Decolonization : Survival : Water : Life

by Steven Salaita, published on Mondoweiss, October 11, 2021

During the summer of 2016, thousands of people representing dozens of nations converged on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in the American state currently known as South Dakota.  They arrived to prevent the destruction of land and water by a foreign oil company.  Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas, a regular in the Fortune 500, was constructing an underground pipeline to deliver crude oil from near the Canadian border to southern Illinois, where it would hook up with extant transport infrastructure to the Gulf of Mexico.  The convergence at Standing Rock, a nation existentially threatened by the pipeline, earned the world’s attention and became an extraordinary site of multinational organizing.  The Palestinian black, red, and green could be seen in the spectrum of colors.

While corporate media focused on environmental impact, Indigenous leaders, following the example of their Lakota and Dakota hosts, discussed the pipeline as a byproduct of colonization.  Poisoned water wasn’t its only danger.  The pipeline was scheduled to run beneath land various nations still claim, either through treaties or ancestral habitation (or both).  Native leaders estimated that it would impact nearly 400 archeological sites and desecrate dozens of sacred places along its route, including graveyards.  From the federal government’s point of view, the project also had the benefit of “erasing our footprint in the world,” in the words of LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, the Historical Preservation Officer at Standing Rock.  The Sioux and their brethren set up Sacred Stone Camp to ensure their survival—and, by extension, that of the world at large—a sentiment consecrated in the slogan “water is life.”

Although the Obama administration halted construction pending further review of the pipeline’s environmental impact, upon taking office Donald Trump swiftly issued an executive order allowing the project to continue.  Within six months of its completion, six different spills were recorded.  The largest spill, near the southern terminus, dumped 168 gallons into the environment.  Energy Transfer Partners declined to report a November, 2017, spill in Iowa to relevant authorities.  Many of the water protectors faced felony charges.  The US federal government continues to ignore hundreds of treaty obligations.

* * *

In my last book, I explored solidarity across borders through what I call “inter/nationalism,” a formulation I want to revive here.  Let me give the short definition:  concurrent struggles for national liberation that share important features and are subjugated by a mutual power.  These communities in turn have good reasons to work together, at which point they are engaging inter/nationalism, or mutually-affirmational national struggles with interlocking destinies.

For many reasons, Natives and Palestinians are perfectly suited to an inter/national relationship. The US and Israel are more than mere allies; they are symbiotic practitioners of settler colonization. Each inhabits the other’s economy and consciousness. And both are convinced (or try to convince everybody else) that they’re doing God’s work in the world. Plenty of Native activists and writers are aware of these connections. Their uses of Palestine in discourses and images reveal a wide range of inter/national possibilities.

For those raised in the United States, it can be difficult to comprehend Native politics. Non-Native people rarely discuss those politics, first of all. Given what they’re apt to say, this omission isn’t an altogether bad thing, but Natives speak often of their histories and aspirations, and non-Natives don’t like to listen, either. The country’s peculiar romance with assimilation as the solution to racism further hinders comprehension. It’s impossible to cover the range and complexity of Native politics in a single essay (or tome), but we can correct some misperceptions.

The most critical thing to understand is that Natives don’t seek civil rights—or they’re not limited to civil rights, anyway.  They are engaged in national liberation struggles.  The difference is significant.  While the politics of assimilation can appear innocuous—they’re not innocuous, by the way—they don’t apply to Black and Native Americans, the former descending from captive populations and the latter having no immigrant origin.  For Natives, assimilation is a form of genocide.  (Contrary to popular belief, genocide doesn’t necessarily involve death camps and wanton slaughter.  It is the willful destruction of another culture.  If assimilated, Natives would cease to exist as distinctive ethnic and national groups.)  The pursuit of civil rights would bring them no closer to autonomy or self-determination.  Sovereignty, a concept that has its origin in treaty obligations, is a limited commodity, often subject to federal oversight or corporate ambition.

Another thing to keep in mind is the complexity of race and citizenship in Indian Country.  Whereas, say, Arab Americans can debate notions of belonging in ways that become cantankerous or hurtful, Natives have more at stake than alienation or census designations.  As entities with authority to grant citizenship (through enrollment), in some cases leading to considerable social benefits, tribes are embroiled in histories of colonization (with multiple colonizers), geographical limitations (shrunken national footprints), internal controversies (neocolonialism and slipshod governance), and traditions of American eugenics (imposition of blood quantum as a racial designation).

In her masterful study of these issues, Native American DNA, Kim TallBear points out that “dominant U.S. understandings of race, kinship, history, and Native American identity set the ground upon which tribal and First Nations attempt to govern their citizenries and territories.” How Natives navigate inclusion and exclusion too is a matter of survival.  While self-identification among ethnic minorities is to some degree voluntary, for Natives it is also a question of legislation and jurisdiction.  Such is the fundamental difference between immigrant and national communities.

Different tribal nations use different approaches.  On the whole, though, emphasis in Indian Country is on restoring nationhood, something that entails tribal control of legal and political systems and stewardship over the land (including fauna, minerals, and urban development).  The sensibility is less about getting a seat at the table than it is repossessing the table from interlopers using it to gorge themselves.

Natives probably know better than anybody else how difficult outsiders can be.  Prospectors, missionaries, anthropologists, soldiers, new-agers, businessmen, imposters, spies, developers, shamans—all bring little more than trouble.  And yet Native intellectual traditions remain amenable to reciprocity, maintaining an old spirit of exchange and hospitality.  Much of the earth registers in the study of Indigeneity.  Palestinians have been a source of significant interest.

People converged at Standing Rock to demand an end to foreign occupation, but water was (and continues to be) the material resource that would ensure freedom.  The Lakota and Dakota underscored the incompatibility of oil and water.  By speaking of the need to protect their primary sustenance, and thus preserve their future, they delivered wisdom to everyone trying to survive the ravages of capitalism.  Actively protecting water rather than merely condemning the cultivation of oil is a visionary project both for liberation and ecological livelihood.  As nations gathered at Standing Rock, the mostly-Black residents of Flint, Michigan were experiencing a lead contamination in their drinking water, a problem that still hasn’t been resolved.  Many First Nations in Canada endure similar kinds of pollution.  In South Asia and Latin America, poor communities have little access to water at all, much less to clean water.

All the while corporations tap into public reservoirs at little cost while turning out billion-dollar profits—Nestle owns over a hundred bottling factories in 34 countries.  In 2017, the State Water Resources Control Board of California found that the company had been diverting water from the San Bernardino National Forest.  In 2016, Egyptian health officials concluded that Nestle, Aquafina, and Baraka had produced “spring water” unfit for human consumption.  Potable water increasingly is a privatized luxury.  Water is life.  An essential resource for survival, then, is in the hands of people who consider our well-being an obstacle.

Destruction of water sources is yet another ill Natives share with Palestinians, who have long suffered privation as a result of their colonizer’s unquenchable appetite.  It made sense for Palestinians in North America to show up at the Sacred Stone Camp because they understand the need to defend the wretched against state and corporate aggression.  For Natives inclined to sympathy with Palestine, the arrival of Palestinians added another anti-colonial imprimatur to a struggle that mainstream commentators reduced to tragic misunderstanding or to an irritant that could go away with a bit of presidential altruism.  Politicians and opportunists make it a point to avoid the Palestinian flag.

Delegations from Hawaii also had experience of the situation at Standing Rock.  The people of Hawaii have fought for decades, with some success, to restore water as a public good.  In one of the more remarkable legal proceedings in modern US history, they earned strong concessions relative to their peers on the mainland.  On the brink of 2017’s Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico’s infrastructure (to the indifference of its US colonizer), Puerto Ricans were imbibing elevated levels of bacteria and lead.  Seventy percent of water supplied to the island’s residents violated federal health standards.

Many of the people in Sacred Stone Camp, then, bore the particular kind of empathy arising from experience.  The ability to relate beyond the limits of rhetoric is a seminal feature of inter/nationalism.  We have few opportunities in industrialized society to take on another group’s pain and thus become invested in its liberation.  The ruling class prefers to keep us in violent competition over diminishing resources.  Standing Rock is a terrific site of resistance because it aims to keep those resources at home.  By hosting Indigenous communities from the Pacific to West Asia, the Sacred Stone Camp has been a model of decolonial praxis despite the tensions in evidence whenever large crowds gather.  It achieved this stature through a simple but unwavering demand:  leave the glossy sources of human progress in the ground, where they belong.

* * *

Public lands, already stolen from Natives, can be subject to ongoing theft for the benefit of corporations and their clients in Washington.  In February, 2018, the Trump administration cut the size of Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent and nearby Grand Staircase Escalante in half.  These sites belong to the Ute, Hopi, Zuni, and Dine nations, who have used them for millennia to cultivate food and medicine.  Bears Ears has over 100,000 archeological sites, some dating to 12,000 BCE.  The government intends to cut the size of 25 more national monuments.

According to Department of the Interior documents obtained by the New York Times and subsequently posted online, the parks contain significant oil, gas, and coal deposits.  The Utah Geological Survey estimates that Bears Ears has over 11 billion tons of accessible coal deposits “and 550 barrels of oil held in tar sands deposits, all worth between $2 billion and $18.6 billion.”  Timber is another exploitable resource.  Although a broad coalition is working to preserve the monuments, they’ll soon become repositories of private wealth.  In the US, these conflagrations rarely have another outcome.

Similar avarice and corruption have defined the country since its inception.  The infamous Teapot Dome scandal of the 1920s, in which officers of the Warren Harding administration leased public (read:  Native) land to oil companies without competitive bidding, is the rare instance of graft that became a news story, but the graft itself is common.  Two things about Teapot Dome would become repetitive:  nobody was punished for offering bribes and the scandal centered on malfeasance, sensationalism, and noncompetitive bidding, not oil exploration on Native lands or the privatization of communal equity.

The complexity of US statecraft is constantly simplified by increased production of lucrative commodities.  There is little sense of the common good in the United States.  Land exists to be developed.  Technology solves the same problems it creates.  Resources must be used to power modernity.  Profit justifies process.  Each mythology arose in relation to the dispossession of Native peoples.  It is therefore axiomatic that Natives are rendered invisible by the prominence of each mythology.  Standing Rock is important because it demands that Indigenous peoples determine their own destinies rather than existing as bystanders to calamitous ideals of progress.  Battling oil companies and trying to preserve the natural world absent of decolonization is bound to produce little more than spectacle.

Much of the activism around the shrinkage of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante urges the government to keep the land under federal protection.  While this approach is important as an immediate remedy to the problem, it is limited as a long-term politics.  Rather than invoking Natives as a reason for preserving national monuments, it is more appropriate to seek restoration of the land to Native control.  Land, not law, is the stable entity in this situation.  In other words, colonial logic asks us to process the issue of conservation through juridical perspectives, and lots of people consent, inspired in no small part by the exalted status of law as the basis of just rule.  The logic leads its purveyors to bureaucratic notions of salvation.  But we know that laws can change through legislative maneuvering or by fiat of presidential caprice.  Laws can also be ignored.  They act in the social good only insofar as they exist on paper.  These are remarkably mercurial things on which to base a civilization.

A politics that centers land is less mechanical and is capable of producing more sustainable outcomes.  Let’s return to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase.  The monuments are shrinking, but the land that comprises them is not.  Conservation in the hands of US jurisprudence will always be susceptible to political expedience.  We must therefore seek to preserve the actual environment rather than the statutes by which it is interpolated.  The land will be irrevocably altered not because the US government made a mistake, but because it was under control of the US government in the first place.  The water protectors at Standing Rock consistently articulate this principle.  They are uninterested in submitting their well-being to the good graces of their colonizer.  The ultimate goal, even as they pursue short-term remedies, is to decide the fate of the water and the land it traverses, so that it may continue to sustain life rather than symbolize destruction.

Then there is Israel’s involvement in these colonial systems.  We can obliquely connect Israel to Standing Rock.  The private security firm G4S, which long patrolled the West Bank, also worked the beat in South Dakota.  Israel’s presence is more strongly felt elsewhere, though.  The visuals of the Sacred Stone Camp and its militarized surroundings nevertheless evoked a familiar distress among Jews and Palestinians.

A skirmish broke out in media specializing in the Middle East about how the situation at Standing Rock most appropriately relates to Palestine-Israel.  Zionist sites were too invested in top-down authority to provide any convincing arguments.  Private security firms also paid attention to the visuals.  TigerSwan, one such mercenary outfit, “targeted the movement opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline with military-style counterterrorism measures, collaborating closely with police in at least five states.”  One of the firm’s reports from September, 2016, declares that “the presence of additional Palestinians in the camp, and the movement’s involvement with Islamic individuals is a dynamic that requires further examination.”  Whatever Natives and Palestinians may believe about one another, the state and its corporate goons understand the great danger that arises whenever oppressed people get together.

For many of the Natives at Standing Rock, the idea of global insurrection was an appealing remedy to the abuses of state and corporation.  There was nothing new about the sentiment.  Few groups embrace insurrection more eagerly than Palestinians, who arrived at the Sacred Stone Camp in large numbers.

Before going further, I’d like to complicate our understanding of the Palestinian presence in North Dakota.  We should distinguish between Palestinians in the US (and Canada) and those from the Arab World.  The Palestinian Youth Movement and other groups in Palestine sent delegations, which presents a slightly different political and logistical context than that attending the Palestinian Americans who made the journey (as individuals or in conjunction with SJPs and other solidarity organizations).  Those coming from Palestine had to cross at least three colonial frontiers and, as people exterior to the US, suggested the presence of foreign relations.  More important, those coming from Palestine aren’t implicated in settler colonization.

This point is bound to raise eyebrows, so let’s spend a second with it.  Non-Native inhabitants of the US and Canada can’t all rightly be described as settlers.  Those descended from the transatlantic slave trade don’t fit the description, for example.  And not everybody who occupies the category is on equal footing.  It doesn’t seem useful (or very nice) to pile too much responsibility for the sorry condition of the United States onto refugees and other displaced people.  Plenty of Palestinians in North America arrived in such circumstances.

There’s also a semantic element to the discussion that would take a few days to sort out (“what do we mean by ‘settler’?”).  Let’s therefore think about the category in terms socio-political relationships.  Of all the people in Sacred Stone Camp, only members of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation have a legitimate claim to the land.  Other Indigenous peoples can make the same claim to the lands from which they traveled.  No matter what led everybody else to North America, they have no ownership of the continent.  “Who is a settler?” is a less relevant question than “who is Indigenous?”

The Palestinians in North Dakota, then, had different relationships with their hosts depending on where they reside.  (We’ll leave aside the complicated relationship between diaspora and homeland Palestinians.)  Highlighting these distinctions may seem forced or overwrought, but it’s critical to recognize the circumstances foregrounding our interactions (even if we have to force the issue).  Optimally, such a recognition will produce relationships of trust rather than suspicion.  The flipside to this point is how citizens of an Indigenous nation regard their visitors.  Any community involved in a battle for survival will welcome all the help it can get, but convergences create lots of stress.

The solidarity, first of all, should be predicated on decolonization.  That means identifying our own complicity in colonial structures and making a serious effort to extricate ourselves from them.

* * *

Given that it is a thoroughly leftist concern, we shouldn’t be surprised that Palestine has increasingly become an issue of interest to Natives.  Support for Israel unites all elements of the ruling class.  Zionism is ubiquitous in sites of power.  It is difficult being Palestinian in North America because even the simplest articulation of ethnic or national identity is all but verboten in spaces governed by the laws of civility.  Enacting any sort of personhood is an invitation to derision and recrimination.  It is in many ways a life of absence, but one also afflicted by a constant fear of being exposed.  Indian Country is a place for Palestinians to be seen.  And in Indian Country, Palestinians see reflections of their own marginalization.  I don’t often agree with the internal reports of private mercenary firms, but TigerSwan was wise to fret over the large number of Palestinians at Sacred Stone Camp.  If Natives and Palestinians continue to gather, it will indeed be a threatening development.

* * *

Amid the US government’s amped up violence at Standing Rock late in 2016, a college student in the Gaza Strip, Israa Suliman, decided to write a letter.  Addressed “Dear Native Americans,” she declares, “When I read your history, I can see myself and my people reflected in yours.  I feel in my core that your fight is my fight, and that I am not alone in the battle against injustice.”  There is a strong basis for Suliman’s observation.  The fight is mutual because the enemy is the same.

Suliman explores the emotional dimensions of being colonized.  It’s not something often discussed amid the strategizing and theorization of insurgent politics, but visceral feelings of community are a critical source of resistance.  It is essential to transform those feelings into tangible bonds, if only to illuminate how political and economic classes function across cultures and hemispheres.

Visceral reflexes in general are an important dimension of the revolutionary imagination.  What we take to be instinct is in reality a manifestation of consciousness formed by incessant stimuli over long periods of time.  Such manifestations offer terrific potential for intellectual growth.  If something doesn’t feel right, then articulate the ethical dilemmas it creates.  If it feels natural to identify with the struggles of another group, historicize the circumstances that might justify the identification.  The impetus for this feeling is knowing how the world works from the perspective of the fugitive, the alien, the derelict, the castaway excluded by capitalism’s triumphalist narratives.  People who apologize for corporate greed and ethnic cleansing don’t experience the process, one reason why their sense of empathy is so stunted.

Suliman exquisitely captures the sentiment:

Like yours, our resistance has been labeled as acts of terrorism and violence rather than as a fight for survival and dignity.  That’s not surprising, since this is the policy of every oppressor who seeks to criminalize others to justify its acts.  It is the oppressor’s way to create its own version of reality to rationalize its behavior and brainwash the masses.  And it is the oppressor’s plan to make the colonized feel weak and alone.  But you are proving they won’t succeed and I want you to know that my people are with you.

The oppressor’s version of reality predominates in educational cultures and the information economy.  Decolonization isn’t simply a matter of expunging an occupying power, but of subverting the regimes of order it imposes on the world—of tearing away its masks of conquest, to use Gauri Viswanathan’s memorable phrase.  Honoring our fear and anger, our joy and desire, verboten in the technocratic colony, isn’t simply to articulate our humanity, but to summon a more human condition for those who will inherit the consequences of our decisions.

Corporate media won’t compare Natives and Palestinians, as Suliman does.  They prefer to invoke one group to justify the suffering of the other group.  Writers and academics in both the US and Israel acknowledge that settlers killed and displaced the people they encountered. Those deeds should be praised, though, because Natives and Palestinians are barbaric and anyway all that bad stuff led to democracy.  Purveyors of this view imagine that they are bartering egg shells for omelets.  But the narrative they peddle doesn’t justify ethnic cleansing; it implicates Western democracy in violence, suggesting that it would have been impossible as a peaceable development (in this, they are correct).

One such specimen is Israeli scholar Gerald Aranoff, who invokes Native degeneracy to rationalize Israeli bloodshed:

“America had an Indian Savage problem.  Before July 4, 1776, the day the USA declared its independence, savage Indians, history records, would sneak into homes of new immigrants from Europe, and brutally stab to death sleeping men, women and children, who never did the least harm to the Indians.”

This is standard-issue conservative apologia, but it takes an interesting turn when Aranoff channels the spirit of Cotton Mather:

“History records that these Indians would boast of their heinous cruelties at night-long campfire celebrations.  This was Amalek in America.  The Amelek that attacked the Israelites after the Exodus were a true horror.  The Indians attacked defenseless women and children without mercy, and scalped their victims in battles.”

Anyone tempted to dismiss these passages as the ravings of a maladjusted demagogue should consider that the article is published on the website of a major Israeli TV station and derives from rhetoric long used by Israeli mythmakers (I won’t argue against the point that Aranoff is maladjusted, though).  It is but superficially different from its liberal counterparts, which more or less agree but are willing to admit that settlers killed natives.

Take the following pronouncement:

“We today face a barbaric and cruel enemy, similar in its savagery to the one Benjamin Franklin faced.  As with the Palestinian Arabs, there has been a politically correct romanticizing of American Indian culture, causing it to become acceptable to blame the white man for all their ills and play down their brutality.”

It is no accident that an Israeli like Aranoff so closely resembles a certain style of American writer.  The distinctive fashion of language, style, and outlook bespeak robust ideological commerce between the two states.  There’s nothing random about reactionaries on both sides of the Atlantic sounding interchangeable.

Aranoff, however, includes an interesting hedge near the end of his piece:  “The Jews are similar to the Indians as far as historic rights are concerned, but the Palestinian Arabs resemble the Indians in savagery.”  This bit of nuance arises from Aranoff’s Zionist obligations.  He is willing to grant Natives a miniscule claim to belonging in North America, but the same magnanimity is unavailable to Palestinians.  This hedge suggests that instability exists in the unbreakable relationship between the United States and Israel.  Unlike affinities grounded in the desire for justice, those based in realpolitik last only as long as treachery manages to serve both parties.

In the end, messianic fantasies have no room for community.  Individualism governs colonial states; their alliances demand mutual profit.  As unlikely as it seems, activists can disrupt those alliances by altering the market conditions of neoliberal commerce.  We should, wherever possible, enact such disruptions.  It’s useful to remember that even the most aggressive paeans to “the special relationship,” such as Aranoff’s, can be undone by their own chauvinism.

* * *

In the winter of 2018, Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, known for calling Palestinian children “little snakes,” warned of “creeping conquest from Africa.”  In seeking to keep Africans out of Israel, and to expel those already there, Shaked argued, “Israel is a Jewish state.  It isn’t a state of all its nations.  That is, equal rights to all citizens but not equal national rights.”  Her language strongly resonates with racial discourses across the ocean.  Citizenship in the United States, as in any other nation-state, isn’t the neutral domain of law, although it pretends to be.  It is a political and economic commodity apportioned and restricted according to the needs of capital.

Immigration policy is a form of social engineering.  And immigration policy in the USA has always favored people based on race, religion, class, ideology, ability, language, culture, geography, and influence; those who brag about coming to the US “legally,” as if it’s solely a question of merit, are either deluded or dishonest.  It’s not a coincidence that just after US officials eased racial, geographic, and religious quotas, they tightened immigration controls.  According to Kristin Garrity Sekerci and Azza Altiraifi, the “co-foundational framework for immigration exclusion in the US,” along with white supremacy, is “ableism.”

Namely, discourses and structures that have created a process and system by which people have been banned based on real and perceived mental and physical disabilities, as well as for prevailing notions of inferiority, deviancy, threat and unproductivity.”

Shaked’s diction corresponds to that used by American ethnonationalists.  In Israel, Africans are “creeping,” just as “sharia” is doing in Europe and North America.  The verb, beloved of xenophobes, suggests that the presence of a foreign element is persistent and deliberate, almost imperceptible, covertly infiltrating credulous societies.  Creeping implies sneakiness.  It brings to mind ooze or slime, substances that assume the shape of whatever body they enter.  This kind of behavior is undertaken by primordial enemies.

Likewise with the word “conquest,” which evokes war and the violent defense of besieged homelands.  Africans aren’t in Israel merely to annoy the Jewish majority, but to subjugate the country’s rightful owners.  This sort of language can appeal to white supremacists in the US who are perturbed that, in some way or another, Africa is creeping into places it doesn’t belong.  As a result, we’re seeing a peculiar confluence between Zionism and the alt-right.

Zionism has always been given to contradiction.  Israeli leaders regularly express disdain for Palestinians, sometimes using crude terminology, but they also like to speak of their state as occupying a superior moral position in the world, a habit of US politicians.  Israel, they proclaim, is modern and democratic, and, unlike its Arab neighbors, tolerant of minorities.  Fewer people around the world believe this nonsense.

Perception of Israel is increasingly negative, even in the United States.  A January, 2018, Pew Research Center poll found that only 27 percent of Democrats sympathize with Israel (as opposed to 79 percent of Republicans).  This finding is similar to other surveys noting that US liberals increasingly dis-identify with Israel.  The contradiction between the ideals and practices of Zionism is unresolvable because racist violence is baked into the ideology, one reason why it has always inspired dissent among Jewish philosophers and religious figures.

When those purporting to oppose racism also support apportionment of rights based on ethnic or religious identity, it is less an act of personal hypocrisy (though it is that) than an encounter with the fundamental contradictions of modernity.  In addition to chattel slavery, which consecrated a racial logic still in use today, fables of settlement would come to play a defining role in the American self-image.  As ridiculous as it seems for an Israeli politician to laud democratic values while at the same time preaching the necessity of ethnic cleansing, doing so follows a distinct rationale comprising the state’s philosophical and legal foundation.  The commitment to democracy is sincere; it happens to be inclusive only of people born to belong, however.

US democracy too is based on legal exclusions, which supply nostalgia for the alt-right activists who covet a return to better times, when the body politic wasn’t diluted by foreign agents.  That the state continues to exclude various classes of the disenfranchised is little consolation; white nationalists demand something more concrete than de facto iniquity.  The problem doesn’t end with white nationalists, though.  White supremacy is the frame of reference for commonsensical policing and jurisprudence; it furnishes the assumptions that guide legislation and public debate.

Anyway, so long as people continue to uphold myths of whiteness, neo-Nazism will find recruits and sympathizers, and institutions that feign progressivism will continue to tolerate it.  North American and European states will always have a magnetic attraction to racial supremacy until national identities are disinvested of their colonial inheritance.  Nazism is the id of civility.

Palestine occupies a critical intersection of domestic and imperial violence.  Native hardship foregrounds Palestinian suffering, which both derives from and informs the subjugation of Black people in the United States.  Black and Native internationalists raised this point decades ago and it only becomes ever-more immediate.  Arguments persist on the US left about whether it’s better to prioritize race or class (often at the expense of gender/sexuality and imperialism).  Wise commentators have illustrated how any serious revolutionary politics should integrate categories of oppression.

It’s a tough task to summarize the debates and their recommendation, so I’ll only add an observation that isn’t meant to be as flippant as it will probably sound:  people want to destroy oppression for different reasons; it’s useful to work with anybody serious about its destruction.  Any left formation that asks the subjected and disenfranchised to patiently wait out a series of reforms undertaken by a singular class of influential mediators, no matter how reasonable it sounds, is doing the work of capitalism, and itself ought to be destroyed.

Steven Salaita is a Palestinian scholar and author of several books including Israel’s Dead Soul, Uncivil Rites: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom, and Inter/Nationalism: Decolonizing Native America and Palestine.  This article was originally published on Steven Salaita’s website on April 19, 2019.

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