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A New Humanism

What motivates the desire for Third World solidarity is the shared history of oppression by a common oppressor.In 2009, a few academics, supported by long standing left-wing activists, founded Pakistanis for Palestine, a Lahore based group that aimed to support Palestinians in their struggle for statehood. Critics—which include Pakistanis—of course, wonder why, given Pakistan’s own issues, we bother to advocate for the Palestinian struggle. Here I want to reply to that critique, but before doing so let’s get some of the facts straight about the occupation of Palestine and the nature of the Israeli state for, without background, we cannot understand solidarity work. I.Israel is a settler colonial state.  Edward Said offers us a pertinent definition of imperialism, and settler colonialism. In his book Culture and Imperialism, he writes, “Imperialism means the practice, the theory, and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan center ruling a distant territory; colonialism, which is almost always a consequence of imperialism, is the implanting of settlements on distant territory.”  Settler colonialism, in turn, requires the transfer of a large population to the colonized area. Israel can be viewed as a settler colonial state historically, but the term also has explanatory and analytical value in understanding the Israeli modes of politics in relation to Palestinians. Historically, the patterns of colonization are well known and documented.   Let me, nonetheless, repeat them in summary: In August 1897, the Zionist Organisation in its first congress meeting, held in Basel, planned the colonization of Palestine, often termed the Basel Program.  The program aimed to systematically move Jewish people to Palestine. By 1914, it is estimated that 8 percent of the total population of Palestine was Jewish (with 60,000 or so Jewish persons having migrated to Palestine between 1882 to 1914).  Another 10 percent were Christian and the rest, Muslim. Less than 2 percent of the land was owned by the Jewish population in 1914.  Yet, the strategy of settler colonization (which relies on land acquisition) had begun. A successful Zionist strategy has been to lobby and court imperial support for their project.  The 1917 Balfour Declaration  declared Britain’s support, “in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people. The year of the Palestinian nakba (catastrophe), 1948, marked a turning point for both the Palestinians and the Zionist project. Zionist terrorism—such as summary massacres of men, women and children at Deir Yassin and elsewhere—drove Palestinians from their land. . Approximately, 750, 000 Palestinians were driven out, and on May 14th, 1948, Israel was established on 78 percent of Palestine. Settler colonial policies continue to the present day. The Law of Return passed by the Israeli parliament allows people with Jewsih ancestry to “return” to Palestine. Settlement building continues apace while the post-1948 Palestinian territories have been reduced to apartheid-style Bantustans. II.Why then form a group for the rights of the Palestians in Pakistan? First, for Pakistani leftists, it is critical to link up with a history of secular Third World internationalism that had its heyday after the Bandung conference in 1955. It continues by various routes today.  Secondly, we view imperialism (with white supremacy) as a global system, and it makes strategic sense to ally with its victims everywhere.  Finally, local to Pakistan, the anti-imperialist discourse has been hijacked by the right wing and the military junta and this needs exposing, for it is in their hands merely an instrument of expediency and not solidarity.  Let me elaborate on each point. In 1958, Algerian revolutionary, Frantz Fanon observed that “the wolves must not find isolated lambs to prey upon” for the anti-colonial struggle to be successful. The principle manifested itself in both state and non-state forms.  At a state level the Non-Alignment Movement conceived at Bandung and founded in Belgrade in 1961 brought together de-colonized nations on a shared platform of international diplomacy against former colonizers.  Another expression, less formal, came in the form of movement-to-movement and people-to-people solidarity. Related to the idea of strategic unity was a notion of the creation of a “new humanism.” This humanism was to be born from the struggle of liberation itself— from the pedagogy of resistance. In 1967,Che Guevara elucidated one aspect of the new humanism when he celebrated international solidarity. “Each spilt drop of blood,” Che noted, “in any country under whose flag one has not been born, is an experience passed on to those who survive, to be added later to the liberation struggle of his own country. And each nation liberated is a phase won in the battle for the liberation of one’s own country.” Third World Internationalism, thus, is not just a politics, but an ethics of a new humanism.  Faiz Ahmad Faiz, too, understood this. While in Beirut, he wrote at least four poems in support of the Palestinian struggle. In his moving Urdu poem, “Palestinian Martyrs in Other Lands,” Faiz echoed the emerging sense of the globalization of the Palestinian anti-imperialist struggle: On the unmarked roads of foreign lands,in the unknown streets of foreign citieswherever my blood-stained flag was unfurledthere flourished the flag of Palestine.Your enemies destroyed one Palestinemy wounds populated many a Palestine.What motivates the desire for Third World solidarity is the shared history of oppression by a common oppressor. From America to India to South Africa to Palestine, lands have been plundered and people of color displaced and murdered. Acts of solidarity, then, are not only natural but strategically essential—the oppressors, it must be noted, are generally united. Regarding the criticism that, rather than organizing in solidarity with Palestine, we should organize in solidarity with the Baloch who are suffering at the hand of Pakistani military.  First, it should be noted that supporters of Zionism often de-energize international solidarity by raising  critiques like this, namely, ‘look you have got problems in your own backyard, why do you want to interfere with the Palestinian issue.’  Logically, of course, nothing excludes one working in solidarity movements for Palestine and Balochistan (and countless others).  It is a fallacy to suggest otherwise.  In fact, movements learns from each other, since colonialism is a shared experience. The roots of my position lie in Third World secular internationalism.  This is in marked contrast to other forms of internationalism.  For example, the Palestinian struggle has figured in heavily into building the Muslim ummah, and Islamic concept that has been instrumentalized by movements as well as the Pakistani state in the last 50 years. In this narrative, Palestinians are refigured as Muslims who are victims of a Jewish/Christian conspiracy. Such a narrative has been used by the Pakistani military to create, harness and deploy jihadi forces inside Pakistani society (Balochistan) as well as in Kashmir, India and Afghanistan. In practice, however, the mullah and our military have failed to provide any real support to the Palestinian struggle.  They have merely instrumentalised the issue for their own purposes. Recall Habib Jalib’s poem “Maulana”: They say that Jimmy Carter is your pir incarnate, MaulanaThe land to the landlords, the machine to the despoilersThis, according to you, is God’s dictate, MaulanaWhy don’t millions fight for PalestinePrayers alone cannot from chains liberate, MaulanaWe must support the Palestinian struggle because it is a just struggle, because our ethics demand solidarity with the oppressed everywhere, and because, strategically, we too as the oppressed need to unite with others to create a new humanism.  That is a duty, as Fanon reminds us: “The future will have no pity for those women/men who, possessing the exceptional privilege of being able to speak words of truth to their oppressors, have taken refuge in an attitude of passivity, of mute indifference, and sometimes cold complicity.” The author would like to thank Zahra Malkani for her contribution to the article.Qalandar Bux Memon is an editor of Naked Punch and co-editor of the recently published Dispatches from Pakistan.This article first appeared on

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