super constructive to think of society as having a culture war

Confronting Anti-Black Racism in The Arab World (Important Read)

In response to an essay I wrote recently regarding the “essential blackness” of the Palestinian struggle, I received this reaction, among others: “What about Arab anti-black racism? Or the Arab slave trade?”

The Arab slave trade is a fact of history and anti-black racism is a fact of current reality, a shameful thing that must be confronted in Arab societies. Though I claim no expertise on the subject, I think that applying notions of racism as it exists in the US will preclude a real understanding of the subject in the Arab world.

I spent much of much of my youth in the Arab world and I do not recall having a race consciousness until I came to the United States at the age of 13. My knowledge of Arab anti-black racism comes predominantly from Arab Americans. Like other immigrant communities, they adopt the prevailing racist sentiments of the power structure in the US, which decidedly holds African-Americans in contempt.

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

In many Arab nations, including Kuwait where I was born, workers are lured into menial jobs where their passports are confiscated upon arrival and they are forced into humiliating and often inhuman working conditions. They have little to no protection under the law and are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, including extraordinarily long working hours, withholding of salaries, sexual, mental, and physical abuse, and denial of travel.

The recent case of Alem Dechesa brought to light the horrors faced by migrant workers in Lebanon. Dechesa, a domestic worker from Ethiopia, committed suicide after suffering terrible mental and physical abuse at the hands of her Lebanese employers, whose savage beating of her in front of the Ethiopian Consulate went viral last year.

Defining beauty

An extension to Arab anti-black racism is an aspiration to all that our former - and current - colonisers possess. Individuals aspire to what is powerful and rich, and the images of that power and wealth have light skin, straight hair, small noses, ruddy cheeks and tall, skinny bodies. That image rejects melanin-rich skin, coiled hair, broad or pointy noses, short stature, broad hips and big legs. So we, too, reject these features, despising them in others and in ourselves as symbols of inferiority, laziness, and poverty. That’s why the anglicising industries of skin bleaching and hair straightening are so profitable.

And yet, when Palestine went to the UN for recognition of statehood, the vast majority of nations who voted yes were southern nations. The same is true when Palestine asked for admission to UNESCO. In fact, when the US cut off funding to UNESCO in response to its members’ democratic vote to admit Palestine, it was the African nation of Gabon that immediately stepped up with a $2m donation to UNESCO to help offset the loss of income.

It was not Saudi Arabia, or Kuwait, or Qatar, or Lebanon, or Sweden, or France. It was Gabon. How many Palestinians know that, much less expressed gratitude for it?

So concerned are Palestinians with what the European Union and the United States think of us. So engrossed are we in grovelling for their favour and handouts as they support a system of Jewish supremacy pushing our ancient society into extinction. We dance like clowns any time a European leader spares us a thought. Have we no sense of history? No sense of pride? No comprehension of who is truly standing with us and who is sabotaging us?

In a world order that peddles notions of entire continents or regions as irreducible monoliths, the conversation among Arabs becomes a dichotomous “Arab” versus “African”, ignoring millennia of shared histories ranging from extensive trade and commerce, to the horrors of the Arab slave trade, to the solidarity of African-Arab anti-colonial unity, to the current state of ignorance that does not know history and cannot connect the dots when it comes to national liberation struggles.

Arab slave trade

When I was researching the subject of the Arab slave trade, I came upon a veritable treasure of a website established by The African Holocaust Society, or Mafaa [Swahili for “holocaust”], a non-profit organisation of scholars, artists, filmmakers, academics, and activists dedicated to reclaiming the narratives of African histories, cultures, and identities. Included in this great body of scholarly works is a comprehensive section on the Arab slave trade, as well as the Jewish slave trade, African-Arab relations over the centuries, and more, by Owen Alik Shahadah, an activist, scholar and filmmaker.

Reading this part of our shared history, we can see how a large proportion of Arabs, including those among us who harbour anti-black racism, are the sons and daughters of African women, who were kidnapped from Eastern African nations as sex slaves.

Unlike the European slave trade, the Arab slave trade was not an important feature of Arab economies and it predominantly targeted women, who became members of harems and whose children were full heirs to their father’s names, legacies and fortunes, without regard to their physical features. The enslaved were not bought and sold as chattel the way we understand the slave trade here, but were captured in warfare, or kidnapped outright and hauled across the Sahara.

Race was not a defining line and enslaved peoples were not locked into a single fate, but had opportunity for upward mobility though various means, including bearing children or conversion to Islam. No-one knows the true numbers of how many African women were enslaved by Arabs, but one need only look at ourselves to see the shadows of these African mothers who gave birth to us and lost their African identities.

But while African scholars at the Mafaa Society make important distinctions between the Arab and European slave trades, enslavement of human beings is a horror of incomprehensible proportions by any standard, and that’s what it was in the Arab world as it was - or is - anywhere. There are some who argue that the Arab slave traders were themselves indistinguishable from those whom they enslaved because the word “Arab” had cultural relevance, not racial.

One-way street

This argument goes hand-in-hand with the discredited excuse that Africans themselves were involved in the slave trade, with warring tribes capturing and selling each other. But no matter how you look at it, the slave trade was a one-way street, with Africans always the enslaved victims. I know of no African tribe that kidnapped Europeans and put them in bondage for generations; nor do I know of an African tribe that captured Arab women for centuries and made them sex slaves.

I think humanity has truly never known a holocaust of greater magnitude, savagery, or longevity than that perpetrated against the peoples of Africa. This Mafaa has never been fully acknowledged and certainly never atoned for - not that the wounds or enduring legacies of turning human beings into chattel for centuries can ever be fully comprehended or atoned for. But one must try, because just as we inherit privilege from our ancestors, so do we inherit their sins and the responsibility for those sins.

Gaddafi’s role

The late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi understood this and he used his power and wealth to try to redeem our shared history. He was the first Arab leader to apologise on behalf of Arab peoples to our African brothers and sisters for the Arab slave trade and the Arab role in the European slave trade.

He funnelled money into the African Union and used Libya’s wealth to empower the African continent and promote pan-Africanism. He was a force of reconciliation, socialism, and empowerment for both African and Arab peoples. Gaddafi’s actions threatened to renew African-Arab reconciliation and alliances similar to that which occurred at the height of the Non-Aligned Movement during the presidencies of Jamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.  

Thus, NATO’s urgency to prevent “massacres” and “slaughter” in Libya was manufactured and sold wholesale. The fear of African-Arab solidarity can be seen in the way the US-backed Libyan insurgency spread rumours that “black African” mercenaries were committing atrocities against Libyans. Gaddafi became an even bigger threat when an agreement was reached with the great anti-imperialist force in South America, Hugo Chavez, to mediate a solution to the uprising in Libya.

Now both of these champions of their people are gone, and the so-called Libyan revolutionaries are executing “black Africans” throughout the country. Gone, too, is NATO’s worry about slaughter in Libya, and another high-functioning Arab nation lies in ruin, waste and civil strife - primed for rampant corporate looting.

I wrote previously that the Palestinian struggle against the erasure of our existence, history and identity was spiritually and politically black in nature. So, too, are other struggles, like that of migrant workers throughout many Arab nations. These are our comrades. They are the wretched, exploited, robbed, and/or, at last, liberated.

I refer to Black as a political term, not necessarily a racial or ethnic descriptor. In the words of Owen Alik Shehadah: “Black People is a construction which articulates a recent social-political reality of people of colour (pigmented people). Black is not a racial family, an ethnic group or a super-ethnic group. Political Blackness is thus not an identity but moreover a social-political consequence of a world which after colonialism and slavery existed in those colour terms. The word "Black” has no historical or cultural association, it was a name born when Africans were broken down into transferable labour units and transported as chattel to the Americas.“

But that word has been reclaimed, redefined, and injected with all the power, love, defiance, and beauty that is Africa. For the rest of us, and without appropriating the word, "black” is a phenomenon of resistance, steadfastness - what we Palestinians call sumud - and the beauty of culture that is reborn out of bondage and oppression.

Right to look the other way

Finally, solidarity from Africans is not equivalent to that which comes from our European comrades, whose governments are responsible for the ongoing erasure of Palestine. African peoples have every reason to look the other way. Ethiopians have every reason to say: “You deserve what you get for the centuries of enslavement and neo-enslavement industry by your Arab neighbours.” African Americans have every reason to say: “Why should I show solidarity with Arabs who come here to treat us like white people do, and sometimes worse?”

Malcolm X once said: “If I was that [anti-American], I’d have a right to be that - after what America has done to us. This government should feel lucky that our people aren’t anti-American.”

We can substitute the word “Arab” for “American” in that sentence and it would be a valid statement. And yet, Africa is right there with us. African American intellectuals are the greatest champions of our struggle in the United States. The impact of solidarity from four particular individuals - Desmond Tutu, Alice Walker, Angela Davis and Cynthia McKinney - can never be overestimated.

Last month, the former South African ambassador to Israel refused a “certificate” from Israel confirming the planting of trees in his name. In his letter, he called Israel a racist, apartheid state and said the gift was an “offence to my dignity and integrity”. He added: “I was not a party to, and never will be, to the planting of ‘18 trees’, in my 'honour’, on expropriated and stolen land.”

I would like my countrymen to think long and hard about this until they truly comprehend the humbling beauty of this solidarity from people who have every reason to be anti-Arab. I wish my countrymen could look through my eyes. They would see that black is profoundly beautiful. They would see that Africa runs through our veins, too. Our enslaved African foremothers deserve to be honoured and loved by their Arab children. And it is for us to redeem their pain with the recognition and atonement long owed.

Arriving at this understanding is a good starting place for reciprocal solidarity with nations and peoples who are standing with us, in heart and in action.


Susan Abulhawa is a Palestinian writer and the author of the international bestselling novel, Mornings in Jenin (Bloomsbury 2010). She is also the founder of Playgrounds for Palestine, an NGO for children.

Follow her on Twitter: @sjabulhawa

Source: Al Jazeera 


The Arabic Slave Trade is something that is rarely spoken about and often goes unheard of. When we speak of the enslavement of Africans, many of us like to connect it with Europeans, which is fine, but we should never forget they were not the only ones. For over 900 years, Africans were enslaved by Arabic slave traders. They would take Africans from all over the continent including West, East, and North Africa forcing them to march thousands of miles to Slave Markets. The Men, Women, and Children were bound together by the waist and neck so that if one died the rest could drag him or her along. These walks became known as the “Death Marches” and an estimated 20 million Africans died on these walks alone. The Arabs believed it was God’s wish to see Africans enslaved and believed they were uncivilized animals. Sound Familiar? Slaves were beaten and abused regularly. Many African Women, young Girls, and Boys would be used as Sex slaves for their owners. Islamic Slave holders would stick their swords and other weapons into the Vagina’s of Black Women and cut off the penis of African Men. This was done because they believed Africans had an uncontrollable sex drive. Many Africans would be forced to convert to Islam believing if they shared the same religion, it would stop the abuse. Muslim slave traders would also promise them Freedom after conversion. This did not stop the abuse nor did it gain them their freedom. In Fact, one can argue it made them even more enslaved. When Europeans entered the slave industry, Muslim Slave traders would use the religion to exploit Islamic Africans to bring them other Africans. These Africans would then be sold to Europeans. Slavery in the holy city of Mecca would not be outlawed until 1966 and in all other Arabic countries until 1990. The Islamic Slave Trade began almost 500 years before the Europeans would come to Africa. It would be a catalyst for the dismantling of the continent and the massive expansion of the Religion. Had it not been for Islam, European Chattel Slavery may never have occurred. History is quite a teacher and once again as the late Dr. John Henrik Clarke once said, “Africa has no friends. If you want a friend, look in the mirror.”

Written by @KingKwajo - Via: SanCopha League

A meme ask almost prompted me to give this long tangential answer, but I had the presence of mind to refrain from that and put it here instead:

On the topic of offbeat ideas about Numenorean society, and by extension, an offbeat but by no means unheard-of idea about society in earlier Arda in general, I headcanon thus: Numenor was the first society to invent real libraries! Especially, public lending libraries.

In the real world, the history of libraries and library loans is long and complicated. But Arda sure as hell bears little resemblance to real life history - which is kind of the whole point of the setting being Arda! Alternate and convergent explanations for history and the present day, with each one resting on wildly different constructions of reality. See, in Arda, my headcanon is that all throughout the Years of the Trees and the First Age, libraries of any sort weren’t really a thing, and even written lore wasn’t really much of a thing. Dwarves in the First Age didn’t let most non-dwarves come into their halls, and also wrote a huge proportion of their lore in non-mobile stone engravings - the walls of their cave cities, steles - and in systems of non-text semiotics via their craftwork. Elves both of ME and Aman were largely oral societies and writing was kind of, extra, either for small-potatoes practical communication or for really fancy stuff (this is just fun extrapolation given the immortals-with-perfect-memory thing). And so were the Edain for the most part (I think this is more canon, as a big part of the history of humankind in Arda is that the ancestors of the edain abruptly stopped passing down a certain cluster of oral traditions shortly before they came to Beleriand, which left the later humans with significant gaping holes in their history regarding the Fall etc).

Until, of course, the speeded-up clusterfuck of wars and mass death starting with the Bragollach.  As the whole Beleriand debacle sped up through the Nirnaeth and the kinslayings and on into the War of Wrath, people began frantically writing stuff down and keeping haphazard hoards of it here and there, Nargothrond and Gondolin, Doriath and, especially, Sirion (Dirhavel was a BIG proponent of this due to having a deep appreciation for the idea of information being lost via death, which is why the Narn i Hin Hurin has so much more internal consistency than the Quenta Silmarillion whose writing was….lets say not nearly as well-organized, and Elwing and by extension the bb!twins were mad for Dirhavel.) And then carting anything that survived off into Ossiriand after/during the War of Wrath. SO. Very little written lore at all before this time.

In the early Second Age, of course there would be a huge amount of work in Middle Earth among the groups who migrated from Beleriand, to get peoples’ knowledge gathered up, written down, etc. But there’s lots of immortal elves, lots of oral tradition, lots of unconnected disparate populations, etc, and also ME is kind of a disaster zone due to the aforementioned continent-destroying war. Low resources, low organization, lots of problems and probably violence to juggle, high strife, high scatter, high danger. Plus, there is still plenty of conflict and enemy populations, to make security and barriers to access important to keeping precious records safe. So just gathering and compiling all the lore, or writing it down in the first place, would be the big challenge in ME.

But Numenor! Numenor, otoh, is a peaceful island paradise with almost no danger and more resources than anyone needs, with a single pretty unified human population under a single king’s rule. The people born there live a very long time, the men don’t need to do any fighting, children are few per family, the childbirth and child-rearing period takes up only a small fraction of womens’ lifetimes, and everyone has a whole ton of free time after the first stage of building and establishing communities and cities is done. Plus they’re friends with Tol Eressëa. This is when the second-generation Numenoreans decide to do a huge push to get an army of scholars and librarians to get everything written down, organized, catalogued, and made accessible to everyone, since humans, unlike elves, can’t just live forever and remember everything they’ve heard, and need to work as a relay race, maintaining and building on the work of their predecessors in order for information to remain intact. And given how much time and wealth just about everyone has and how good life is for the whole population, it’s actually logistically feasible (even without (before? Numenor is firmly ahistorical) the printing press) to make multiple copies of many tomes of various types of lore and just let people borrow them whenever without a big security deposit beforehand - just return them in a set time okay!

Of course this was all restricted later on when control of information became super important in order to control a population through control of the narrative of the Numenoreans’ history, but well, at least the concept caught on elsewhere!

By which I mean, of course Elros personally decided to make them, and of course Elrond deliberately ripped him off in Rivendell much later. What else did you expect from me, man.

Is anything in the world easier to ignore?

4 Organizations Everyone Hates (For Stupid Reasons)

#3. Fox News

I’m not really saying Fox News is a good thing. Their main function in society is to promote talking points that, more often than not, come from people I disagree with on just about every level possible. That said, how convenient is it that all of those wacky opinions and talking points are gathered in one easy-to-remember location? … Fox News is like the light hanging high above the parking lot of a shitty convenience store in the summer, attracting all the moths and gnats and mosquitoes in one spot so they can be easily avoided by anyone who doesn’t want to be bothered with their bullshit. Granted, that light is hanging low enough that, if for some silly reason you decide you want to, you can totally go stand over where they are and stick your head in among all the buzzing and biting. Maybe you need to for some reason, who knows? Whatever the case, you know where they are and you know what they’re up to if you need to find them.

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