Creating people's geographies
An interesting snippet from artist and author Ricardo Levins Morales on a propositional strategy for Palestine as posited by Eqbal Ahmad. Ahmad might well have anticipated the Free Gaza campaign. Incidentally, Ahmad taught at Hampshire College, where we’ve recently seen divestment success, joining the faculty in 1982. Since his death in 1999, a memorial lecture series has been established there in his honour and speakers have included the late, great Edward Said, Noam Chomsky and Arundhati Roy.
Ricardo Levins Morales is a long-time labor and cultural organizer and is an artist with the Northland Poster Collective. You can read the paper in full (53pp., .pdf) here at his site and be sure to check out his wonderful poster illustrations.
In 1968 Pakistani revolutionary scholar Eqbal Ahmad was asked to give the principal address at a conference of Arab activists, including some of the leaders of the recently formed coalition, the Palestine Liberation Organization.² The delegates were stunned when Ahmad, a veteran leader of the Algerian revolution, outlined an unexpected analysis of the Palestinian situation. He suggested that the principle task of a liberation movement–whether armed or not–was to “out-legitimize” its opponent. This meant to dramatize the central contradiction in the colonizing society until it can no longer sustain the strain. This is how Gandhi understood the achievement of Indian independence. The Indian movement undermined the self-image of the English people. Their view of themselves as a decent, generous and democratic nation could not withstand the pressure of seeing British troops shooting, brutalizing, imprisoning unarmed civilians for the crimes of collecting salt and weaving cloth. Public support for the occupation collapsed and Britain pulled out rather than risk a deepening internal crisis. At this time Ahmad recommended a parallel strategy for Palestine: “This is a moment to fit ships in Cyprus, fit boats in Lebanon and say, ‘We’re not going to destroy Israel. That is not our intent. We just want to go home.’ Reverse the symbols of the Exodus. See if the Israelis are in a mood to sink some ships. They probably will. Some of us will die. Let us die.” He predicted that Israel would be unable to contain the internal pressures that would build up. …
This was the era of the rising tide of national liberation movements. The Cuban revolution had triumphed and the United States military had followed France into the unforgiving jungles of Viet Nam. Guerrilla movements were causing tremors through colonial and semi-colonial regimes across Africa, Asia and Latin America. The road of armed struggle was the top item on the menu and it promised great successes to those who embarked upon it. Ahmad would return, along with his protégé, Edward Said, to meet with Palestinian leaders at later turning points in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Each time they would propose equally innovative courses of action. Each time they would be graciously thanked and their ideas ignored.
Given the actual course that history has followed, it is worth taking note of the trajectory of other anti-colonial and secessionist movements. Those conflicts that began as–or were transformed into–racial or religious confrontations between peoples, fueled by a cycle of retaliatory atrocities (Sri Lanka, the Basque country and Ireland as well as Palestine) are still ongoing or were fought to a standstill. Those who effectively highlighted the colonial or racist nature of the conflict and engendered divisions in the opposing civil society (India, Viet Nam, the Portuguese colonies in Africa–Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau–and South Africa) divided the citizenry of the colonizer, isolated their governments, and achieved victory. In the Algerian revolution–which employed both terrorism and guerrilla warfare–the rebellion was defeated militarily by French counterinsurgency but had shifted the center of the struggle to the political arena and succeeded by securing the moral isolation of the French government.
Read the full paper here (.pdf)
2 Edward Said, Cherish the Man’s Courage. Introduction to David Barsamian, Eqbal Ahmad: Confronting Empire. 2000. South End Press