What is indigenous solidarity?

This question has been bothering me a lot lately, but then I realized it was my own colonial mindset that was getting in the way. Why should I expect Canadian indigenous groups to form a basis of unity so that supporting them isn’t so problematized by the various forms of complexity and difference between different groups? The problem is with the very category of “Canadian indigenous” – it doesn’t mean very much, primary indigenous identification in Canada is with the specific indigenous nations not with the collection of nations that were colonized by “Canada”. While many useful comparisons can be made between Canadian and Zionist colonization, it is much less useful to compare the ways Canadian indigenous groups responded to colonization politically with the way Palestinian indigenous society formed in reaction against the settler colonialism that threatened them.

There is no generic “indigenous solidarity”, there are only specific instances of indigenous solidarity. You can’t express solidarity with all indigenous struggles, because it’s possible that some of those struggles conflict with each other. What you can do is learn about the specific struggles of different indigenous nations, and try to support them in ways that advance the cause of freedom and dignity for all peoples, and which oppose the cancerous evil that is imperialism and colonization.

This doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good idea for indigenous groups to form collaborative actions and when possible a basis of unity. And it doesn’t mean that all indigenous struggles are revolutionary – if a struggle is based on the preservation of a heritage, and is not aimed at the overthrow of what is essentially imperialist about Canadian society, then it’s quite possible that this struggle simply isn’t revolutionary. In which case it makes sense to support it only on humanitarian, rather than political grounds. Political support should be directed towards those struggles which are of both real and symbolic value, struggles which point towards increasingly universal forms of instituted freedom, struggles that aim at what is rotten in the colonialist mindset.


A question for the “post-materialist” left

The question I want to ask is directed towards a certain style of activism, a certain kind of organizing, a certain way of privileging demands and deciding who, given the vastness of our mixed up world, should we direct our solidarity efforts towards?

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BDS and the Palestinian Political Movements

I had the honour today of being asked to moderate a talk at Ryerson entitled “Canada and the Palestine Question‘, by Dan Freeman Maloy. The talk covered the history of Canada’s relationship to Zionism within the context of Western imperial politics in the middle east shifting from British to American control. We should recognize, according to Dan, that Canada is hack second-rate client state, and what we think as citizens of such a state about Palestine is really not so important unless we create bilateral actions with other second rate client states. Dan’s knowledge of the history of imperial international relations and how the zionist movement has constantly navigated within imperial nationalisms is really astounding – but probably more impressive is how fluent he is on the history of organized Jewish politics in Canada, and over the whole 20th century. But those things, they don’t interest me for their own sake – so, I’m not going to comment on the bulk of the talk.

What I found interesting is what Dan had to say about the question of Palestinian political representation – an issue I think is important because I think the Palestinian struggle is fundamentally about the self-assertion of an anti-colonial people, I think it’s important not simply that Palestinian rights are restored, but that Palestinians lead their own struggle, and that solidarity work does not turn into a politics of charity. The key issue for Palestinian political representation in Palestine, according to Dan, is Israel’s assassination policy. Any political groups that Israel doesn’t like, it simply assassinates the leaders. And since the group is labelled “terrorist”, no one bats an eyelid. We’re all familiar with the case of Hamas, but also Palestinian political parties in the West Bank can be labelled terrorist as well – even if they co-operate with the PA. The PFLP, for example, is listed as a terrorist organization even though its members co-operate with the Fatah leadership and even went along with the statehood bid. And yet, on the Canadian government website, you fill find them listed as a terrorist organization: Continue reading →

Decolonization and Colonial Identity

Today I had an interesting and challenging conversation with a member of the 3903 First Nations Solidarity Working Group about decolonization and indigenous solidarity.  It built on an event I attended recently called “Building Indigenous Solidarity”, the notes  of which I’ve promised to post online (and I will do that soon). The conversation was part of my attempt to understand the possibilities for collaboration and mutual learning between the Palestinian and Canadian first-nations solidarity movements. They may have something to learn from each other, but minimally, they disagree on a lot.

Palestinian solidarity is based on Palestinian unity. Today that unity is based on the BDS campaign and the three demands. In the past it was based on other formulations of the basic rights of Palestinians, sometimes directed towards Palestinian people as a whole, and sometimes as direct support of individual parties. PFLP, probably due to its international-marxist ideology was probably the most proliferous in terms of creating solidarity groups overseas. However, you cut it, all the groups agree that Palestinian unity is the basis of Palestinian sovereignty – the idea of a single nation, of one-person/one-vote. This idea is much older than the Palestinian revolution – it dates back at least to the rejection of the Peel commission in which Palestinians would be granted political representation only in unity with the Hashemite kingdom.

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The Meaning of Life

I’m currently TAing a course called “meaning of life”, and something has occurred to me which I feel might be worth sharing.

In the course we are dividing the question of the meaning of life, (henceforth MOL), into two questions:

(1) What is important?

(2) Why is what is important important?

The first question is not a metaphysical question, it’s a question about salience, about  what you should do; it’s an intensely practical question. And when we ask the question of MOL we hardly ever mean the first question – we usually mean primarily an answer to the question to (2). Sure, we might mention what we think is important, but mostly we want to tell each other why we’re right about our answer to (1), and that means focussing on question (2).

This is dumb.  Continue reading →

Authentic Critique of Theory

The one who is engaged directly (not the leader) should think in a single, simple way, because the goal is to motivate a fire. The writer can separate him or herself from the situation, must think in a long term frame because abstraction is his or her weapon. The theorist always over-estimates the importance of the complex because they are not interested in acting, or creating a force.

The bias against ideology not connected to an actual plan is motivated by a resentment towards an absence of gravity – a detachment from the real, which speaks loudly the truth that you do not need the overcoming, at least not personally. You can go home. So you are not serious, you only write and think.

This is the genuine critique of theory, probably the only non-hypocritical rejoinder to it is to actually become motivated by the same need that grounds your critic, and have that gravity, that absolute, unapologetic demand itself take you over, and control your own thinking – short, and long term.

The US National Security State in Palestine

I’ve read a lot of analysis of the contemporary situation in Palestine, and I’ve spent in total about three months there myself. Almost all of it leaves out something essential – i.e. the positive role played by the resistance, the corrosive effects of NGOs and USAID, and also just how peaceful the fake-peace is, and yet how far it is form “peace”.

So, when I came across, “From the American People”: Sketiches of the US National Security State in Palestine by Lisa Bunghalia, I feel the need not simply to share it on facebook, but give it a glowing recommendation here on the blog. I don’t have much to say about it, other than it is a refreshingly honest and serious analysis (it’s a research paper, really), which confronts the conflict as what it is: a military confrontation between a colonized, displaced indigenous population and a colonizing power. I will cite the conclusion below, but I recommend reading the whole piece.

Conclusion: A Baroque Occupation

What we are seeing, in effect, is a proliferation of sites and diversity of means through which US political and economic power is being articulated. Alongside its military and diplomatic interventions, the US is simultaneously extending its reach through a host of “development experts,” humanitarian agents and “democracy promoters” charged with filtering, sorting and policing the Palestinian civilian population. While taking a new and perhaps more sophisticated form, these contemporary practices and strategies must not be dissociated from a longer history of counterinsurgency in Palestine. Suppression of the Arab Revolt of 1936-39, Khalili reminds us, ended with a Palestinian nationalist movement that while fragmented was not entirely defeated. The repeated failure to destroy nationalist sentiment over time, as she points out “has been met both by the British and the Israelis [and to which we should add Americans] with a more determined commitment to reproduce—more perfectly—the very techniques that failed.” The desire to perfect these techniques, she suggests, has entailed a “constant refinement and ‘reactivation’ of the processes, of ever-more technologically sophisticated identification methods, of increasingly expansive methods of mapping and controlling territories in three dimensions, of more elaborate recruitment of collaborators, or more baroque punishments of collectives.”[10]

The aid regime that has taken form in recent decades is part and parcel of the refinement and evolution of techniques that Khalili speaks of. The various practices mapped here—collection of personal information, mapping of coordinates of land plots, development of internal policing and reporting systems, intelligence gathering and the forging of alliances and divisions between various social groups—are all part and parcel of ever-more sophisticated methods of identification, mapping, controlling, dividing and making legible this population that has time and time again refused wholesale defeat. These mundane practices of counterinsurgency, often renamed with technical terminology such as “reporting” or “compliance,” have become part and parcel of the daily practices of aid governance displaced from the US state and shot through a host of development and humanitarian forces working on its behalf. What has resulted in this process is a proliferation of sites through the US national security apparatus is being articulated within Palestine encased in ever-more sophisticated modes of control.

Of course these processes are not unfolding on a blank slate and if indeed the ultimate result of counterinsurgency techniques is “the production of the civilian not as collateral but as the central object of war making”[11] then here too is where the struggle to resist such projects is taking shape.




Yes, it’s apartheid

Michal Vexler created this infographic explaining the Palestinian situation of apartheid under Israeli rule and occupation. I’ve talked to many people, even those sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, who have no idea how divided that the Palestinians are as a result of occupation and displacement. One criticism I have is that this graphic is relatively light on the situation of the refugees outside Palestine, which is certainly not universal but depends where they are, what rights they have there, and whether they have any form of citizenship.