May 2012



Introduction | Part 1  | Part 2 | Part 3

“ If I were to change the names, a description of what is happening in Gaza and the West Bank could describe events in South Africa.” — Nobel Laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu 1989 

What is Apartheid?

Apartheid is the Afrikaans word for ‘separateness’ or ‘separate development’. Historically, it was used to refer to the set of discriminatory policies implemented in South Africa from 1948 to 1994. The South African regime had instituted a legal and social system which was designed to maintain domination of whites over people of colour. This racist system was eventually abolished after an anti-apartheid struggle which finally led to the election of Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s first black president in 1994.

Since South Africa, apartheid has come to be defined as a crime against humanity under international law. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines apartheid as inhumane acts which are committed by an institutionalized regime to systematically oppress and maintain domination of one racial group over another[1]. The Apartheid Convention (UN Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, 1973 ) defines it similarly and included in its definition ‘similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practiced in southern Africa’[2].

In addition, Article II of the Apartheid Convention has a list of features which further illustrate what a system of apartheid looks like. Some of these include subjecting a collective group of people to the following: murder, arbitrary arrest, bodily or mental harm, restriction of movement, restriction of peaceful assembly and division along lines of race. Both pieces of legislation focus on the systematic, institutionalized, and oppressive character of the discrimination and the purpose of domination it entails.[3]

It is thus important to recognize that apartheid is not a mere analogy. Rather, it is crime against humanity under international law and has severe penal repercussions. Its applicability is independent of a regime’s resemblance to South African practices and policies. South African apartheid had its unique features and Israeli apartheid has its own, though both regimes share some of the same core features.

Central to the discussion apartheid is the question of race. Unlike South Africa, traditional conceptions of race don’t apply in this case. United Nation’s committee on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination understands racial groups as socially constructed ones which can be distinguished by shared ancestry, colour, ethnicity, nationality and religion.[4] In addition, the jurisprudence of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanada and the former Yugoslavia also understood race in this manner. [5]

Palestinians identify themselves as a group of people who share a common origin, history and culture that has ensured a continuing bond despite forced displacement and fragmentation[6]. The entire Palestinian people are considered a uniform group; much like Bosniaks or the Tutsis. Thus, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are the two distinct racial groups concerned in this case of apartheid and for the purposes of international law. [7] [8].

The Bantustans of South Africa

It is important to discuss ‘Bantustanization’ as it is one of the defining features of apartheid. During the apartheid era, the South African government had concentrated the black population into ‘Homelands’ or ‘Bantustans’. These fragmented enclaves served as pseudo-national homelands for the country’s black African population. The Bantustans were a major administrative device for the exclusion of blacks from the South African political system and prevented any sort of social or economic development in these areas.[9] These homelands were presented as a promise of complete independence to black South Africans, thus satisfying their right to self-determination. Neither the African National Congress nor the international community accepted this deceitful explanation. [10]

Looking at a map of the West Bank, the Bantustan model is easily recognizable. Bantustanization is a control strategy in its essence. The Zionist movement was faced with a dilemma in Palestine: How to create a Jewish state in an area which was largely Arab? Israeli historian Benny Morris observes that Zionists could choose from only two options: “the way of South Africa” — i.e., “the establishment of an apartheid state, with a settler minority lording it over a large, exploited native majority” — or “the way of transfer” — i.e., “you could create a homogeneous Jewish state or at least a state with an overwhelming Jewish majority by moving or transferring all or most of the Arabs out.” [11]

During Israel’s independence in 1948, this dilemma was solved through ethnic cleansing by driving the Arabs out in what is today called the Nakba or Great Catastrophe. Israel faced the same dilemma in 1967 when the Palestinian territories came under Israeli occupation. This time, foundations for an apartheid system were laid out in the Palestinian territories and they have been developed over the past four decades. Former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Meron Benvenisti, observed that, “It goes without saying that ‘cooperation’ based on the current power relationship is no more than permanent Israeli domination in disguise, and that Palestinian self-rule is merely a euphemism for Bantustanization.” [12]

After analyzing legal definitions and the practices in South Africa, apartheid can be defined to be resting on three important pillars. The first pillar is demarking the population along lines of race. The second pillar involves segregating the population based on their racial identity and geographically separating them. Lastly, a matrix of draconian laws are enacted to ensure the domination of one race over another and to suppress any dissent. [13]

 Next Post: How Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories amount to Apartheid  

References 


[1] Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Article 7, paragraph 2( h)

[2] International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid – General Assembly resolution 3068 (XXVIII) of 30 November 1973

 [3] Occupation, Colonialism and Apartheid? Human Science Research Council, South Africa 2009 pg 17

 [4] UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, General Assembly resolution 2106 (XX),  21 December 1965

 [5] Occupation, Colonialism and Apartheid? Human Sciences Research Council,South Africa, 2009, pg 17

 [6] Russell Tribunals on Palestine – Capetown Session, 2009 . pg 15

 [7] Occupation, Colonialism and Apartheid? Human Sciences Research Council,South Africa, 2009, pg 17

 [8] Russell Tribunals on Palestine – Capetown Session, 2009 . pg 15

 [9]  Encylopedia Britannica. Bantustans

 [10] Occupation, Colonialism and Apartheid? Human Sciences Research Council,South Africa, 2009, pg 21

 [11] Norman Finkelstein, Apartheid Analogy.

 [12] Norman Finkelstein, Apartheid Analogy.

 [13] Occupation, Colonialism and Apartheid? Human Sciences Research Council,South Africa, 2009, pg 21

Advertisements

The Israeli propaganda machine is in full swing this time of the year. Israel’s image as the ‘only liberal democracy in the Middle East’ continues to be tarnished as Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) and BDS (Boycotts, Divestments, Sanctions) grow as a grass roots movements on campuses across the globe. Israel’s positive image in the North American psyche is the one thing which has allowed it to continue its brutality against the Palestinians without any backlash from the general public. The fact that its image is slowly undergoing a seismic shift shakes Israel to the core.

Israel’s nervousness and isolation is best indicated by the attempts to counter this movement. It has organized massive public relation campaigns, initiated events such as Israel Peace Week and has sent out delegations on speaking tours all over the world. Condemnation of IAW pour in from right-wing politicians and media outlets continue to brand the event as a hate fest which is rooted in misinformation and anti-Semitism.

All this comes at a time when informed commentators agree that Israel implements a system of apartheid. A recent report by the United Nations concluded that Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories ‘exhibit features of colonialism and apartheid’. B’Tasleem, Israel’s leading human rights organization, published in its report Land Grab that Israel ‘has created a system of legally sanctioned separation based on discrimination that has, perhaps, no parallel any where in the world since the apartheid regime of South Africa’. The Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa also concluded in its legal study that Israel is guilty of apartheid crimes.

Why use ‘apartheid’ ?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a multi-faceted one. At the core of it lies an illegal occupation coupled with innumerable human rights violations, war crimes, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, colonialism and apartheid. Solidarity activists of the past largely focused their struggle around ending the occupation, human rights violations and state-sponsored terrorism.

Focusing on the apartheid nature of the occupation represents a newer strategy in the movement, and perhaps the most effective one to date. This is a dimension of the conflict which was ignored largely in the past; partially because it is something which has developed overtime. It is the aspect of the conflict which affects Palestinians everyday.  Apartheid is a term which stirs strong emotions in the Western psyche; by exposing Israel as a perpetrator of this crime one has a much higher chance of changing public opinion towards the Zionist state. This has also allowed activists to structure their strategies in a similar fashion to the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980’s. The apartheid policies of South Africa ended shortly after US withdrew its support for the regime. By forcing our governments to change their unequivocal support of Israel, we have the greatest chance of aiding an end to the conflict.

Israeli Apartheid Week is a unique (and proud!) Canadian contribution to the Palestinian solidarity movement. It started off in 2005 at the University of Toronto by a group of dedicated student activists. It was shortly followed by the BDS Call (Boycotts, Divestments, Sanctions) made by 170 Palestinian civil societies. Through lectures, protests, concerts and film screenings, this week is dedicated to raising awareness about the atrocities being committed against the Palestinian people. It also focuses on measures that can be employed by average citizens to help end Israeli apartheid. The event is now organized on university campuses in over a 100 cities across the globe.

Success of the anti-apartheid movement for South Africa was rooted in educating the public about this inhumane system. Given the lack of knowledge about this issue amongst the masses and to emulate former movement, this series will seek to inform people about what apartheid is, why it applies to Israel and how we can help fight it.

Next Post: What is Apartheid?

First published on March 30th, 2012 


First Published in the National Post, May 11 2012 

Re: The Problem With Calling The Koran ‘Anti-Semitic,’ Jonathan Kay, May 8.

While I appreciate Jonathan Kay’s attempt to clarify the charge against the East End Madrassah, I disagree with his analysis of Islamic teachings. He conveniently declared that “Islam’s traditionally negative take on Jews is troubling” and drew analogies between the Christian view of homosexuality and Islam’s view of Judaism. This juxtaposition implies that Islam inherently preaches anti-Semitism and considers the Jewish faith a moral vice. The Koran uses the honorary term “People of the Book” to refer to the Jews due to the shared scriptural and prophetic heritage of the two faiths. It recognizes Judaism’s dietary laws and allows interreligious marriage with the faith too. The Prophet Muhammad had Jewish in-laws as well. Stories of generosity and good will between him and the Jews are too many to recount here.

The Koran is not anti-Semitic because calling it such would have to mean declaring the Bible homophobic also. It isn’t anti-Semitic because it doesn’t preach hate. Yes, it has phrases that reprimand ancient Jews for worshipping the Golden Calf, 7th-century Jews for breaking treaties and contains commandments relating to war. These are criticisms which are time restricted and don’t formulate an absolute moral judgment on the Jewish people. The problem lies not with Islam but those that teach it. The challenge for religious institutions is to be able teach scripture academically with its historical context, without projecting one’s own prejudices through it.

Waleed Ahmed, Mississauga, Ont.


“What? She’s white, and Muslim?” exclaimed my friend as he watched Sarah Hamoudi pray during the series première of Little Mosque on the Prairie. Having grown up in a city made up largely of immigrant Muslims, I guess he had assumed that Islam was a religion reserved for people of colour. We chuckled through the terrorist jokes, Babar’s sermon about ‘Smashing the American Idol’ and the clashes between liberals and conservatives at Mercy Mosque. The first sitcom about Western Muslims had just aired and it was making a difference already.

I was in my final year of high school at that time and I clearly remember the buzz surrounding the show. Some expressed opposition to the name, which for them violated the sanctity of the classic, Little House on the Prairie. Most were excited to see a fresh, new and unique comedy about Canadian Muslims. An audience of 2.1 million people tuned in for the first episode; a record breaking and unheard of rating in Canada. The ratings declined over the years, but they were good enough to sustain it for six seasons.

It was a proud moment for me to see a show about Muslims air on national television. Along with the regular post-episode discussions on House and The O.C., I could now joke with my friends about Ammar’s latest debacle or Babar’s classic rants. At a time when Muslim youth were increasingly insecure about their identities, a show like Little Mosque helped boost self-esteem and self-worth for many.

But Little Mosque never set out to accomplish any of the things I’ve mentioned. It wasn’t a show that was aimed at educating people about Islam or solving problems faced by Muslim youth. It was a sitcom that was meant to be funny; it just happened to be about a small Muslim community. It was Islam’s Cosby Show. In the post 9/11 times where any normative depiction of Muslims in media was deemed to be too controversial, the CBC made the bold move of creating a whole show about Muslims. Not only were the central characters Muslim, the show revolved around the mosque which played a key role in the community’s life. The CBC and Zarqa Nawaz, the show’s creator should be recognized by the Muslim community for this historic feat.

The criticism and the lack of support at times from the Muslim community were disheartening for me. Sure, if you don’t like the show, don’t watch it. I agree that it wasn’t a laugh-out loud comedy, and the writing was hokey and uncreative at times. But dismissing the show on grounds that the characters weren’t observant enough, or that Zarqa Nawaz had some secret liberal agenda, was disappointing. Are you seriously hoping for a sitcom where the women dare not speak to a non-Mahram? Where the community isolates itself from the kuffar? Where the Imam goes around warning people of the evils of Western civilization?

Little Mosque had its shortcomings when it came to accurately depicting the orthodox Muslim community. Yes, the Imam didn’t have a beard, had an awfully nonchalant attitude towards apostasy and might have shaken hands with the opposite sex in a few episodes. Zarqa Nawaz once explained that some slips happen because almost everyone on staff, from the director to cameraman, is non-Muslim. She alone couldn’t possibly monitor every minutiae of the filming. Some aspects of the story, such as the Ammar’s liberalism, are obviously intentional. You might not like it, but it’s just a sitcom at the end of the day.

These shortcomings are miniscule compared to the number of things Little Mosque got right. The sitcom was the most accurate depiction of Muslims to date and succeeded in bringing the mainstream Muslim community to the television screen, especially at a time when secular and ‘progressive’ Muslims get preferential treatment. It represented all the characters we find in our mosques; the uncles, the converts, the feminists and the rebellious teenagers. It captured the conflicts between the young and the old, the tension between the liberals and conservatives.

It showcased, with great sensitivity, the first Muslim courtship on television; a social phenomenon which is still under development amongst Western Muslims. Peer-pressure faced by Muslim youth at high schools was also brought to light, as was their conflicts with immigrant parents. I would argue it even addressed issues which the Muslim community faces; I think organizing an ‘Islamapalooza’ is a great idea and partial hockey boards offer a reasonable solution to the prayer barrier controversy. Because of Little Mosque, people now know that Muslim women take the hijab off at home or that it is possible to be Muslim without having to wear one.

Little Mosque on the Prairie’s idealistic worldview represents hope for our community in many ways— excluding its fiqhi failures of course. Our mosques today have closed doors and an unwelcoming atmosphere; not only to people of other faiths but to segments of the Muslim community as well. Women continue to be marginalized, and converts still grapple to find acceptance. I don’t see our Imam playing checkers with the Reverend down the street, nor do I see bona fide bonds of friendship like the one between Babar and Thorne.

Mercy Mosque’s setting was similar to the mosques of Muslim Spain, where the Christians and Muslims at times shared a common building for their place of worship. The series ended with the Muslims welcoming the Christians into their newly built mosque after their church was burned down. The new mosque was constructed in the image of Al-Rashid Mosque. This was Canada’s first mosque and was built by donations from Jews and Christians, as the Muslim population in 1938 was minuscule.

Like Al-Rashid Mosque, Little Mosque reminds us that the vision of a pluralistic community co-existing is neither new nor impossible. Its message was simple: Set aside your prejudice, give up your spiritual pride and be a good neighbor.

First written for MuslimMatters , published May 1st 2012