‘Voices from the ‘Jungle” Stories from the Calais Refugee Camp

To coincide with the publication of Voices from the ‘Jungle’, we present a blog, introduced by one of the book’s editors and accompanied by the voices of the book’s authors: the Calais Writers.

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This book brings together the personal stories of people who lived as refugees, during 2015 and 2016, in the Calais camp on the northern French coast, just 26 miles from the UK: a camp that was often called the ‘Jungle’. For the authors, that have all left behind CalaiswritersT03221loved ones and a place of belonging, the ‘Jungle’ became home for a short or a longer time. Through poetry, prose poems, diary entries, photography, drawings and conventional accounts they narrate their personal experiences, life stories and they imagine the lives that lie ahead of them. We hear about the borders – geographical, national, cultural and religious – they have crossed, drawn or dissolved on their journeys and in their search for better and safer futures.

The authors want their voices to be heard and they call for audiences willing to listen. Aware that they are becoming objects of distrust and fear and that they have been depicted as benefit cheats, criminals and terrorists, they take control in this book, of their own representation. However, they do not speak in unison. Differences in opinion appear and the stories may ‘disagree’ with each other. Through such conversations, the book displays the human face of the current world crisis. This implies a multiplicity of truths and life trajectories rather than one homogenic narrative or life story. Their collective voices negotiate what it means to belong and to be human and their stories may resonate with any reader that queries into the human consequences of the displacements and human rights violations we witness today.

Image1

Image 1 Photo by Babak Inaloo (from Iran)

Caption: This is the fence. It is close to the car ferry and to the place where I first was arrested with my friends with the fake passport. We tried going by bus. This place will always remind me of that day.

Image2

Image 2 by Babak Inaloo (from Iran)

Caption: This is a very horrible place here, but people are living.

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Image 7 Photo by Babak Inaloo (from Iran)

Caption: This is in the morning with the people from Care4Calais.

 

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Voices from the “Jungle” is structured in a semi-chronological fashion; the writers begin with memories of their homes and the wars and persecution that lead them to leave, they then chronicle their journeys, record their experiences of the camp and, finally, write of their lives after the ‘Jungle’. Here are extracts from the Home, Journey and Living in the Jungle sections:

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HOME

Everyone in the ‘Jungle’ has left behind a life, loved ones and a home. Some prefer not to write about it, as remembering what they left is too painful. For those who do, memories of childhood and home are coloured by the journey that has led them here, and their everyday existence in the ‘Jungle’. Many of the authors wanted to give a detailed and full record of where they came from and why they were forced to leave behind everything that was dear to them. On one hand, these stories help us understand why people from different countries and regions have all arrived in the ‘Jungle’ at the same time; on the other, they show us w shared between us all: the dreams we had as children.

Ali Bajdar (from Iraq):

My father and brother worked in a big city far from the village. They were the providers for the family and had to go there to earn money for our food. At times during the war, they couldn’t come back to the village. We saw them maybe once a month. We heard about the war on the radio, heard about how  Daesh  kills people, how old people and young women are being captured and killed. You can even see it on Facebook. When you hear and see these things, when you know what they are capable of, you also know  what  you need  to  do  when  Daesh  arrives  –  you  need  to  run. One morning at 7am, we  heard  shooting  in  the  village and people were yelling, ‘Daesh is coming!’ I ran back home  to  look  for  my  mother. My mother was not in the house, I could not find her. The only thing we could do was to run, so we did and I had to leave without her. We could not bring anything with us, there was no time.

Majid (from Iran):Chapter 3 Figure 4

I am interested in describing the bad situation in my country. I am so angry about it. Especially for young people, it’s very difficult.

In general, I can say that there are no freedoms in Iran. Many guys who are here in Calais are escaping from wars, civil wars and miseries which they face in their countries. But for Iranians, it is totally different. The problem of Iran is the lack of freedom – any sort of freedom: freedom of speech, freedom for your personal life, freedom of religion.

There are lots of restrictions and limitations in Iran. As examples, you can’t have a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Drinking alcohol is prohibited. We haven’t any night- club, even one, in Iran. Going to parties is forbidden. If the agents of the secret police catch you, they put you in jail.

Another example: you can’t listen to music in your car, at any volume. But your car is your own personal environment. If you increase the volume, they stop you and say it is against the rules of Islam…

The problem is that they say many things are against the rules of Islam. They interpret everything according to their opinions.

Another important thing, especially for women: They  have  to  wear  the  hijab. It’s compulsory. Most Iranian women don’t like it. Young women resist these rules; they want to live freely. It’s an Islamic rule to cover your hair, but it should be optional. It’s not good; everything that is forced, does not have a good result. It’s all interpretation. If you go to different Islamic countries, their versions of Islam are totally different. For instance, in Turkey, which is over 90 per cent Muslim, many women do not cover their hair.

I have lived more than three decades in Iran. When I look back, I think that things are improving every year. They have reduced their restrictions every year. Maybe it’s because of the pressure on them.

I faced another problem: changing my religion. This is so dangerous. If you were born in a Christian family, this is no problem for you. But if you were a Muslim and changed your religion, this is a problem. They will kill you, put you in jail, or make lots of problems for your family – sisters, father, mother.

For this reason, lots of guys who have changed their religion have gone to other countries. Last year, when Angela Merkel opened the German borders, it was the best opportunity for them to leave the country and reach a safe land that respected their religion, their thoughts, their attitudes.

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JOURNEY

The dangerous and circuitous journeys undertaken by migrants and refugees to reach the so-called ‘haven’ of Europe have been documented at length since the summer of 2015 – broadcast over 24-hour rolling news coverage and social media platforms, replete with bold red arrows showing the trajectories of migrants and refugees from across Asia and Africa as they converge on Europe.

However, this version of journeys undertaken often fails to acknowledge the ways in which refugees are held up and forced to find more dangerous alternatives. It conceals the people and organisations responsible for the life-threatening conditions under which refugees move across into Europe. Over the course of the first eight months of 2016, the number of people who reached European shores via journeys across either the Mediterranean or the Aegean Seas stood at over 268,000.

While sanctuary from conflict and persecution is often found in neighbouring countries – 86 per cent of all refugees are located in the Global South – finding social, economic and political security for the displaced is not guaranteed. This chapter draws attention to this shortfall, which propels refugees on to more journeys. The accounts that follow describe some of the constraints which refugees face. The authors vividly describe the exposure to continued violence and risk of life that confronts them on their journeys.

Shaheen (from Afghanistan):

So the day came. They took us to the beach – that was around midnight. Then they pumped the boat. The boat was just for five people and they put 22 of us in it. There was a small engine on the boat. They started the engine, and we sat in the boat. Then they showed us a light glimmering in the distance. They said, ‘That is Greece, and you have to go towards that light’; and we started our journey.

After two hours and even with the best of luck, we found ourselves at the midway point and out of fuel. There was 20 litres of petrol with us at the start that the agents had given us, and we put in the petrol; that was at around three o’clock. The sea waves were very powerful and scary. There were two women and three children with us; they were crying. So we started the boat engine again. We moved towards the small flickering light.

We had been travelling for an hour after we re-started, when we realised we had lost our way. Someone was saying we should go to the right, and another was saying to the left.

Then, unfortunately, the air from the boat began seeping out. Someone shouted, ‘Hey, the boat is going soft!’ Right away, I knew that there was a hole in the boat. Everybody started checking their life jackets.

With a sudden powerful wave of water, we were submerged under. In a minute, we lost each other. The water was cold and my jaws started shaking; I couldn’t even shout and water had gone in my mouth; I started choking. The water was extremely salty. After about twenty minutes, I saw some people in life jackets, so I shouted out at them.

That was a very hard time for me. There are no words with me to explain that situation. May Allah save everyone from that situation. Finally, I was thinking that these were the last moments of my life. I said, crying, ‘I can’t save my life; now I am dying, Please God help me for my children, help me for my good deeds and good dealings with people.’ I even lost my voice.

After an hour, I saw a light in the distance. I thought my head was spinning, but really the light was coming toward me, and thanks be to God, it was a Turkish police boat. I just raised my hands and they shouted in a loudspeaker. Again, I raised my hands and they saw me, and they took me. It was only when they put me in the boat with them that I closed my eyes.

I  saw  when  I  opened  my  eyes  after  two  or  three hours that there were only five of us. I was surprised that we were a group of 22 but now only five. I asked the policeman, ‘Where are the others?’ He said, ‘We just found  you  five  boys.’  I shouted, ‘We  were  22 persons!’ Then they started searching again, but unfortunately they didn’t find anyone else. I cried so much, and  then  I  asked  them  about  one  of  my  friends  by the  name  of  Haroon. The officer  asked  the  boys  on the other side, ‘Anyone by the name of Haroon here?’ Haroon  shouted, ‘I  am  Haroon!’ I  heard  the  voice, and then I became happy, a little bit.’ Thanks to Allah, one of my friends is saved.’ Then the police took us to the hospital, because some of us were a little bit sick. treated us well, and two days later, they left us in Istanbul.

Mohammed Ahmed (from Sudan):

I travelled to Libya by car through the desert for 15 days; then we reached Libya. We tried to find out how to get a job, and then we got a job, but the country is not safe and does not have a government. It just has militias and rebels. Sometimes when they see you on the street, especially when you are Black, then they stop you and check your pockets, and take all that you have got, and they tell you, ‘We don’t want to see you again in  these  places.’ Sometimes,  when  you  go  to  work, after  you  did  your  work, they  just  tell  you  that ‘We don’t have money for it.’ If you talk, they just kill you for no reason. And also, they call Black people slaves.

Chapter 3 Figure 7b

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LIVING IN THE JUNGLE

After long and hazardous journeys, all the authors of this book arrived at the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp outside Calais in northern France. In this chapter, authors present their accounts of their early time in the ‘Jungle’: a place no one wants to live in, yet also a place that camp residents made into a valued temporary home.

Habibi (from Afghanistan):

My parents are in Afghanistan. I didn’t tell them, ‘I’m living in the “Jungle”.’ When my mum calls, I say, ‘Actually yeah, they gave me a very nice house here.’ Sometimes they tell me, ‘Send me a picture.’ I go to a volunteer’s house, taking pictures of it, sending them to them. As if I have a really nice house. I cannot tell them the truth, that I’m living the ‘Jungle’ life. And the tent: for four-and-a-half months I was living in a tent.

Safia (from Afghanistan):

When we arrived, I said to my children, ‘It is so dirty’, and I told them we were not going to stay for a long time, that we are going to the UK. When I had the baby and I went to the Jules Ferry Centre2, I got a big room and many women came together to live. But still I prefer to live in a caravan because there are not too many people. In the Jules Ferry Centre, there will be 14 or 16 women all together in one room with the children. I chose the caravan for the little one, so the baby can be quiet, and I can be with my husband, which is not possible in the Jules Ferry Centre – he has to live outside it. You need your husband close to you to he you. It would be harder to be without my husband.

Africa (from Sudan):

It was big trouble for me when I came to Calais. I couldn’t believe that this is Europe. Is it true that this place exists in Europe? Where is humanity, where is democracy? Where is all this bullshit? They just write it in the paper. I think, because we have come here, we are not human beings, we become animals, a new kind of animal. A new kind of animal that has developed at this time; it’s known as ‘refugee’.

We came here to see this really ‘dignified’ European life. Yes, I like it; it is a good life for the people. I don’t want to talk about differences between white people and black people.  It is like we have been deserted. Because this is Europe, a place of humanity.

Many people ask me why  I  haven’t  applied  for asylum  in  France.  But this situation, here  in  the ‘Jungle’, is not likely to be one that encourages anyone to get registered in France.

Babak (from Iran):

It is me who is making this world and no one and nothing can help it better than myself.

All it takes, is to believe in myself and confront my fears!calais 7

I remember during the first week that I arrived in the Calais camp (the ‘Jungle’), after two horrible nights, I went to the Dome, a place where physical exercises were being conducted by volunteers. People were singing songs and everyone was going on the platform in turn. I always hated my voice. I had never sung before, but that night, I went up, closed my eyes and sang a song. Everyone enjoyed it, and I won a prize. I realised it was easy. For doing this, I only needed to believe in myself and break the fear inside me.

All the troubles and fears we create for ourselves are the products of our thoughts and it is us who make demons out of things. In reality, life is beautiful. We make it difficult; we build walls and are scared of facing them. If we believe in ourselves, we can make impossible things possible and prove that there is nothing impossible!

We have the power to achieve what we want. You can be a great footballer, a fantastic actor, perhaps a successful vendor or even a good writer! I managed to receive a prize although I had a horrible voice.

All it takes is to close our eyes to our fears.

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The book’s final chapter explores the lives of refugees once they have left the ‘Jungle’. Some managed to reach and settle in the UK or other European countries, others claimed asylum or were taken to a new shelter in another part of France. There are many different realities of camp life to be explored and this is only a minute selection, but contained within the pages of the Voices from the “Jungle” a vivid picture of struggle, survival and human resilience is painted.

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Voices from the ‘Jungle’: Stories from the Calais Refugee Camp by the Calais Writers is available to buy from Pluto Press.

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The ‘Calais Writers‘ include Africa, Riaz Ahmad, Eritrea, Ali Haghooei, Babak Inaloo, Mani, Milkesa, Shaheen Ahmed Wali, Shaqib, Teddy and Haris Haider, who are all former inhabitants of the Calais refugee camp.

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Credits for embedded images:

Image 4: 

Stencil by Mani (from Iran)

Caption: My mother: You are so far, so far. What can I say? Just, ‘I miss you’, not more, not less.

Image 5: 

Photos by Zeeshan Javid (from Pakistan)

Caption: Some camp residents’ views of police and journalists.

Image 6: 

Photo by Habibi (from Afghanistan)

Caption: All over it’s full of water, it’s like a river here. Nobody can pass, because it’s too muddy.

 

The Marikana Massacre: The government that pulled the trigger and the workers who survived it

Revivifying what are only recent memories of massacres by the state during the apartheid era, the Marikana massacre occurred on 16th August 2012, when policemen shot down 112 striking mineworkers, killing 34. Resistance by the ANC and the press to label the incident a massacre (‘Marikana shootings’ was the preferred terminology) at once exposed the easy analogy between Marikana and previous mass shootings at Sharpeville or Soweto, the fraughtness of South Africa’s difficult reckoning with its past, and how violence and the covering up of violence remains an intrinsic part of South Africa’s political structures and institutions.

Luke Sinwell, co-author of The Spirit of Marikana  a fascinating recent history of post-Apartheid South Africa, emphasising the crucial role of workers in changing history – has written here about the fight for justice by the workers that survived the massacre and the prosecution of 72 police for their role in the events.

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The recent decision taken by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) to prosecute 72 police for their role in the events related to South Africa’s Marikana massacre is welcome, but it may obscure the truth that the African National Congress (ANC) government pulled the trigger. The Sprit of Marikana: The Rise of Insurgent Trade Unionism tells the story of the agency of those workers who survived it.

On 16 August 2012, 34 black mineworkers were gunned down by the police in Marikana, a platinum mining community which is a two hour drive to the Northwest of Johannesburg. No police were killed or injured on the day and hence the event has been called a massacre. Judge Ian Farlam was tasked by the African National Congress (ANC) President Jacob Zuma to chair and subsequently provide the main findings and recommendations regarding the killings in Marikana which took place. The Marikana Commission of Inquiry then sat for 300 days.  By the end of June 2015, nearly three years after the historic killings, a final report was submitted by Farlam.lohmin mine

This report however was at best watered-down and failed to connect the dots regarding the chain reaction of government intervention which started from the top (through deputy President of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa) and eventually led to an excessively forceful attack on thousands of striking mineworkers including the deployment of 782 policemen in Marikana, some of which were equipped with R5 rifles each capable of shooting 600 rounds of live ammunition per minute.

In evaluating the official evidence and findings, one is also struck by a certain liberal persuasion which infects the language of Farlam’s report, preventing him from seeing the evidence presented at the commission through the eyes of mineworkers.  Mineworkers are, throughout the report, homogenized into a mob intent on using violence, intimidation and killing as their main tactics of mobilization. While one cannot deny the existence of these tactics amongst what appears to be a minority of mineworkers, it is clear that this is a gross oversimplification given that, as the evidence indicates, the vast majority of mineworkers acted peacefully and simply sought to negotiate with those authorities who they came in contact with.

In this context, the IPID’s recent decision to prosecute 72 police for their role in killing the mineworkers is certainly welcome, but it does not get to the root cause of the killings. By now, I think most of those who look into what happened in Marikana will conclude that 16 August was no accident. It was a pre-meditated attempt to destroy the independent working class organization which was fermenting at Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana. At the commission of Inquiry, Ramaphosa claimed that ‘we are all to blame’. His testimony has unfortunately exemplified the government’s approach to dealing with killings at Marikana.marikana

As time passes this looks less and less like a diplomatic explanation that can reasonably be taken at face value and more like a malign attempt to over up the truth. From day one workers have known that truth. As the symbolic meaning of Marikana becomes sharpened and engrained in ordinary people’s minds, the idea that it was an unfortunate tragedy will become a thing of the past. What we need now is education campaigns as well as mass mobilisation in order to ensure that those who were responsible for the killings, are prosecuted and the justice for the mineworkers and their families is met.

Thirty-four mineworkers were massacred in Marikana, but that did not stop the determination of the mineworkers to remain united. Indeed, the infamous demand for R12,500 per month (equivalent to approximately $1000 per month and which workers were demanding from their employer when they were massacred), originated as a reasonable and hopeful request by Rock Drill Operators (RDOs) who undertake unbearable work, in extremely dangerous and scorching hot environment, only to arrive back in their homes in their corrugated iron shacks to await another tough day of work. My recent book, The Spirit of Marikana: The Rise of Insurgent Trade Unionism tells the story of the micro-processes through which mineworkers organized in order to emerge victorious despite the most extreme forms of state violence against civilians in the post-apartheid period. It brings the story to life through in-depth interviews with strike leaders who survived to tell their story.

To them the industrial action at Marikana and its surrounding areas the strikes were literally a matter of life and death. Many of the workers that I and my research team engaged with continue to vow that they would die, if not to realize their demand for a living wage, then for the rights of workers more generally. We have experienced Marikana and the platinum belt strike wave a step removed from these realities. Nevertheless we believe we have been closer to the action, both in physical proximity and in spirit, than virtually anyone else known to us who has done (or is likely to do) extensive research on this topic.

The Sprit of Marikana: The Rise of Insurgent Trade Unionism is a detailed ethnography story of the micro-politics of resistance that began prior to the massacre at Marikana and culminated in 2014 in the longest strike in South African mining history. It provides a classic example of how seemingly ordinary workers developed a critique of the hegemonic discourse of their employers, formed a counter-discourse based upon their lived experiences, and then undertook a series of actions in order to transform their reality and – unintentionally at first – the political face of South Africa.

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The Spirit of Marikana: The Rise of Insurgent Trade Unionism in South Africa by Luke Sinwell and Siphiwe Mbatha is available to buy from Pluto Press.

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Luke Sinwell is a Senior Researcher at the University of Johannesburg. He is co-author of Marikana: A View from the Mountain and a Case to Answer, co-editor of Contesting Transformation: Popular Resistance in Twenty-First-Century South Africa and the author of numerous articles on participatory democracy and contentious politics in South Africa. He is the General Secretary of the South African Sociological Association (SASA).

Israel, Migrants and the right to nationhood

Mya Guarnieri Jaradat’s new book, The Unchosenexamines Israel’s harsh and worsening treatment of these newcomers and in doing so presents a fresh angle on the Israel-Palestine conflict, calling into question the state’s perennial justification for mistreatment of Palestinians: ‘national security’. As we stand witness to mass deportations and charter flights, Guarnieri Jaradat’s blog forces us to confront the exclusionary and dispassionate preconditions imposed on those seeking to belong to a nation.

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The Unchosen: The Lives of Israel’s New Others, is a culmination of a decade’s worth of reporting on the lives of Southeast Asian migrant workers and African asylum seekers protest, Tel Aviv, Israel, 13.2.2014African asylum seekers in Israel. Studying these two groups of non-Jewish ‘others’ throws the Israeli claim that its treatment of Palestinians is predicated on security into harsh light; rather, it shows that Israel’s relationship with Palestinians and other non-Jews is predicated on racial separatism and couched in its overriding concern about maintaining a Jewish demographic majority. The treatment of non-Jews can be understood as a feature of Israel’s particular brand of settler
colonialism. Put best by Drs. Neve Gordon and Nicola Perugini in their book, The Human Right to Dominate:

‘Not unlike other forms of settler colonialism, in the Israeli case colonial power is exerted also through the coloniser’s desire of appropriating the position of the native, of “going native.” … the coloniser’s nativeness can, so to speak, be achieved only through a twofold process, beginning with the dispossession of the colonised and followed by protecting the coloniser from a presumed invasion carried out by the colonised.’

The initial dispossession, happened in 1948 with the displacement of some 700,000 Palestinians. As for the ‘invasion’, many Israelis imagine this happening not militarily but demographically; they worry that they’ll be outnumbered. In recent years, the Israeli obsession with demographics—which Dr. Tally Kritzman-Amir, an Israeli lecturer and legal expert in immigration, refugee, and international law, refers to as the ‘fear of numbers’—has been extended beyond the indigenous population to non-Jews in general. Separation is one manifestation of this ‘fear of numbers.’

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International Women’s Day Reading List

From feminist theory, to history and contemporary politics, these are some of Pluto’s best books, old and new, that celebrate radical women.

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Revolutionary Learning: Marxism, Feminism and Knowledge by Sara Carpenter and Shahrzad Mojab Carpenter T03129

Revolutionary Learning by Sara Carpenter and Shahrzad Mojab explores the Marxist and feminist theorisation of knowledge production and learning. From an explicitly feminist perspective, the authors reconsider the contributions of Marx, Gramsci and Freire to educational theory, expanding Marxist analyses of education by considering it in relation to patriarchal and imperialist capitalism.  The reproductive nature of institutions is revealed through an ethnography of schools and pushed further by the authors who go on to examine how education and consciousness connects with the broader environment of public policy, civil society, the market, and other instruments of ‘public pedagogy.’

The book’s use of work by feminist, anti-racist and anti-colonial scholars means it will have significant implications for critical education scholarship, but its use value extends beyond educational praxis; providing the tools dissect, theorize, resist and transform capitalist social relations.

 

Captive Revolution: Palestinian Women’s Anti-Colonial Struggle within the Israeli Prison System by Nahla AbdoAbdo T02851

Throughout the world, women have played a part in struggles against colonialism, imperialism and other forms of oppression, but their vital contributions to revolutions, national liberation and anti-colonial resistance are rarely chronicled.

Nahla Abdo’s Captive Revolution seeks to break the silence on Palestinian women political detainees. Based on stories of the women themselves, as well as her own experiences as a former political prisoner, Abdo draws on a wealth of oral history and primary research in order to analyse their anti-colonial struggle, their agency and their appalling treatment as political detainees. Through crucial comparisons between the experiences of female political detainees in other conflict; a history of female activism emerges.

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‘Feminism is for Everybody’ bell hooks for International Woman’s Day

bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everybody is the antidote to every ‘when’s international men’s day?!’ tweet. Designed to be read by all genders, this short, accessible introduction to feminist theory, by one of its liveliest and most influential practitioners, seeks to rescue feminism from esoterism and academic jargon; simplifying, arguing and convincing.

 

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Everywhere I go I proudly tell folks who want to know who I am and what I do that I am a writer, a feminist theorist, a cultural critic. I tell them I write about movies and popular culture, analysing the message in the medium. Most people find this exciting and want to know more. Everyone goes to movies, watches television, glances through magazines, and everyone has thoughts about the messages they receive, about the images they look at. It is easy for the diverse public I encounter to understand what I do as a cultural critic, to understand my passion for writing (lots of folks want to write, and do). But feminist theory — that’s the place where the questions stop. In- stead I tend to hear all about the evil of feminism and the bad feminists: how “they” hate men; how “they” want to go against nature — and god; how “they” are all lesbians; how “they” are taking all the jobs and making the world hard for white men, who do not stand a chance. When I ask these same folks about the feminist books or magazines they read, when I ask them about the feminist talks they have heard, about the feminist activists they know, they respond by let- ting me know that everything they know about feminism has come into their lives thirdhand, that they really have not come close enough to feminist movement to know what really happens, what it’s really about. Mostly they think feminism is a bunch of angry women who want to be like men. They do not even think about feminism as being about rights — about women gaining equal rights. When I talk about the feminism I know — up close and personal — they willingly listen, although when our conversations end, they are quick to tell me I am different, not like the “real” feminists who hate men, who are angry. I assure them I am as a real and as radical a feminist as one can be, and if they dare to come closer to feminism they will see it is not how they have imagined it.

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“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear” The Islamophobia machine by John L. Esposito

The Islamophobia first espoused by conservative bloggers, right-wing talk show hosts, rampant trump-exec-orderracists on Twitter and evangelical religious leaders has found a home in the White House. The decision of thousands of people to stand up to racism and protest this week is encouraging, but as intolerance becomes government policy uncovering the scare tactics, revealing the motives and exposing the ideologies that drive this Islamophobia machine becomes increasingly important. 

This essay, written by John L. Esposito, is taken from Nathan Lean’s ‘The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims’, which seeks to challenge the narrative of fear that has for too long dominated discussions about Muslims and Islam, Esposito offers a historical perspective on this ever-rising tide. The second edition, scheduled for publication in September 2017, will include new material on the Trump victory, exploring the new government that is currently coming to shape in the US, emphasising that this book is now more relevant than other.

Islamophobia did not suddenly come into being after the events of 9/11. Like anti-Semitism and xenophobia, it has long and deep historical roots. Its contemporary resurgence has been triggered by the significant influx of Muslims to the West in the late twentieth century, the Iranian revolution, hijackings, hostage taking, and other acts of terrorism in the 1980s and 1990s, attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, and subsequent terrorist attacks in Europe.

WHAT ARE THE ROOTS OF THIS MODERN EPIDEMIC?

Most Americans’ first encounter with an unknown Islam occurred with the Iranian Revolution of 1978 and the taking of hostages in the American embassy, which resulted in an explosion of interest and coverage of the religion of Islam as well as of the Middle East and the Muslim world that has increased exponentially over the years. Today, Islam and the Middle East often dominate the negative headlines. Despite the fact that Islam is the second largest religion in the world and the third largest religion in the United States—as well as the fact that American Muslims are an integral part of the American mosaic in the twenty-first century—the acts of terrorists over the last three decades have fed the growth of Islamophobia in this country.

THE POST 9/11 CLIMATE:

The catastrophic events of 9/11 and continued attacks in Muslim countries, as well as in Germany, France and London, have obscured many positive developments and have exacerbated the growth of Islamophobia almost exponentially. Islam and Muslims have become guilty until proven innocent, a reversal of the classic American legal maxim. Islam is often viewed as the cause rather than the context for radicalism, extremism, and terrorism. Islam as the culprit is a simple answer, easier than considering the core political issues and grievances that resonate in much of the Muslim world (that is, the failures of many Muslim governments and societies, American foreign policy of intervention and dominance, Western support for authoritarian regimes, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, or support for Israel’s wars in Gaza and Lebanon). It is not difficult to find material that emphasizes selective analyses of Islam and events in the Muslim world, material which is crisis-oriented and headline-driven, fuelling stereotypes, fears, and discrimination. Islam’s portrayal as a triple threat (political, civilizational, and demographic) has been magnified by a number of journalists and scholars who trivialize the complexity of political, social, and religious dynamics in the Muslim world.

The result has been to downplay the negative consequences of Western support for authoritarian regimes, and the blowback from American and European foreign policies in the Middle East, from the Palestinian–Israeli conflict to the invasion of Iraq. Anti-Americanism or anti-westernization (which has increased significantly among the mainstream in the Muslim world and globally as a result of these policies) is often equated simply with Muslim hatred of our western way of life.islamophobia

Today, Islamophobia distorts the prism through which Muslims are viewed domestically. Anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate crimes proliferate. Legitimate concerns in the United States and Europe for domestic security have been offset by the abuse of anti-terrorism legislation, indiscriminate arrests, and imprisonments that compromise Muslims’ civil liberties. Mainstream Islamic institutions (civil rights groups, political action committees, charities) are indiscriminately accused of raising money for extremism by individuals and sometimes governments without the hard evidence that would lead to successful prosecution.

Significant minorities of non-Muslim Americans show a great tolerance for policies that would profile Muslims, require special identity cards, and question the loyalty of all Muslim citizens. A 2006 USA Today-Gallup Poll found that substantial minorities of Americans admit to having negative feelings or prejudices against people of the Muslim faith, and favour using heightened security measures with Muslims as a way to help prevent terrorism. Fewer than half the respondents believed that US Muslims are loyal to the United States. Nearly one-quarter of Americans—22 percent—said they would not like to have a Muslim as a neighbour; 31 percent said they would feel nervous if they noticed a Muslim man on their flight, and 18 percent said they would feel nervous if they noticed a Muslim woman on their flight. About 4 in 10 Americans favour more rigorous security measures for Muslims than those used for other US citizens: requiring Muslims who are US citizens to carry a special ID and undergo special, more intensive, security checks before boarding airplanes in the United States. When US respondents were asked, in the Gallup World Poll, what they admire about the Muslim world, the most common response was “nothing” (33 percent); the second most common was “I don’t know” (22 percent). Despite major polling by Gallup and PEW that show that American Muslims are well integrated economically and politically, a January 2010 Gallup Centre for Muslim Studies report found that more than 4 in 10 Americans (43 percent) admit to feeling at least “a little” prejudice toward Muslims—more than twice the number who say the same about Christians (18 percent), Jews (15 percent) and Buddhists (14 percent). Nine percent of Americans admitted feeling “a great deal” of prejudice towards Muslims, while 20 percent admitted feeling “some” prejudice. Surprisingly, Gallup data revealed a link between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, that contempt for Jews makes a person “about 32 times as likely to report the same level of prejudice toward Muslims.”

The extent to which the religion of Islam and the mainstream Muslim majority have been conflated with the beliefs and actions of an extremist minority can be seen not only in major polls but also in opposition to mosque construction, in locations from Manhattan and Staten Island to Tennessee and California, which has become not just a local but a national political issue. In the 2008 US presidential elections and the 2010 Congressional elections, anti-mosque and anti-Sharia hysteria have shown that Islamophobia has gone mainstream. islamophobic-tweet

Across the US, a major debate erupted over the building of an Islamic community centre a few blocks from the site of the World Trade Centre. A June 22, 2010 New York Post editorial said, “There’s no denying the elephant in the room. Neither is there any rejoicing over the mosques … because where there are mosques, there are Muslims, and where there are Muslims, there are problems… .” The author warns of New York becoming “New Yorkistan,” just as London has become “Londonstan,” “degenerated” by a Muslim community “into a launching pad for terrorists.”

Islamophobia, like anti-Semitism, will not be eradicated easily or soon. Islamophobia is not a problem for Muslims alone; it is our problem. Governments, policymakers, the media, educational institutions, and religious and corporate leaders have a critical role to play in transforming our societies and influencing our citizens and policies to contain the voices of hate and the exclusivist theologies (of militant religious and secular fundamentalists alike) if we are to promote global understanding and peace. As we know from the history of anti-Semitism and of racism in America, bigots and racists aren’t born. As the lyrics from the musical South Pacific remind us: “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, you’ve got to be taught from year to year. It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear, you’ve got to be carefully taught.”

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The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims by Nathan Lean is available from Pluto Press here.

Trump’s Electoral Victory Signals Dangerous Turn in Capitalism by Peter Hudis

The freedom movements in the U.S., and indeed around the world, have been dealt a serious blow with the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. This is one moment when “staring the negative in the face” without succumbing to either despair or superficial explanations of the reason for his election becomes especially important.trump-1

It is worth keeping in mind that Trump’s victory,
serious as it is, hardly constitutes a
mandate, given that Clinton obtained almost two million more popular votes than Trump. And this was despite widespread voter suppression in many states, where tens of thousands—especially African Americans and poor whites—were denied their right to vote (we can hardly consider it a “democracy” when some need to travel 50 miles to find a voting booth—which only seems to happen in areas that don’t vote Republican). Nevertheless, Trump will continue to proceed as though he has a mandate, and that is very serious business. One reason he can get away with this is that the Republican establishment that earlier denounced him over fear that he would wreck the party are now embracing him for delivering every branch of government into their hands.

Nothing would be more shortsighted than to think that Trump will prove to be the Syriza of the Right—that is, that he will disappoint his followers by accommodating to the neoliberal status quo and carrying out business as usual. He means what he says, and his cabinet appointees—which place outright neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the most powerful institutions in the land—provide ample proof of that. Given the magnitude of the events, it is worthwhile to underline the following…

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