Recently, I watched a show on Al-Jazeera where the show’s hosts were moderating a debate among 4 people regarding the propriety of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement’s new platform, and its disgusting assertions that Israel is committing “genocide” against “Palestinians” and is an “apartheid” state.
Setting aside the absurdity of calling one of the freest and most democratic countries in the world an “apartheid” state (where all of its citizens, irrespective of race, ethnicity or religion can vote and fully participate in local, regional and national politics) or debating the crazy blood libel that Israel is committing “genocide” (when the population of Arabs who today identify as “Palestinians” has gone from around 1.1 million in 1948 to over 12 million[i]), one of the more troubling and ironic arguments put forth by the BLM representatives during this Al Jazeera panel was the notion that there is an “intersectionality” between the oppression and persecution of people of African heritage in the USA and the purported oppression of “Palestinians” in Israel.
For those that may not be familiar with the concept of “intersectionality,” it is – according to the academics that came up with it – the “study of the overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination.”[ii] Of course, since the creators and purveyors of this intersectionality concept are largely academics and organizations that have traditionally been hostile to Israel, it is no surprise they find an “overlap” that validates or excuses their hostility to Jewish emancipation and self-determination.
Finding “Intersections” Where There Aren’t Even Streets
As a result, BLM activists (such as these Al Jazeera panelists) claim there is a link between American racism and police brutality, which is based on over 400 years of slavery and Jim Crow laws in North America, and the Arab-Israeli conflict, which began when Jews began to have the audacity – barely over a hundred years ago – to act politically on their desire for freedom, emancipation and self-determination in their indigenous homeland.
“Intersectionality” has also led academic organizations such as the National Women’s Studies Association (“NWSA”) to endorse a boycott of Israel (as does the BLM platform) based on supposed “sexual and gender-based violence perpetrated [by Israel] against Palestinians.”[iii] Plainly, the NWSA must be getting its news straight from the Bizarro world because it accuses Israel, a bastion of women’s and LGBT rights, with engaging in sexual and gender based violence, while ignoring the obvious overlap/intersection between radical Islam, Arab dictatorships and gender based violence against women throughout the Arab world, including in territories governed by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, where “women’s rights” and “LGBT rights” are an oxymoron, honor killings are rampant, and being gay can and often does equate to a death sentence.
“Intersectionality” has also allowed Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP), a grossly anti-Israel organization that is neither “Jewish” nor for “Peace,” to make the claim that the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the 70 year plus rejection (by the Arabs who now call themselves “Palestinians”) of any agreement that includes the right of the Jewish people to self-determination, is somehow linked to “the struggles of students of color, student survivors of sexual assault, and all others who on campus fight against oppression, whether imperialism, racism, patriarchy, police violence, or other systemic inequities.” [iv]
Ignoring a Grand Canyon Sized Intersection
So according to JVP, there is an intersection somewhere between Israel’s ongoing fight with much of the highly patriarchal and misogynistic Arab world, where women are often treated as chattel, and where ethnic and religious minorities are de facto and often de jure Dhimmi (second class citizens). While common sense would indicate that there is a link, it would not be the link JVP sees. Common sense would indicate that the same values that have led Arab leaders for decades to reject the notion of Jewish independence and self-determination in their indigenous homeland is also behind those same Arab leaders’ systematic and ongoing oppression of women and minorities. Of course, JVP ignores this “intersection” and instead claims that “intersectionality” somehow validates JVP’s attacks on Israel as well as the complete pass JVP gives to the misogynistic, dictatorial, patriarchs that dominate Arab society, including under both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
Of course, the fact that the colonized, confused and pampered Regressives, who make up the overwhelming majority of the JVP crowd, apply to the Arab world the soft bigotry of zero expectations and exclusively look to blame Israel for the lack of peace in the Middle East is about as shocking as a verbal gaffe by Donald Trump. As the saying goes, “if your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”
What is somewhat surprising, and incredibly sad, is how many people – who purport to care about the impact of colonization and oppression of indigenous Africans and want to bring justice to the victims of that oppression and colonization (such as the many people that support the BLM movement) – seem to ignore the Grand Canyon sized intersection (link) between European colonization and oppression of both Africans and Jews, and the 1400 plus years of Arab colonization and oppression of both Africans and Jews.
If one wants to look at credible examples of “intersecting” and “related systems of oppression, domination or discrimination” one would be hard pressed to find a better example than the millennia plus oppression and colonization by both Europeans and Arabs of Africans on the one hand and Jews on the other.
European and Arab Colonization and Oppression of Jews
European colonization and oppression of Jews began with the Greeks, who tried to “Hellenize” those “stiff necked” Jews who had the temerity to reject the idea of becoming second-class Hellenists and wished to stick with their supposedly primitive, native ways. It was followed by the Romans, with their colonization of Judea; and ultimately by the Roman massacres and expulsions of millions of Jews from their native land, many of whom were taken to Europe in chains as slaves. What followed, of course, was nearly 2,000 years of institutional racism (including religious apartheid laws), oppression and massacres of Jews in Europe.
Arab colonization and oppression of Jews began a little later. In 641 C.E., the Caliph Umar decreed that Jews should be removed from all but the southern and eastern fringes of Arabia.[v] Can anyone say “ethnic cleansing”? As for the Levant, the Arab conquest and colonization began in earnest in 634 C.E. with Jerusalem falling to the Arabs and Caliph Umar in 637 C.E. What followed for Jews under Arab (and Ottoman) colonization, including in the Jews’ indigenous homeland and holiest city, was 1400 years of institutional racism (with numerous religious apartheid laws, just like in Europe), such as the first decree in 850 C.E. that Jews had to wear a yellow badge identifying them as “inferior,” which led to the systematic oppression and massacres of Jews (for more on the oppression and massacres of Jews in Arab conquered lands – see, http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/its-not-us-its-them/)
Arab Colonization and Oppression of Africa and Africans
While it is acceptable and popular to bash the European nations for all of their oppressive and brutal conduct as racist, colonialists (which the Europeans certainly deserve); for some reason Arab colonialism, racism and oppression of non-Arabs largely gets a pass. And even more inexplicably, for the very people in America that purport to care so much about “Black lives,” Arab colonialism and oppression of Africa and Africans (which continues to this very day) not only gets a pass by those that defame and libel Israel in the name of “intersectionality,” it gets wholly ignored.
But the Arab colonization and oppression of Africa and Africans is one of the greatest crimes in history and those that ignore that crime (or even worse deny it) are participants in that crime – “The denial of a crime constitutes the direct continuation of that very crime. Only recognition and condemnation can prevent the repetition of such crimes in the future” (Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan, April 23, 2014).
As was the case with the Arab colonization of Judea and the other indigenous peoples of the Levant, Arab settler colonization and persecution of indigenous Africans began with an invasion; the Arab invasion of Egypt in 640 C.E.[vi] After the Arab’s conquest of Alexandria in 643 C.E., they began demanding Nubian slaves from the south. This continued for over 600 years. For over 600 years, colonized and subjugated African kingdoms were forced to send tributes of African slaves to the imperial Arab ruler in Egypt.[vii] From as early as the 6th century C.E., the Arab conquerors developed slavery supply networks out of Africa, from the Sahara to the Red Sea and from Ethiopia, Somalia and East Africa, all to feed the demand for slaves throughout the Arab world and the Indian Ocean region.
While the Arab slave trade routes no longer ravage Africa, the persecution, institutional oppression, and cultural colonization of indigenous Africans continues to this very day in Mauritania, Sudan and all of North Africa. Like Ancient Greeks trying to Hellenize the Jews of Judea, Arab conquerors in Africa, similar to their racist European counterparts, have justified their colonization and oppression of Africa and native Africans with missionary zeal and the claim that they were bringing “civilization” to the Africans. “We certainly cannot, under any conditions, relinquish our responsibility to help spread the light of knowledge and civilization to the very depth of the virgin jungles of the continent …” [Gamal Abdel Nasser in Philosophy of the Revolution, (1954)].
As with previous Arab and European conquests of African territory, the dictator Nasser’s supposed altruistic mission in Africa served as cover to bring the entire Nile under Arab rule; to further conquer, enslave and Arabicize indigenous Africans (as seen in the war in the Sudan), to take control of more African land through war, real genocide (not the imaginary kind made up by the BLM, JVP and SJP crowd), use of marauding gangs (like the Janjaweed in Darfur), the appropriation of African land (such as Libya’s action to take Chad’s Auzou strip), and the continued persecution of indigenous Africans in support of a now hereditary system of servitude and slavery (such as the recent arrest in Mauritania of 13 anti-slavery activists,[viii] where approximately 90,000 indigenous Africans are still enslaved).[ix]
The Slavery Intersection – Arabs, Europeans and Vicious Racism
Certainly no “system of oppression” is more responsible for the travails of Africa and of indigenous Africans than the heinous institution of slavery. European and American participation in the capture and slavery of indigenous Africans and the exploitation of their labor in the Americas and West Indies, as well as in Africa (such as in the Congo) is rightfully considered one of the most evil of the “systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination.” BLM supporters are certainly justified in calling attention to this history and in decrying those who deny its historical significance. However, instead of searching for fictitious links between the oppression of indigenous Africans and the fight for Jews to survive in their indigenous homeland, BLM activists could look at their purported allies, among those who want to destroy Israel, and ask them about the historical and ongoing role of Arab supremacism in the slavery of indigenous Africans.
It is well documented that between 650 C.E. and 1900 C.E., approximately 20 million indigenous Africans were enslaved by Arab slave traders. In fact many historians estimate that over 20 million enslaved indigenous Africans were delivered through the trans-Sahara slave trade route to the Arab world. In his 2001 book, The Legacy of Arab-Islam in Africa, Dr. Alembillah Azumah estimates that over 80 million indigenous Africans died while being transported through the trans-Sahara slave route. And while the European slave trade was beyond evil, and with its reliance on pseudo-scientific theories of racial and ethnic superiority of white Europeans – to justify and rationalize its evil – was certainly linked to (or intersected with) the institutional European persecution and oppression of Jews,[x] it was at least matched by the sheer evil and cruelty of the Arab slave trade of indigenous Africans.
Unlike the European and American slave trade, Arab slavery of indigenous Africans often dealt in the sale of castrated male slaves. African males as young as 8 years old would have their genitals completely cut off. While approximately 70% of the victims of this castration procedure bled to death, to the Arab slave traders this was an acceptable risk because of the high price eunuchs fetched in the Arab slave trade. It is estimated that during the 10th Century, the Caliph of Baghdad had as many as 7000 African eunuchs working in his palace.[xi]
One area where the European and Arab slave trade certainly “intersected” with each other was with the rape of indigenous African women. The eastern Arab slave trade dealt primarily with African women, maintaining a ratio of two female victims for each male. The big difference is that while the sexual slavery of indigenous Africans by Europeans and Americans lasted for approximately 370 years (beginning with the Portuguese in 1502 and ending with the abolition of slavery in the Americas in the 1860’s), the sexual slavery of indigenous Africans by the Arab slave trade began over 1200 years ago and (incredibly) in some Arab countries continues to this very day.[xii]
Intersecting Literary, Religious and Scientific Support for Racist Oppression
Just like their European counterparts’ “systems of oppression,” Arab oppression and persecution of Africans and Jews have often been supported and rationalized by Arab media, literature, religious claims and pseudo-science. To justify their persecution and even murder of Jews over the past millennia, both Arab and European literary, religious references, media and pseudo-science abounded with depictions of Jews as innately inferior and evil (and in the Arab world such propaganda has sadly only increased in modern times, not abated). While the European literary, religious, media and pseudo-science justifications and encouragement for the persecution, colonization and oppression of Africans (and Jews) is well known, less discussed is the Arab world’s literary and “scientific” contribution to the Arab persecution and oppression of indigenous Africans.
In Rawdat al-taslim, Nasir al-Din Tusi, a well-known 13th Century scientist and philosopher who lived in Baghdad, at a time when African slaves were already ubiquitous in the region, wrote: “The ape is more capable of being trained than the Negro.” Equally horrific, Ibn Khaldun, an Andalusian Arab historian and philosopher who spent most of his life (from 1332 – 1406) in Tunis and Egypt, in 1377 C.E. in the Muqaddimah[xiii] wrote that indigenous Africans are the “only humans who are closer to dumb animals than to rational beings.” In the Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun also wrote: “The only people who accept slavery are the Negroes, owing to their low degree of humanity and proximity to the animal stage.” And “[t]herefore, the Negro nation are, as a rule, submissive to slavery, because [Negroes] have little [that is essentially] human and have attributes that are quite similar to those of dumb animals, as we have stated.” Sadly, such venal, evil, racist writing is not difficult to find in Arab literature. Ibn Battuta, a famous 14th Century historian and traveler, in his book the “Rihla” wrote of the so-called “Zanj” (a description used by medieval Arab geographers to refer to a portion of Southeast Africa as well as to the area’s Bantu inhabitants): “they are people of black color, flat noses, kinky hair, and little understanding or intelligence.”
Ibn Sina (also known as Avicenna), one of the most famous and influential philosophers/scientists of the Islamic Golden Age, described indigenous Africans as “people who are by their very nature slaves.” He also wrote: “[a]ll African women are prostitutes, and the whole race of African men are abeed (slave) stock.” Using language that Europeans later adopted to justify their persecution and murder of Jews, Ibn Sina equated indigenous Africans with “rats plaguing the earth.”[xiv] Given this vile use of literature and pseudo-science by the Arab world to justify slavery of indigenous Africans, and the fact that most Arab countries are to this day despotic dictatorships or theocracies, it is any surprise that slavery of indigenous Africans was only outlawed in countries like Yemen and Saudi Arabia in the 1960’s, in Mauritania in 2007 and that many Arab countries still engage in slavery.[xv]
Intersecting Arab Hate for Jews and Indigenous Africans Continues
In the 21st Century, almost 1000 years after Ibn Sina claimed all indigenous African men should be slaves; the Arabic word for slave “abeed” is still used interchangeably by Arabs in most Arab countries to refer to indigenous Africans. There is a reason that in modern Arabic parlance the word for a slave and for an indigenous African has remained almost synonymous. That reason is that after 1400 years of Arab colonialism, oppression and slavery of indigenous peoples throughout the Middle East and Africa, Arab supremacism is still at least as rampant as White supremacism was in America during the Jim Crow era. That is why in Sudan and Mauritania today Arabs still have African slaves. It is why Hamas has been engaged in human trafficking of indigenous Africans in the Sinai. It is why in just five years (between 2003 and 2008), over 300,000 Sudanese Africans were killed, 100,000 were abducted and 2.7 million were forced to become refugees, with their land appropriated for Arabs, and it is why Palestinian Authority dictator Mahmoud Abbas only a few weeks ago had no problem embracing and expressing solidarity with an (actually) genocidal ruler, the “Butcher of Darfur” Sudan’s dictator, Omar al-Bashir. When it comes to Abbas and his fellow Arab dictators like al-Bashir, African and Jewish lives have never mattered … for 1400 years and counting.
Which brings us to the most head scratching aspect of the BLM alliance with the advocates for the continuation of the Arab occupation, colonization and oppression of Jews in Judea; the ability of the BLM leadership to completely disregard the link (or enormous intersection) between the historical and present day Arab disregard and outright hostility to Jewish civil rights in the Jews’ indigenous homeland and the Arab world’s historical and present day hostility and disregard for the rights of indigenous Africans.
Sadly, that is an intersection the BLM movement apparently cannot recognize, let alone cross. Instead, in order to rationalize their unholy alliance with those that seek to deprive the Jewish people of their right to self-determination in their indigenous homeland, they libel and defame the only Jewish state and ignore the Grand Canyon sized “overlaps and intersections” between the European and Arab oppression and persecution of indigenous Africans and Jews.
[vii] The Legacy of Arab-Islam in Africa: A Quest for Inter-religious Dialogue, Dr. John Alembillah Azumah
[xiv] B. Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle East