On Not Speaking of Palestine

But, what shocked me during this campaign was something I had not anticipated, due to my inexperience with Pakistani politics till then: the latent and sometimes overt hostility to Palestine solidarity and sympathy for Zionist propaganda. Articles in the English media sometimes openly expressed admiration and even identification with the Israeli state and the Zionist movement, often making common cause with the battle against “Islamic militants” and suggesting that Pakistan look to it as a model of civilized nationhood and religious statehood. At the same time, I heard from liberal commentators in the media, and even from secular, left activists and intellectuals, the refrain that Pakistanis should not concern themselves with Palestine because there were domestic issues that needed attention, from Swat to Sindh and Balochistan. On some occasions, there were even racially tinged remarks about the problems of Pakistan being due to “Arabs,” tout court, which betrayed the resentment many felt against the importation of Saudi-sponsored Wahabbi Islam and perhaps the treatment of Pakistani migrant workers in the Gulf. Yet the conflation of Saudi Arabia or the Gulf states with Palestine—and the assumption that one could only either oppose Israeli colonialism or homegrown Pakistani brutality, by state and non-state actors—was puzzling and also troubling.

[…] I have come to realize that the issue of Palestine has a much broader significance for left politics in Pakistan, and more generally, for anti-imperial politics, globally. Palestine often becomes a convenient rhetorical tool in Pakistan, as elsewhere in Muslim societies and the Arab world, to unify disaffected masses by those voices—religious as well as secular–who do not always themselves engage in real struggle for the rights of people in Swat, Sindh, or Balochistan, or in anti-imperial politics more generally. The absence of a radical, left anti-imperial critique in the current moment makes it even more difficult to speak of Palestine in a society in which this critique has been marginalized and stamped out so that distinguished left Pakistani activists can openly support U.S. imperialism’s bloody yet “smart” wars. The racialized specter of the “Muslim terrorist” haunts us in every corner, from Gaza to Rawalpindi, and those who wish to distance themselves from it run so far in the opposite direction they fall off the cliff of Orientalism, succumbing to stereotypes of their own culture as inherently barbaric and in need of the West’s “humanitarian” wars. (Sunaina Maira) More here.