HFT Newsletter #9

Welcome to the ninth newsletter of Hummus For Thought, a monthly collection of thoughts and recommendations, curated by Joey Ayoub (hello) from Geneva, Switzerland.

It comes out on every first Sunday morning of the month. Join over 4,000 subscribers by clicking here to subscribe.

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Every month, you get the following:

  • Initial reflections, where I’ll share whatever’s been on my mind.
  • The James Baldwin Corner, because why not?
  • What I’ve written, unless I haven’t written anything, in which case the section mysteriously disappears
  • The book of the month, the album of the month, recommended podcasts and recommended readings: think of these as me satisfying my need to share stuff without the toxicity of Twitter
  • Updates from The Fire These Times podcast, because I need to advertise my stuff. Gotta pay rent on my yacht.

Initial Reflections

I usually give myself some time to write this newsletter throughout the month but this time I’ve gotten back to high school mode and I’m doing my homework the day before.

It’s been a busy month. It led me, rather grimly, to re-read the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide because there are at least three states (and more, I’m sure) that likely fit the definition of perpetrators of genocide: Ethiopia, Israel and China. The issue with genocide prevention is that you need to implement the mechanisms designed to prevent, protect and punish perpetrators. Here are three examples.

As mentioned, the following is rather grim. If you’d rather not think about this on a Sunday, feel free to skip to the next page!

Israel was rewarded for its bombing campaigns in Gaza with a $735m arms sale from the United States, for the fourth time in 12 years. In addition to having policies that fit the textbook definition of Apartheid according to international as well as Israel and Palestinian NGOs, there is a very strong argument to be made that the very nature of Israeli politics relies on what Ilan Pappé called ‘incremental genocide’, particularly in Gaza. As such, even when Israel stops the bombing, it continues these same practices. A government built on the idea of ethno-religious supremacy, where the number of Jewish citizens must at all costs be a majority, will inevitably implement that idea. That is why every aspect of Palestinian life must be surveilled and punished. That is why everything belonging to Palestinians – their minds, their bodies, their properties or their lands – is fair game to the Israeli government. That is why the choruses of ‘Israel has the right to defend itself’, a principle never extended to Palestinians, aren’t just dishonest, but also complicit in the routine violence of international law.

You can listen to The Fire These Times episodes I recorded over the past few weeks reflecting on what’s been happening in Israel-Palestine, as well as the wider context. I started with an episode with my good friend Maya Schkolne on (anti)Zionism and international solidarity. Maya was born in the city my grandfather was exiled from (Haifa) and grew up in a context which discouraged looking at Israel’s state Zionism as an ethno-religious supremacist ideology. I then recorded an episode with the brilliant Sumaya Awad and Shireen Akram-Boshar, co-editor and contributor to the book ‘Palestine: A Socialist Introduction’ respectively. We spoke about how we approach the Palestinian cause from an internationalist and anti-authoritarian position. I also recorded a quick video interview with Majed Abusalama who was kind enough to take some time even as his family were being threatened by the Israeli state in Gaza. I also re-released the episode with Muhammed Suleiman from last year on “Wretched of the Earth: Thoughts on Syria, Palestine and Discourse.”

Ethiopia is nowhere near stopping in genocidal wars in Tigray. Its president, Abiy Ahmed, got the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for ending the border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Barely a year later, he proceeded to unleash the full might of the Ethiopian state with the help of the Eritrean state on the Tigray region, which happens to be near the Ethiopian-Eritrea border (and Sudan to its West). At the time of writing, there have been dozens of reports on practices including ethnic cleansing, mass rape and mass murder (trigger warnings apply). They are being systematically practiced by Ethiopian forces and their allies. Tigrayan civilians are being slaughtered and tortured by Amhara forces and there is ample evidence by now that they are being targeted for being Tigrayan. I will spare you the details because they’re in the links above. Suffice it to say that these fit the definitions of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

As for China, there seems to be very little that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) isn’t willing to do in its obsessive campaign to crush any sign of Uighur life and agency. This includes actively reducing birth rates of Uighur women (while increasing the two-child limit to a three-child policy everywhere else). If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend listening to the podcast episode with Rayhan Asat and Yonah Diamond, “The World’s Most Technologically Sophisticated Genocide is Happening in Xinjiang.” Asat is an international human rights lawyer and the sister of Ekpar Asat, who was forcibly disappeared by the CCP, and Diamond is an international human rights lawyer with the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

Apologies for the grim read as part of my initial reflections.

I suppose this links up with my ongoing exploration of Europe’s own border regimes. Given that forces who have to implement the aforementioned ‘prevent, protect and punish’ are usually believed to be ‘democracies’, it is worth looking at what these governments are doing today, and whether their own priorities would contradict a principle that they supposedly uphold.

At the time of writing, multiple governments of the European Union are accelerating their scapegoating of vulnerable migrants and refugees. The far right ELAM party in Cyprus, which has links to the now-banned Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece (I did an episode on Golden Dawn last year), nearly doubled its seats in parliament. Cyprus recently forced Syrian refugees who tried to reach it from Lebanon back to the country, and Lebanon is now deporting them to Syria, where they risk torture or worse. In Denmark, the ‘leftwing’ party in power is aggressively terrorizing Syrian refugees and is now seeking to deport them at all costs, possibly even to a third country. It’s really important to note here that Denmark’s strategy is clearly to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to claim asylum in the country. These Syrian refugees are currently the government’s guinea pigs to see if it works, and as of now it is working.

The EU is doing nothing to tackle this. In fact, the EU’s heads have themselves actively participated in demonizing refugees and migrants over the past few years. I got into this more in the essay “The Jewish and Arab Questions, and European Fascism” on page 3. There is no discernible difference between the Danish ‘leftwing’, the Cypriot and French far right, and the EU’s center-right President of the European Commission Ursula Von Der Leyen. They all agree on the scapegoating of the foreign ‘Other’. Meanwhile, the EU plans to invest in border control nearly 35 billion euros between 2021 and 2027. This includes investing money in ‘sound cannons’ to terrify refugees. In the middle of a global pandemic when most of the world have yet to be vaccinated, the EU is investing 35 billion euros for the sole purpose of terrorizing refugees and migrants.

And there are grown adults on this continent who are actively invested in believing that Europe has learned the lessons of its own genocides and crimes against humanity.

We’ve been here before, Europe.

Believe it or not, the disconnect thoughts above do have a logic to them. European powers routinely appeal to international law as their way of declaring that they are better. They’ve criticized the Americans and the Israelis for building walls designed to keep out the undesirable ‘Other’, but are spending significant resources doing the same thing. So many analysts and writers and journalists have spent a lot of time looking at electoral politics to wonder whether Europe is falling back into the hands of the far right. What they’ve been missing has always been much more obvious: the EU has itself already conceded to the notion that, rather than actively fighting it, it must outdo the far right at its own game. This requires militarizing the borders and scapegoating black and brown (for now, others will follow) refugees and migrants on both sides of these borders. What EU heads do not want to accept is that this in itself is fuel for the rise of the far right. If the rule of the game has become that demonizing the foreign ‘Other’ is fair play, no actor is better at doing just that than the far right.

This also has implications on the very notion of an international law. The question remains: how do we hold accountable governments who routinely violate it? I’m not a lawyer, so my line of questioning actually relates to my own priorities: looking at how these border regimes undo the center. I’ve argued before that the European Union cannot coexist with its defacto policy of building a Fortress Europe, that the borders from within will always be at risk given that the borders from without are being turned into killing fields. As of now, there aren’t that many signs that this is about to change anytime soon.

Next Page: The James Baldwin corner

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