Hindutva diplomacy, anti-Black racism and colonial patriotism among immigrants

Growing up among the Egyptian-Armenians – Armenians who come from Egypt – one encounters the prejudices and outlook expressed by that particular community. Having absorbed the perspective of the overarching British colonial power – the latter having control of Egypt prior to the 1952 revolution – Egyptian Armenians for the most part see themselves as colonial patriots, reflecting the attitudes of the English empire loyalists.

The late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, for instance, was a frequent target of mockery and racial ridicule by Egyptian-Armenians – the veteran anti-apartheid campaigner and South Africa’s ethical conscience was greeted with ridicule by the corporate media when visiting Australia in the late 1980s and early 90s. A man who fought for the equality of races was considered an object of mockery by the colonial-minded Egyptian Armenians.

The Islamophobic and anti Black prejudices of the Egyptian Armenians – not quite white, but not coloured either – finds similarities in the South Asian communities in Britain and the United States. Dinesh D’Souza, conservative pundit in the US, is a prime example, expressing anti black racism in his commentary, particularly during the presidency of Barack Obama.

More important than just confrontational conversations with people who express anti-black racism, is the question why minority groups – such as South Asians – express overt racism? Climbing the right wing racial pyramid requires that we integrate into the notion of whiteness – and one way to do that is advocate hostility against those who are nonwhite. It is a peculiar kind of racism, directed against those similar but still different to us.

South Asian communities in Britain and the US have a stubborn history of reckoning with anti-black racism. Political figures such as D’Souza, Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley uphold their examples of immigrant success stories – by distancing themselves from their ethnic background and attacking other minorities. When D’Souza expresses his opposition to former US President Obama, he attacks not the Democratic Party policies, but Obama’s African American background.

Hindutva diplomacy

There are both historical and contemporary reasons for the persistence of Afriphobia in the South Asian community. Britain, the former colonial power in numerous African nations, deployed non-African ethnic minorities as settler communities, providing them with privileges over and above the indigenous African population. South Asians were settled in Uganda and Kenya, and were maintained as economic props buttressing the colonial system.

After independence, the commercial and economic networks of the South Asians became targets of the newly assertive African governments. A policy of Africanisation ensued – with the Kenyan government demanding that South Asians acquire Kenyan citizenship. Uganda, ruled at the time by Idi Amin, summarily expelled the South Asian community.

They arrived in England, Canada, the United States and other nations with ready-made stories of ‘African persecution’, lapped by a corporate media eager to find fault with the administrations of newly independent African nations. Anti-black racism found a fresh start in the white majoritarian settler-colonial societies.

In Egypt, the policy of nationalisation lead many non-Arab minorities, including the business-oriented Armenians, to flee the country. My late father, in contrast, was politically awakened by, and remained part of, the Nasserist generation.

Turning to contemporary times, the colonial separatism of the South Asian communities received a boost – from Narendra Modi’s India. His government, which has elevated the Hindu supremacist ideology of Hindutva to national policy, has deliberately cultivated supporters among India’s diasporic communities.

Hindutva, an ideology of Hindu supremacism, shares many features with rabid white nationalism. Portraying the Islamic community as ‘foreign invaders’ who don’t belong in India, they have found common cause with the Islamophobic wings of conservative parties in Britain and the US. Turning the South Asian communities into stable hotbeds of bigotry is the goal of Hindutva diplomacy. Anti-black racism finds the prejudices of Hindutva separatism to be fertile ground.

Please do not use the excuse that ‘everyone is racist’. The claim that ‘everybody does it’ is not a defence for harmful or criminal behaviour. This retort is the nuclear kamikaze option – take everyone in the world down with me. Yes, I can hear the screaming objections – do not generalise; not every South Asian or Egyptian-Armenian is racist. Thanks for these helpful observations, but they are completely irrelevant and derail serious conversations about prejudice. And screaming ‘but I don’t see race!’ is equally ridiculous and beside the point.

One of the officers who watched his colleague, Derek Chauvin, suffocate a black man to death, was an Asian American man, a Hmong officer. The need for re-education about race and racism is greater than ever, but it can be done. While tensions between the African American and South Asian communities exist, there is no reason for those tensions to remain in place.

South Asian and African American communities have a long history of interracial cooperation and support. They have fought together, marched and been arrested together. There is no doubt that South Asian migrants, and their children, are having the difficult conversations about racism in their own communities.

The Rif rebellion in Morocco – an inspiring anticolonial uprising

This year marks the centenary of the Rif rebellion in Morocco, an anticolonial uprising by the Amazigh people – commonly known as the Berbers. Fighting against their Spanish colonial overlords, the leader Muhammad Ibn Abd al Karim al-Khattabi (1882/3 – 1963) was a skilled political and guerrilla commander whose tactics inspired Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong and Che Guevara.

In Eastern Europe, the wartime ultranationalist Nazi collaborators and war criminals, heroised as freedom fighters by today far-right and nationalist politicians, should be condemned for what they were – fascist accomplices and racists whose ideology advocated genocidal violence against ethnic minorities. Their statues should be taken down – not for the purpose of ignoring history, but because their criminal ideology of white supremacy is a threat to humanity.

The Spanish enclave in Morocco faced a serious rebellion in 1921 by the people of the Rif mountains – mainly Berbers. Although France occupied Morocco, Spain carved out a portion of Moroccan territory in its bid to be a colonial power. The Riffian peoples, under Abd al-Krim’s leadership (that is the abbreviation of his name) fought Spanish troops to a standstill, and inflicted a humiliating loss on Spain at the Battle of Annual. The numerically superior Spanish army lost thousands of soldiers against the smaller and determined Berber guerrillas.

Abd al-Krim’s forces established the Rif republic – complete with a constitution, ministerial cabinet, courts, flag, telephone system, and plans to issue a currency. Waging a nationalist revolt, he also implicitly declared his opposition to the centuries-old Moroccan dynastic family, the Alawis, from whom the Sultan originated. The sultan had become a compliant figurehead, taking orders from Spain. So the Riffian republic was redefining Moroccan nationalism, and what a Berber state should look like.

The Riffian revolutionaries attempted to gain international recognition for their republic. In America, still in the grip of Wilsonian idealism, it was African American groups, such as the black nationalist Marcus Garvey, who extended solidarity to the Berber guerrillas. France, which had by now joined Spain in a combined military effort to suppress the Rif rebellion, deployed Senegalese troops, from its west African colony, to break down interracial solidarity.

The French authorities, in their campaign to defeat the Rif insurgency, employed white American aviators to carry out aerial bombardments – which resulted in mass civilian casualties – of the Rif strongholds. Spanish forces used chemical weapons to crush the Rif republic.

By 1925, the colonial offensive was overwhelming, and the rebellion was defeated. However, the Rif republic’s example inspired neighbouring Algerians, in the decades that followed, to launch their successful anticolonial revolution against the French.

A young Spanish officer in the Rif war was Francisco Franco, who would go on to lead the 1936 ultrarightist uprising in Spain, plunging the country into civil war. He learned the ruthless tactics of scorched earth – and accompanying atrocities – when fighting in Morocco. In fact, the Spanish officers in the Rif developed an ultranationalist, white supremacist Africanist chauvinism.

It is important to stress that, because the ethnic chauvinist ideology that Spanish fascism advocated was strikingly similar to the Eastern European ultranationalist collaborators who served as auxiliaries to Nazi German imperialism. The Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) claimed to be fighting both the USSR and Nazi Germany to achieve Ukrainian independence, but in reality cooperated with German fascism out of an ideological correspondence with the Nazi party.

The anticommunism of the OUN, similarly to other East European Nazi collaborators, was not borne out of any rational critique of Marxist philosophy, but was an extension of their vicious antisemitism. The Ukrainian, and Baltic, white supremacist insurgents did not make a thorough critique of Marx’s Das Kapital after reading its contents and hold political discussion clubs. Their anticommunism derived from the ultranationalist identification of Communism with Judaism. The latter, the alleged authors of socialist doctrine, were accused of masterminding a Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy against the Ukrainian nation.

The ultranationalism of Eastern European collaborators was necessarily a racially paranoid, exclusive nationalism. Defining themselves in racially purist terms, the OUN, and similar groups, defined their nations as ethnically purified entities, purged of Jews, Roma, Russians and other undesirable elements. The armed militants of the OUN aided and abetted the genocidal Nazi project out of an ideological similarity with their German protectors.

When the Ukrainian authorities erect statues to Stepan Bandera, they are not merely remembering their history or respecting a ‘freedom fighter.’ They are advocating the cause of a racist killer, and rehabilitating the ideology he espoused. That is why it is important to support the Moscow-proposed UN general assembly resolution to condemn the glorification of Nazi collaborators, because by overlooking their criminal history, they are helping to revive racist doctrines today.

The anticolonial uprisings of the past, such as the Rif rebellion, contain many lessons for our times.

Mormons, peopling of the Americas and sectarian pseudoarcheology

The Asia Pacific headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) – commonly known as the Mormons – is an impressive and opulent complex in Honolulu. The Polynesian Cultural Centre is owned and operated by the church. Mormons don’t drink, smoke or gamble – and neither do I for that matter. Polygamy is not a relevant issue – what a person does in their bedroom is their own business.

However, when the Mormon zealots, in pursuit of a theologically-influenced sectarian pseudoarcheology, go digging up indigenous American sites and remains – that is an unpleasant and disrespectful project. It elevates a holy book into an archaeological text, and that is an enormous disservice to the field of archaeology, and especially to the indigenous nations in the Americas.

The Mormons were in the news only recently, deploying a team to a town in Iowa for an archaeological dig. The purpose? To uncover the remains of what they believe is an ancient Biblical Hebrew metropolis of Zarahemla. The Mormons, in line with their philosemitic ideology, believe that one of the lost tribes of Israel, Lehi, constructed a ship and sailed to the Americas thousands of years ago. This seeding event, they contend, is the starting point for the peopling of the Americas. The indigenous nations are but descendants of, or the admixing result from, the original lost Jewish tribes.

Hewing to their theme of a ‘chosen people’ escaping slavery, the Americas are the purported ‘promised land’. This alleged history, preserved on gold tablets, has been passed on down the generations, and finally made its way into the foundational scriptures of Mormonism. What is the harm in this kind of fabricated wisdom? It demeans and degrades the indigenous people, who are cooped into a sectarian rendering of pseudo history.

It is one thing to appreciate Jewish culture and people; philo-Semitism however, transforms the biblical Hebrews and the Jewish experience into a politically-charged religious sectarian experience. The Mormons have an obsessive preoccupation with philo-Semitic themes and subjects. Mormon politicians have a mezuzah in their keeping, and Utah – the closest thing the United States has to a theocratic state – produces pro-Zionist and pro-Israel politicians every generation.

Fundamentalist Christianity and pro-Zionism have found common cause in the United States. Utah, a state founded as a Mormon homeland, mimics the Biblical Hebrew story, escaping from persecution to seek out a new holy land. The Mormons strongly identify with the Zionist story – seeking out a land, excluding the natives, and building a religiously-sanctioned ‘homeland.’ The American Protestant experience has a long history of spiritual Zionism – a ‘return’ to the holy lands.

Immediately next to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem stands the Jerusalem centre of Brigham Young University, named after the second presidential of the LDS church, first governor of Utah and philo-Semitic politician. The identification of the Mormons with the Zionist state is strong, and Mormons provide pro-Zionist voters to the US Congress.

The peopling and settlement of the Americas is a fascinating subject in archaeology and anthropology. The entrance of geneticists and DNA studies has vastly expanded our understanding of this mysterious and interesting topic. It speaks to us because humans want to understand our origins; both biological and cultural.

The current mainstream views holds that the Beringia land bridge was the mostly likely route, from the West Asian land mass, accessible to paleolithic hunter-gatherers, prior to the formation of the Bering strait. As the ice retreated, migrants made their way across modern-day Alaska and peopled the American continents. Geneticists have identified common haplogroups between the Siberian people and today’s indigenous nations in North America.

The Book of Mormon, authored in the 1800s, contains numerous references to species and technologies that were simply not present in the Americas during the times they purportedly describe. References to chariots, metallurgy – these may be familiar to our picture of biblical lands as described in the Old Testament, but they are a complete departure from anything resembling Native American civilisations. There are numerous biologists who are religious – but none of them are seriously searching for evidence of the talking snake from the Book of Genesis.

None of this is intended to invite ridicule or mockery of the LDS church and its followers. The intention is to protect indigenous American archaeology and history from being subsumed by sectarian pseudoarcheology.

Indigenous Americans already have a fraught relationship with the field of anthropology and archaeology. It is incumbent on non-indigenous people to respect the artefacts and stories of indigenous people. We may not always agree, but we can cooperate in order to understand and build mutual respect.

The 2013 Kenya Westgate shopping mall, Fortress Europe and refugees in the English Channel

It is the selective outrage, and the exploitation of our reactions by the corporate media and the governments they serve, which reveals the insular nature of our Anglocentric political culture.

The 2013 attack in the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya, was a terrible atrocity. Committed by Al Shabaab militants, the attackers were retaliating for Kenya’s role – and Ethiopia’s – in the invasion and chaos in their native Somalia. The guerrilla insurgency of Al Shabaab spilled over the borders, and was on gruesome display in Nairobi.

Paul Gottinger, writing in Counterpunch, cautions us to be wary of the grotesquely insincere and manufactured emotions of the media punditocracy when understanding why the Westgate attack occurred:

We must resist being held hostage to the emotions the media tell us we must feel. The cheap, bewildered horror we are to maintain demeans not only ourselves, but the victims as well.

For it only disrespects those killed when we allow the vile media and criminal governments they serve to monopolize the narrative of terror attacks like these.

Somalia has long been a target of imperialist intervention, given its strategic location at the Horn of Africa and at the entrance to the Red Sea. While US forces were defeated by a local insurgency in the early 1990s, the United States has sought to intervene in Somalia by using African proxies. The Ethiopian and Kenyan militaries fit the bill, with Ethiopia especially being prepared by US forces for its invasion of Somalia.

The Somali guerrilla insurgency, in the shape of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), brought a sense of order and stability in the areas they controlled. But it was the 2006 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia which radicalised guerrilla groups, such as Al Shabaab, waging a nationalist reaction against a foreign-backed enemy. Kenya fully complied with this 2006 war against the Somali Islamist militants.

The nationalist aspect of the Somali insurgency is often ignored; portraying the enemy as irrational, inflexible Muslim militants satisfies our sense of outrage, making purported sense of ‘senseless violence.’ The numerous drone strikes on Mogadishu, which involve hundreds of Somali fatalities, are routinely ignored.

The purpose of this brief and necessarily truncated account of recent Somali history is to expose the selective and hypocritical outrage of our corporate media commentariat. Shopping mall victims made good copy – given our Australian consumerist shopping culture. Going into details about foreign policy outcomes which result in foreign victims – and allocating responsibility for our imperialistic conduct – is time-consuming and outside our Anglocentric insular vision.

Fortress Europe created the conditions responsible for refugee deaths

In 2013, the same year as the Westgate mall attack, a group of 300 refugees drowned off the coast of the Italian island Lampedusa. They were attempting to reach European Union territory – and that was not the first nor the last time refugees drowned in terrible circumstances. Last month, 27 refugees died in the English Channel, most of them from Iraq, Iran and Syria. This was the largest fatality of refugees in the Channel since records began being kept in 2014.

Paris and London, while expressing shock at the loss of life and purported sympathy for the victims’ families, are trading bitter recriminations over sovereignty in the Channel. Similar expressions of dismay and sympathies were expressed by EU officials back in 2013 over the Lampedusa drownings. It is difficult to take these official statements of sympathy seriously, given that the EU nations have assiduously cultivated a militarised Fortress Europe to stop refugees fleeing war zones.

In fact, EU nations, such as France and UK – the latter an EU state prior to Brexit – supported and participated in imperialist wars of expansion in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya; nations whose populations have suffered dislocation and humanitarian crises because of policies pursued by EU member states. Patrick Cockburn makes this precise point in Counterpunch; if you are responding for undermining a state’s ability to provide for its people, whether through warfare or sanctions, then you are morally obligated to accept refugees fleeing those perilous circumstances.

It has been ten years since the UK-French led intervention in Libya. In that time, Libya has endured economic and political chaos, poverty and fragmentation. Indeed, there is a flourishing slave trade. The EU’s response to the outflow of refugees, from Libya and sub-Saharan Africa, is to outsource refugee detention, paying poorer nations to forcibly detain and mistreat asylum seekers.

Niger, the Sudan, Mali – among others – have received funds to deter refugees. Greece, while inside the EU, received financial incentives to militarise its borders with non-EU state Turkey. The EU has created a business model for dealing with asylum seekers encouraging people smuggling as a financially rewarding enterprise. Using third-party countries as giant prison camps for refugees creates a vulnerable underclass open to exploitation.

As long as immigration and refugee policy remain shaped by toxic political discourses about ‘invasion’ and ‘swamping’, fortress Europe will continue to cost asylum seeker lives. We need a complete revamp, basing immigration and asylum on respect for human rights.

Being multicultural and Australian – ethnic identity and white racial resentment

NSW Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi, in a book about her political experiences, details the racist hate she and her staff regularly receive from anonymous trolls and online sources. They all have the same hateful message – “go back to where you come from”. Originally from Pakistan, Senator Faruqi is an environmental engineer, has extensive experience in local government, and advocates for social justice policies.

However, the only issue that matters to the online pests is that she is Muslim. They make highly intelligent critiques of her policies, such as ‘go back to your sh*thole Pakistan”. When Senator Faruqi posted pictures of her trip to Brisbane, with photos of the river, buildings and skyline, one commenter helpfully observed – “before your husband blows it up.”

No politician is beyond criticism – but the attack on Senator Faruqi always involves questioning her motivations and identity. The policies of the Greens never seem to matter – waging an Islamophobic assault on her background is the one singular contribution by resentful Anglo Australians. As Senator Faruqi has explained:

Being born a person of colour outside Australia is a permanent mark that is used to render me, and people like me, irrelevant and voiceless in white-colonised countries. This rule doesn’t apply to white politicians who were born overseas and migrated here, like Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott.

Why is being a person of colour a permanent reminder of outsider status? Shouting the xenophobic phrase ‘go back to where you come from’ is an obnoxious accusation for the nonwhite person to ‘prove’ their loyalty. Wrapping ourselves in the Australian flag, speaking the Aussie vernacular and shouting abuse at the cricket may make racially resentful white Australians pleased, but it does nothing to contribute to the welfare of the community.

She is proud of her country of origin, and proud of her new home. She is not going anywhere.

Not black enough

Claire Coleman is an Indigenous novelist and activist, who has written about her experiences as a white-presenting indigenous Australian. She is of mixed English-Irish and Aboriginal ancestry, and identifies as Indigenous. She is asked one overwhelmingly repetitive question – actually, an accusation, by white Australian audiences; you are not black enough.

The people who accuse Coleman of ‘not being black enough’ are white, allocating to themselves the right to define who is indigenous or coloured. Australia, in similar ways to other settler colonial societies, implemented a ‘one-drop’ rule for racially classifying indigenous and non-indigenous people. Half-caste, quadroon, octoroon – fabricated gradations of bloodline ancestry to establish a racially stratified society were legislated.

One drop of blood – indigenous or black – was all that was needed to classify a person as coloured. While those laws may have officially passed, the ideology remains. Coleman elaborates how she is on the receiving end of accusations – why indigenous? Why don’t you identify as Anglo? Coleman tries to explain it for the benefit of Australian audiences – “I’m a Vegemite sandwich on brown bread.”

As Coleman elaborates:

No matter what happens to Aboriginal children of mixed race, no matter whose ‘fault’ it is that their skin is lighter than they would like, it’s not their fault. Nobody gets to choose their race. I am mixed-race because my family is and I did not choose my family.

Nor would I choose to be anything other than who I am.

Demanding DNA tests

Andrew Bolt, right wing commentator, accused white-presenting Indigenous Australians of perpetrating a racial scam – pretending to claim indigenous ancestry for financial gain from government institutions. Slandering indigenous persons as ‘race-fakers’ is a serious charge – and a group of indigenous activists successfully sued Bolt for defamation.

It is the height of perverse hypocrisy to accuse indigenous leaders of being ‘divisive’. This falsity rests on the cynical assumption that Anglo Australia is colour-blind. But everyday that white Australians shout their contempt at Senator Faruqi, or deny the indigenous ancestry of Claire Coleman, or scream ‘go back to where you come from’ at me from moving cars, they expose the racially-driven resentment of their worldview.

DNA ancestry tests are all well and good, but they are not instruments to buttress white racial resentment. If the only time you demand a DNA test is to purportedly ‘expose’ a ‘race-faker’, then you are not interested in questions of ancestry, but only in reinforcing your bigoted worldview. Empirical veracity is a commendable objective, but do not deploy it exclusively in the service of racial stratification.

In fact, DNA tests are a double-edged sword; the more we study about ethnicity and race, the more we realise how multicultural societies are. Even the Vikings, the epitome of white European conquering warriors, were not the ‘pure’ master race that white supremacists would have us believe. Projecting racially motivated fantasies back in time creates an imagined past that distorts our understanding of our ancestry, but also of our present circumstances.