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Let Us Call It What It Is

Published June 15, 2021

By Imam Khalid Griggs

From time immemorial, men have constructed dehumanizing systems of exploitation that stagger even the most vivid imagination. Each of these inhumane structures of society share some common characteristics including a self-serving distortion or disregard of divine guidance, creation of racial, ethnic, and/or religious hierarchies, extreme monopolization of resources, and implementation by the dominant class of systematic oppression or even brutality to subdue the subordinate population. The well-documented practices of the Pharaonic system imposed on the populace of Egypt for thousands of years perhaps best epitomizes the extent to which oppression was systematized in societies during antiquity.

Feudalism and Its Caste System

One of the exploitative social systems during the medieval ages, particularly from the 9th to the 15th century, was European feudalism. Feudalism was a tightly structured caste-like social system in which individuals were relegated to exclusive roles in society. At the top of the feudalism pyramid were the nobles or lords whose status came from their receiving lands in perpetuity from the Crown in exchange for their military service. Vassals were tenants of the nobles on land known as a fiefdom. Land was given to vassals in exchange for their support of the lord, and if enough land was accumulated by a vassal, they could become lords themselves. At the bottom of the feudal system were serfs/peasants who lived in mostly wretched conditions as unfree laborers on the lord’s land, giving him homage, labor, and a share of the produce. The institution of feudalism was relatively less barbaric than many other systems of exploitation.

Settler Colonialism and Slavery

One of the most dehumanizing systems to ever exist was that of chattel slavery. Trans-Atlantic settler colonialism of Europeans began with Christopher Columbus in the late 1400s. The centuries-long Trans-Atlantic trade of enslaved Africans ushered in a system of global exploitation whose vile residue of anti-Black and structural racism exist up to this day. Columbus was afforded the backing and financial resources of the Spanish Crown, particularly Queen Isabella, to explore a new mercantile route to China and India. Muslim domination of the Mediterranean and northeastern Atlantic seaboard of the African continent presented a major obstacle to the maritime aspirations of European seafaring countries like Spain and Portugal. Queen Isabella shared Columbus’ anti-Muslim sentiment and dedication to Christianity, making his proposal to sail westward to find an alternate route to the spice-rich orient more appealing to the Spanish Crown. Other European nations like Italy and Portugal flatly denied sponsorship of his ambitious proposal. Columbus, like Isabella, harbored crusading ambitions to recapture Jerusalem from Muslim control. Although never participating in a Crusade to Jerusalem, Columbus fought with Spanish soldiers during the bloody 1492 Christian reconquest of Granada, Spain, the last Muslim stronghold there. Spanish and Portuguese settler colonizers in the Americas were especially averse to the presence of Muslims in the New World due to their religious hatred of Islam after the near 700-year control of Al-Andalus by Muslims.

Racial Segregation and Apartheid

In addition to the oppressive systems of feudalism and slavery is the abhorrent system of apartheid. In 1913, three years after South Africa gained its independence from Britain, racial segregation and White supremacy were institutionalized with the passage of 1913 Land Act. The Land Act forced Black Africans to live in resource-deprived, woefully overcrowded reserves. The Afrikaner National Party won the national election in 1948 on the campaign pledge of Apartheid, Apartness. The new government’s immediate goal was to not only separate non-Whites from Whites, but to also separate non-Whites along tribal lines to decrease any potential unifying political power. In a series of Land Acts passed over the years, 80 percent of South Africa’s land was reserved for the minority White population. Non-Whites were forced to carry passbooks confirming their authorization to be in each area. This practice had historical precedent in chattel slavery in the United States. Apartheid legislated that marriage and sexual relations between Whites and non-Whites was illegal. The Population Registration Act of 1950 classified all South Africans by race — Bantu (Black Africans), Coloured (mixed race), and White. A fourth category of Asian (Indian and Pakistani) was later added. Movement, jobs, housing, and other privileges were assigned based on these categories. Black Africans were at the bottom of the apartheid structure and were most brutally sanctioned, punished, and killed.

The two nations that never wavered in their support of the almost 50-year apartheid regime were the United States and Israel. South Africa was a pariah to most of the nations of the world due to the sheer brutality of the regime and its unapologetic racist practices.

Yet, despite South Africa being backed by the United States, the global movement against apartheid eventually triumphed against seemingly insurmountable odds. Massive global demonstrations against apartheid undoubtedly played a significant role in its eventual demise in South Africa. But, more importantly, the world community sustained an effective boycott of South African companies and their products that proved too high a cost. Even the United States government eventually recognized that apartheid was destined for the trash bins of history much like chattel slavery, feudalism, and the pharaonic system in ancient Egypt.

Apartheid: Israeli Retrogression

Israel adopted its own version of homelands (Bantustans) by appropriating occupied land for Jewish immigrants from primarily Europe and America. Israel, like apartheid South Africa, receives unqualified support from the United States in its racist, inhumane treatment of non-Jewish citizens. It is a racist state that remains unrepentant for its actions against its Palestinian citizens and those who live under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel acts with impunity due primarily to United States economic and military support and its pressure on other nations to abstain from taking action against Israel.

In mid-May, Israel ended its most brutal 11-day aerial assault on the population of the Gaza Strip after unprecedented worldwide demonstrations and denunciations by citizens and governments. In the United States, the largest pro-Palestinian demonstration ever held in Washington, DC in modern times was held at the Lincoln Memorial on May 29. The Sanction Israel Rally, whose sponsors included American Muslims for Palestine, USCMO, and ICNA CSJ, attracted over 35,000 demonstrators. The Israeli attacks had targeted an already limited number of hospitals and medical facilities, roads leading to standing hospitals like the one in Gaza City, residential buildings, and local infrastructure like a water desalination plant. There is no standing army in Gaza, no jets or armed personnel vehicles, or any other means for the populace to be able to defend themselves against the most heavily armed and deadly military in that part of the world. According to the UN, at least 58,000 Gazans were internally displaced, further exacerbating existing overcrowding and food shortages. The health needs of the people of Gaza were made worse as the World Health Organization estimates that at least 200,000 of the two million Gazans are in dire need of medical attention. Only two percent of Gazans have received Covid-19 vaccinations in a country that boasts one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. The Zionist government of disgraced leader Benjamin Netanyahu imposed a near-complete blockade on Gaza in 2007 after the defeat of the Palestinian Authority and the election of Hamas as the representative government of Gaza. Essentially creating an open-air prison, the blockade is ongoing and Gazans cannot enter or leave Gaza without Israeli permission. This lockdown is nothing short of collective punishment which is prohibited under international humanitarian law. The blockade has been in effect for 14 years and Israel disallows basic food staples, baby formula and diapers, building essentials like concrete, and other items necessary for survival.

Prior to the military assault, Palestinian residents in the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem were facing evictions to make way for a Jewish settlement. Based on a District Court ruling, at least 13 families were ordered to vacate their homes. In addition, under the pretext of controlling Palestinian protestors at Masjid al Aqsa, Israeli police and military attacked unarmed demonstrators and otherwise created havoc on worshippers at the sacred site.

The current BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement attempts to end international support for Israel’s maltreatment and oppression of Palestinians and force the government to comply with international law. The BDS movement is not an anti-Jewish effort nor is it an attempt to dismantle the state of Israel. It is an effort to halt genocidal actions against Palestinian people just as the anti-apartheid movement was never intended to drive all Whites out of South Africa or destroy that nation. We must avail ourselves of all legal, effective methods to stop the genocidal assaults on the Palestinian people by the state of Israel. BDS is a growing global movement that offers a realistic path to end the abominations committed against the Palestinian people since 1948.

Imam Khalid GriggsAuthor Imam Khalid Fattah Griggs is the Imam of the Community Mosque in Winston-Salem, NC. and ICNA Vice President for Social Justice and Civic Engagement.

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