There has been a long history of repression by the U.S. government, college administrations and faculty against the Palestinian struggle and Arab organizers. In the 1960s the Palestinian issue arrived on the radar of the state when it became a source of solidarity for internationally-minded people in the United States and around the world. The General Union of Palestinian Students has long been a target of FBI intimidation. Islamic activists and secular nationalists alike have been subject to state harassment, arrest and deportation for decades on college campuses and in the community. They were a threat to U.S. empire precisely because they attempted to educate American people about the realities of colonialism and racism abroad. What’s more, their activity showed the possibilities of an effective people-to-people foreign policy inevitably in opposition to the aims and interests of the ruling class.
In Detroit in 1967 the Palestinian struggle became a crisis for the Wayne State University administration when John Watson, one the founders of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers and then-editor of the campus newspaper the South End, ran a series of editorials against Israeli colonialism and supportive of Palestinian armed self-defense. Watson’s work expressed a vibrant current in radical Black politics at that time. It put forward perspectives that challenged the racist view of governments and ruling classes worldwide that Palestinians and Black people cannot govern themselves. It drew comparisons between the struggles of Arab peoples in the Middle East (and Detroit) and Black people in America. Watson was eventually forced out by the university administration and city government as they worked to regain control of the newspaper. What scared them was that students on campus were breaking the illusion of the separation of the university and the community—especially the false separation between mental and manual labor—making it possible to discuss ideas and plan for self-government in political, economic, judicial, military, and cultural affairs.
Continue reading Purging the University
Irshad Manji, author of The Trouble with Islam, has taken official society by storm with her attacks on the culture and politics of the Muslim and Arab world. As a South Asian lesbian who grew up alienated attending a Muslim school in Canada, she represents a multicultural voice in solidarity with the great liberal values of the secular state. Her message and identity are marketed as the latest, best selling popular criticism of “Islamic fundamentalism.”
In promoting her book and ideas, she has spoken on cable news shows, in the official papers, at Washington think-tanks and Zionist audiences throughout North America. Manji claims to be taking up a project of self-criticism and innovative thinking in the Muslim community. The inspiration for her criticism is the “enlightened” states and societies of the West, in particular the U.S. and Israel. To her audience, she is the quintessential “Good Muslim.”
The Irshad Manji phenomenon can perhaps be understood in three ways. First, it is an extension of the logic of liberal multicultural racism. Second, is the attempt to refine a general liberal racist doctrine based on secular chauvinism, which has justified imperialism for more than a century, in the battle to consolidate Western control of the Middle East. Third, like the shallow white male conservatives who falsify the history of democratic traditions from Ancient Greece to Judeo-Christian ethics, Manji falsifies the history of the Arab world and Islamic traditions. She posits a “free” secular West where in fact worship of God is generally subordinated to mayors and police chiefs. This is contrasted to an imaginary Middle East where Allah mandates “tyranny” and where all independent thinking is crushed. Manji, like all good imperialists, tells us lies about the history of those we wish to be in solidarity with and about our own history.
Continue reading The Trouble with Irshad Manji
There is much we can be and do on a local, national, and even international scale. We will never find out what that may be, far less carry out, unless everyday people seek to become politically organized in workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods. There will never be any progress unless we begin here.
This can’t be taught like a school lesson. Only through the practice of independent activities, and the new understanding drawn from them, is it possible to achieve a new way of life. By discerning the signs of independent self-activity in the history and struggles of working people, it is hoped that this way of life may emerge as a new beginning: an independent labor movement through which ordinary people aspire to extraordinary acts.
However, there are many obstacles to self-government; obstacles that stem from the repression experienced on a day-to-day basis as well as our own fears, desires, complacency, and lack of hope.
Against these odds, a new beginning can only emerge if working people begin to put forward and implement programs and perspectives of our own, transforming workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods, and redefining what is currently meant by work, the labor movement, and the union. No political party, no movement vanguard, no capitalist, progressive, or “socialist” rulers can do this for us.
Continue reading American Labor: New Beginning