Why some indigenous Africans look at Palestinian solidarity differently

There seems to be a belief amongst many indigenous Africans that the conflict in Palestine is a religious one and those who show solidarity with them are traitors, writes Thandile Kona.

The recent massacre of Palestinians by the apartheid Israel illegal state is only the latest in the long list of atrocities committed by the murderous Zionist state against the people of Palestine. As is usually the case and rightly so, there was a lot of condemnation coming from many quarters in South Africa.

Except for protest marches, social media becomes the main channel through which many ordinary South Africans express their condemnation of Israel and pledge solidarity with the Palestinian people.

But a recurrent phenomenon, at least in my experience, is that every time there is a flare up of violence against the Palestinians, people begin to question the solidarity that indigenous Africans like me pledge to the Palestinians. They say we have no business taking sides in a conflict that is not our own. To them, the conflict is a religious one and those who take sides in it are traitors because Muslims of Indian origin in South Africa are racist towards indigenous Africans. They ill-treat and look down on them in their homes and businesses.

They further advance the argument that South Africans of Indian origins, which in their mistaken view are synonymous with Arabs and Muslims, benefitted from apartheid and even aided and abetted the apartheid state’s repression machinery. To them, showing any kind of solidarity with the Palestinians amounts to sticking our nose where it does not belong. They point out that you never see Indians or Muslims in popular struggles unless the issue is Palestine.

Those of us who support, in our small ways, the struggle for the liberation of Palestine, become the subject of ridicule and scorn, especially when we are also Muslims.

There may be some truths in the arguments of the critics, but that is not the reason behind this piece of writing. It is also not my intention to defend South Africans of Indian origin or Muslims or Arabs for that matter. Surely they are more than capable to defend themselves, should they see the need to. However, I must qualify this by stating that, in my experience, it is only a tiny minority that holds and expresses these views. The rest of the people are either indifferent to the plight of the Palestinians, or if they hold any views at all, they do not express them openly.

In the past, I have not bothered to explain myself to these critics because social media debates are in many instances devoid of any critical engagement and logic, often degenerate and become platforms for bigots to freely spread their hatred. So I routinely ignore the critics, until a recent comment by someone I hold in very high esteem, and a proponent of African cultural traditions, expressed views similar to those of the critics. Upon privately engaging him, he re-affirmed his views that “we should let the Palestinians fight their own battles with Israel because, as Africans, we have bigger problems and Arabs oppress and enslave Africans in countries like Kuwait and Libya. Indians do the same here in South Africa.” I felt the need to explain myself to him and the following is what I said
I am a human being, a Muslim and an African but my identity as a human being takes precedence over other identities. Therefore, anything that affects humanity affects me. I see both the Palestinians or Arabs and the Israelis or Jews as human beings and human beings by their nature are capable of both good and evil. In the case of Palestine, the evil they are confronted with manifests itself in the racist ideology of Zionism visited upon them by Israel.

Zionism is not a religion and not all Palestinians are Muslims; therefore the conflict is not a religious one between Muslims and Jews, but rather a brutal annexation and occupation of the land of Palestine and the oppression of Palestinians of all faiths and beliefs (and of no faith or belief) by a racist regime.

As a Muslim, I have a duty, as commanded by Allah to, “enjoin what is right and forbid what is evil.” I have no choice in the matter, even though I may have failed in the past and may fail in the future, but I have to do the little that I can to assist in the establishment of justice in the world. That includes speaking or acting against the racism and prejudices of my fellow Muslims. The perpetration of injustice by fellow Muslims of Indian or whatever origin should not deter me from obeying the commandment of Allah for, like them, I will have to account to Allah for my actions or omissions. Doing good should not depend on what the next person does or does not do. We each have a duty to each other and to Allah.

I am also an African and a descendant of a people who know too well that without the support and solidarity of others, the struggle to free oneself from bondage becomes long, hard and disheartening.

Ubuntu, the concept that has been the foundation on which African society was built on is expressed beautifully in the maxim, ‘umntu ngumntu ngabanye abantu’, loosely translated to mean, a person is a person through other persons, demands of me as an African that I do not look away when faced with the oppression of another human being, no matter their place of origin or the wrongs they have committed against me or others. Vengeance is not the way of the ubuntu. Hatred is not the way of ubuntu. Injustice is not the way of ubuntu. Opposition to or hatred of oppression and injustice is not opposition to or hatred of whites or Jews or whoever perpetrates the injustice. In the same way that loyalty to your race should not be disloyalty or indifference to the rest of the human race.
I am in no need of any of culture, religion or identity that precludes me from taking the side of the poor and the oppressed, be they African, Indian, Arab, Christian, Jew or Hindu.

If racial solidarity will mean that I turn a blind eye to the suffering of others, then I am a race traitor, proudly so. My heroes and heroines are people from all cultures, religions and identities that have stood up against injustice in whatever form it appears. They may have been ostracised, rejected or even killed, but they have inspired many like me who will not be quiet until Palestine and the rest of the world is free of oppression and injustice.

As Africans, our experience of oppression and dispossession throughout the centuries, places a special responsibility upon us to “bestow on South Africa (and the world) the greatest possible gift – a more human face,” as Steve Biko aptly put it.

*Thandile Kona is President of the Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa.

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