Omar Barghouti And “Reverse” Racism
By Dave Fryett
29 May, 2012
In the video below, Omar Barghouti, face of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel, made a racist statement while addressing a socialist conference. Standing in front of sign which reads “revolutionary politics”, he stated that the White race is the most violent, and then offered evidence in support of his claim.
The problem of racism on the Left, which is sometimes erroneously called reverse racism, is one which has been in evidence in the Occupy Movement. And one which deserves attention as it poses a real danger to our efforts to transition from capitalism to socialism, from free markets to free people. Racism, nationalism, cultural, regional, and religious prejudice segment the international working class, restrict its association and confine dissent within mutually hostile, sectarian camps. Socialism, using the term broadly to describe the entire anti-capitalist milieu, is a repudiation of and deliverance from these hapless antagonisms. Barghouti’s ideas, which combine fascist and socialist sentiments, cannot help but advance the interests of the former. Socialism cannot survive racism.
Socialism is about class war. It is the idea that classes are locked in combat, and that the conflict is irremediable so long as capitalism prevails. Socialists believe that the interests of the laboring classes of all peoples are the same, and envisions a cooperative post-capitalist world free of the paralyzing animosities which capitalism spawned. Socialism encourages interracial and international solidarity.
Fascism is about race war. It is the idea that races are unequal, and are locked into eternal conflict for control of the world’s resources. It sees interracial and international cooperation as impossible and undesirable. It sees races and nations as competitors, natural adversaries. Collaboration is surrender.
In the video Barghouti relates an incident in which a French woman said to him that she was glad to see that the Palestinians were moving away from terrorism and violence. He responds by saying that White people should not lecture anybody on violence as they are the worst offenders in history. Barghouti offers the World Wars, colonialism, and the Holocaust as evidence.
The idea that a given race is inferior to the others (i.e. more prone to violence or other evils) is quintessentially fascist. Unfortunately, such racist beliefs are all too common on the Left these days among the devotees of identity politics. If one raises this issue critically one is very likely to be denounced as a racist.
You can see what a problem this is when Barghouti, who even admits that his remarks to the French woman were impolite and “might sound racist”, feels no inhibition about expressing them, and, even more alarming, received a warm round of applause from a number of attendees. And this at a socialism conference!
It should not be necessary, but I am going to critique Barghouti’s comments in the hope of providing some perspective for those who might be inclined to think that he is right.
My first objection is the use of collective guilt. Barghouti insists that the woman he abused has no right to speak on the subject of violence as, in his opinion, she comes from the race which has been its greatest purveyor. Ignoring for the moment the arrogance of trying to silence another human being, of denying anybody their right to say a what they like, it apparently is of no consequence to Barghouti that the person in question is not guilty of the vice which provoked his angry response. (Or presumably is not as he doesn’t cite any instances.) That she is innocent of the evil attributed to members of her race is not important to Barghouti, her offense is belonging to that race. She is White, so she is guilty. And for this crime Barghouti was impolite and racist to her, and would deny her the basic human right of free expression.
In so doing Barghouti asserts that some races have rights which others do not, irrespective of personal responsibility. Not only is this utterly fascist and squalid, it undermines everything he is trying to do with BDS. Obviously, Barghouti is not concerned with such prosaic niceties as human decency and justice. His boorishness make his condemnation of Israeli aggression look like self interest and seem out of place. The considerable moral capital the BDS movement has is compromised by his racism.
Moreover, his choice of targets can only elicit wonder. For BDS to be successful it must win a significant amount of White capital to its cause. Short of world revolution, it cannot succeed without it. Hurling racist insults at the people whose assistance one needs to enlist is a curious thing indeed. If in fact Barghouti is hoping to financially starve the Jewish apartheid state into submission, then his White-bashing comments were not merely fascist but astonishingly stupid as well.
The other conspicuous flaw in Barghouti’s racist teleology is the historical evidence he offers in its defense. It would be a tall order indeed to convince the Armenians or the Chinese that Whites were the greatest perpetrators of violence in the World Wars. Barghouti cites the Holocaust, presumably he does not refer to the Turks.
One simply has to be blinded by prejudice to look upon the history of this planet and to conclude that any race has a greater or lesser affinity for barbarism, given its ubiquity. But perhaps a brief review is advantageous.
Save for a few hundred years before and after the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, and the last few hundred, the world has been dominated by non-Whites. This ugly question of whether Whites are more violent than others can only be judged by comparison. Though it gives me no pleasure to engage in such an exercize, I think it important and necessary to rebut Barghouti’s racist allegations.
Barghouti alludes to colonialism as an example of White violence. This is a particularly odd argument for an Arab to advance, given their lengthy indulgence in the vice.
In the classical age the civilizations around the Mediterranean and to its east vied for domination. The history of those days is one of conquest and defeat, advance and withdrawal. Empires waxed, then waned, and lost control of important resources and trade routes to an ascendant challenger. Each was to varying degrees jealous and distrustful of its rivals, each aggressively expansionist in its own right. Every one of these empires–Egyptian, Hittite, Hellenic, Mesopotamian, Carthaginian, Roman, Persian et al–occupied foreign soil and held their inhabitants in subjection without regard to race. Europeans were at various times under the control of non-White empires.
While each had technological feats to its credit, and some produced progressive leaders and events and even proto-socialist mass movements (Makdakites in Persia, Secessio Plebis and the Gracchi in Rome), all are guilty of great and sustained acts of violence and repression. I do not believe even the likes of Barghouti will insist that the White empires, Roman and Hellenic, were more guilty of violence than the others. In an age when there was little need to camouflage one’s imperial intentions, there was little to choose among them.
It is worth noting that institutionalized racism did not exist in those days. Slavery was undifferentiated and it is clear that many a Roman had more esteem for the non-White civilizations to their south and east than the blue-eyed “barbarians” on their northern border.
The collapse of Rome occasioned the rise of the Arabic Empire. Despite the liberal nonsense one hears these days, the spread of Islam was not bloodless, not by any means.
The Roman Empire in the east survived the fall of Rome by a thousand years. However, in the immediate aftermath, the Byzantine Empire had to ward off multiple attempts by Islamic conquistadors to take Constantinople. This they did skillfully, but their more distant outposts became vulnerable. Carthage was such a place. By all accounts it was a remarkable, tolerant, polyglot city. In its streets one heard Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, and a dozen African tongues. Here peoples from the Maghreb, Europe, the Near East, and sub-Saharan Africa mingled harmoniously.
The Arab conquistadors twice moved west across the northern Africa only to be stopped by heroic defenses. The third effort was successful and Carthage fell. The Arabs destroyed the city, burned it to the ground. The devastation was so extensive that it remained uninhabited for over a century.
Their ferocity backfired on the Arabs. The oppressive circumstances in which the Berbers and their allies now found themselves enabled them to overcome old tribal hostilities. An enormous insurrection ensued led by the legendary Queen Kahana, she a member of the substantial Jewish contingent which participated in the uprising. The newly appointed governor, Musa bin Nusayr, whose father had been an enslaved Christian, was tasked with putting down the rebellion and converting the populace to Islam.
Musa prevailed. The precise details of what followed are disputed, but thousands were slain in the battle and its aftermath; thousands were forced to convert: and hundreds of thousands were enslaved, with thousands of those being sent back to the Caliph as his share of the loot.
The Arab invaders established Islamo-supremacy and Arabo-supremacy within it. The memory of the conquest and the subsequent subordination is still a bitter one for Berbers.
The Arabs then set their sights on Spain. The pretext for this conquest was humanitarian intervention. A civil war had followed a dispute over succession to the Spanish throne. The Muslims and their Iberian Jewish allies entered into an agreement with the losers to depose the allegedly illegitimate successor, King Roderigo, and crown the rival claimant. Thereafter, it was agreed, the Muslims would withdraw from Iberia.
However the Moors had no such intention. They had connived with their Jewish allies to seize Spain for themselves.
Again after initial failures, they subdued the country. Roderigo was forced to flee after a decisive defeat in the south of Spain.
The Arab imperialists then made for the Visigoth capital of Toledo. On the holiest day in the Christian calendar, Easter, while Christians were at their churches, the Jews surreptitiously opened the gates of the city allowing hordes of conquistadors to enter. When services ended and Christians began to file out of their churches they were set upon and slaughtered in great numbers. The Arabs, leaving their Jewish partners in charge of the defeated city, then moved on to the next.
Many thousands of Christians were enslaved; a system of tribute for Christians who would not convert was introduced; resistant cities were decimated and the women of these towns given as slaves to the very conquistadors who slaughtered their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers; and, in a flourish of cultural malice and statist terror, the invaders reintroduced the gruesome practice of crucifixion.
Much has been made of the wealth of Saracen Spain, but it was amassed in great part by the exploitation of the Christian underclass, many of them slaves. Over the course of the 700 year Arabic occupation of Spain, alliances shifted, some advances were secured by Christians (often with the help of Berber Muslims who were only too happy to oppose the hated Arabs), and, under more enlightened Islamic leadership, many Christians were emancipated and in some cases their property returned to them.
And there was even a brief period of religious tolerance or Convivencia ( living together) as it is of late called. It didn’t last long. Muslim fundamentalists from sub-Saharan Africa put a stop to such “fraternization” with infidels and reimposed Islamo-supremacy.
Liberals love to cite the Convivencia as evidence of Moorish benevolence and wisdom. Seldom if ever do they mention the religious and racial tolerance which characterized life in Carthage before the Moors destroyed it.
The White Christians of Spain never stopped fighting Arab imperialism, but it took 700 years to drive the invaders from their shores. The final liberation, the Reconquista, is still celebrated every year.
This is how the Arabs spread Islam to the west. Its path down the east coast of Africa was equally violent. In the Saudi Kingdom and elsewhere in the Arab world people are still held as slaves. Apologists for this hideous custom often trivialize it as “paternalistic” to contrast it with the long-dead trans-Atlantic trade. (Arab man’s burden?)
I wonder if the slaves see it that way.
Before slandering other races, perhaps “Comrade” Barghouti might take a closer look at the history of his own people. Khalid bin Waleed, Tariq ibn Ziyad, Musa bin Nusayr , Uqba ibn Nafi, Hassan ibn al-Numan, these men were not evangelists! They were the Hernan Cortez, the General Gordon, and the Tommy Franks of their day. Arab imperialism followed on the heels of Roman imperialism, and like its European predecessor it too was won and maintained by violence. It too cruelly exploited the labor and natural resources of the lands it held in subjugation. Ironically it was the success of Ottoman imperialism with its conquest of Constantinople and seizure of the lucrative trade in spices which launched a new wave of European imperialism. Was it racism which set these events in motion?
Despite what Barghouti’s comments might lead one to believe, colonialism is not and has never been an exclusively White activity. And Whites have also been its victims (and not just the Spaniards). And I think most sane Leftists would agree that historical materialism comes nearer to explaining the phenomenon than Barghouti’s biological musings.
Barghouti also cited the Holocaust in support of his race theory. There have no doubt been many more of those than we are aware of, and there are disputes about those which are discussed in history textbooks. Of the latter we have the Germans and the Jews (White on White). More recently the Hutus on the Tutsis (Black on Black). In WW1 we had the Turks on the Armenians (Brown on White). Much earlier we have the Mongols on the Tanguts (Yellow on Yellow). Currently we have the aggression against the Dinka Nok on the border between Sudan and the newly formed South Sudan (Brown on Black).
One has to look very hard indeed to see race in any of this.
My purpose is to debunk Barghouti’s racist theory. I have focused mainly on Arab imperialism as he is an Arab. In the interests of fairness, I happily point out that the Islamic Empire produced a remarkable civilization, with a lengthy, impressive list of cultural, scientific, and artistic accomplishments to its credit. Like the previous European civilization it borrowed so heavily from, and the subsequent European civilizations to which it bequeathed so much, it’s intellectual achievements continue to inform and inspire. Like any empire, it was born in blood and its economic practices were deplorable. Nevertheless, its fertile, literate ethos is justly a source of pride for Arabs, and cause for gratitude for the rest of us.
Unlike “Comrade” Barghouti, I do not wish to demonize any race. Racism is for fools. The Arab imperialists, like their European neighbors, are guilty of nothing other empires are not. Our species is evolving. And as our knowledge grows so does our understanding. The problem is this: If we are ever to free ourselves from capitalism, it will require interracial and international cooperation. It is not going to happen without it. And the kind of fascist lunacy Barghouti voices is lethal to that unity.
The dystopian image of a man standing in front of a sign which reads “Revolutionary Politics”, and smugly making racist remarks at a socialism conference, and then receiving a favorable response from sections of the audience, should serve as an warning to the entire Left. Attitudes such as Barghouti’s are toxigenic to class solidarity. We cannot advance socialist and racist ideas at the same time. A movement as fissiparous as socialism has been cannot tolerate such contradictions.
The history of the Left has been one of interminable disputes, the compulsive splitting of every theoretical hair, and the endless splintering which resulted. It does not bode well for us that we cannot bring people together on race, a subject upon which there should be no disagreement. It is a very simple matter: If you believe in biological determinism, in good and bad races, that the world’s ills are attributable to the degeneracy of one or more races, then what you are is a racist and fascist of the classic type. And what you most certainly are not is a socialist. Socialism and fascism are dialectical, a zero sum affair. The more you have of one, the less you have of the other.
It is worth noting that the most famous attempt at synthesizing fascist and socialist theory was undertaken by Hitler and his Nazi Party. He appropriated the anti-capitalist rhetoric of socialism, and, in the crassest racist manner, made an entirely specious distinction between Jewish and gentile capital. He bundled legitimate popular resentments with racist theory, thus wedding the working class to that which ensured its defeat. This he did so well that in 1932 some members of the German Socialist Party (SPD) encouraged workers to vote for Hitler insisting that the Nazi movement was a continuation of the proletarian revolution of 1918!
No, I do not equate Barghouti and Hitler, merely highlight a point of obscene, ideological convergence.
When the moment of truth comes, capital will employ ever invidious tactic it can to halt the revolution. Racial atrocities will be committed by the state and attributed to innocent parties, ancient religious fears will be stoked, all sectarian fault lines will be tested for instability. Only an international, interracial, revolutionary movement resolutely determined not to be fooled or distracted, not to be sundered or turned back, will have a chance to succeed.
I repeat: Socialism cannot survive racism, it can only destroy it. And that is our task. International solidarity is the sina qua non of socialism, we cannot advance this critical process while incubating those ideas which inhibit it. Racism cannot withstand a minute of scientific scrutiny. Indeed, the recent advances in genetics have rendered risible the very idea of race. It exists now in any real sense solely as a tool of the ruling class to sow division among working people. As anti-capitalists, it is our responsibility, and indispensable to our project, to provide the antidote to this bourgeois poison. Racist ideas, even when expressed by people who have every right to be embittered, undermine socialist ideas. They misidentify the problem, misdirect and drain our energy, and promote false solutions. We indulge them at our peril.
I have treated Barghouti’s remarks as genuine, which I take them to be, but some doubt exists. It seems he leads the BDS movement, but doesn’t participate in it as he attends an Israeli university. Here is a brief piece written by people who seem to share my suspicions.
Dave Fryett is an activist in Seattle, and can be reached at his blog http://saveourcola.blogspot.com/
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