Books

Racism is a matter of Whiteness

In recent years, I’ve thought about race and racial discrimination in our world. I’ve written about racism in the American criminal justice system and how it continues the legacy of slavery; how movies vilify characters of color; the indifference towards refugees of color and growing Islamophobia within Europe and the United States; and hostility of white society towards racial justices movements like the Black Panthers and Black Lives Matter. By reflecting on the consequences of racism, I have been able to turn the corner racism and see how my white identity is central to the problem and solution.

White people need to realize that racism is a White issue. We–white European people–live in a world of racial ignorance. I lived in a world of racial ignorance growing up.

As the political theorist, Barnor Hesse, explains, the idea of race is fundamentally about the creation of a division between Europeans and non-Europeans, both internally, beginning with the Spanish expulsion or forced conversion of Jews and Muslims, and externally within systems of colonial rule, and of course in the transatlantic slave trade across the Americas.

Take the example of the StoryCorps film Traffic Stop. In this short film, Patsy, a white mother, tells Alex, her black adopted son–who is two years younger than me–that “skin color really didn’t matter.” Like Patsy, my family, which lived in a small, almost exclusively white Canadian town, “never talked about race.” The naïvety of white people about race and racism isn’t unusual. It’s built into our society.

White people never see racism. We never feel it. This is one of the many privileges of being white. This is whiteness and it’s a problem.

The differentiation of results seen in Traffic Stop is but one example of how people of color are treated differently in society. It speaks to how schools and workplaces treat people of color differently. How they are talked (down) to, how they are shown (and not shown) in TV and magazines and how they are told to see themselves. All of these daily instances add up to a societal structure of racism that people of color are not allowed to leave and are told to be thankful for.

So, what would happen if this world was reversed? What would happen if white people were forced, even if is was for a few hours, to experience a society that treated them differently because of how they looked? Would you be happy to receive the same treatment as a person of color in society?

This is exactly what educator Jane Elliot has done with her Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes exercise, which substitutes eye color–a non-controversial part of the human body–for skin colour. Skin and eye color are both dictated by melanin, our biological pigment determined at birth. We don’t have any control over either, yet we continue to use one as a means of discrimination.

This ingenious exercise was first implemented inside Jane’s all-white classroom, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Although it’s impossible to experience the effect of racism (particularly white supremacy) as a white person in a room full of white people, Jane was able to have her all-white students experience either superiority or inferiority based solely on which eye color group they were placed in.

The cruelty of the “superior” group and the under-performance of the “inferior” group were felt nearly instantaneous. Although the “superior” and “inferior” groups were chosen randomly and shouldn’t change academic results, the internalization of each group led to real-world results. This exercise proved that racism is a learned behavior based on arbitrary characteristics. It also means that it can be unlearned.

Although I never participated in a Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes exercise, watching videos of Jane facilitating these workshops has had a lasting effect on me and changed my perception of society.

I can now admit that I’m a racist. Not a racist by choice, but a racist made by society.

Like her students, I was raised in a country–Canada–that puts white people in positions of power; just look at all those faces of Prime Ministers that are the same as mine. I was raised in a country, whose land was colonized by Europeans from its aboriginal inhabitants. I was told about the seemingly infinite accomplishments of white European and settler societies, while never hearing about the accomplishments of minorities. This racial ignorance about the lives (and worth) of people of color continue today, all around the world.

It exists for white university students; some of whom may feel attacked if labeled a racist and have the freedom to walk out:

It exists in Britain, the home of white Empire:

Whiteness and racial ignorance exists everywhere that white people are made and told that they are superior than other people of color. We–white people–need to first accept the racism that has been ingrained in us and then second work to change the systems around us.

Classrooms need to change so that kids stop seeing

We–white people–need to start in childhood education to overcome the stigma that white as good and black/brown as bad. We need to see the injustice in our criminal justice and immigration systems. We need to see how media perpetuates white supremacy and negative portrayals of people of color. We need to question why businesses and universities cater largely to white people. We need to find the truth in our history and seek reconciliation with those who have been harmed. We–white people–need to do a lot more.

This forces one to ask: Should you feel guilty about being white?

No. As Jane Elliot says, “I didn’t choose it. I can’t lose it.”

I was born white. I didn’t choose it. I can’t change that fact. But I can change how I act.

So: Should you do something about racism and whiteness?

Yes, I think every white person should.

Once you admit to yourself that society is based on a foundation of white supremacy, you need to recognize which group your actions benefit.

On one extreme of whiteness, there is a small group of white people fighting for racial injustice, spreading messages of hate. This include neo-Nazis, the alt-Right, Ku Klux Klan members, people who support travel bans on a certain color of people, and anyone else who vocally identifies as a white supremacist. These are the active, proud racists who are fighting to keep whiteness alive.

Now, if travel to the other end, you have another small group of white people. This group, however, fights for racial justice and against white supremacy. They were white people in the civil rights era, who took the Freedom Ride and protested segregated lunch counters. They are people who stand with BLM and kick the door open to discuss modern racism. These are anti-racists.

Who’s left?

Like a magnet, whiteness has two active parts, described above, and a larger neutral part, where all the other white people sit. These are teachers, doctors, politicians, artists, plumbers and business owners who neither join hate groups nor join racial justice protests. These are the people who say things like “I don’t see race” or think they aren’t racist because they “have a black friend.” (Both of which are deeply racist.) What average white people need to recognize (and I hope Jane Elliott’s work points out) is that we–white people–are all racist. You don’t need to feel bad about your white identity, but you also can’t be neutral about your place in society. As Howard Zinn said, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”

That moving train is our racist society. We are conditioned from birth, through our actions and behaviors, to be racist and we benefit from it everyday. It’s time you recognize your privilege and work to better this world. If you do nothing, you are unfortunately playing into the hand of the vocal, proud racists who would like to see you move silently through life and not stand in solidarity with people of color.

If you start to admit that racism is a problem, then you can move into other spheres of identity, biology and power. Seeing how how society turns us into racists allow one to recognize other forms of discrimination you may hold, including:

  • Sexism.
  • Homophobia.
  • Ableism.
  • Xenophobia.

These are just some of the ways that identity and biology are used by people in power, who often are straight white able-bodied men. Ignorance of how discrimination originated and why is lingers is the greatest tool they have to divide and rule. Politicians, media personality, business leaders, and others then use fear as a tool to support their stature and harm to minority groups.

When ignorance combines with fear, the result is hate. An example of this took place last year, when Sikh politician Jagmeet Singh was confronted by a white woman who feared that he was going to implement Sharia law, a Muslim tradition that isn’t part of his faith. Her ignorance of Jagmeet’s beliefs and her fear of Muslims lead to hate speech towards him and other people of color. This incident isn’t unique even if it was broadcasted widely in the news. People across Canada, the United States, Australia, Europe and other white communities hold racist beliefs either consciously or unconsciously. They sometimes express their ignorance about the lives of people or their hatred for the other. It is up to all white people to speak up against racism and to act to stop it.

As a straight white, able-bodied man, I can admit that I was completely ignorant about most inequality that exists in the world. The single greatest cause was a lack of exposure. I grew up in a patriarchy community (small rural town) without discussion of inequality of injustice. I didn’t have conversations with people of color. We didn’t talk about differences.

So, when I later discovered books on the subject, I felt awakened. Knowledge is the cure to ignorance and something all privileged people should excitedly rush towards. White people should learn about race. We should explore differences in sexuality and genders. Europeans should learn about cultures from around the world. We should learn about all religions and believes in the world. We shouldn’t be afraid of what we find or learn.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

A recent book I found quite helpful in explain these topics is Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. This books documents, in great details, the history and current manifestation of racism in white societies, like the United States and United Kingdom. Reni discuss her childhood story and the unique challenges of being a young girl of color in societies ruled by white men and women. Her own childhood showed her that:

“White children are taught not to ‘see’ race, whereas children of colour are taught–often with no explanation–that we must work twice as hard as our white counterparts if we wish to succeed.”

When we understand the unique intersections of identity, we can also look at the unique challenges some men face. As Reni notes:

“Men inhabit different spaces. Some face racism. Some face homophobia.”

But maybe, the most important thing we can learn is the role of white people and the need for us to no longer be neutral. As Reni summarizes, it’s time for white people to examine whiteness and their contributions to a racist society. It’s time to stop telling people of color to solve this problem and begin listening to them so that we may be part of the solution:

“The perverse thing about our current racial structure is that it has always fallen on the shoulders of those at the bottom to change it. Yet racism is a white problem. It reveals the anxieties, hypocrisies and double standards of whiteness. It is a problem in the psyche of whiteness that white people must take responsibility to solve. You can only do so much from the outside.”

What I hope changes is that the majority of white people come to terms with whiteness and the racism they grew up in and perpetuate everyday. I hope white people will become less reactionary when told about racism or labeled racist for their words and actions.

The fight for racial justice has been long and hard-fought. It’s time that white people take a side: either with those who spout hate, or those who express love.

In June 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail. In it, he defends the strategy of nonviolent resistance but also criticizes white moderates and all their “goodwill”:

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.


If you’ve made it this far, I applaud you for your open mind. If you want to hear more about whiteness, I highly suggest listening to this episode of ABC’s The Minefield:

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The Fight to Control Women

“Recent years have seen a panic over “online red-light districts,” which supposedly seduce vulnerable young women into a life of degradation, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s live tweeting of a Cambodian brothel raid. But rarely do these fearful, salacious dispatches come from sex workers themselves, and rarely do they deviate from the position that sex workers must be rescued from their condition, and the industry simply abolished — a position common among feminists and conservatives alike.

“In Playing the Whore, journalist Melissa Gira Grant turns these pieties on their head, arguing for an overhaul in the way we think about sex work. Based on ten years of writing and reporting on the sex trade, and grounded in her experience as an organizer, advocate, and former sex worker, Playing the Whore dismantles pervasive myths about sex work, criticizes both conditions within the sex industry and its criminalization, and argues that separating sex work from the ‘legitimate’ economy only harms those who perform sexual labor. In Playing the Whore, sex workers’ demands, too long relegated to the margins, take center stage: sex work is work, and sex workers’ rights are human rights.”

– Summary of Playing the Whore from goodreads.com

Debates about prostitution tend to cover many topics, ranging from informal economics to public health, but ultimately comes down to one central element: control. Control of women. Control over women.

Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work by Melissa Gira Grant Jacobin/Verso, 136 pp.

Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work
by Melissa Gira Grant
Jacobin/Verso, 136 pp.

Those involved in sex work, whether they use the label of prostitute, sex worker or something else, belong to a part of society largely overlooked by society. Like the homeless or the unemployed, society, generally, looks down upon them while rarely offering respect for their human dignity or considering their current state as a temporary one. Leaders in both public and private sectors rarely given them a chance for inclusion into the rest of society.

Grant’s Playing the Whore is a simple yet exhaustive study of all the areas which affect sex workers, including the police, the media and the groups who see themselves as the ‘savior’. Largely excluded from the discussion on criminality, depiction or alternatives are sex workers themselves.

Just as women of colour and lesbians of generations past had to face off against straight white feminists of movements past, sex workers who seek autonomy and respect have to face off against anti-prostitution feminists today who offer neither. Grant documents how feminists in the anti-prostitution movement organize events and talks about sex work while, without seeing the problem, never including sex workers.

Female sex workers, like the many others who preceded them in the women’s liberation movement, continue to counter the conservative values, often shaped by Christian morality, that come to control their daily life. Although those people who buy sex sometimes face arrest, the burden falls predominantly on the woman. Sex workers face widespread violence and harassment by police officers. Sadly, the rest of society does not value sex workers much better.

In the same way that substance abuse is now seen as a health concern and something that shouldn’t be treated with criminalization and imprisonment, prostitution should be seen as an issue of employment needs. Unfortunately, politicians, supposed “advocates” and others refuse to see their place as seeking harm reduction, as is being done for addicts. Similarly, the role for police in both instances is to protect citizens – all citizens – especially those most vulnerable to receiving harm.

The central element of the book, which is signaled by its subtitle, “The Work of Sex Work”, is that of employment. Bringing her own stories as well as other sex workers, Grant describes the informal nature of today’s sex work. The women’s liberation movement has long been about women’s economic liberation. From unpaid care work to the gender pay gap, women have long suffered from an economy tailored not to them but towards men. Sex work is no different. Grant connects the work of sex work to other forms of self-employment within the informal sector, such as hair stylists, and service industries, like retail. Until all women are given the economic opportunities to live a dignified and comfortable life, these forms of informal or part-time employment will have to be used.

The debate on economics applies to countries around the world. As Grant points out, the movement to “rescue” sex workers in Asia and elsewhere does not address the economic, political and social disadvantages sex workers face inside and outside the profession. Even if victimized women are rescued, they receive little more than job training to low-paid labour. A sign in a Cambodia textile shop employing former sex workers point to this realization. It reads:

DON’T TALK TO ME ABOUT SEWING MACHINES. TALK TO ME ABOUT WORKERS’ RIGHTS.

Until we begin to see women – all women – as equal members of society, short-term fixes will not have the power to liberate sex workers when they continue to live in poverty. For those women who are left without alternative employment, decriminalization and support should be a first priority, not fear of the police and exclusion from ‘mainstream’ workers.

The debate between a woman’s right to self-determination and conservative traditional values in society is linked to another contentious issue: abortion.

The first feminist wave gave women the right to vote. The second wave gave women the Pill, and control of their reproductive rights.

In the United States, like most countries around the world, abortion was important for family planning but seen as a criminal action. This period, half a century ago, was also marked by near total male representation in politics. In 1973, the US Supreme Court determined that abortion was a constitutionally protected act with Roe v. Wade. Since then, conservative groups have fought to make abortion illegal or impossible to get.

cartoonThe documentary TRAPPED showcases doctors who perform abortions in some states in the United States who have fought against so-called TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws. Since 2011, states in the South and Midwest have passed more than 300 abortion restrictions — TRAP laws, admitting privilege requirements, rules for how medication abortions may be performed, bans on abortion after 20 weeks (and sometimes earlier), longer waiting periods, and greater impediments to teenagers seeking abortions without parental approval.

Earlier this year, in the case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the US Supreme Court found that TRAP laws in Texas placed an “undue burden” on women seeking abortion and thus violate the Constitution. This is a major victory for women’s rights and may signal the beginning of TRAP laws being overruled across the nation.

TRAPPED follows in the footsteps of other documentary films shining a light on the battle over a woman’s right to choose. Six years ago, 12th & Delaware revealed the fight on the titular street corner in Fort Pierce, Florida, between a for-profit abortion clinic and a Roman Catholic Church-supported pregnancy clinic whose mission is to prevent women from obtaining abortions. While the abortion clinic takes precautions against threats of violence and fends off protesters, the pregnancy clinic actively spreads misinformation to women about the dangers of abortion.

A decade ago, Lake of Fire depicted the heated abortion debate that was already waging for decades in America. Leaving no stone unturned, it featured graphic footage of actual medical procedures and presented people on both pro-choice and pro-life sides of the issue.

These films add to the lengthy abortion debate in the United States and reveal the tactics of those groups opposed to a women’s right to choose how her pregnancy is managed. Ultra-conservative and Christian groups lie to pregnant women, spreading misinformation and fear. They set up anti-abortion pregnancy centres, which act as red herrings to women who are seeking abortions, while never disclosing their real ideology. These tactics show no respect towards pregnant women who, for whatever reason, have decided that a medically-assisted abortion is the right decision. Instead, they fool pregnant women, delaying their decision beyond what the law allows and, in effect, force vulnerable to follow through with their pregnancy against their will. A shameful game of politics over people.

The abortion debate in the United States has not been peaceful either. Groups like Operation Rescue and others promote violence to achieve their ends. It’s not just psychological violence. Although conservative and Christian groups regularly protest outside clinics and yell at women who enter, they also conduct terrorism. Male opponents to abortion (it’s almost always men who become violent) have repeatedly assassinated doctors and fire-bombed clinics, spreading fear and pressuring providers to close their doors. The entire anti-abortion movement ultimately furthers these horrendous acts of violence through their misinformation and shaming protests. Sadly, this violence in the name of opposing reproductive rights is not limited to only the US.

screen-shot-2014-05-04-at-1-59-26-pmThe concept of rescue is found in the ideologies of both anti-prostitution and anti-abortion. Rescue from what? Rescuing women from themselves, it seems. From decisions about their health, their well-being, their finances, and their work. The debate doesn’t typically expand past what to do once women are “rescued”. They are thrown back into society to fend for themselves without the political, economic or social support they may have wanted in the first place.

It’s difficult to ignore the irony at the center of debates on women’s rights: the loudest voices aren’t women. Men make up the majority of anti-abortion advocates. One of the biggest anti-abortion voices is the Catholic Church, which is built around female subservience to male clergy. Male legislatures pass laws without talking to female voters.

Although women are often found protesting prostitution and abortion, the organisations they represent are, more often than not, led by men. Men who will never be pregnant. Men who have more employment opportunities than women and who can purchase sex from prostitutes without fear of much prosecution or persecution.

Men need to stand aside and listen, rather than stand at the front and dominate the discussion. We need to stop making decisions about those we know little about.

Ultimately, the fight is not over whose morals should dominate because this is not a debate over ideas; it’s a debate over people. People who have the right to determine their own lives. All human beings deserve dignity.

All struggles are connected since, as the organisation Black Women for Wages for Housework said, “When prostitutes win, all women win.” Hookers and housewives unite!

Propaganda of the Deed

The children of Marinaleda have the pleasure to tell you about the situation in Andalusia and specifically, Marinaleda. A few days ago, our parents, in an open assembly, agreed to go on hunger strike. We are in solidarity with them. We have been on hunger strike for several days.

Why are we on hunger strike? We are on hunger strike because our parents have already spent six months living on the alms of community employment. In our village people earn not even two hundred pesetas a day, because sometimes they only work two days a month. We live in such poverty that some families have to borrow money from their neighbours, because the shops no longer give them credit. Put yourself in our place and think: is it fair that while some children are on holiday with their parents and families, others don’t know if they will eat that night? Is it fair that while some children have private tutors, others can’t even attend state schools? Is it fair that while some waste large amounts of money on toys and luxuries, others have no shoes to wear and must go barefoot?

We don’t think it is, and that is why we are on hunger strike. That is why we have gone several days without food, and we won’t stop until a solution arrives, because this situation is unbearable. It is even more unbearable in a land as rich as Andalusia.

Friend: the problem in our land is serious, and so we are going to continue fighting alongside out parents. W will continue fighting because the problem is also ours; so please consider and answer these questions. What will become of us? What is our future? Your future, we imagine, is already resolve, but what of ours? Who will resolve ours?

This is not a fairy tale, but a real situation which you will never know . . . We ask you with all our hearts to stop and think, and perhaps you’ll feel anger or pity and you or your parents will us some solution.

Sorry if these words are strong, but our hunger is stronger. Greetings from your friends. Marinaleda.

The children of the small Andalusian village of Marinaleda wrote the above letter to Prince Felipe, son of King Juan Carlos, heir to the Spanish throne, and, at the time, twelve years old.

25spain-mapIt was August 1980, five years after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, when 700 residents – men, women and children – of Marinaleda decided to host the ‘hunger strike against hunger’ (una huelga de hambre contra el hambre) for nine days. As one newspaper cartoon put it at the time: “700 on hunger strike in Marinaleda; the rest, just hungry.”

The village initial demand upon launching the hunger strike was for an increase in ‘community employment funds’ (essentially, paid public-works projects for the unemployed). The village was is a truly desperate state by the summer of 1980. In the first seven months of the year they had received an equivalent of 200 pesetas per family per day – less than two euros. Ultimately, the people needed a more radial solution: land redistribution. Their fight had just begun.

This moment in history transformed the village of Marinaleda and frames Dan Hancox’s book The Village Against the World. Since the 1980s, the villagers of Marinaleda, led by the radiacl mayor, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, have rebelled against the triple repression of the state, the monarchy and the church.

village_against_the_world_pb_cmyk-f8442eed8e2828cd6089edd67ff574b5In 1985, labourers from Marinaleda and the nearby pueblos of Gilena and Utrera started to occupy the lands of the Duke of Infantado, owner of 17,000 hectares in Andalusia. At the time, unemployment was 65 percent in Marinaleda, while 50 percent of land in Andalusia was owned by just 2 percent of families. The people wanted land reform to change this injustice.

They were requested the state redistribute 1,200 hectares. On this 1,200-hectare estate the only things growing, for mile in every direction, were wheat and sunflowers – it required only three or four caretakers to tend to it. The people were idle and the land was idle: the resolution was obvious.

Eventually in 1991, they were granted the 1,200 hectares and the Duke of Infantado was quietly paid off by the regional government. The people of Marinaleda finally became landlords.

They didn’t rest on their laurels, but continued la lucha throughout the 1990s, campaigning for funds for cultural projects, for housing, or for their brethren across Andalusia: occupying the Bank of Spain, blocking the high-speed AVE trains, breaking into the international airports at Malaga and Seville, occupying the Palace of San Telmo, Canal Sur Radio, and launching yet more hunger strikes, demonstrations and blockades, in the Sierra Sur and in Seville.

These historic victories showcase Marinaleda as an example for fellow communities in Spain and beyond. Villagers of Marinaleda build their own homes with materials supplied by the government, paying a ‘mortgage’ of 15 euros per months. Their is nearly full employment in Marinaleda, as unemployment is less than 5 percent, versus 36 percent in the rest of Andalusia. This is thanks to the olive oil cooperative and vegetable canning factory in the village, both of which pay higher than the national minimum wage.

The village of Marinaleda is a shining light of the possibility of decentralized governance and social enterprise.

Religion as Political Scapegoat

This is not about terrorism. Terrorism is the excuse. This is about economic and social control. And the only thing you’re really protecting is the supremacy of your government.

This reflection from the 2016 docu-drama Snowden illustrates the current world we live in. A world, we’re told, filled with terrorist threats. But, are we in danger?

The Muslims Are Coming!: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror by Arun Kundnani Verso, 336 pp.

The Muslims are coming! : Islamophobia, extremism, and the domestic war on terror
by Arun Kundnani
Verso, 336 pp.

In his book The Muslims are coming!: Islamophobia, extremism, and the domestic war on terror, Arun Kundnani thoroughly counters the narrative of Muslim extremism found in the United States and United Kingdom.

For the most part, the threat of terrorism by ‘jihadists’ is similar or less than the threat of white supremacists, which have a far longer track record of murder and mayhem in the two centers of Anglophone power (pp.22):

In Europe, the violence carried out by far Right groups, which have racism as a central part of their ideology, is of a similar magnitude to that of jihadist violence: at least 249 people died in incidents of far Right violence between 1990 and 2012; 263 were killed by jihadists over the same period.

In the US, between 1990 and 2013, there were 145 acts of political violence committed by the American far Right, resulting in 348 deaths. In comparison, 20 people were killed over the same period in acts of political violence carried out by Muslim-American citizens or long-term residents of the US.

The 20 deaths in the US, caused by Nidal Malik Hasan, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, Naveed Afzal Haq, Graham Mohamed Hadayet, Ali Hassan Abu Kamal, and the Jamaat ul-Fuqra group in Tucson 1990, are seen as proof of Muslim extremism, while non-Muslim terrorism is seen as unique and not part of a pattern. The United States has a long history of white supremacist terrorism, from the Ku Klux Klan to modern assaults on immigrants, as well as Christian radicals who attack anyone with an opposing ideology, like abortion providers.

The thread that links terrorism by Christian white supremacists and by Muslim radical isn’t their religion, as the US and UK would have us believe. It’s about their politics. The terrorists themselves say this. Many Muslim terrorists, such as those who bombed the London Underground, were motivated by nothing more than the Iraq War.

Unfortunately, this narrative doesn’t fit the agenda of Western imperialism.

The threat posed by white supremacists does little to push America and Britain to war.

Muslim terrorism, misunderstood, allows American and British military to cast perpetual war, from Pakistan to Yemen, Somalia to Afghanistan. Wars and extra-judicial drone bombings are the spark that ignites hatred against the West. It does nothing to provide safety and security.

The Cold War gave the West 50 years of fictional enemies: Russians and communists. Since the Berlin Wall fell, Muslims extremists were cast as the new villains to continue this fiction of global fear. In both cases, the enemy was ideal, as Samuel P. Huntington describes, for casting fear among Americans:

The ideal enemy for America would be ideologically hostile, racially and culturally different, and militarily strong enough to pose a credible threat to American security.

The ‘otherness’ of Muslims feeds into the racism that the United States and other Western nations wee built upon. By never understanding the ‘other’, Americans and Britons can create a stereotype of jihadists lusting for war, even though it isn’t true.

The Muslims are coming! looks at these issue from several areas. Following the 9/11 terrorist acts, perpetrated by 19 men of mostly Saudi nationality, liberal and conservative politicians united in the drive for war, first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq. By misunderstanding the reasons for the first attack, these politicians began the course for 15 years of terror towards Muslim communities abroad and at home. These wars, combined with stories of unrestrained torture at Bagram Airfield, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, caused a handful of young men to fight against the imperialism of American and British forces in foreign Muslim lands. Imperialist politics caused both sides of this problem.

In addition to misunderstanding their supposed enemies, American and British intelligence agencies have done an incredible job of fostering terror plots. Kundnani documents in detail how the FBI uses informants and financial incentives, as well as threats of violence, against low level criminals, who happen to be Muslim, to manufacture terror plots. These plots are thought up by FBI undercover agents and informants, who also get cash incentives, and sold to naive people who would have no ability whatsoever to do harm without the FBI’s help. The media sells these stories to the public at large, furthering the myth of widespread Muslim extremism and Islamophobia more generally. The national surveillance programs found in many Western nations was brought into existence by many of these lies and continues to target Muslims disproportionately.

These idea of political anger not religious terrorism can be broadened outside of the United States.

defamationDefamation, a film by Israeli director Yoav Shamir, travels the world asking what constitutes anti-Semitism in modern times. Anti-Semitism today is real and continues the 3,000 years of unspeakable hatred towards the Jewish people. Unfortunately, the label today is used to address both real hate crimes and used to protect all actions by the state of Israel.

Political scholars like John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, and Norman Finkelstein, who are profiled in the film, are some of the few people who can evade the label of anti-Semitic thanks to their Jewish heritage. For many others, especially Muslim activists, there is no such protection.

Criticism of Israel’s wars and persecution against Palestinians are seen as anti-Semitism by many Israelis and their defenders. Some accusations are warranted. But most are political and have nothing to do with religious hatred. This difference is fundamental to understanding both sides.

The Israel-Palestine conflict is not alone. Religious and ethnic differences, around the world, have been attributed to conflicts that are fundamentally political. From the 25-year civil war in Sri Lanka to decades of fighting in the Sudans, different people have fought for political recognition. News agencies and governments have twisted these stories to fit their own agendas, while ignoring the root causes. Ultimately, the lack of understanding for different sides prevents protracted conflicts from reaching a swift end and the start of peaceful change.

American and British domestic policies continue to see religion were only politics exist.

War will never bring peace. Western imperialism will never solve religious extremism. The first step must be to understand those you don’t know.

The Muslims are coming! is a great start for anyone looking to find the truth behind the shadow of fear.

Down With The Royals, Up With Democracy

Pandas and royal persons alike are expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment.

This comparison of British royals to zoological specimens by novelist Hilary Mantel is but one of many ideas presented in Joan Smith’s book, Down With The Royals.

Down With The Royals by Joan Smith Biteback Publishing, 120 pp.

Down With The Royals
by Joan Smith
Biteback Publishing, 120 pp.

In three parts, Smith dissects the arguments for maintaining the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the arguments in favor of moving towards a republic.

A public debate on the issue is nearly impossible as the media exaggerates the royal family’s popularity. There are royal correspondents who spend their entire day finding the smallest detail to report on TV and in the press; this is also at the expense of important global affairs. On the other hand, contrasting views are belittled. When the organisation Republic holds a rally, attendance is restricting and under-reported in the news.

Fundamentally, a hereditary monarchy, Smith points out, is undemocratic, expensive and unaccountable.

Long ago, King George III made a deal with the government after racking up huge debt. The royal family would receive a fixed annual salary and have their debts removed, in exchange for handing over the rents from their crown land to government. Today, this results in the royal family receiving an salary of £40 million each year. The revenue from crown land is around £200 million. So, it seems like the Parliament is making a profit.

However, the true costs are hidden. “One significant element that doesn’t appear in the official estimates is the cost of providing security for numerous members of the British royal family, along with the bill for royal visits.” The cost of royal security is estimated at £100 million. Adding other costs, the actual cost of maintaining the royals is closer to £300 million. Equally important is the fact that the royal family doesn’t publish full accounts and leaves out the most expensive elements, like security. This royals are costing taxpayers tens of millions of pounds each year, far more than any of the other remaining royal families left in the world, such as Sweden or Denmark.

The royal family isn’t a good caretaker either, allowing important heritage properties fall into disrepair. Almost 40 percent of the royal estate’s building were not in an ‘acceptable’ condition in 2012, according to the House of Commons public accounts committee.

But what about tourism, defenders of the monarchy may shout. This is another myth that royalists spread.

Smith shows that rates of tourism have no connection to Royal events like weddings or births. In fact, the evidence points to a decline in tourism during years of major events. This makes sense when you think about it. How many Europeans and international tourists plan their vacations to coincide with the one or two days a year when the royal family is out in public celebrating a wedding or birth. Tourism, like in France and the US, does not rely on having a king or queen living in a royal palace when you arrive.

The final claim by royalists that Smith dissolves is that the Queen and her family remain neutral when it comes to ruling the country and influences government. This is another myth to be undone.

From supporting Fascist Germany to Apartheid South Africa in the past to repressive regimes in Saudi Arabia and Qatar today, the royal family has a long history of supporting regimes for their own self interest. Their partisan views have been spun by the media out of public debate, but friends of the royals have confirmed that they are ‘natural-born Tories’.

The Queen as head of state holds and uses the power of veto over government legislation. Whitehall papers show that overall at least 39 bills have been subject to this process, known as “Queen’s consent” or “Prince’s consent”. We don’t know how many bills have been amended or vetoed altogether before reaching Parliament. Prince Charles, heir to the throne, is known for his meetings with high-ranking government officials and memos; all of which are kept secret and away from public scrutiny.

Queen Elizabeth II is also the Head of the Commonwealth, an organisation with a combined population of 2.1 billion people, yet her role is neither elected nor subject to a fixed term. 16 nations, including my own (Canada), count Queen Elizabeth as their head of state. This relic of the British empire and its colonies and territories is entirely at odds with current notions of democracy and human rights. The export of parliamentary democracy and common law to these nations and others continues to face outdated problems, such as ‘first past the post’ voting and anti-homosexuality legislation. How can one family and one person have so much power, in perpetuity?

In every area of modern society, the royal family is long overdue for a replacement. They are a drain on taxpayers money. They have ruled for over 1,000 years without any say from the people. They ally themselves with repressive regimes and influence British legislation. And they use the media as a shield against public debate and any means of accountability. On every issue, the royalists are living a fairy tale.

God save the Queen? Hardly, as Smith concludes:

In the twenty-first century, we shouldn’t still be imploring an imaginary deity to save an inherited head of state. If we can only find the courage, we are perfectly capable of saving ourselves.