In Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and all the Arab and Muslim worlds we are facing re-colonization, death and destruction by design. I shared a video of a child’s rescue on my Facebook and a debate and some arguments ensued about the location and what country it was from. The debate and argument point to a collective pain that connected the child’s video to the stories of destruction, broken lives, shattered dreams and darkened prospects facing the region for the past 100 years and more with no end in sight.
I, as a Palestinian, can and do relate to all the suffering and destruction visited upon the Arab and Muslim world. How do you deal with such a deep crisis that takes away the possibility of dreaming, reflecting, working and planning for a future horizon with prospects that are already bordered up by structured and enduring physical and mental violence. We are forced to think in pure survival terms, next meal, night shelter and an escape route away from danger into the hands of an ex-prison warden or the civilized colonial master holding the bread and water as a bait to catch us again and back into solitary confinement.
When violence is imposed as the only discourse for the society and it becomes the norm then the outcome is the shared and geographically undifferentiated videos and pictures. The photo could have been a child in 30 some odd Arab or Muslim countries facing the savage depredations of the present colonial that forces itself into town, cities and into our consciousness itself. Also, living in America the videos and photos speak of Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans who lived and continue daily to live violence and racism. We are still living and acting the colonial discourse no matter what the advertisement says and we are forced to surrender our will to its dictations. The video and shared photos could have been in Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Nigeria or easily Paris suburbs or London, East Oakland, Detroit, East LA, Pittsburg, Philly or at the US-Mexican borders: all are facing the ravages of a colonial structure manifested internally and externally.
How do we weep the calamity underway? How do we mourn the past? How to deal with the images imprinted into own collective DNA? My own memories are a mosaic stitched together by invasion threads too many to count, “like Christmas tree” bombing of Baghdad, Kabul and Afghanistan 40 year war news cycle, destruction of Syria to use it as a containment prize, Iran-Iraq war killing and maiming millions, Lebanon Civil War followed by Israeli invasions leading to massacre of Palestinians under the watchful eyes of Sharon and the IDF. Seared into my memory are the Congo wars, Zaire, Chadian conflict, Rhonda’s post-colonial Genocide, Somalia fragmentation, Angola, death squads in El Salvador and Nicaragua, Bosnian war and crimes against humanity as well as a heavy dose of the destruction visited upon Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Yet, I do have a celebratory moment that I cherish: the release of Nelson Mandela and being able to witness it after working on the divestment movement on college campuses which possibly helped bring an end to Apartheid in South Africa.
I am a transnational thinker and activist, which means whenever and whoever is facing colonial and racist oppression and injustice then I identify with him/her regardless of geography, ethnicity, gender, language, culture, nationality or the specific narrow interest at hand that could benefit me in the process. This comes from my deep theological commitments and to connecting the Oneness of God to thinking and acting upon a single and undifferentiated humanity. This is not some new age liberal commitment with a weekend drumming circle; rather, it emerges through a deliberate and systematic thinking and articulation of an Islam that is universal and rooted in a liberation theology.
When I posted the picture I was not thinking about it in reference to any country but only in relations to the horror facing the child in the short video and the hands working feverishly, frantically to save him. In my view, the question about location and country is a symbolic representation of colonial epistemologies that continue to ravage all of us from the inside. We are searching for ourselves in the child, in the photos and the possible expressions of sympathy that might come in touching something human that may remind the colonial powers at a distance of our value and uniqueness. The location and country becomes a search for affirmation after complete erasure transmitted through time and space as well as through generations. Could someone claim the sympathy away from me as if all are in participating in a colonial Hunger Games with the winner only living through the killing of its kind.
Colonial epistemologies has forced us to construct mental boundaries, act upon it to negate each others humanity and then trust and appeal to the colonial master to make us complete and wholesome by allowing or prescribing an imitative discourse whereby we aspire to be him in words and deeds. Thus we take it upon ourselves to negate one another and endure training to commit more extreme violence toward each other than what the colonial master has done.
You may ask why we are so violent toward one another? For sure, when looking at one another we are constantly reminded of that which we are not; the colonial superior master and we venture into vain attempts at escaping our own skin, the thoughts we have and the meanings we hold dear by committing intellectual and epidemic suicide through adopting the colonial inward and outward structures. Wrongly, we aspire to be the superior colonial and feel worthy when the colonial master gives a node toward us despite it being derisive in nature since collectively we got accustomed to abuse and accepted to be less than the master. We can no longer help it and think of the abuse as part of the “normal” being conditioned for it through colonial education, economic, class and social systems. One cannot help but be amused by something different than what is structurally made normal and dehumanizing.
The image of the child speaks to these colonial meanings or more accurately the depravity of such meanings for the colonial Arab and Muslim subject. Each person looking at this image is screaming from the inside that this child is I, my family, my relatives, my town and city, my destroyed country and will not allow anyone to claim it away from the shattered life it represents even though the kid is rescued and is alive. What happened here is that the child’s rescue opened the old wounds never addressed in our collective damaged and broken colonial bodies and souls walking as mere shadows in the world lacking in life and never allowed to experience true warmth and love. A colonial subject searching for the true self through imitating the colonial master!
Certainly, the first act of liberation, I repeat, is in the mind. It starts by moving away from self-negating inferiority and into deeper levels of reconstituting self-worth and an appreciation of all that is similar and different within you and your society if compared to/with the narrowed inferior sameness coloniality imposed. What we must understand is that colonial discourse which was based on race, distorted religious notions and economic exploitation to name the obvious, is rooted in manufacturing structured ignorance in the subject populations that then is mobilized as the tool to maintain and extend control and dominance. The physical metal chains may rust and fail but the mental chains are fiber optics and seamless. We are all living, acting and relating to one another with the structured colonial ignorance and must collectively break the mental chains that keep us in an induced state slavery in our lands and minds.