When confronted with criticism from immigrants, white Americans will often nonsensically retort, “If you hate America so much, go back to where you came from!” with the intention of forcing an admission that the place in question is worse. But what they neglect, as expected, is to apply that segregative logic evenly: I might not have minded returning to where I came from, if you hadn’t destroyed it. Why, after all, is it worse? Why are these countries, like China, that were once so far advanced that after venturing into the world chose isolation upon recognizing other civilizations had nothing to offer; like India, whose citizens in the awareness of their cultural fluidity alone withstood intrusive violence until the British strategically fostered in them a destructive self-hatred; like the Islamic Empire, whose discoveries serve as the foundation of contemporary scientific and mathematical advances, much worse? Why do white Americans have the right to interact with civilizations, to change them, to traumatize them, and expect that their peoples will not influence the makings of the United States?
Subsequently, it becomes obvious why, “If your country is so great why don’t you go back!” is a suggestion of self-serving hypocrisy; much like the colonialist mentality that forces Palestinians to pay Europe debt to the state of Israel rather than expect Europe to pay for its crimes, the retort attempts to right wrongs to the convenience of the oppressor so that a third innocent party is the one who must pay in place of the West. Certainly, if entire nations had not been destroyed by Western colonialism, the United States would not have an “immigration problem.” It might have, in fact, never existed. The quietly understood benefits to the oppressor reduces justice to pure simplicity, leaving ongoing symptoms of historical crimes unconsidered. The reality is that once the West has destroyed a civilization, it cannot expect to cut off ties with the people of that civilization by simply demanding they “go home.” You cannot murder, rape, torture, commit grievous harms on someone, and then expect your morality to be extractable from their existence by a simple parting of ways.
Rather, is the nature of these things to haunt the souls of those inflicting them. As it should be. America’s appalling history has a right to incorporation into the American identity. This is who you, who we, are now. That identity in its nature demands acknowledgment, and in an effort to cleanse ourselves, should be undone. The reason, of course, that white Americans are so distraught by the presence of immigrants in this nation is that we, of immigrant families, are constant reminders of the West’s despicable involvement in foreign nations. We are told to “go home”–because out of sight, out of mind. You do not need to think about the crimes you committed against the original country of an immigrant when you are not looking her in the face.
Reluctance toward any true justice is demonstrated not only in these defensive retorts. What is also evident is the failure to recognize those who have been wronged by Western visions of nation-building as people who now have a right, by having been involved as victims in these crimes, to be fully participating citizens of the West. Consider, for example, the common response to any suggestion of retributions paid to members of the black community (i.e. most black American citizens) whose families were enslaved. If the black community were repaid for forced labor, an estimated total of $777 billion would be repaid to black families for the labor “provided” by slaves. Setting aside the fact that the U.S. does not have that money, economists make the argument that these retributions, if paid, would devastate the economy. But let’s ask the question, whose economy does really this devastate? Are black citizens not participating members of the U.S. economy? After all, this is not money that is being exported to foreign nations. In other words, it is not currency that is lost to foreign economies, but dollars that will continue to remain in the US and fuel the US economy. Would black citizens not buy cars, houses, etc. with those wages that they earned? Would they not significantly stimulate the economy rather than devastate it? The response of white Americans that retributions to black families would be economically destructive is an indication they do not consider black citizens as citizens, who have not only the right to the wages earned by their families but the ability to contribute to the economy with those wages. What happens instead is that “retribution” is reframed as “redistribution” to emphasize the effect on white families rather than black ones.
Opponents of retributions will also attempt to employ the slippery slope fallacy. “If we pay back descendants of black slaves,” they will say, “who’s next? Native Americans? Women?” And to what, exactly, are you objecting? What else should be expected? If you rob five houses, and you are made to return the belongings of one of them, are you going to cry, “What next! You want me to return everything I stole?” Clearly we do. It is only the most reasonable expectation. And is that not justice?
Although in theory it may well be impossible to return everything stolen, unless the crimes are undone over thousands of years, this same practice of the application of practicality does not seem to deter those, who make the claim that retributions are impractical, from applying the mercy of practicality to only themselves: if it so impossible to undo the damage that we should not begin to attempt it, why should the impossibility of black citizens or indigenous peoples to continue to live in institutionalized oppressions be tolerated? Is this not equally impossible? Are they not equally human?
Common responses to suggestions that the West, or that specifically America, should seek moral reconciliation for its atrocities involve appeals, both real and theoretical, to historical crimes committed by non-Western civilizations. It is claimed by Westerners that theoretically, if non-Western civilizations had been as powerful, these civilizations would have “done the same.” Except, in a lot of cases, they actually were, and they actually didn’t. Since this isn’t the main point, however, it will not be explained. What will be explained is that in any civil society, one cannot, for example, steal from someone and then, when called to justice, claim that the victim would have done the same. That is not the reality with which we must work. It is an attempt only to derail the proceedings and obstruct the sentence. Likewise, the truth that non-Western civilizations have wronged each other should be of no concern to the West when seeking moral reconciliation. When having done wrong and attempting to undo the consequences so that we may be at peace with ourselves, why are the wrongs of others of any relevance?
Genuinely seeking reconciliation means a distinct uninterest in the historical crimes of others when they do not involve the West. The crimes of nations that the West has wronged and whether these nations are answering for them would be seen instead as “none of your business.” It is, rather, the business of those respective nations and their victims. But, as pattern demonstrates, the oppressor is disabled by his own atrocities from coming to this realization. The involvement of himself in the “immigration crisis” is one, like his involvements in any issue, that can not be acknowledged. When it is claimed, for example, that Palestinians lived in the region that should have been known as Palestine prior to the establishment of the terrorist state of Israel, many siding with the occupiers reply, “but what about before that?” or declare that it is uncertain whether Palestine or Israel existed first. But who existed first at the beginning of time is not relevant. Again, it is the unrecognized involvement of the West that was (and still is, with the “aid” afforded to Israel that should be used to repay black families) what erected this structure of institutional injustice. It is true that, as there are over any pieces of land, there were undoubtedly quarrels over Palestinian land among its own citizens, before the intervention of the British, but smaller wars between peoples of the same geographical culture are distinctly different from a powerful, persecuting third party that enforces the manifestation of its perspective on Palestinian boundaries.
And the perspective of Western oppressors have been enforced not only in drawing those boundaries, but in the convenient defining of Palestine as a territory and not a country, and therefore of its occupation as not occupation or apartheid. What makes a country, and who decides? If every nation in the world decided not to recognize authenticity of the British passport, will the associated country cease to function as a country? Should the lack of a military be any indication of whether a people make a country, when (1) that military is not allowed to exist and (2) the residents still clearly function coherently as a nation and identify one another as culturally, geographically, linguistically, and familiarly akin to themselves?
Necessary to the creation of a just world is a true, unselfish attempt to reconcile with the wrongs of the past and its prevailing symptoms. It is imperative, for this reason, that the interests of those who are disadvantaged are heard, valued, and operated upon above the reluctance of those who fear confronting their guilt. Those who are victims of the problem are demonstrably better equipped to draw a solution, having experienced the full extent of the enormities. That is the true objective party.
12 thoughts on “The State of Oppression and the Strategic Refusal of Responsible Parties to Recognize Justice”
How I knew this post was coming. As someone whose family is not Muslim but has been Middle Eastern since the beginning of time, this is not about Hitler and the aftermath of the second world war. I have been given death threats and wishes for Hitler to return all of this week. Typical insults such as ‘dirty Jew, Zionist pig dog’ etc have been flying around all over the place. But just as you have no need to apologise for your views, neither should I. Hamas and Hezbollah intend to wipe Israel, Jews and in time, non Muslims off the map and I’m not going to support that
Selina, it is inaccurate to equate Hamas and Hezbollah with Palestine. This comment is packed with assumptions, but I’m going to leave it. However, I don’t believe either of us wish to discuss this with each other.
[Edit:] Actually, never mind. You can talk about it with me if you want. We’re kind of friends now. And sometimes situations in friendships are awkward or uncomfortable, and there’s some kind of tension, and both parties need to deal with it. I’ve been watching my psychological health a lot lately, but I don’t want to… abandon (?) you. That’s not what people do when they have an understanding of solidarity.
It’s funny how you knew this post was coming because I had no idea this post was coming until an hour ago. And I can tell you right now it’s not the post you’re reading it as. Not that I wouldn’t write that post (totally would), but this isn’t it. You’re giving more weight to the involvement of current events in this post than is really there. I’m pretty much unapologetically 100% pro-Palestine, but this post is about framing in regards to colonialism, about derailing remarks, and yes, there is the occupation of Palestine (among other historical events) as an example of the West refusing to take responsibility for its actions. I’ll reiterate the point: I’m not saying that Hitler should come back (wtf) or that I support Hezbollah or Hamas (I can’t even get into their role it would be totally off topic), but that the freedom of Palestine from Israeli occupiers is misconstrued as unnecessary or even an act of terrorism by the West, who fails to recognize its involvement in the violence and continues to sympathize with the occupiers because it, of course, recasts Israel as itself.
Obviously I don’t see the situation the way you do. I don’t see Israel as occupying or overtly aggressive, I see them as reacting and defending but I’ve lost so many friends over it, I sometimes I have to step back a bit. Not to tone down my view or opinion but because I have to remember the good things about this person before we become enemies, snarling over these differences even though I feel that most Muslims support this issue because they are following in blind faith because they are Muslim, something that was confirmed by every Muslim that I was arguing with, in their words even. That doesn’t mean they represent all Muslims but give a clear indication about how most are feeling about it, not one of them have deviated from this pattern and it’s difficult to think that others of the same community could think otherwise when you are surrounded by people all chanting the exact same violent thing. I will leave you with a recent blog post of mine which started off this realisation that so many people were going to tweet and facebook about it and I was right. I was sure you were pro-Palestinian and that you would be posting about it. Last Friday I dared comment on a status and got 3 hours of abuse from 8 Pakistanis ganging up on me, so much so that I had to report the things they were saying, as well as getting a bombardment of private messages filled with hate and abuse. I’m not even going to post them on my blog, compared to the twitter argument which was tame in comparison. As far as I’m concerned, Hamas and Hezbollah are part of the problem, they are leading and controlling the Palestinians and to an extent, do represent many of the population and are instrumental in feeding them with much of the situation now
I don’t see Israel as occupying or overtly aggressive
A massive amount of the Palestinian population was forcibly removed with the establishment of Israel. The refugees are not allowed to return home. Palestinians don’t have the same rights as Israelis, are governed by different laws and stripped of resources on their own land, and, if returning to their house after being away for a period of time, Palestinians can find that it is “legally” taken over by Israeli settlers. All of the reckless violence that has happened these past few weeks is celebrated by Israelis. There is still settler expansion, and under an ideology that sounds a lot like Manifest Destiny, expansion will continue until all of Palestine is taken over. This is an occupation–and an apartheid, in which Palestinians are second-class citizens in their own country. And it’s because the British first colonized Palestine and then, after Europe decided it had killed enough innocent Jews, Romani, and gay people, decided to make the remainder of the surviving population someone else’s problem.
That is the definition of an occupation. One group was given far more power than another, by Europe (who, incidentally, is an expert when it comes to occupying places; see: the Americas) and continues to be given more and more power by the United States through millions of dollars that they’ve used to build the most enhanced military in the world and to slaughter children and civilians. It doesn’t help that they’re smug about the iron dome they basically built with US money, like that’s some kind of accomplishment. It’s a very one-sided situation, and I can promise you, Selina, my religion as nothing to do with this. I would still call myself an occupier for living on Ohlone land.
I do not believe it is the business of Pakistanis, or anyone other than Palestinians, to hurl insults at Jewish people. I would rip out anyone’s throat for being Islamophobic, but that being said, if a Native American happened to say the exact same Islamophobic things to me for living here–I wouldn’t call it a great choice of insults in terms of accuracy/being on-point (in that the occupation is relevant [not the religion]) but I wouldn’t see it as being quite the same thing. I think a verbal expression of rage, considering that I am contributing to this occupation, is tolerable to say the least when it is coming from the injured party. (Those people who harassed you on Twitter are not the injured party.) Because I’m the one who has the power. I’m the occupier. I could probably crush them. And it isn’t fair. It’s a little complicated considering I’m a woman of color, but I certainly “recognized” the authority of settlers when they decided I could live here.
For this reason, I view Hamas as political group created by Israel. They don’t want to destroy all Jews–they want to destroy their occupiers. Look, I don’t like Hamas–but that’s because they’re assholes to women. I have difficultly blaming them for shooting ineffective rockets at a giant dome thing when Palestinians basically have shitty water and no rights.
Nice post with some interesting points. Whenever someone says this phrase, I instantly stop listening to them because I infer they are ignorant and prejudiced. Besides, other than Native Americans, we are all immigrants or their descendants. (My dad came here on a boat in 1950 from post-war Germany.)
Can I make a suggestion? Please take it as constructive and I apologize for being pedantic. The term “disinterest” means lack of bias (e.g., a disinterested juror). It doesn’t mean lack of concern; “uninterested” is a better term for that.
I know this yet somehow manage to never apply this knowledge. ;) It’s been fixed. Thank you.
Nahida, this post is BRILLIANT.
Why do white Americans have the right to interact with civilizations, to change them, to traumatize them, and expect that their peoples will not influence the makings of the United States?
What happens instead is that “retribution” is reframed as “redistribution” to emphasize the effect on white families rather than black ones.
if it so impossible to undo the damage that we should not begin to attempt it, why should the impossibility of black citizens or indigenous peoples to continue to live in institutionalized oppressions be tolerated? Is this not equally impossible? Are they not equally human?
So many BAM! sentences in this post.
For some reason I can’t find the reply button. I don’t agree with you, Israel was acquired fairly. Israel is defending their citizens and Palestinians are being lead into the slaughter by Hamas using them as shields. The demonstrations this weekend shows how people on different sides approach it. Pro Palestinians wreck and roll through the streets screaming and cursing death upon the other side, holding hate banners about Hitler and dead children (who the BBC admitted using pictures of Syrian children for the reporting in Gaza instead) and generally acting violent. The day after pro Israelis have their turn singing and marching. No destruction of property and no death threats to the other side. Just the same as when Palestinians parade their dead through the street in a spectacle and Israelis are much quieter about it, no matter the suffering on each side. While I can’t agree with Netanyahu on everything; Hamas where the ones who launched rockets onto its own power supply that was provided by Israel and killed power for the people they are representing, using tunnels to shoot rockets from instead of hiding people, refusing ceasefire and 2 state solution, simply sabotaging their own people, the list goes on. But there’s no point going round in circles, we won’t agree
The reply button vanishes after the third reply except for the admin unless you change the settings (which I never bothered to do.)
Israel certainly wasn’t “acquired fairly” (it doesn’t look like you’re going to explain your rationale for this conclusion) and considering there are exponentially more Palestinian deaths than Israeli ones, the demonstrations grief of the Palestinians is unsurprising and more than acceptable. I think this is an absurd point to make in the first place; I don’t believe critiquing how “loud” people are when they grieve, but since it’s been brought up, fine: When did Israel grieve quietly? Was it when they decided to bomb Gaza repeatedly after those three teenagers were killed by someone who is recorded to have spoken Hebrew? Is that non-destructive grieving?
And if Hamas is the (poor) excuse for Israel’s aggression, why did the illegal settler state continue to swallow up Palestinian land before Hamas even existed? Where was Hamas in 1948 when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced out of their homes? As I’ve said before, it is Israel who created Hamas. They have the right to refuse a 2 state solution. If the settlers want to live in this region they can live in Palestine, as Palestinians, under Palestinian law.
We won’t agree. I guess that’s the only thing we can agree on. There’s no point. I have a post on Israel and forced sterilization coming; you’re free, of course, to ignore it. I don’t think either of us are interested in fighting each other. =/
I’m tired because it’s Ramadan and instead of having time to relax while fasting and reflect on God, I’m overwhelmed with work and life and most of all the weight of this powerless outrage, that with all of the senseless violence, oppression, and brutality happening against the people of Gaza, that the majority of people in my stupid country are supporting the oppressors, and my own damn taxes are funding the genocide, and it’s all so wrong and infuriating and I’m having trouble articulating how I feel, you’ve already said everything that needs to be said about this, but I just want to tell you I support it. See, I can’t even make a proper sentence. I’m just so angry. Thank you, Nahida, for this post and many others.
Thank you Narjis.