Thursday, January 13, 2011

Of Palestinos and Blood Libel: Appropriating and Decontextualizing Markers of Subordination

Most cultures insist that they are immune from the deleterious effects of subordination based on markers of race, class, religion, ethnicity and the like.  But the power of subordination is strong.  And it tends to find expression even within cultures and societies that may appear homogenous to outsiders.  More importantly, it may find expression even in the face of official political ideology that strongly opposes such subordination methodologies.

This move toward subordination has been affected by globalization. The globalization of subordination hierarchies is not always easy to see clearly.  But sometimes a particular relationship acquires transnational and trans-cultural power to describe subordination that appears "natural" to societies and which consciously contradicts its fundamental substantive ordering frameworks.  Many on the left like to believe that this is a problem of the old colonial powers, and a disease of majority white societies--the United States in particular.  Many on the right refuse to acknowledge either the possibility or power of this system of functional subordination within societies.  Yet it appears that this simplistic approach no longer describes reality very well.

Consider the transformation of the term "Palestinian." Once a way of describing a member of a group of people united by ties sufficiently coherent to hold themselves out as a political community worthy of sovereign rights over a defined territory,  the term "Palestinian" has become a means of identifying a community of people within a larger community who hold a position of subordination based on characteristics of race, class and geographic origin. So re characterized, it has become a general term used to identify groups within political communities who are the subject of subordinating social, cultural or other non-official rules, even in the face of official disapproval of such subordination.  That, at any rate, is what has transpired in Cuba. Osama Qashoo has provided a fascinating documentary journey into the reality of  Osama Qashoo, Witness--Soy Palestino, al-Jazeera, 13 Dec. 2009.
When Osama Qashoo, a Palestinian filmmaker, travelled to Cuba in 2007, he arrived at a time of feverish political uncertainty as Fidel Castro suddenly seemed to be on the point of stepping aside.

Osama learns that "Palestino" is derogatory Havana slang for people from the rural east
 When Osama introduced himself as a Palestinian to the Cubans, people looked at him in disbelief.
He soon discovered that Havana had its own Palestinians - mostly poor black migrants without any documents.
In fact, he found that in Cuba, "Palestino" is a term of racist abuse used to describe the people coming from the rural east of the island to the capital, Havana.
He decided to embark on a journey to discover whether the Palestinians of Cuba had anything in common with his own people back home.

The first "Palestino" Osama met ran off with his notebook and the struggle to retrieve it led to a unique friendship with an extraordinary man.
Louisito sings poignant, heart-rending songs about his status as a social outcast

  Louisito is a singer and musician who lives in a small wooden box on wheels, covered with instruments made from junk.
He entertains other homeless "Palestinos" with songs and comic routines.
Louisito had not been home to see his mother for seven years, and so they set off together to meet his family in the east of the island, Cuba's Palestine.
On a musical-comedy journey into Cuba's politics, Osama Qashoo lifts the lid on this untold aspect of Castro's Cuba. Inadvertently, and purely as a result of introducing himself as a Palestinian, Osama had stumbled on a hidden underclass in this staunchly socialist society.  (Id.).
The video can be seen in two parts: 

Soy Palestino reminds us of the power of subordination, even within a diligently policed political framework.  It also suggests how globalization is providing an internationalized set of descriptors of the conditions off subordination.   These descriptions serve as a shorthand for the actions  and as a means of avoiding internal contradictions of subordination by externalizing its referents.   Thus, for Cubans,  both describe the characteristics of subordination by reference to a universal referent, and a class of people to which these characteristics apply within their own society.  To be a Palestinian has become complicated. But as a consequence, the terms become detached from their historical and political context.  To be a Palestinian anywhere suggests a lived subordination to the people within whose territory they might reside--whether that territory is characterized as  a Muslim or Christian majority state, or the State of Israel.  But anyone now can be a Palestinian--even apparently a Cuban from the Eastern edge of the Island who climbs over the regulatory "separation barrier" to reside elsewhere.   The Palestinian has become de-natured and reconstructed as a "type".

Ironically, the Jewish people have also provided a universal referent to subordination, not as to the subordinated character of a people but as a communal character taint that suggests human inferiority.  This one is of a more sinister kind, more directly connected to death (both of the "victim" and eventually of the "perpetrator").  Consider the cultural and power implications of the transformation of "blood libel" from an indictment of the inhumanity of the Jewish people and an animating condition of Jewish existence in a world in which they are always the voracious "alien", to a globalized referent for the abuses of dominant position by one group against a subordinated "other" in the context of the political fighting generated by the attempted killing of Congressperson Giffords in Arizona. 
Sarah Palin has not retreated in the face of accusations that her heated political rhetoric, peppered with gun references, played a role in the killings in Tucson at the weekend. Instead she reloaded and opened fire with a charge of "blood libel" against her critics, prompting fresh criticism.
Palin showed that she has no intention of toning down the confrontational language in a video released three days after the shootings by Jared Lee Loughner that killed six people and wounded 14 others, including the target for assassination, congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
"Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible," said Palin.
"There are those who claim that political rhetoric is to blame for the despicable act of this deranged, apparently apolitical criminal. And they claim political debate has somehow got more heated just recently. But when was it less heated? Back in those calm days when political figures literally settled their difference with duelling pistols?"

Her use of the phrase "blood libel" was immediately questioned because, historically, it refers to the false accusation that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood in religious rituals. Giffords, who remains in critical condition after being shot in the head, is the first Jewish congresswoman from Arizona. (From Chris McGreal, Sarah Palin sticks to her guns after Arizona shootings and accuses her critics of 'blood libel', Guardian U.K., Jan. 12, 2011).
Gabrielle Giffords: Tea Party Target, The Daily Beast, Jan. 8, 2011.

Like the Palestinians, the Jewish people have lost a subordination marker personal to them, and powerfully so, to a process of globalization that abstracts a condition personal to a group situated in a historical context and denatures it to represent a universal condition of subordination.  This transformation and its implications was not lost on Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “'It was inappropriate at the outset to blame Sarah Palin and others for causing this tragedy or for being an accessory to murder,' Abraham Foxman, the group’s national director, said in a statement. 'Palin has every right to defend herself against these kinds of attacks.' But Mr. Foxman added that 'we wish that Palin had not invoked the phrase ‘blood-libel.’' He called it a phrase 'fraught with pain in Jewish history.'” Michael D. Shear, Palin Calls Criticism ‘Blood Libel’, The New York Times, Jan. 12, 2011.  Just as anyone can now be a Palestino, it seems that anyone can be libeled and dehumanized in the "Jewish fashion" now.

There is a connection, as well, between the Cuban Palestino and the members of certain political communities in the United States against whom the blood libel is asserted.  The Palestino is the subordinated other: the blood libel suggests the physical expression of a cultural and and moral inhumanity.  The first separates the community, the second provides the justification for the destruction of that community. And ironically, the globalization of both blood libel and the modern rootless subordination of the "tag" Palestinian, refashioned and internationalized, have rerturned to their original home in new and powerfully destructive ways that both de-nature and re-nature the notion in new ways. 

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is shown drinking from a goblet labeled "The Palestinian Children's Blood." From Anti-Defamation League, Anti-Semitic Incitement: Political Cartoons in the Arab Media 5/29/02 - 7/24/02



Anonymous said...

interesting input..

Anonymous said...

todos somos palestinos .. Viva Viva Palestina