Wednesday, July 15, 2015

War Rant - Part 2: War Awakens Burried Prejudices

After a year and a half of being inactive or semi-active on social media, mainly due to a phase of reflection and depression, I began to tweet from time to time after the start of the war. 

While some of my views my had shifted a bit, the core remained the same. I continued to firmly stand against Saleh for the same reasons I joined the revolution in 2011 (and was outspoken about it long before). My secular views contradicted the conservative Houthi thought, and my anti-imperialist views made me staunchly anti-intervention by any side. Did I feel the need to reiterate this "stance" every single time I tweeted? No. Did people pressure me to do that? Yes, because, apparently if you don’t, baseless accusations hail on you.

The war has awakened buried prejudices. As psychologists note, in order to make sense of the world around us, we tend to sort information into mental categories. Unfortunately, if we are not careful, our inner stereotypes may emerge in the process. This has been very much visible during this war. The prejudices that were buried deep down came to the surface and blinded even the closest of friends and family.

Based on my discussions with some people, many of them don’t even realize they are being discriminatory. So, I thought I would highlight some examples of what prejudice in this context could look like:
  • The assumption that someone takes a certain position or formulates a certain opinion not based on their own beliefs, research, knowledge etc, but based on their city of birth, region, school of thought (sect), family name or lineage. These of course shape a person's upbringing, especially people who do not reflect on their own priviledge, but to assume that all people with the same background think in exactly the same way is discriminatory.
  • A statement such as “resistance fighters in the South are all ISIS in disguise” is generalizing an entire population.  The Resistance in the South is a mix of different groups with different ideologies. Some may be linked to AQAP, some to Hadi, and majority to neither, simply fighting against the occupation of the South. 
  • Believing that your lineage somehow makes you above everyone else! How are you still stuck on this ancient idea?
  • Thinking that all Zaydis or Hashemites are "Houthis in disguise," or using the terms interchangeably as if they are synonyms. Not all Zaydis or Hashemites are pro-Houthi, and not all pro-Houthis are Zaydi.
  • “I would rather an Arab hegemony than an Iranian one. Persians are just different than us!” Some Arab nationalists have gone too extreme! Can we just please say no to hegemony and intervention from ALL sides! We don’t have to pick either/or. 
  • When you deliberately single out one person from an entire group and ask, “What do YOU think of so and so crime? Or why haven’t you condemned it?” We see this a lot in the West, where Muslims are constantly asked to justify their position, and many have now refused to so, or do it sarcastically under #MuslimApologies. Now I see the same thing happening at a local scale in Yemen. Some people are constantly singled out and asked to “explain their position” on certain issues. When they refuse on matter of principle and ask, “Why should I?” the response is often “as a Hashemite and/or as a Zaydi, you must explain your stance publically or condemn it.” This is the same line given to many, even those who have never identified themselves as such. Should my grandmother apologize for AQAP simply because she’s a Shafi’i? Of course not! In the same manner Muslims don’t have to apologize for every “terrorist” activity, Yemenis don't either.
  • “Somali Mercenaries are being sent to Yemen to fight, like in Libya.  These black people are so blood thirsty!” Really? Really? WTF! Where can I start! 

My fear is that prejudice has become normalized even within activist and academic circles. When disagreements emerge, or when people stray away from the dominant war narrative, the response is not to discuss political differences but rather to judge and retreat to discriminatory and prejudicial reasoning.

Sadly, for the first time in my life, I’ve felt I needed to “filter” my friends because I no longer have the patience for discrimination and bullying. The level of narrow-mindedness has shocked me to a point where I’ve felt so disconnected from the community of activists I once held so dear. Conforming to these new disturbing social norms means more activists will adopt such behaviors unless we begin to question this publically. The finger pointing has closed a door on dialogue, and made it impossible to work together. Let us change that.

See War Rant - Part 1: The War Narrative and the Death of Philosophy

War Rant - Part 1: The War Narrative and the Death of Philosophy

Let me start off by saying this is NOT a research paper. It’s simply the first part of a longer rant. I want to get all the negative energy out of my system and into the wild (sorry universe!).

Gone are the early days of 2011 when no question and no theory were off limits. We argued and we disagreed in a community where we felt safe without judgement or prejudice. Today, we are living a different time. A time where thought is frowned upon, where mere questions are unwelcome. A time where even academics became reductionists, generalizing, and placing people in boxes.

Politics without knowledge has become the sport of the nation. We’ve become a group who no longer looks back, and does not look into the future. We reduce everything to one word answers, and we don’t have the patience to listen to deeper discussions. We exchange insults with those we disagree with, we trade punches with a total disregard for one another.

Here are four war narratives we are told we shouldn’t question – because after all, why should we use our brain?

The war-coalition is there to protect democracy, legitimacy and the people

Just like Saleh used the pretext of democracy and "constitutional legitimacy" to attack protesters in the 2011 uprising, President Hadi in exile, is using "legitimacy" to attack his people, despite the fact that his term had ended and he had no popular support among Yemenis, including very few amongst the Southern resistance.

It goes without saying that the people in Aden are suffering from two wars, an external and internal one, with rampant diseases and lack of humanitarian and medical aid. We should not by any means diminish this, but in almost four months of bombing, war is still ongoing. The Saudi-led, US/EU backed war coalition has not succeeded in its supposed mission to win the war against Houthis or in “restoring hope” like promised.

In addition to the numbers of deaths and wounded, the catastrophic humanitarian situation, the apparent destruction of Yemen’s already very weak infrastructure, and the targeting of civilian structures including bridges, hospitals, wedding halls, wheat and dairy factories have been hit, in addition to a chicken farm etc, is a clear sign of the war coalition’s deliberate intent to destroy what little remains of the country’s infrastructure and force Yemen [not just Houthis] into total dependency.

There is only one group to blame for the war

It is common sense that in a war, all sides participating will be responsible for civilian casualties. While there are layers of issues involved here, layers of responsibilities, the war narrative insists that everyone must focus only on one group.

Depending on how far back we go, we could blame different people and groups. A historian for example might go back to 1926 when Imam Yahya declared himself king of the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen, and blame his harsh, theocratic and 
discriminatory ruling. We could fast forward to the Saleh/Ali Mohsin era of corruption, poverty, neglect, lack of institutional building, centralized powers, and vicious wars in the South and north. We could blame Saudi for its long hegemony and funding of extremist center throughout Yemen since the 1980s - with the blessing of Saleh/Ali Mohsin. 

We could blame the spread of Wahabi ideology for the spread of AQAP and US for its failed war on terror that only exacerbated militants. We could blame Qatar for all the money pouring in. We could blame the Islah party for hijacking the revolution and the weakness and/or tacit support of the other “opposition” parties including the Socialists. 

 We could blame the transitional government for their focus on power grabbing, neglecting dire issues facing the people, and relying on the west for legitimacy rather than their own people. We could blame the UN, EU and US for their insistence on calling the transitional process a success and hence refusing to address the obvious issues. We could blame the IMF for pressuring Hadi to lift all fuel subsidies, increasing prices by 60 to 90 per cent overnight, without prior notice or measures to absorb the shock. We could blame Houthis for violently expanding throughout Yemen. We could blame Iran because like Saudi, it sees Yemenis as pawns in a political game to be supported and abandoned as and when it suits them.

It’s clear there are many actors to blame and it's important to discuss these points.  I'm sure the opinions will be as diverse as the people. The blame will shift, depending on personal analysis. But let's keep the door of discussion open, because a sickness must be diagnosed properly in order to find the cure.

Those who focus on foreign intervention don’t care about the civil war in the South

Civilians in the end of the day don’t want to be casualties of any war, local or foreign. Murder is murder, by a bomb or a bullet. Yet just because people focus on one advocacy strategy, such as focusing on the foreign intervention, does not mean that they are prioritizing a death over another or disregarding what is happening in the South. Some chose to focus on the civil war, while others chose to focus on the foreign intervention. Both are necessary.

Why have some activists decided to focus on the international intervention?

1) The Saudi-led war coalition is supported by UK and US. These countries are directly involved in logistics, arms trade and in providing intelligence. Raising awareness to citizens of these countries that their governments are involved in yet another war, is very important.

2)  The fact that Saudi is a leading buyer of weapons from US, France, UK means that it is in the interest of western powers to keep a war going. Arms trade keeps economies afloat, in fact makes them prosper. This is about the power and policy of those who drop bombs (the Saudi government) and those who profit from them being dropped (the US/UK).  This is not simply about Yemen but about the military industrial complext as well.

3) The “international community” has time and again condemned the Houthis, and even the UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR 2216) only condemned Houthis/Saleh. Except for a statement by the EU Parliament, they have not done the same for the foreign intervention, hence why advocacy in this area is necessary.

4) Focusing on the bigger picture of the war is a way to connect the movements for social justice throughout the world, because while the struggles may take different forms, they all, share the need for a new world order.

'Objectivity must be maintained'

Noam Chomsky once said “there’s a very high ideal that’s celebrated by the elite media, and that’s to maintain objectivity – objectivity has a very different meaning in media culture – it means repeating accurately anything that’s said within the beltway [Washington, DC]. If you do that, it’s objective, if you go beyond that it’s bias, it’s subjective, it’s emotional and so on and so forth.”
In the case of the war on Yemen, we also hear calls for objectivity but the truth is it’s all bullshit! It just means do not question the war narrative.

Today for example we see some of the same people who were against drone strikes because of their impact on civilian casualties, now cheering for bombs by coalition airstrikes. When we question this shift, we are labeled as subjective. 

When we ask a simple question such as, why doesn’t the media write “Saudi backed Yemeni government in exile” but insists on writing “Iran-backed rebels” we are immediately ‘judged’ on the wrong side. 
While both are competing now for influence, the fact is Saudi has been directly involved in Yemeni internal affairs for much longer than Iran and yet there is no mention of Saudi hegemony in the dominant narrative. [I know I will be trolled for this!]

This objectivity “bully” has pushed people towards 
virulent self-censorship. In the private sphere, people message me and share many thoughts. It seems many are afraid to be open about their own feelings. Some of my friends in the South for example who are staunchly against Houthi takeover are also against the Saudi intervention, but they feel they cannot say this publically.  I personally feel the same urge to self-censor, and hence by writing this I hope to shake this feeling away.  

The above four war narratives are just some examples of many. I highlight them because unfortunately some activists have fallen in the trap of pushing others towards a ruthless demagogic take on the war narrative.

In our effort to constantly blame those who have a different strategy, we become blind to the fact that we’re actually on the same side. This I believe is intended to divide us and in order to weaken the civil voice. Instead of focusing on what we all agree on – peace - we’re too busy pointing fingers at each other.

If only we (myself included) cared less about our "online" image or our "activist brand", and focused more on real life activism and collaboration, maybe we would’ve gotten somewhere. In the end of the day, we should be working together. Let's not let the war narrative dictate who our enemies or friends are.

While Yemen is drowning in interventions, let's free our own minds. Let's maintain our mental independence. Let’s ask questions, let’s think out loud, let’s argue, and let’s debate.

See War Rant - Part 2: War Awakens Burried Prejudices