As a Muslim feminist-activist, I continue to be alarmed by the allegations of terrorism made against people of colour in Canada and in other predominantly white nations. For a long time my work on examining and responding to racial violence against people of colour remained limited to my academic work, where I examined violence inflicted on Muslims in Canada. It has been fairly recent since I have come to an understanding of how racial violence against Muslims is not an aberration, but rather a continuation of the colonial and white supremacist logic that perpetrates the genocide of Indigenous people of this land. I use white supremacy here to refer to processes which divide people into two levels of humanity: human and the sub-human. Within such an ideology, White people belong to the first category, and there is a hierarchy among racialized bodies for belonging in the latter category. Indigenous people of this land are often construed as belonging to the very bottom of humanity.
Experiencing colonial violence is a routine part of the lives of Indigenous people here. Along with the Canadian government’s genocidal policies such as the racist/colonial and patriarchal Indian Act, and continuous violations of Treaties signed with native nations, the dispossession of 1% of land that still belongs to the First Peoples on this north half of the Turtle Island is ongoing. Invasion continues to be the structural element of settler-societies, and it is not only law and other state apparatus that are responsible for the crime of genocide. White settler-invaders are heavily invested in the dispossession of Indigenous people, as are recent immigrants, mostly of colour, who submit to the laws and norms set forth by the settler-states, and invest in ideas of a multicultural genocidal occupation of native lands. Here I want to focus on anti-native organizing of ordinary white-settler Canadians, especially during the so-called “land-claim crises” of Oka, Caledonia, and Ipperwash to name a few instances. As a First Nations/Six Nations solidarity activist with CUPE 3903, I have been following anti-native work of white settlers such as Gary McHale and Mark Vandermaas, members of Caledonia Militia (later re-named as Caledonia Peacekeepers) who mobilize against Six Nations of the Grand River Territory.
The violences against Muslims in the seemingly multicultural Canada should not come as a surprise to us when we consider the fact that we live on a land where the racial/colonial violences against First Peoples of the land are ongoing. In saying so, however, I have no doubt that the extent and intensity of violence against Indigenous peoples have been worse than that against Muslims and other racialized people. However, while violence against First Nations and people of colour are of a different nature, with different histories, and to an extent for different purposes, the racist discourses of hatred towards them have similarities which need to be closely analyzed if we want to build anti-colonial and anti-racist movements for all oppressed people on this continent and in other parts of the world. Here I want to make two important points. First, the discourse of terrorism of the dangerous Other on this land is not new or reserved only for Muslim bodies. Indigenous people on this land have a long history of being labeled terrorists. Secondly, the struggles of Muslims here, Palestinians there, and other oppressed people are inherently tied with struggles of First People on Turtle Island. It is interesting, as I examine below, that white supremacist anti-native organizers are themselves making these connections (albeit in very problematic ways). Nevertheless, this means that we anti-racist and anti-colonial activists working towards ending genocide here and there need to work more closely with each other and understand that what is happening there cannot be ended without addressing what is happening here.
Anti-Native Leaders Support Organizations Responsible for the Murders of Palestinians:
In this post I am responding to an alarming (and yet expected) blog post from May 31, 2010 by Mark Vandermaas on his website Voice of Canada. On May 30, 2010, a day before the Israeli commandos attacked six aid ships sailing from Turkey to Gaza and killed nine unarmed international pro-Palestinian activists, several Canadians staged peaceful demos to protest Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Canada. These peaceful activists, according to Vandermaas, are the Muslim and CUPE “extremists”. He initially wrote his blog post under the heading, “Toronto police learning from OPP?’ but within hours changed the title to “CUPE extremists supporting Muslim extremists supporting native extremists”. Lumping all oppressed people with different histories and somewhat different struggles (albeit with a common goal of fighting for their rights and for rights of other oppressed and brutalized people) and the activists supporting these struggles, under the label of ‘extremist’ somehow made sense to Vandermaas. It should be noted that not all the people protesting were Muslim or Palestinian (of course, not all Palestinians are Muslims). There were anti-Zionist Jews, Christians and people of different races, ethnicities and religious identities present at the protest, but that did not matter much to Mr. Vandermaas. He somehow saw only CUPE and Muslim ‘extremists’ there.
Vandermaas’ blog reports that a “non-Muslim activist/blogger” by the name of Blazing Cat Fur (BCF) was “filming an anti-Israel demonstration when CUPE/Canadian Arab Federation leader Ali Mallah purposefully crossed the street in full view of the camera to assault him”. He reports BCF as claiming that the half dozen cops who were watching the confrontation did nothing to stop Mallah and were in fact hostile towards him. Vandermaas provides links to the video clip of the alleged assault on BCF’s blog. He also provides a link to another so-called ‘assault’ by Mallah on another pro-Israeli blogger by the name of Lumpy Grumpy & Frumpy (LGF). Before going into any other details, let us quickly analyze these two alleged assaults.
The video as shot by BCF shows Ali Mallah crossing the street to question him on how he obtained permission to record the Anti-Netayahu protest. BCF writes: “I was filming from a permitted area across the street from the anti-Netanyahu protestors at the time the incident took place. It was only after the incident that the Police elected to disallow all news camera’s etc from that specific site..”. This is a false claim. Mallah, who wrote a letter in response to the false claims by BCF, Michael Coren and Vandermaas (to name only a few white supremacists), gives clarification regarding what actually took place:
This person, Arnie Lemaire [aka BCF] has demonstrated a total lack of objectivity and decency on his blog by posting all kind[s] of very slanderous, [and] insulting statements and videos. Just to name [a] few from Islamophobic, Anti Immigrants, Anti Human rights and attacked many people including human Rights commission, his blog comes across is so racist nasty, even he hinted advocating guns and violence against pro-Palestinians…etc.
Now, to the point of the alleged assault, the police have assigned location for Pro-Palestine Crowd and JDL. He crossed form the point of (JDL) gathering to a near side to our location and started taking videos and recording the event.
I went to his side calling him by his name which may have surprised him as he’s been uncovered, he started taunting. I never touched him. Yes, I asked him if he’s a tough guy, [and when] he put the camera on my face, I put my hand blocking the Camera and told him that I didn’t give him permission to videotape me. He got hysterical [and began] taunting. I told him you’re pussy cat and go to the side of “their ” location. Then, I left him and talked to the police to remove him.
That’s all [that] happened and for someone heard taunting throughout the encounter, it is very interesting to cry victimization.
Ali Mallah makes a very important observation here. The narrative of white victimhood is an essential feature of how white settlers legitimize the violences they condone and actively participate in every day. This is not the place to get into a detailed analysis of BCF’s blog post, but the similarities between discourses of white victimhood presented by BCF are hauntingly identical to those presented by Vandermaas. The tactic of constructing Palestinians and other Arabs as the conniving, dangerous, irrational, and angry people is an old colonial one, and the one often employed by Vandermaas et al. to label the Six Nations as threatening, thugs, and terrorists. They [the racial Others] threaten us peaceful, civilized people. With land at the centre of struggle in both cases (Israel and Canada), it is race of the Other which allows both BCF and Vandermaas to ‘make’ Palestinians and Six Nations into terrorists. Often white people see themselves as having no race, no culture (hence no primitiveness) but only values and a great civilization.
The second incident of so-called assault which Vandermaas reports has Mallah approaching LGF for her ID as she video-taped speeches made by members of the Palestine House, and asking her very calmly if she was with the JDL. He walks away when she refuses to disclose her identity. There was no interaction between the two which could be described as an assault by any definition of the word. As many of us know, JDL or the Jewish Defense League, is an anti-Arab hate group and was founded in 1968 by Meir Kahane, an extremist who advocated for the mass-murder of Palestinians and Arabs. Every year in Toronto the JDL holds a memorial for Meir Kahane to celebrate the legacy of a man who called for the death of Palestinians and Arabs. Meir Weinstein is the leader of the Jewish Defence League of Canada and former North American spokesperson for the banned Kach movement, a movement listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization since 1994 and has been banned by Canada since 2005. JDL too has been labelled as a terrorist organization by the FBI, and as a hate group involved in “anti-Arab terrorism” by the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC). The SPLC, initially founded as a small civil rights law firm in 1971, is an American legal advocacy organization, and has a long record of fighting white supremacist groups such as the notorious Klu Klux Klan. The fact that JDL is on SPLC’s list of terrorist organizations should caution us about the nature of work which JDL does. JDL has been responsible for murders of several innocent people, including the 29 non-armed Palestinian worshippers kneeling in prayer at a mosque in the West Bank City of Hebron in 1994. JDL had proudly accepted responsibility for that massacre. In 2002, then-JDL Chairman Irv Rubin was jailed while awaiting trial on charges of conspiracy in planning bomb attacks against the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, California, and on the office of Arab-American Congressman Darrell Issa. Given all this, of course Mallah was worried when he suspected that LGF w with JDL.
Examining the So-Called Extremists:
While Vandermaas’s post is really problematic for the lies, the ‘misrepresentations’ and the name-calling, what struck me as most disturbing was how the protests by Canadians (whom he labels as Muslim and CUPE extremists) were linked to resistance struggles of the Six Nations (his native extremists). By drawing comparisons between Muslims and the Six Nations resisters, Vandermaas makes some very racist claims with an assumption that reads: Oppressed people of colour who are fighting for their land, lives, survival and humanity are all violent and extremists. If this logic sounds incredibly racist and bad, it is because it really is!
In Feb of 2006, Six Nations people rightfully reclaimed the 40 hectares of their own land that was under ‘dispute’ since 1841. For Vandermaas and for many of us Canadians, these people became thugs, extremists and terrorists. As Vandermaas writes in his post, “As in Caledonia the Thugs [Muslim and CUPE ‘extremists] are now afforded protection in Ontario at the expense of law abiding citizens”. Kate Milley shows in her article, “Where is John Wayne when you need him: Anti-Native organizing and the “Caledonia crisis”, that white-settler mobilizing in response to the 2006 reclamation was characterized by the old racist and colonial discourses of cowboys and Indians with settlers carrying placards that read “Caution: Indians running rampant. Please do not feed the animals” and “Where is John Wayne when you need him?” Anti-native mobilizing included shocking demands that the OPP hand over their guns to the Caledonians so that they can deal with the Six Nations people “like real men” (read even more violently than the OPP dealt with them). If these white racists are the law-abiding citizens for Vandermaas, and the Six Nations women, children and men are the thugs, then it is very clear that race is doing the work of determining whose actions are judged as ‘terrorist’ and ‘extremist’ and whose are seen as law-abiding. In the national narrative of peaceful Europeans settling the ‘empty’ land now called Canada, white settlers rarely commit violence against Indigenous people, and even when violent actions are taken, they are seen as necessary for civilizing people who are not even seen as fully human. In these accounts of peaceful ‘settlement’, violence is seen as happening only when aberration happens such as when the natives refuse to remain ‘grateful’ to the settlers and rise in revolt (land reclamations for instance). The routinized violences against Indigenous peoples is a reality which every Native child in Canada grows up facing, and yet rarely does this matter to us settlers for not only is the violence institutionalized, but also because the very disavowal of this violence is what allows us settlers to understand ourselves as peaceful citizens of a multicultural nation.
This linking of ‘extremisms’ becomes possible only when we understand that Muslims, natives and other people of colour are understood as inhabiting a different order of humanity than the white people. People of colour are seen as dwelling in a liminal space, a racialized space, where the right to have rights is not available to them. Therefore, their pain, struggles and even their lives do not matter. This colonial mentality and racism is clear in Vandermaas’ logic. First of all, Vandermaas does not need to give any proof to the claim that the people protesting the visit of a Prime Minister from one white-settler colony in another were indeed Muslim extremists (connotations of which are that these were the violent, irrational and barbaric people). Anti-Muslim/Arab racism and Islamophobia, particularly post 9/11, have already done the work for Vandermaas –an image of the terrorist exists in our minds. Our terrorist is brown, bearded and ‘looks’ Muslim. I use Muslim here to not necessarily refer to people who follow Islam, but invoke it as a racialized category. Post 9/11, Muslim has become a racialized category so that brown people from South Asian heritage and Arabs and ‘Arab looking’ are all recognized as Muslim, regardless of whether they follow Islam. Similarly, the racist and colonial imagery of the native terrorist has always existed in consciousness of settlers; It is the “invented savage” who constantly haunts us; the savage who fights for his land and fishing rights despite our benevolence, the ‘warrior Indian’ who may hold an axe or a gun to our heads at any time. This imaginary Indian is dangerous one moment, and childlike the next; drunk, animalistic and dirty at all times.
It is only because of this ‘understanding’ of us versus them that we have been able to live with the ongoing dispossession and murder of Indigenous peoples. Here, I use ‘us’ to refer to all settlers, because I have placed indigenous people at the centre, foregrounding not settler groups’ relationship with each other, but with the indigenous people whose lands we occupy. The over-sweeping labeling of activists of colour (Vandermaas apparently missed the white folks who were there) as terrorists is a classic example of tabloid-style reporting which is done in a shocking and anxiety-producing way. Moreover, it dehumanizes people so that when we learn about Muslims being killed or Indigenous people being incarcerated, shot to death, or victimized in other ways, we do not care or at least do not care enough to take any immediate action. Another important thing to note in white supremacist talk is that while white people remain as individuals in these stories, Arabs, Muslims, and Indigenous people remain as part of a group, with terrorism often defining the identity of the group. One stands in for all. So one Mallah (I am not saying here that he was at fault) has come to stand in for all Arabs and Muslims alike.
Drawing Connections between the Two White-Settler Colonies:
While Vandermaas’s labeling of the pro-Palestinian activists as extremists is really problematic, along with his linking these ‘extremists’ to the so called ‘native extremists’, one thing we should think about is how are the struggles of Indigenous people in these two different parts of the world similar. It is ironic that anti-Natives are themselves making this connection, even if in problematic ways.
Both Israel and Canada have been built on the genocide and dispossession of its First Peoples. Both are white-settler colonies that are engaged in daily acts of violence against the indigenous people of that land and colonization in one country isn’t any more ‘benevolent’ than in the other. After all, there is some difference between the intensity of colonial violence once it is 500 years old versus 60 years old. This does not mean that things in Canada are better now, but that the tactics have changed (to a certain extent only). The discourses of the colonizer-settlers in terms of reading the struggles of the indigenous people to survive are entrenched in the same discourses of disavowal, fear, violence and a declaration of themselves as the victims of violences of Indigenous people. It is important to note that while I understand that Jews have an old Biblical relationship to Israel, the modern day settler-state was founded because of Europe’s Anti-Semitism. The solution of settling displaced European Jews in the Middle East allowed European governments to evade responsibility for the consequences of actions in which all of them were complicit. Ever since, Zionist Jews have time and again made illogical (but perfectly racist) arguments that Jews are the ‘true’ indigenous people of Palestine and that Muslims and Christians were present only as caretakers. Of course, even in North America, anti-native racists have time and again argued that just like they came from Europe, Indigenous people of this land too have migrated from Asia and other parts of the world, in an effort to discredit the claims and land rights of the Indigenous people of this land. Notice the similarities in racist discourses?
With this said, there is an important argument I would like to make here: While I am saying that both Israel and Canada are founded upon racial and colonial violences, I think we need to probe deeper and look at how what is happening to Palestinians today is inherently linked with the violences happening to Indigenous people of North America. The violence happening to Palestinians belong to a history that is intimately tied to the genocide which happened on this land. While I am not able to carry out a very sophisticated analysis here, there are a few points I would like to draw your attention to: For one, as Ward Churchill has stated many times, Hitler indicated in Mein Kampf that he did not take any of the old empires of the European world as a model for what he did to the Jews, but rather, he learnt from the ‘Nordic people’ of North America how to exterminate an ‘inferior people’ and put land to their own use. It is therefore ironic, and indeed sickening that white supremacist anti-native activists like McHale and Vandermaas would call Muslim and other CUPE activists anti-Semitic and extremists, while their actions are based in the same ideologies which informed the genocidal tactics of Hitler against the Jews. Moreover, as Six Nations solidarity activists have already documented, several neo-Nazis have attended McHale’s rallies. White supremacist ideologies have brought the neo-Nazis, McHale, Vandermaas, other anti-native activists and the pro-Israel Zionists together in ways which need a closer (and careful) examination, and which I am not able to do here. The dispossession of a people whom Vandermaas calls native thugs and native extremists is the very model that was used for the Jewish holocaust and what is now used by the Israelis to claim innocence, victimhood and legitimacy for a state formed on the rubble of Palestinian bodies, bodies which had nothing to do with the Holocaust in the first place. But today, those speaking for Palestinian rights are the Anti-Semites. What sense does that make?
It is also ironic that Vandermaas and others like McHale have labeled CUPE as extremist for supporting the struggles of dispossessed people. Vandermaas writes, “Now, though, it seems that CUPE not only supports native extremists who terrorized Caledonia and sell illegal cigarettes to the town’s children, it also supports a Muslim extremist who helps run an organization that shills for terror groups that believe in murdering Jews and wiping Israel from the map”. The so-called terrorist organization he is referring to is the Canadian Arab Federation, made up of 40 different organizations working towards eliminating racisms (especially anti-Arab) and fighting for human rights of those innocent people of colour who have been targeted by the state and other white Canadians, such as Omar Khadr and Mohamed Harkat to name only a couple of victims. CFA has also been active in clarifying the differences between anti-Semitism and pro-Palestinian sentiments and activism. Vandermaas relies on the racist, pro-genocide of Indigenous people here and in Palestine rhetoric of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney who says that CAF is anti-Semitic. Any anti-racist Canadian knows that Kenney has said and done the most xenophobic things in his career . One white supremacist leaning on another to make totally illogical but perfectly racist arguments!
So, I will end this post by reiterating that we should examine Vandermaas’ claim that being anti-Zionist is being Anti-Semitic and an extremist and terrorist. Such kinds of claims are based in the racial and colonial logic I have outlined above. Equally importantly, we need to understand that the struggles of First People here are inherently tied to struggles of Palestinians there, and that what Vandermaas et al. now label as Anti-Semitism has its roots in the very genocide that they continue to support. Dispossession of Six Nations and other native nations is the dispossession of Palestinians, and also an act of Anti-Semitism