian identities, but also class identities, which cross the urban/rural divide. This play on identity politics interacts with the prevalent orientalism in Arab societies, where an unjustified sense of superiority is abound amongst the elites, especially the urban middle classes, giving the autocrats the opportunity to play on the division between the urban rich and poor to remain in power; soliciting the support of one social group against the other. </p> <p>Recent revolutionary movements have failed to grasp the role of identity politics in these struggles. Unlike the Iranian revolutionary movement, which claimed to represent the “mostazafin” or the downtrodden, and were committed to including the traditional merchant class and the urban poor, the Arab revolutionary movements made no such claim. </p> <p>Since these groups did not develop a “revolutionary consciousness”, they failed to represent any specific social group, talking to everyone and no one. The aim of these movements should have been to create a solid base of support among specific social groups. Instead they tried to appeal to everyone.</p> <p>Thus, one could argue that Arab autocrats’ power does not solely depend on the rise of Islamist extremism or on physical coercion. It has deeper roots in the nature of political order: the role of civil society, orientalism, and identity politics. </p> <p>The future of the Arab revolt depends on the intellectual development of revolutionary movements. Their ability to critically examine their societies, offer indigenous solutions, and take the struggle against the regime to the realm of civil society, armed with a strong political message in an ideologically attractive package.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/maged-mandour/arab-autocracy-revolution">Arab autocracy &amp; revolution</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/maged-mandour/in-shadow-of-empire">In the shadow of an empire</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/maged-mandour/liberalism-without-democracy-case-of-egypt">Liberalism without democracy: the case of Egypt</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/maged-mandour/on-arabarab-racism">On Arab-Arab racism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/hesham-shafick/whatever-is-happening-to-egyptians">Whatever is happening to the Egyptians?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/maged-mandour/eu-and-arab-world-%27cooperation%27-to-fight-terror-is-excuse">EU and the Arab world: &#039;cooperation&#039; to fight terror is an excuse </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/maged-mandour/last-arab">The last Arab</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/maged-mandour/arab-world-between-liberal-imperialism-and-liberal-oppression">The Arab World: between liberal imperialism and liberal oppression</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Egypt </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Egypt Conflict Culture Democracy and government Middle East autocracy identity politics orientalism Maged Mandour Revolution Chronicles of the Arab revolt Tue, 12 May 2015 11:42:36 +0000 Maged Mandour 92711 at