The Racism Conference
By Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad,
Minaret of Freedom Institute
The link between Israel and late unlamented apartheid regime South Africa has its ghost in the two issues that the American administration finds controversial about the United Nations-sponsored World Conference on Racism Xenophobia and Related Intolerances scheduled to begin in Durbin, South Africa on Aug. 31. By threatening to boycott the conference, the Bush Administration seeks to prevent it from addressing two important issues in the same manner that the Clinton Administration foiled the conference on the application of the Geneva Conventions to Israel. While America has an interest in opposing reparations to the victims of racism because of the racist basis of American slavery, the opposition to the discussion of Israeli racism is sheer pandering to the Zionist lobby. It is vital for American Muslims to grasp the link between these two issues.
I do not wish to prejudice either discussion. In fact, I believe that the case for reparations has yet to be made. One must first prove that the original injustice that the slaves no doubt suffered is in fact what accounts for the unequal status in which the descendents of slaves find themselves. Even granting this, there is still the serious moral question as to whether the offspring of the perpetrators of the original injustice deserve to bear the burden of the cost of reparations. The passage of over one hundred years may have depreciated their inheritance of the unjust share taken by their ancestors into insignificance. From the other side of the fence, one may consider, as President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal has done, that the notion that the damage done by racism and slavery is such as can be settled by monetary damages alone is absurd. “‘We still suffer the effects of slavery and colonialism, and that cannot be evaluated in monetary terms,’ Wade said. ‘I find that not only absurd, but insulting.’” (Associated Press, 2001).
I am here more concerned with the need for the discussions to take place than with how they might resolve themselves. The world needs to hear the reparations debated in a public forum and Americans especially need to hear an open discussion of whether Zionism is racism. U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state Michael Southwick has been quoted to the effect that the “attacks on Israel” in such discussions make many countries “extremely uncomfortable” and that the “agenda in Durban should not single out one country and brand it as racist" (Fears, 2001). Such discomfort is provoked by the confusion caused by the fact that the modern political movement has adopted the same name, Zionism, as an ancient religious movement. They are not the same at all. A country that denies a right of return to the people who were born in the land but allows anyone whose mother is a Jew to immigrate, regardless of whether they follow the Mosaic law, regardless of whether they even believe in God or not, is not engaging in religious discrimination per-se, but in ethnic racism.
Until Israel became a fait accompli religious Orthodox Jews opposed modern political Zionism. Even today the secular elites in Israel characterize the religious Jews as a bigger threat than the Palestinians. The condemnation of modern Zionism from the Neturei Karta (http://www.geocities.com/Pentagon/Bunker/5750/home.html), whose Jewishness is unquestionable, is categorical and uncompromising.
The importance of the matter can be seen in the statement of the issue on the United Nations website (http://www.un.org/WCAR/e-kit/indigenous.htm):
Specifically, in the fifteenth century, two Papal Bulls set the stage for European domination of the New World and Africa. Romanus Pontifex … in 1452, declared war against all non-Christians throughout the world, and specifically sanctioned and promoted the conquest, colonization, and exploitation of non-Christian nations and their territories. Inter Caetera … in 1493 to the King and Queen of Spain following the voyage of Christopher Columbus to the island he called Hispaniola, officially established Christian dominion over the New World. It called for the subjugation of the native inhabitants and their territories…. The Papal Bulls have never been revoked, although indigenous representatives have asked the Vatican to consider doing so.
These "doctrines of discovery" provided the basis for both the "law of nations" and subsequent international law. Thus, they allowed Christian nations to claim "unoccupied lands" (terra nullius), or lands belonging to "heathens" or "pagans". In many parts of the world, these concepts later gave rise to the situation of many Native peoples in the today - dependent nations or wards of the State, whose ownership of their land could be revoked - or "extinguished" -- at any time by the Government.
Indigenous leaders today contend that it is essentially discriminatory that native title does not confer the same privileges as ordinary title. According to Mick Dodson, an Australian Aboriginal lawyer, the concept of extinguishment "treats indigenous rights and interests in land as inferior to all other titles". According to indigenous law and custom, indigenous interests can only hold native title, and, according to the law put into place since then by the European immigrants, native title can be extinguished.
Reading this we can see clearly how the nation-state system established under the colonial mission set the stage for the racist exploitation of native peoples. That exploitation is generally regarded as a thing of the past, but it continues today in all its ugliness in the exploitation, oppression, and dispossession of the Palestinians.
Clearly, the two largest groups of American Muslims, the African-American “reverts” and the immigrants from the colonized world have common cause here. We must remain united in the face of those who would dismiss our grievances without a hearing.
Associated Press 2001. “Senegalese Head Opposes Reparations,” (8/20) http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/international/AP-Senegal-Slavery.html (accessed 8/21/2001).
Fears, Darryl 2001, “U.S., Israel Leave U.N. Racism Talks: Agenda Wording Could Prompt Bush to Spurn Conference,” Washington Post (8/11) A7.