Africa deserves our attention beyond simplistic stereotypes

Africa, a continent of 54 identifiable nations, rich cultural and ecological diversity, and the cradle of human civilisation, remains a largely ignored and underreport subject in the corporate-owned media. Matthew Amha raises this precise starting point in his article ‘Invisible Africa.’ Why does he make this observation, and how can this problem be addressed?

If we hear of stories from sub-Saharan African nations, they normally follow a predictable and simplistic pattern – warlords, dictators, corruption, child soldiers…..and exotic locales. Africa, in similar fashion to other continents, was hit by the Covid pandemic. Its toll of human suffering has been tremendous. Yet how many of us in Australia – and the Anglo majoritarian nations – are familiar with the stunning success stories of African nations dealing with the pandemic?

Senegal, Ghana and Rwanda – each in their own way – set outstanding examples of how to contain and manage the harmful human and health impacts of the current pandemic. Each nation, relying on its own resources, have efficiently developed vaccines, rolled them out at low cost to their respective populations, minimising the risk of Covid-19 fatalities, and have put the wealthy countries to shame. Senegal, a nation of 16 million people, has had only 30 deaths.

Ghana, in similar fashion to Senegal, implemented a rigorous contact tracing system, and mobilised hundreds of health care workers the moment the first international alerts regarding the pandemic went out. This nation of 30 million has maintained a relatively low Covid-19 mortality rate. This is not to discount the tragedy of each death, but to set a reasonable basis for comparison with the wealthier nations. The USA, with its vast medical and financial resources, has a Covid-19 death toll of 604,416 at the time of writing.

Matthew Amha, in his article referred to above, makes an interesting juxtaposition which reveals the character and agenda of the corporate-owned media. Throughout 2019 and 2020, detailed and sustained coverage was provided of the Hong Kong protests. The latter were promoted as motivated by democratic aspirations. Every nuance and action by the Hong Kongers was given sympathetic coverage. Why were not the similar and contemporaneous political uprisings in numerous African nations not given equally supportive time?

Mali, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda – among other nations – experienced political convulsions and mass democratic movements challenging the established orders in these respective countries. Why does not Ugandan political candidate and democracy activist Bobi Wine, subjected to state-sponsored repression, receive the same frequent and sympathetic coverage as putative opposition candidate and far right Russian racist Alexei Navalny?

In the west African nation of Mali, nationalist protesters have demanded the removal of French troops, a thoroughgoing change to the existing political structures, and an end to the French occupation of the country. Since gaining independence in 1960, the French ruling class has sought to regain influence in its former colony. In 2013, France deployed its troops to Mali, on the pretext of fighting Islamist militias in that country.

Operation Serval, as it was called, was intended to defeat Malian insurgents and reinstall a pro-Paris client regime. While Paris was quick to declare victory in 2014, the French political establishment soon launched Operation Barkhane, an ongoing French military occupation that is proving to be France’s forever war in the Sahel region.

The flimsy pretext of confronting Islamist militias is good for public relations in the Anglo majority nations, but is wearing thin on the ground. The underlying issues of economic inequalities, human rights abuses, mismanagement of land and agricultural resources, has not been addressed by the French military operation. Indeed, the only achievement of the occupation is to extend, in a different way, the colonial power of the French in Mali.

French militarisation in Mali, and its efforts to protect its dominant economic interests, has been thinly disguised as a ‘war on terror.’ This latter excuse has been deployed by the United States to rationalise its own predatory behaviour. The issue of Tuareg nationalism, and the right of the Tuareg for self-determination, remains unresolved. This lack of resolution is only providing a breeding ground for an armed insurgency against the French-backed Malian authorities.

Let’s stop deploying the irrelevant excuse of ‘but there is corruption’ to avoid helping African nations. Yes, there is corruption in Nigeria, Zambia, Mozambique – the list goes on. The late Mike Wallace, American journalist and commentator, rebuked his interviewee, Minister Louis Farrakhan, by claiming that Nigeria – a Muslim majority country – was the ‘most corrupt’ in Africa. Farrakhan responded with an observation we should all absorb – the imperialist countries are in no position to deliver moralising sermons about corruption.

The charge of ‘African corruption’ is only ever wheeled out in order to dismiss and divert conversations about reaching out to African nations. If corruption were truly the object of concern, we would address ourselves to the institutionalised corruption of our own financial elites. As George Monbiot wrote, if you think the UK has no corruption, you are not looking hard enough.

Let’s engage with Africa by first being informed about the continent, rather than recycling tired and simplistic stereotypes.

Asian Americans, anti-Black racism and building anti-racist solidarity

The Proud Boys, a neofascist and white supremacist militia group, heavily involved in the January 6 Capitol Hill riot, received funding and support from an unlikely quarter – Chinese Americans. This is not the first instance of Asian Americans supporting ultranationalist causes – in the 2020 elections, Vietnamese Americans among other nonwhite minorities, voted for the Republican Party.

How is it possible that former US President Trump – a superspreader of anti-Asian racism, would score votes from the Asian American community? Why did some Chinese Americans go so far as to donate thousands of dollars to a racist, far right militia group? Let’s examine this subject.

We can begin to understand this topic by first recognising that Asian Americans, are largely an anticommunist community – working their way into buying the mythical ‘American dream.’ Hostile to the Black Lives Matter and other leftist groups, Asian Americans have long desired to become the ‘model minority’. In a predominantly Anglo society, emulating whiteness is the standard of success. Anti-black racism is a useful device for distancing yourself from African American and other nonwhite minorities.

When success is defined as social mobility, and individualistic entrepreneur worship is virtually a secular religion, the refugees from China and Vietnam – especially the Saigon loyalists who fled at the end of the Vietnam war – form a socially conservative bloc which views the United States as their guarantor of freedom and economic liberalism. The indigenous and nonwhite minorities, excluded from the vaunted American dream, are identified not as another group worthy of multiethnic solidarity, but as marginal elements to be hated.

Jezzika Chung, writing in the Huffington Post, states that:

As Asian immigrants work toward building successes in a foreign environment, they begin taking cues from the people they see as most successful. Because America’s historical oppression of people of color, these people are usually white. To many Asian Americans, whiteness often becomes equated to success, and all the elements that have been conditioned to come with the paradigms of whiteness.

Driving a wedge between African and Asian Americans, conservative commentators have historically dismissed black Americans as the ‘deficient’, unable or unwilling to accept supposedly unique American values of individual initiative and hard work. Asian Americans are thus integrated into the racial pyramid of American capitalism as industrious and entrepreneurially talented.

In fact, in the 1960s, with the rise of the civil rights and antiwar movements, the US ruling circles began a process of downplaying traditional anti-Asian racism, and upholding Japanese and Chinese Americans as model minorities. Rather than emphasise the role of Asian Americans as super-exploited labourers (and frequent targets of white supremacist violence), they were now to be seen as historically integrated into the American business class. Asians were thus ‘likened’ to the white majority.

Opposition to the policies of the Communist party of China is one thing; circulating lurid right wing conspiracy theories about BLM being part of a Marxist plots is quite another. While the US government has been ratcheting up tension with Beijing in a display of great-power politics, such foreign policies have domestic consequences. Racialised outsiders become the targets not only of white nationalist groups, but of socially conservative migrant communities who are adjacent to Trumpist right wing populism.

Democrat state representative from Massachusetts, Tram Nguyen, posted a video on Facebook supportive of the BLM group and its anti racist message. She received denunciations and condemnations from her fellow Vietnamese Americans, accusing her of have Marxist sympathies, and siding with ‘domestic terrorists’. In Houston, Texas, local businessman Lê Hoàng Nguyên self-funded a BLM billboard stating ‘Stop Racism’, in English and Vietnamese. A seemingly innocuous but important statement of solidarity with African Americans, you would think….

Nguyen received death threats, calls to boycott his business, and denunciations of his liberal views from the local Vietnamese American community. Houston’s pro-Trump community, deeply religious and conservative, have helped to platform the white supremacist views that abound in American society.

It would be a mistake however, to portray the Asian American community as politically monolithic.

Caroline Cao, writing in Salon magazine, details how she is challenging the conservative and anti-Black views of her Trump-supporting grandparents. She is risking the heated debates, and fractious family ties, that inevitably accompany speaking out against socially conservative family members. Jezzika Chung, quoted earlier, writes how the new generation of Asian Americans are confronting negative stereotypes of African Americans in their own communities.

Asian Americans have a long standing practice of fighting for the rights of ethnic minorities.

Chinese Americans bravely fought against the slave-owning Confederacy during the American Civil War. Black Americans, in their struggle for civil and political rights, have found staunch anti racism allies in the Asian American community. The pathway to a just and equitable society starts with the construction of a multiethnic alliance against white nationalism. It is high time that Asian Americans stopped being the footsoldiers of the US imperial project.

St George – the patron saint of England was a multicultural Roman soldier

St George, celebrated every year on April 23 as the patron saint of England, was not English, never set foot on English soil, and fought for the supranational project called the Roman Empire. Born in Cappadocia (in today’s central Turkey), he advocated a particular Oriental death-cult belief at the time, called Christianity.

A multicultural figure, part Palestinian and Greek Christian, who fought for a multiethnic Mediterranean superpower, became co-opted into a symbol of English ultranationalism. Military saint, George of Lydda (modern-day Lod) from Roman Palestine, a venerated figure of English nationalist consciousness and Christian sacrifice, acquired popularity in a time of rising religio-nationalism in Western Christendom.

The child of mixed Greek parentage, George was born around 270 CE in Cappadocia, and went on to become a soldier in the praetorian guard of the Emperor Diocletian. He was raised by Christian parents. Serving in the Roman army, he was a globetrotting officer – the Roman Empire was a multicultural and supranational institution, with officers from different parts of the empire serving in regions outside of their homelands. In Rome itself, it was not unusual to find Britons, Greeks and Gauls mixing together.

In fact, as a Christian, George’s life was in constant peril – the Roman authorities regarded these advocates of a foreign Eastern religion with suspicion. The closest modern parallel is the degree of hostility visited upon today’s Islamic communities, bringing their ‘Eastern death cult’ into the ranks of Western European societies. George was very much the foreign fighter, taking his new ‘radical‘ religious ideology into numerous lands.

Falling foul of Diocletian’s persecution of Christians and attempts to revive traditional Roman paganism, George was tortured to get him to renounce his faith. Sentenced to death for refusing to abandon his Christian beliefs, he was executed in 303 AD. St George was put to death by authorities suspicious of his foreign religion.

How did a Roman soldier, venerated as a saint in Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Lithuania, Greece, Palestine, Italy and Malta – to name a few places – become transformed into a dragon-slaying medieval knight of English nationalist folklore? English authorities have assiduously cultivated a hagiographic picture around the life, myth and mayhem of St George.

For a start, George never slayed a fire-breathing dragon – that myth was added centuries after his death. Canonised by Pope Gelasius in 494 CE, the story of George and his exploits began to acquire the stuff of legend, particularly in Byzantine-controlled territories. George is still regarded as a hero in historically Palestinian cities. However, it was through the Crusades that George entered the consciousness of Western Christendom.

Richard I, the crusading English king, adopted the Red Cross on a white background as the Cross of St George – attempting to unify his forces around a single Christian symbol. That symbol was used on military uniforms, and later included in what became the Union Jack flag. King Edward III declared St George the patron saint of England in the 14th century, when he created the Order of the Garter, a British order of chivalry.

Associated with crusading and the promotion of Western Christendom, George became transformed into a standard-bearer of English nationalism, martial courage and integrity. Books about him embellished his legend, and contributed to making George an emblem of inward-looking Britishness as opposed to his real-life status as a multicultural soldier for a multiethnic empire.

Immortalised in the play Henry V by William Shakespeare, St George’s reputation as a venerable militant saint was solidified. Adopted as a patriotic symbol by English conservatives, far right fascistic groups and football hooligans, his status as a symbol of English nationalism has been consolidated, but yet retained flexibility to be adaptable to a wide spectrum of nationalist groups.

In the current political climate of Tory Brexit and imperial nostalgia for the long-lost British empire, it is imperative to remind ourselves about the multicultural roots of much of English society. The goal is not to induce feelings of guilt or shame about being English, but rather to question the tribalist evolution of Little Englander nationalism.

English nationalism is not going to solve the serious problems of the pandemic, economic inequalities and post-Brexit frictions. It is high time to stop the flag-waving and added the socioeconomic problems afflicting England today. Venerating military saints had its time, but that tradition, however well-intentioned, does nothing to contribute to practical and contemporary solutions.

Racism against indigenous Americans, 1776 and settler colonialism

Rick Santorum, conservative political commentator and former US Republican senator, remarked in a speech that there was nothing on the American continent prior to European settlement. The latter, he opined, built civilisation from a blank slate. While he partially retracted his comments, his statements can occur only because of widespread and ongoing ignorance about the indigenous nations.

Nick Estes, assistant professor of American studies at the University of New Mexico, wrote that it is racist ignorance which allows Santorum to claim that white Europeans ‘birthed from nothing’ the nation that became the United States. This issue is more important than the rantings of individual conservative commentators. Estes makes the crucial point that while the US government recognises genocides in other nations – the Armenian genocide being the latest case – there is stubborn resistance to the recognition of indigenous genocide.

Writing in the Washington Post, Glenn Morris and Simon Maghakyan state that the denial of indigenous genocide runs deep:

Denial of the genocide against indigenous peoples by the United States is rampant. The massacre of Native peoples — from Mystic River, Gnadenhütten and Sacramento River to Bear River, Sand Creek, Camp Grant and Wounded Knee (and the fact that most readers have probably never heard of these) — is evidence of American amnesia about its homegrown genocide.

Indeed, the United States as it exists today took shape and reached its extent because of two related yet distinct processes – indigenous oppression and transatlantic African slavery. We tend to think of both these processes as historical and terminated, relics of a long-gone obsolete past. This limits our understanding of American capitalism and its conjoined twin, white nationalism, today.

While competing European colonial powers acquired colonies in the New World at the expense of the indigenous peoples, they were united by two necessities; the subjugation of the indigenous, and the importation of African slaves to economically build their colonial possessions. We like to think of slavery as an institution separate from capitalism – the slave owning Southern states versus the mercantile and capitalist North. This is superficially true, but a deeper examination leads to a different conclusion; slavery was instrumental in the development of American capitalism.

The crucial importance of slavery for the development of capitalism was understood by Karl Marx, who wrote that:

The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement, and entombment in mines of the indigenous population of the continent, the beginnings of the conquest and plunder of India, and the conversion of Africa into a preserve for the commercial hunting of black skins are all things that characterize the dawn of the era of capitalist production.

Settler colonialism began to take shape. It is true that rival colonial powers threatened their opponents with the prospect of arming fleeing slaves. France and Spain had separate armed detachments of freed African slaves on the condition that they convert to Christianity, and fight rival colonial powers, namely Britain. The mainland settlers, already apprehensive about the possibility of a slave uprising, viewed the machinations of the European colonial states with increased anxiety.

Arming former slaves – at least the threat of such action – was a mechanism for slave owning states to compete on the American mainland for colonies. In fact, inter-European rivalry took a lethal turn with the eruption of the Seven Years War, with England the eventual winner. The American mainlanders, having witnessed the slave uprisings in Jamaica, Barbados and the Caribbean, were worried about the growing numbers of African slaves in their midst. In many ways, the 1776 American war of independence was not just an anti-British uprising, but a pro-slavery measure as well.

What solidified the European push to conquer indigenous lands, and hold down the African slaves? The invention of whiteness as a distinct racial category. The notion did not spring fully formed from the brain of one individual, but took on a life of its own during the westward expansion of New England, and the victory of the American patriots against the English crown. Inter-European divisions, while not resolved, were put on hold. Protestant versus Catholic, England vs France vs Spain vs Portugal vs the Netherlands were subsumed within the greater project of imperial expansion.

In fact, the racialisation of whiteness is the most successful application of identity politics in history. Born of the slave trade and indigenous subjugation, whiteness was a new category which consolidated the emerging American ruling class. The ultimate victims of this project were the so-called ‘red Indians’, the indigenous nations. The slave owners were defeated in the American Civil War, and this opened up the possibility of westward conquest for the mainland settlers.

Settler colonialism requires systematic violence to achieve economic and political dominance. It is more urgent than ever to recognise that the settler colonial state of the United States committed genocide against the indigenous peoples. That would constitute a minimal and necessary step on the road to justice for the dispossessed nations.