The discovery of unmarked graves of indigenous children in Canada reveals the cruelty and inhumanity of the colonial system. In May, members of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation found 215 bodies at the Kamloops school in British Columbia. On 24th June, Cowessess First Nation announced the discovery of as many as 751 unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewanan. On 30th June, the Lower Kootenay Band community announced finding 182 unmarked graves of indigenous children between the ages of seven and 15 at St Eugene’s Mission School near Cranbrook, British Columbia.
The nearly 1,000 ‘virtual unearthings’ of the bodies were made by using a highly specialised ground penetrating radar which mapped the buried human remains. The initiatives were a persistent effort by the indigenous community groups, and not by the Canadian government or the perpetrators who had every reason to hide these remains forever. These revelations are a searing reminder of the sufferings of the indigenous communities.
Just imagine the trauma of a family whose child was abducted without notice, without consent. The accounts of survivors who lived through such abductions make harrowing reading. Being loaded onto buses, trucks and trains without the opportunity to say goodbye to their parents and family, many cried all the way and were taken many hundreds of miles from home. The arrival at a residential school was equally traumatic. They were stripped of their clothing, their hair cut and given a school uniform. Brothers were separated from sisters, older brothers from younger and older sisters from younger. They entered a world dominated by fear, loneliness and lack of affection. The trauma is still fresh in the minds of some who experienced the abduction of their siblings.
To operate such a heartless system, the settler society dehumanised the indigenous communities. Institutional racism based on the supremacy of ‘white Christian’ culture was the driving force behind the policy of ‘aggressive assimilation’ that Canada copied from the United States. It was made mandatory for native children between the ages of seven and 16 to attend residential schools.
A partnership between the Canadian government and Roman Catholic, Anglican, United, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches administered the system. The system opened around 1883 and grew to about 150 schools across Canada. The government’s partnership with the churches remained in place until 1969, and, although most of the schools had closed by the 1980s, the last federally supported residential schools remained in operation until the late 1990s.
An estimated 150,000 indigenous children were forced into the residential schools. A landmark class action by the survivors of the system against the federal government in 2008 resulted in a court settlement. The Canadian government apologised to the former students, and agreed to pay 1.9 billion Canadian dollars (about $1.85 billion) to surviving students and establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to document the experiences of children who attended the schools.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up immediately. It was led by Justice Murray Sinclair, an Ojibwa who was the first aboriginal judge in the province of Manitoba. Members of the Commission spent six years travelling to all parts of Canada to research and gather evidence. Seven national events were held across the country between 2010 and 2015, marking the culmination of a process which saw the TRC hold 238 days of local hearings in 77 communities across the country.
In all, the TRC collected 6,750 statements from survivors, their families, and others directly affected by the schools. In 2015 it published a six volume, 4,000-plus-page report detailing the testimonies of survivors and historical documents from the time. By all accounts, this is an immense achievement reproducing the erased history of the indigenous communities for the first time.
The Commission could establish that 3,201 students died of malnourishment, tuberculosis and other diseases caused by poor living conditions. Many students also died from accidents, fires and during attempts to escape. Justice Murray Sinclair argued that this number is likely higher, perhaps five to ten times higher.
The poor record-keeping by the schools of the children on their register and poor burial records made it impossible to establish a more accurate picture. The schools were left unregulated. The lack of a proper dietary standard meant students were undernourished, which increased their vulnerability to infectious diseases.
It was known that the comparative mortality rate for indigenous children in these schools ranged between twice as high and five times higher than non-indigenous schoolchildren. The rates of infectious disease grew due to lack of regulation barring ill students from being admitted to the schools or being in class or dormitories, as well as overcrowding.
Furthermore, students were expected to grow crops or raise animals to provide themselves with food, to make and repair much of their clothing and to maintain the school building and grounds. This meant that the schools operated a “half-day system” with half the day spent in classes and the other half on institutionalised repetitive child labour in the guise of vocational training.
The residential schools were woefully underfunded compared to the schools for non-indigenous communities. They were inadequately staffed with many staff being paid poorly on the grounds that they were carrying out missionary duties. During any economic recession the schools faced a financial crisis as well as health crisis because of cuts.
Many survivors recalled how their heavily regimented daily lives lacked privacy and dignity. At many of the schools, students were addressed by a number rather than a name, as if they were prisoners. Corporal punishment was administered if they were caught speaking their language. Children were forced to convert to Christianity. Such was the alienation of students that there were episodes when students tried to burn down their schools. At least 33 students died after running away, mostly from exposure to cold and drowning.
There were widespread bullying and beating involving both staff members and older students. Some former students testified before the Commission that priests at the schools had fathered infants with indigenous students, that the babies had been taken away from their young mothers and killed, and that in some cases their bodies were thrown into furnaces. The commission found that the government had in effect blocked criminal investigations of some sexual predators employed at the schools.
The objective of separating children from their families was to prevent the transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to next. Thus aboriginal parents were completely alienated from their children on the grounds that they were unfit to look after them. Parental visits were strictly limited by placing schools hundreds of miles from home. Parents who travelled a long way and camped outside the schools were denied the opportunity to see their children. Many parents resisted by keeping their children out of these schools at risk to being punished because they saw those schools as dangerous and harsh institutions. Students were also subjected to forced enfranchisement as ‘assimilated’ citizens that removed their legal identity as Indians.
The legacy of the regimented residential schools has left a lasting impact on indigenous communities. Disconnected from their families and culture and forced to speak English or French, students who attended the residential school system were often unable to fit into their communities but remained subject to racism in mainstream Canadian society. It has been linked to an increased prevalence of post-traumatic stress, alcoholism, substance abuse and suicides which persist within indigenous communities today. A disproportionate number of indigenous people are imprisoned in Canada. Indigenous children account for a much larger part of the child welfare system’s caseload than their share of the population.
The TRC came to the conclusion that for over a century, the central goals of Canada’s aboriginal policy can best be described as “cultural genocide”. Aboriginal lands were simply occupied or seized. Often, negotiated treaties were seemingly legal but marked by fraud or coercion. Populations were forcibly transferred from agriculturally valuable or resource-rich lands to remote and economically marginal reserves. Their movement was restricted through ‘pass laws’. Aboriginal languages were banned. Spiritual leaders were persecuted, spiritual practices were forbidden and objects of spiritual value were confiscated and destroyed.
The TRC’s call for action included an apology from Pope Francis for the role the Catholic Church played in the residential schools system. But the pope has not apologised but only expressed “pain”. Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime minister said that Canadians were “horrified and ashamed” of the policy of forced assimilation but stopped short of launching a national investigation on the deaths in residential schools.
The TRC set out an agenda for true reconciliation between the indigenous and other communities. The establishment of the of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation as an archival repository for all the material it collected laid the basis for the compilation of the complete history and legacy of the residential school system for future generations.
However five years after it issued its recommendations, the Yellowhead Institute, a First Nation led research centre found that the Canadian Government and the Catholic Church have implemented only nine of 94 recommendations.
The government’s reconciliation agenda, which is still based on assimilation, is facing increasing opposition from native people due to Ottawa’s manifest failure to address the horrific social conditions faced by the majority of Canada’s indigenous people, both on and off reserve.
On 1st July when Canada was supposed to have a national celebration marking its 154 years of independence, the celebrations were muted because indigenous groups had called for the cancellation of the celebration after the discovery of the unmarked graves.
Apologies and reconciliation should not be allowed to deflect from thorough accountability. The most basic of questions about missing children — who died? why did they die? where are they buried? — have never been addressed or comprehensively documented by the Canadian government.
The Independent UN human rights experts called on the Canadian authorities and the Holy See of the Catholic Church to conduct prompt “full-fledged investigations”. They called on the authorities to probe “the circumstances and responsibilities surrounding these deaths, including forensic examinations of the remains found, and to proceed to the identification and registration of the missing children.”
Furthermore, “the judiciary should conduct criminal investigations into all suspicious death and allegations of torture and sexual violence against children, hosted in residential schools, and prosecute and sanction the perpetrators and concealers who may still be alive.”
For the last three centuries, vast swathes of the world fell under direct imperial rule accompanied by the most brutal violence against indigenous peoples by states which see themselves as democracies today. The barbarism of colonialism that has been buried needs to be exhumed and a comprehensive indictment against the colonial system fully assembled. There has to be justice and reparations for the survivors.
The Palestinian Union of Health Workers Committee (UHWC) is one of the main providers of health services in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), running hospitals and health clinics which provide medical care to marginalized communities. It provides essential health services to thousands of Palestinians and also runs a programme for women’s health among many others.
More than 310,000 Palestinians have contracted Covid-19 and the virus has killed 3,500 of them. UHCW has been at the forefront of the Covid-19 response in the OPT, providing medical care to Covid-19 patients at its health facilities as well as through mobile clinics for hard-to-reach communities. It plays a vital role in raising awareness and offering public health guidance on the spread of Covid-19. Additionally, it leads local advocacy efforts to improve the Palestinian health system.
On 9th June, Israeli army forces raided the UHWC headquarters in Ramallah in the early hours without warning. They forced their way in by breaking the main door down and confiscated computers and memory drives which are essential to run its services effectively. This was immediately followed by a military order for the UHWC to close for six months.
Amnesty International has warned that the order to shutdown UHWC will have catastrophic consequences for the health needs of Palestinians across the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).
This is not the first time that UHWC and its staff have been targeted by the Israeli military. Its Jerusalem office was shut down by Israeli authorities in 2015. Its Ramallah office was previously raided in October 2019 – when its finance director was arrested – and in March 2021 when two other members of staff were arrested.
The organisation has come under attack repeatedly from the Israeli authorities, with its employees facing harassment and arrests for its alleged affiliation with the Popular Liberation Front for Palestine, a Palestinian political party with an armed wing and listed as a terrorist organisation.
Associating a community organisation with terrorism in order to criminalise it is a very familiar tactic in nations across the world, in the context of the global war on terror, to delegitimise opposition, dissidence and resistance.
The allegations against UHWC come from a report by NGO Monitor which claims to be a globally recognized research institute promoting democratic values and good governance. Its objective is to hold NGOs to account through transparency and adherence to human rights. Its primary focus is non-governmental organizations (NGOs), their funders, and other stakeholders, in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
NGO Monitor is based in Jerusalem. Its funders are organisations from the United States and a few from Israel. It is well endowed with a turnover of nearly 1.8 million US dollars in 2019. Among its International Advisory Board are prominent pro-Israeli supporters such as Professor Alan Dershowitz, Elliot Abrams and Douglass Murray, among others. Its Board of Directors and Legal Advisory Board have highly qualified individuals from the academic and business world who have varied associations with Israel.
Its activities aim to defund European finance for Palestinian organisations by allegations of association with terrorism. Its publication attacks human rights organisations such as B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch which have called out Israeli apartheid. It opposes any resistance against Israel, such as the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign.
The claims that NGO Monitor makes of impartiality and defending human rights are patently false. It is a right wing organisation which is pro-Israel and seeks to delegitimise any opposition to Israel. This shows how pro-Israeli political organisations have the capacity to influence both knowledge and decision-making at an international level.
Appeals to Israel to respect international law have always fallen on deaf ears. Israel is being shielded by the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe from any criticism or pressure to change its policies. This provides an unconditional impunity, giving it free pass to act as it wishes, defying international law and conventions.
Israeli policies have strangled the Palestinian health care system for decades. The cumulative effect has meant the Palestinian healthcare system is in a state of chronic crisis with continuous shortages of money, investment in infrastructure, medication, medical equipment and a lack of specialist doctors and medical staff in general.
Per capita expenditure in Israel on health services is eight times greater than in the West Bank and Gaza. This is reflected in the staffing of health services. Israel has eight times more specialist doctors than the West Bank and Gaza, 1.76 compared to 0.22 per 1,000 residents. While Israel has 4.8 nurses per 1,000 Israelis, the figure for the occupied territories is 1.9.
Furthermore, the Palestinian public health system is not able to provide specialized treatments for complex medical problems in fields such as oncology, cardiology and orthopaedics. Many patients needing such care are referred to private Palestinian health facilities in East Jerusalem and, if needed, to hospitals in Israel, Egypt and Jordan at a significantly higher cost.
The Israeli Ministry of Health also controls the import of pharmaceuticals to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It allows only the import of medicines registered in Israel and blocks imports from neighbouring markets which could provide medications at lower costs. Importing raw materials needed for the local manufacture of medicine is almost impossible because of restrictions by Israel.
All these constraints are reflected in health outcomes. The life expectancy of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza is about ten years lower than that of persons in present-day Israel. Meanwhile, infant mortality and maternal death rates are four times higher in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the West Bank and Gaza, an average of nineteen babies die per one thousand births, while in Israel, the average is four out of one thousand. Four times as many Palestinian mothers die during childbirth compared to mothers in Israel, 28 compared to 7 per 100,000.
The incidence of infectious diseases is higher in the occupied Palestinian territories than in Israel. Disturbingly, some vaccinations against life-threatening diseases are not given in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Expensive vaccines that prevent Hepatitis A, chickenpox, pneumonia, rotavirus (the common cause of severe diarrhoea among infants and young children) and human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer, are not included in the Palestinian Authority’s national vaccination program because of lack of access and cost.
Needless to say, the healthcare situation in Gaza is extremely precarious, fragile and near to collapse. The Israeli blockade for 14 years, reinforced by the Egyptians, the periods of non-cooperation by the Palestinian Authority and the four devastating aerial bombardments by Israel, have left a trail of destruction both of human life and resources.
The destruction of housing has created a mass of displaced people – the ruin of the economy, a mass of jobless. Food insecurity and rising poverty mean that most residents cannot meet their daily caloric requirements, while over 90 per cent of the water in Gaza has been deemed unfit for human consumption. A meagre electrical power supply, a badly-depleted water aquifer and the inability to treat sewage have only intensified the social health crisis.
The deaths of loved one caused by bombings have filled the living with grief and trauma. Those injured during bombings and live firings during the March 18th demonstrations near the border have left them with disabilities. Across the Gaza Strip, psychological trauma, poverty and environmental degradation have had a negative impact on residents’ physical and mental health; many, including children, suffer from anxiety, distress and depression.
On top of all this, the Israeli authorities are hell-bent on criminalising and closing down Palestinian civil society organisations built by Palestinians to serve the health needs of their community. The shutting down of UHWC is unforgivable and indefensible.
It shows that the Israeli apartheid system is a heartless and cruel system which has no regard for the wellbeing of Palestinian people. It is clear that Israeli policies want to decimate the Palestinian population in order to contain the demographic threat they are believed to pose.
We must be ever vigilant of what Israeli policies are doing to Palestinians under occupation and speak out critically against our government’s policy of looking the other way. We must support the struggle of Palestinians for freedom and self-determination. We must not remain silent.
The silence of the press and TV on the eviction of the Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem is deafening. The only explanation one can have is the effectiveness of the lobbying by the Israeli state and the collusion of journalists and editors in silencing this issue. It is patently clear that Arab lives do no matter to our media. This confirms the long history of anti-Palestinian racism as Ghada Karmi has so well argued.
Sheikh Jarrah is a predominantly Palestinian neighbourhood in East Jerusalem. Some 300 Arab residents belonging to 28 extended families in Sheikh Jarrah could be evicted and made homeless.
At 72, Mohamed Sabbagh’s family fled from their home in Jaffa in 1948 when he was one year old. Their original home is now a synagogue. The family wandered around nearly a decade, beginning with a stay in an Egyptian town, then the Gaza Strip, followed by a journey on foot to Hebron, from where they moved to Jerusalem.
In Jerusalem their first home was a makeshift car garage. The Jordanian government brought his parents to Sheikh Jarrah in 1956, where they settled in a compound allocated to them. Over time this developed into a maze-like complex to accommodate the families of his four brothers, as well as his family, with his wife and two of their grown-up children, with their spouses and children – altogether, 32 members including 10 children.
Through his adult life, he did all sorts of odd jobs which included working as plumber, a driver and a hospital receptionist. They remained together under cramped conditions because Palestinians cannot get permits to build extensions or move to newer locations.
Moving on to the Diab family with seven family members: Saleh Diab, 51, was born in Sheikh Jarrah after his father moved to Jerusalem in 1956 from Jaffa, as part of the Jordanian resettlement programme.
In early May, the family were sitting on the patio of their home when they heard a commotion. He popped out to see what was going on. There was a protest against evictions. The Israeli soldiers assaulted him and broke his leg.
Diab had his own business, a bakery but about seven years ago, but it went bust. He got a job in the bakery department of a large supermarket. He was fired from his job in May without a good reason. He believes that the real reason was complaints by some settlers to his employers about his political activism.
Abdel Fattah Skafi’s family comes from the Baka neighbourhood of West Jerusalem. They were forced out in 1948 and dispersed to different areas of East Jerusalem. Eventually his parents moved to Sheikh Jarrah in 1956 by arrangements with the Jordanian administration. At 71, he is now retired after working his entire life as a shoemaker with great pride.
Skafi and his wife share a small four-room space with three of their six children and their grandchildren, altogether 14 family members. His grandchildren are refusing to attend school, fearing that they would be evicted and won’t be able to come home. He fears that they are regressing in the current situation from being outstanding students.
Finally we come to El-Kurd family with six family members with one minor, who are threatened with eviction. The family was expelled from Haifa in 1948.
The response from 24-year-old Muna El-Kurd was to throw herself into campaigning against eviction. She rose to prominence internationally, with Arabic and international media regularly quoting her in their reports about the protests. She has 1.2 million followers on Instagram.
On Sunday June 6th, Israeli police arrested her, suspecting her of “participation in disturbing the peace and in riots” that have taken place recently in Sheikh Jarrah. A video posted on social media showed her being handcuffed on arrest at her home and taken off to the police station.
The police allegations are false. They want to silence her because she is getting the message out about the Sheikh Jarrah evictions. She does not have a history of violence towards anyone.
Her brother Mohammed is also active in the protest movement and was summoned by the police on Sunday. He turned himself in. The outrage of these unjust arrests got worldwide attention and the police released both of them.
Reading their stories, one can only admire them for their resilience and strength in surviving against all the odds. Every individual in the families involved are under immense stress because of the threat of evictions. The children suffer from anxieties and their education is damaged. It is a living nightmare for them.
Through May and still continuing, Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood have held demonstrations in response to the imminent threat of forced eviction. Amnesty International has documented arbitrary arrests of peaceful demonstrators, the use of excessive force, arbitrary use of sound and stun grenades as well as the arbitrary spraying of maloderant (skunk) water cannons at demonstrators and homes in Sheikh Jarrah. The Israeli police have placed the area under siege and continue to attack peaceful protestors and injuring hundreds.
Israeli forces have also been intimidating and arresting journalists who are reporting on Sheikh Jarrah. On May 28th, the Al Kofiya satellite channel TV crew were attacked and their leading reporter Zaina Halawani and cameraman Wahbi Mikehwere arrested and removed from the neighbourhood. After five days in jail, the judge at Jerusalem’s Central Court released them on bail of 4,000 shekels ($1,230) each and ordered them to be put under house arrest for a month, forbidding them from communicating with each other for 15 days.
On June 5th, Al Jazeera News Channel’s journalist Givara Budeiri was arrested brutally when covering a demonstration and remanded in custody for several hours. Her left hand was fractured and she had to be treated in a hospital on her release.So what is behind these evictions? After 1948, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, was under Jordanian administration, which struck an agreement with the UN agency for refugees (UNRWA) in 1956 to build housing units for these refugee families.
In the 1960s, the 28 families agreed a deal with the Jordanian government that would make them the owners of the land and houses, receiving official land deeds signed in their names after three years. In return, they would renounce their refugee status. However, this was scuppered when Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem after the 1967 war.
Since 1972, several Jewish settler organisations, mostly funded by donors from the United States, filed lawsuits against the Palestinian families living in Sheikh Jarrah, alleging the land originally belonged to Jews during the Ottoman rule in 1885.
In 1991, the Palestinian families accused their Israeli lawyers and legal representatives of forging their signatures on documents stating that the ownership of the land belonged to settlers. This skulduggery turned Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah from owners to tenants facing removal orders from settlers.
In 2009, the Ghawis, along with the Hanoun family (a combined total of 55 people) were forcefully kicked out of their homes, their furniture and belongings strewn across the lawn. The memory is still fresh in the minds of all residents in this neighbourhood.
In the first week of May, the Jordanian government ratified 14 agreements from the 1960s with Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah to strengthen their position against the Israeli courts. But all the families feel that they will never get justice from the Israeli courts which always favour settlers.
Israeli law allows Jews who may have historic property rights in East Jerusalem to recover those properties, but Israeli discriminatory apartheid laws do not allow Palestinians to claim their properties in West Jerusalem and elsewhere, even if they have the deeds.
Underlying all this is the policy of the Israeli government to limit the population of Palestinians in East Jerusalem to 30 percent or less. This is achieved by arrests, demolition of structures, land confiscation and forced displacement of Palestinians.
On Facebook, support the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement. If you are a twitter user, you can get updates and share using the hashtags #SaveSheikhJarrah, #SheikhJarrah and #StopJerusalemExpulsions. You can also find a sample of tweets to share here.
Also follow Mohammed El-Kurd @m7mdkurd. On Instagram, you can follow muna.kurd15 where she posts latest updates on the situation in Arabic but in most cases English translations are available.
Don’t donate to funds claiming to help Sheikh Jarrah. The families are not taking donations and haven’t endorsed any funds. “We are committed to keeping the fight for Sheikh Jarrah a political one. It is not time for humanitarian support yet,” Mohammed el-Kurd tweeted.
Join the ‘Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions’ movement. BDS is a form of protesting, boycotting and working towards ending international support of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Find their call to action here.
As far as I know, the TV channels in UK did not broadcast this news. Most of the tabloids and the broadsheets ignored it except for the Guardian. The BBC news website reported it. Only Al-Jazeera English TV gave coverage to the story but it does not have a large audience.
Most people rely on TV for their news. They are blissfully unaware of the Herero genocide, one of the first genocides of the twentieth century. School history books and teachers would not have covered such genocides. They are erased from history. The only genocide that is widely known is the Holocaust.
This comes at a time when there are calls for imperial reckoning. There is agitation for removal of statues of slave traders and colonisers from public spaces. European museums are under pressure to repatriate objects looted during violent imperial expeditions. Calls for formal apologies for past racist violence are getting louder. There are demands for including imperial history and the roots of racism in the school curriculum.
News reports barely cover the context of the events and set it in a wider historical framework. One of the best jargon-free introductions to this is Sven Lindqvist’s Exterminate All The Brutes. In this short, extraordinary book, Lindqvist weaves a narrative of his Saharan travel with historical reflections drawing on Joseph Conrad’sHeart of Darkness, scientific theories, social debates and literary worksto tell a gruesome story of imperialism and racism over two centuries.
European world expansion, accompanied by a shameless defence of extermination and white supremacy, created a political climate, psychology and violence that led to a series of genocides which began to be regarded as the inevitable by-product of progress and modernity. This culminated in the most horrendous of all, the Holocaust.
The Heart of Darkness was written during the patriotic delirium after Kitchener’s return in 1898. He had defeated the mighty Mahdist army using a whole new arsenal – gunboats, automatic weapons, repeater rifles and dum-dum bullets at Omdurman. The entire Sudanese army was annihilated without once having got their British lines within a gunshot. Within five hours, eleven thousand Sudanese were killed and the sixteen thousand wounded were left to die. The British lost only forty-eight men. It was a sweet revenge for Gordon’s defeat and death in 1885. Churchill was present and he rejoiced with champagne on the Nile.
The weapons race among European nations had produced a technical superiority that enabled the annihilation of any conceivable opponent from other continents. The tools of imperialism – the ship’s cannons firing on ports of continents, the river streamer carrying Europeans and arms deep into the heart of continents and railways to ease the plundering of continents were put to full effect. Within decades, the ‘gods of arms’ had conquered another third of the world. Many Europeans took this military superiority as intellectual and even biological superiority.
During the nineteenth century, religious explanations for the extermination of indigenous people, often thought of as divine intervention, were replaced by biological ones. Both Charles Darwin and William Wallace, co-founders of the theory of natural selection, came to view the extermination of indigenous people as the result of natural selection, just as the weeds of Europe overran North America or the European rat exterminated native New Zealand rats. In his The Descent of Man, Darwin devoted a section on the extermination of the races of man. The extermination of the Tasmanians by white settlers within a short period was emblematic.
In Heart of Darkness, Conrad’s main character Marlow tells the story of his journey up the Congo River in search of Kurtz, a highly successful ivory trader. He witnesses the violence that is inflicted on the African people who are exploited relentlessly. When he reaches Kurtz’s trading station he finds posts with severed human heads on them. Kurtz had ruled with extreme terror to obtain ivory from the interior with the help of an African tribe that worshipped him as their god.
In 1891, King Leopold II of Belgium issued a decree which gave a monopoly to his representatives to obtain rubber and ivory, with the natives compelled to provide forced labour without payment. Those who refused had their villages burnt down, their children murdered and their hands cut off to set an example. When this was exposed by credible witnesses, King Leopold succeeded in London in suppressing this story as Queen Victoria was preparing for the imperial jubilee. The great powers condoned the genocide in Congo for they had been complicit in similar acts elsewhere.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Germany had no colonies. Scholars like Theodore Waitz and George Garland were able look at extermination more critically than other Europeans and saw through the naturalistic constructs. Europeans grabbed native lands and resources through land clearances, displacing the natives and privatising the commons. The rapacity of white settlers destroyed everything the native thought, believed and felt. Although physical force was the most tangible factor in extermination, the use of ‘cultural violence’ was equally efficacious.
Germany, with its unification under Bismarck and a massive leap in industrial advance in the late nineteenth century, was a major European power that did not have colonies and coveted a colonial empire. The Berlin conference of 1884 kicked off the so called ‘scramble’ for Africa. Germany embarked on the conquest of South-West Africa (now Namibia), German East Africa (now Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania), German Kamerun (now Cameroon and a part of Nigeria) and German Togoland (now Togo and eastern part of Ghana).
It was in South-West Africa that Germans demonstrated that they too had mastered the art of hastening the extermination of indigenous ‘inferior’ people, an art long practised by the British and other Europeans. German anthropologists had changed their tune and justified the annihilation of indigenous people.
Mimicking the North American example, the indigenous Herero people were banished to reserves. Their grazing lands and cattle were seized and handed to German settlers and colonial companies. The Herero leader, Maherero, wanted to avoid war and over two decades signed treaties with the German colonial government ceding large areas of land. The Germans just ignored the treaties as ‘superior races’ were wont to do. When German encroachments persisted, the Hereros rebelled.
In October 1904, General von Trotha issued orders for the Herero people to be exterminated. The German borders were a free fire zone where every Herero with or without weapons was to be shot. Most of the Hereros were driven out to the desert and the border was sealed off. Almost the entire people, about eighty thousand, died in the desert, lacking water and food. German patrols found skeletons around dry hollows dug by the Hereros in vain attempt to find water. The few thousand that were left were rounded up and sentenced to hard labour in German concentration camps, which were just death camps.
This is the horror for which Germany has accepted historical and moral responsibility. After years of negotiations with the Namibian government, Germany will fund 1.1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) of reconstruction and development projects in Namibia to directly benefit the genocide-affected communities.
Herero paramount chief Vekuii Rukoro dismissed a deal agreed by the two governments as “an insult” because it did not include payment of reparations. It is indefensible for Angela Merkel’s government to offer the funds as gesture of reconciliation and avoid legally binding reparations.
Imperial nostalgia is still prevalent in the UK more than any other ex-colonial power. A 2020 poll showed that 32 percent of the people were proud of the British Empire while only 19 percent believed that it was something to be ashamed of. This is indicative of the most successful brainwashing for centuries.
But Britain has many skeletons in the proverbial cupboard across the world. Its colonisation of North America, Australia and New Zealand with Anglo-Saxon settlers was the biggest land grab in world history and it was based on extermination of the natives. Its colonisation across the Third World was based on exploitation, and violence when there was resistance.
We have before us a huge educational and political task to reclaim the savage, hidden history of Imperial Britain and reproduce it in our school textbooks, libraries, museums, public squares and universities.
At first sight, the current attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank and the relentless bombings of Gaza may look disconnected. But a closer investigation shows that the chain of events had political calculations behind them.
For the past two years, Netanyahu has been fighting for his political life. On May 4th Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government, 28 days after the inconclusive election of March 23rd. The corruption case against him was a factor that led to this failure. Since 1996, he has demonstrated political wizardry by snatching power back just when he as on the brink of losing it. It is not inconceivable that he calculated that a small war against defenseless Palestinians would save him politically.
After all, there is a strong historical precedent for this. Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to al-Aqsa compound, the third holiest site in Islam, on September 28th 2000, accompanied by Israeli riot police led to protests and riots. Palestinian youths hurled stones and chairs at the police who retaliated with tear gas and rubber bullets.
This set off the al-Aqsa Intifada which subsided after 2005, with an estimated death toll of 3,000 Palestinians, 1,000 Israelis and 64 foreigners. The Israelis used gunfire, tank, air attacks and targeted killings while the Palestinians resorted to stone throwing, gunfire, rockets and suicide bombings.
The visit was a part of Sharon’s campaign to lead the Likud party to outmanoeuvre Netanyahu. He wanted to show that the Temple Mount where al-Aqsa is located would remain under Israeli sovereignty. His reward was to be elected as the Prime Minister in February 2001 and he remained in power until he was incapacitated by a stroke in 2006.
Tensions have been building up in Jerusalem for weeks during the holy month of Ramadan which started on April 12th, because of the restrictions imposed on Palestinians wanting to pray at the al-Aqsa mosque. Simultaneously, the attempted evictions of four Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood became an explosive issue with Palestinians resisting and Israeli forces raiding neighbourhoods, resulting in arrests and injuries.
On the last Friday of Ramadan, May 7th, more than 70,000 congregated to pray after having been forced to go through iron security barriers and identity checks by the Israeli police. Throughout the day, protesters in Jerusalem were violently dispersed by the police, forcing many to retreat to the confines of the mosque. After prayers, Palestinians in the mosque compound began demonstrating, raising both Palestinian and Hamas flags.
Later that evening, armed Israeli forces entered the complex to disperse the worshippers using tear gas, stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets. The Palestinian Red Crescent reported that hundreds were injured and hospitalised. Many of the injuries inflicted were to the head and eyes. Israeli police reported that six officers were injured.
Palestinian civil society called for a day of anger on Saturday May 8th in response to the crackdown. Palestinians in towns throughout Israel including Jaffa and Nazareth demonstrated in a show of anger at the storming of al-Aqsa and the Sheikh Jarrah evictions.
The situation was extremely tense ahead of the 27th night of Ramadan, one of the holiest nights (Laylat al-Qadr) when worshippers stay up during the night performing prayers. Israeli police carried out further raids and arrests. Despite the intimidation, some 90,000 Palestinians filled the courtyard for prayers.
After the prayers, as the worshippers were leaving the Old City, Israeli police attacked them, wounding at least 90, according to medics, and arresting many. At the Damascus Gate, which was adorned with lights to mark Ramadan, Israeli police, some mounted, used tear gas, smoke grenades and rubber-coated bullets to attack Palestinians, wounding many.
After a relatively tense but on the whole quiet Sunday, on Monday May 10th heavily armed Israeli forces raided the al-Aqsa mosque in the morning and later in the evening. They fired tear gas and sound grenades at Palestinians to disperse people and caused damage to the interior of the building. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, 305 Palestinians were injured and 228 others hospitalised – some in a field hospital set up near al-Aqsa – including four in a critical condition.
Natanyahu could have stopped all this if he wanted to. In Israeli political circles there was discussion that he would manipulate a security incident at the Gaza border to prevent a new cabinet being formed. Now all he had to do is to wait for the situation to escalate so that could turn the crisis to his own advantage.
Hamas issued an ultimatum for Israeli forces to evacuate al-Aqsa and Sheikh Jarrah by 6 pm on Monday. As expected, Netanyahu ignored the warning because he knew that it would play into his hands. A barrage of rockets from Gaza were fired towards Jerusalem. This was a godsend for Netanyahu who unleashed a savage aerial bombardment on Gaza, aiming to unite the entire Jewish citizenry.
Entire families were wiped out when their homes were bombed. Residential tower blocks were demolished. It is not a matter of body count. Those injured, at least 1900, would in many cases, bear their wounds and disabilities for a lifetime. The psychological trauma especially for children, who are half of the population, can be debilitating.
The wanton destruction of at least 230 buildings and damage to at least 678 homes have displaced more than 75,000 who found shelter in schools. Power supplies and roads were bombed. The already poor water supply was further restricted. Livelihoods in an economy on its knees have been destroyed. The Jalal Tower which housed many media agencies was given an hour to evacuate before its demolition. Altogether targeted Israeli air force attacks have destroyed the premises of 23 Palestinian and international media outlets to stop first hand media witness reports.
Israel used its well-honed public relations machine to cover up the ethnocide. Out came the tropes of Hamas using civilians as human shields, its willingness to sacrifice Palestinian children, Hamas placing rocket firing operatives on top of residential buildings, residential buildings used for tunnels, etc. These were repeated in the Western press without critical examination and verification.
What political calculation was Hamas making? After legitimately winning the Palestinian Legislative Elections in 2006, Hamas was never allowed to take power and was confined to Gaza by Israel with the support of the US and regional allies. Fourteen years of blockade followed, with three massive Israeli assaults. The worst one in 2014 destroyed the economy of Gaza and created immense problems for basic services. Most of the population depends on humanitarian aid.
It is inconceivable that Hamas leaders are irrational actors. They were fully aware that they cannot win militarily with rockets against the Israelis’ air power. That 10 percent of their rockets got through the seemingly impenetrable Israeli iron dome system must have been some sort of triumph for them. Their calculation was to win over the ‘hearts and minds’ of the majority of Palestinian community.
For the first time in many years, Palestinians in Gaza, Israel, West Bank and East Jerusalem have risen up in unity. In response to Palestinian mass protests in Israel, the Israeli response was to develop a narrative of civil war when in reality Jewish mobs roved around cities in Israel, attacking and lynching Palestinians in the street or trying to break into their homes. Palestinians reacted by staging protests, burning tyres, and attacking Jews. The general strike on 18th May by all Palestinians was yet another sign of unity and renewed solidarity.
The Palestinian Authority, set up following the Oslo Accords, is defunct. Its security forces are there to control Palestinians, especially any resistance against the Israelis. It is entirely dependent on Israel for revenues, and funded by the United States and Europe. It has no strategies to protect the Palestinians against house demolitions and displacement. The postponement of Palestinian Legislative elections this year has frozen politics.
The leaders of Arab nations showed their bankruptcy. Their failure to support the Palestinians is laid bare. The Arab masses have viscerally always been for the Palestinians. Their ruling dynasties are minorities armed against their own people. The leaders of the world’s richest region have failed to use its wealth and strategic location to exercise power. They put all their eggs in the American basket and were reduced to pleas to the US.
Israel has once again proved that, as a nuclear armed regional power with its military fed by America with huge quantities of sophisticated weapons, it is free to kill civilians, destroy their homes and cut down necessary services as it wills. This is the horror of technological extermination. Its public relations internationally have generated sweeping and blind support from the media as a whole, covering up ethnocide. Unless there is a countervailing power to stop this, it does not bode well for peace, justice and stability in the region.
Palestinians cannot win militarily against Israel but in the long term they can win politically. They need to learn from their struggles to unite and organise a militant non-violent resistance. They need solidarity from people across the world. There have been rare times in history when people have refused to tolerate the intolerable. The mobilisation against the war in Vietnam and the Anti-Apartheid Movement showed that people can change the course of history.
The huge demonstrations in London and across the world in solidarity are a sign of hope. People need to join campaigning organisations such as Stop the War, War on Want, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Campaign Against the Arms Trade and BDS amongst many, to continue to work for justice for Palestinians and oppose Israeli apartheid.
Human Rights Watch is calling for actions against Israel for committing crimes of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians.
For Human Rights Watch to call out the Israeli apartheid system in its recent report is certainly a landmark. The 213-page report, titled A Threshold Crossed, condemns Israel for “committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians” in the Occupied Palestinian territories (OPT) and in Israel itself. It reinforces the recent finding of the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, which also broke the taboo by calling the singular organising principle of “Jewish supremacy” in Israel nothing less than “apartheid”. This consensus within human rights organisations has been long overdue since Palestinian, legal scholars, UN diplomats and activists have applied the concept of apartheid to Israel since at least the 1970s.
The report is strictly limited to assessing Israeli policies and practices towards Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and Israel and comparing them to the treatment of Jewish Israelis living in the same territories against the three primary conditions under the 1973 Apartheid Convention (ICSPCA) and the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). These are: an intent to maintain a system of domination, systematic oppression by one racial group over another and one or more inhumane acts, such as forcible transfer, expropriation of landed property, creation of separate reserves and ghettos, and denial of the right to leave and to return to their country and the right to a nationality. As grave as apartheid is the crime of persecution, also set out in the Rome Statute, as the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights on racial, ethnic, and other grounds.
The intent of the Israeli government to maintain the domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians is beyond reasonable doubt. In 2018, the Knesset passed a law with constitutional status affirming Israel as the “nation-state of the Jewish people,” and establishing “Jewish settlement” as a national value.
To justify limiting and minimising the Palestinian population, Israeli authorities project Palestinians as an existential demographic “threat”. At least 270,000 Palestinians who were outside the West Bank and Gaza when the occupation began in 1967 have been refused registration. The residency rights of nearly 250,000, mostly for being abroad for too long between 1967 and 1994, were revoked. Palestinians who had lived in the West Bank but left temporarily (to study, work, marry, etc.) are denied entry into the West Bank, including their non-registered spouses and other family members.
When Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, Palestinians who lived there were designated as “permanent residents,” a status normally given to non-Jewish foreigners. Since 1967, At least 14,701 Palestinians have had this status revoked mostly for failing to prove a “centre of life” in the city. In Jerusalem municipality, government policy has set a target demographic “ratio of 60% Jews and 40% Arabs”. Today there are roughly 200,000 Israelis in East Jerusalem.
Since 2000, the Israeli government has largely refused to process family reunification applications. Requests by Palestinians for address changes in the West Bank and Gaza have been turned down. This freeze effectively bars Palestinians from acquiring legal status for spouses or relatives not already registered, and thousands of Gaza residents who came on temporary permits to West Bank are deemed illegal.
Within the West Bank, Palestinian ID holders are prohibited from entering areas such as East Jerusalem, lands beyond the separation barrier, and areas controlled by settlements and the army, unless they secure difficult-to-obtain permits. Nearly 600 permanent barriers including the separation wall have been erected, many between Palestinian communities. Land grabs for settlements and the infrastructure that primarily serves settlers effectively concentrate Palestinians in the West Bank, according to B’Tselem, into “165 non-contiguous ‘territorial islands.’” This planned fragmentation disrupts the daily life and economy of Palestinians.
Thousands of Palestinian homes across the West Bank including East Jerusalem have been demolished over the years because they are deemed not to have building permits which they cannot obtain. No compensation or resettlement is offered to displaced families. The purpose of this is to coerce Palestinians to abandon their homes and livelihoods and relocate into towns under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA). In East Jerusalem, it is to force Palestinians out of the city.
Nearly two million Palestinians in Gaza have been effectively sealed off from the outside world by land, sea and air. Entry and exit of people and goods are severely restricted through one crossing each from Israel and Egypt. This has destroyed the economy and reduced access to basic services with 80 percent of people relying on humanitarian aid.
Water is critically scarce and an estimated 96 percent of the water supply has become “unfit for human consumption”. Electricity supply to homes is erratic and available for between 12 and 20 hours per day. On top of this, since 2008 Israeli defence forces have launched three major military offensives with air bombardment leading to death and destruction of homes and infrastructure. In 2018 and 2019, Israeli forces killed 214 demonstrators and maimed thousands when they approached the fences separating Gaza and Israel.
Generations of Palestinians in the OPT have been deprived of their basic civil rights, including the rights to free assembly, association and expression. Palestinians who have opposed occupations and are politically active are targeted. Hundreds of political and non-government organizations including media outlets have been banned.
More than 2 million dunams (1 dunam =1000 square meters) of land making up more than one-third of the West Bank has been confiscated from Palestinians. Israeli authorities have also made it impossible for Palestinians in Area C, the roughly 60 percent of the West Bank that the Oslo Accords placed under full Israeli control, as well as those in East Jerusalem, to obtain building permits. Meanwhile, 130 government-approved settlements and 100 unofficial ones are now homes of around 400,000 Israelis.
In Israel, at least 4.5 million dunams of land belonging to Palestinians have been confiscated and converted to state lands since the forced expulsion of nearly 700,000 Palestinians in 1948. These were turned into 900 Jewish small towns exclusively for Jewish residents which are allowed space for expansion. The vast majority of Palestinians – nearly 1.9 million – are hemmed into a handful of townships constituting 3 percent of the land. These are overcrowded, poorly serviced enclaves with little access to land and housing for growth.
In the Negev, 35 Palestinian Bedouin communities have been denied legal recognition, making it impossible for their 90,000 or so residents to live lawfully. These communities do not appear on official maps. Authorities have refused to connect most to the national electricity or water grids or to provide even basic infrastructure such as paved roads or sewage systems. They are denied access to their farms. Most have no educational facilities, and residents live under constant threat of having their homes demolished. Israeli authorities demolished more than 10,000 Bedouin homes in the Negev between 2013 and 2019.
For all intents and purposes, Palestinians in Israel are second class citizens with a two-track citizenship structure. Jews obtain automatic citizenship no matter where they are from under the Law of Return. By contrast, Palestinians have to prove residency before 1948, inclusion in the population registry from 1952 and a continued presence in Israel or legal entry in, between 1940 and 1952.
The Israeli state has been relentless in maximizing the number of Jews, as well as the land available to them, in Israel and the coveted portions of the OPT for Jewish settlements. There is a determined incremental “Judaization” of areas with significant Palestinian populations by increasing Jewish settlers. There are no restrictions on the freedom of movement, or on the residence, work, farming, business, etc., for Jews anywhere.
The cover of the “peace process” launched after the Oslo accords has been used by Israeli government public relations to create the aura that occupation is temporary and Israel is an egalitarian democracy aiming to give Palestinians meaningful control over their lives. The reality on the grounds has been continual annexation of land for Jewish settlements. It has also led to the normalisation of Israel’s relations with many countries by giving it international legitimacy.
The key question is not whether there is apartheid in Israel but what is to be done about it. The first obstacle is that Western democracies including Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and the United States have neither signed nor ratified the Apartheid Convention. Hence these governments are going to ignore the report, and the mainstream media as a whole will not take up this issue.
The ICC’s chief prosecutor opened a formal investigation into alleged war crimes in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip since June 2014 following a request from the Palestinians. Human Rights Watch urges the chief prosecutor to investigate and prosecute those credibly implicated in the crimes of apartheid and persecution. Israel has said that it would refuse to co-operate with the ICC.
The initiative has to come from civil society against the backdrop of the obstacles that have been placed on any criticism of Israel by calling it “anti-semitic”. The BDS movement initiated by Palestinian civil society against Israeli apartheid must be supported fully. Palestinians have a decades-long tradition of popular non-violent resistance against repression. International solidarity for this resistance through building links and practical action is vital.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, after the launch of the report, Dr Sewell said that while there was anecdotal evidence of racism, there was no proof that there was “institutional racism” in Britain.
The commission argues that the Macpherson definition has been devalued through “linguistic inflation” and it should be “applied only when deep-seated racism can be proven on a systemic level”. It is difficult to understand this. Can’t allegations against an institution be made before proof?
This distorts the elegant clarity and directness of the Macpherson definition which states that
“It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping.”
Furthermore, the report makes the astonishing claim that one of the key justifications for Macpherson’s findings of institutional racism was the under-reporting of racist crime and the problem has been solved.
In fact, the Macpherson report confirmed that the Met was “institutionally racist” because there was gross misconduct on the part of the police during the Stephen Lawrence case, primarily due to racism. Their misconduct included failure to administer first aid to the victim as well as failing to follow obvious leads and failure to arrest subjects. What was revealed over the years through investigations and reviews was that undercover police had undermined the Lawrence family’s campaign and there was corruption in the police force. Doreen Lawrence, who campaigned for 18 years for justice for her son’s murder, said that the claim that the system was no longer rigged against minorities could give racists a green light.
This would give government institutions, both central and local, the health service and the educational services a green light to periodically review their policy and practice to ensure that there is no institutional racism. There was great resistance against Macpherson’s proposal when it was published in 1999, and before it could be turned into a policy across institutions, the tabloids and right virtually killed it off. There is still massive resistance to tackling institutional racism that is woven over centuries of colonialism and slavery into the structures of society and into the instruments and institutions of local and central government, as Sivanandan put is so powerfully.
Windrush state racism condoned
The way in which the report deals with the Windrush scandal illustrates this well. Apart from the token gestures to the Windrush generation, their heroism, their experience, etc., the report does not recount how the lives of Black British citizens, who joined their parents legally as children but were deemed illegals as they became adults, were destroyed. Thousands lost their jobs through employment bans, lost pensions, lost homes because of lack of income to pay their mortgage, or through eviction if they rented, were denied access to health care, unlawfully deported as adults, refused re-entry to the UK and left traumatised and impoverished for years.
When these injustices were exposed by campaigners, a token ‘Windrush Day’ was declared by the perpetrator Theresa May and a fund set up to compensate the victims. Even then, the system failed to respond with urgency with just a trickle of money being awarded if they survived the ordeal. The report has the gall to say that that, “Outcomes such as these do not come about by design, and are certainly not deliberately targeted.”
It is widely accepted that this injustice was the direct result of the hostile environment created by the Home Office. This is quintessentially state racism arising from the Immigration Act 1971 which defines citizenship of two types, giving unrestricted right of abode to ‘patrials’ who were British citizens by birth or immigrating citizens who had an ancestral connection to the country, and a second class citizenship for ‘non-patrials’ who are largely Citizens of Commonwealth such as the Windrush generation and who no longer have the automatic right of abode.
Those who have suffered and those who campaigned to get justice for the Windrush victims are appalled by the report. There is no recommendation in the report to amend the immigration acts and remove the hostile environment which is still operated by the Home Office.
Sewell wrote in the foreword that there was a new story to be told about the “slave period” not just “about profit and suffering”, but about how “culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modelled African/Britain”. It is best to read the excoriating criticism of this distortion of history from David Olusoga and other historians who found the report poisonously patronising and historically illiterate. Olusoga was shocked that the report deployed a version of an argument used by the slave owners in defence of slavery 200 years ago, the idea that by becoming culturally British, black people were somehow beneficiaries of the system. The report reduces slavery’s racial terror and Britain’s racial capitalism to a simple exchange of cultural ideas. The report fails to make clear that slavery entailed hundreds of years of crimes against the African people and the deaths of millions of African men, women and children justified on the basis that they were sub-human.
Deracinated, torn from their communities, their native languages and traditions, under immense odds slaves went on to create their own culture in song, dance and art. On many occasions they rebelled and fought for their freedom even though they were defeated by the slave owners who were backed by superior arms. The story of the Black Jacobins who successfully overthrew slavery in Haiti in 1791 to claim liberty and equality needs to be celebrated.
This is what the movement for toppling statues such as that of Edward Colston in Bristol is all about. It is about the removal of the memorial statues of slavers and the colonial history they represent. We live in a country where the crimes of slavery have not been recognised by the establishment which has refused to make any reparations. The report argues against reparations and considers ‘decolonising’ the curriculum to be negative.
Systemic racism in education and health underplayed
The report’s approach on educational achievement uses the evidence to highlight the significant differences between ethnic groups. Its analysis shows that using the threshold of strong GCSE passes in English and Maths as a measure, Chinese and Indian ethnic groups outperform the White British group on this measure by wide margins. Its new evidence indicates that attainment is closely related to socio-economic status – once this is controlled for, all major ethnic groups perform better than White British pupils except for Black Caribbean pupils (with the Pakistani ethnic group at about the same level). It also revives the argument that has been promoted by the right that ‘white working class’ people are disadvantaged by policies intended to help ethnic minorities to succeed.
From this it concludes that educational achievement is affected by different social, economic and cultural factors: parental income levels, parental career and educational achievement, geography, family structure, and attitudes towards education within the family and wider community. Hence racial bias in schools has limited effect on achievement.
Attempting to “control” for different factors is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how racism works. Often, various statistical factors, such as people’s socioeconomic status or geographic location, are themselves products of racism. For example, if a survey into educational attainment controlled for poverty, it might look, on paper at least, as if racism played less of a significant role. But this ignores the reality that poverty is often inherently related to racism, and is disproportionately experienced in the UK by ethnic minorities, with 50 percent of BAME households living in poverty compared to 19 percent of white households.
Black Caribbean pupils are five times more likely to be excluded in some areas in England compared with other groups, and teachers consistently fail to address the overt racism that many Black pupils experience in schools. Last week it was reported that more than 60,000 incidents of racism were recorded over the last five years in UK schools. The latest research in London shows that government policies promoting Pupil Referral Units (PRU) and zero tolerance policies have resulted in a ‘PRU to prison pipeline’, criminalising black working class youth.
The report claims that “for many key health outcomes including life expectancy and overall mortality… ethnic minority groups have better outcomes than the White population.” The report also concludes that deprivation, “family structures,” and geography — not ethnicity – are key risk factors for health inequalities.
According to the British Medical Journal, this contradicts several decades of irrefutable peer-reviewed research which show that ethnic minorities have the worst health outcomes on almost all health parameters. The BMJ authors found that the report cherry-picked data to support a particular narrative in its conclusions and recommendations. Their data used was not externally peer-reviewed by independent health experts and scientists. There was no health expert amongst the commissioners.
The report ignores the overwhelming evidence that systemic racism, in particular residential segregation, which is rising in the UK, is a major driver of ethnic differences in socioeconomic status. Consequently, this segregation also affects health, due to poorer quality education, employment opportunities, and poorer access to resources to enhance health. The concentration of poverty in these areas leads to exposure to higher levels of multiple chronic and acute psychosocial stressors, greater clustering of these stressors, and greater exposure to undesirable social and environmental conditions.
The report is indifferent to empirical analyses that show that ethnic differences in health persist even after adjustment for socioeconomic status. In the UK, for example, Black women are five times more likely to die during pregnancy than White women and Black people have a greater risk of detention under the Mental Health Act than White people.
Black and South Asian men are respectively 4.2 times and 3.6 times more likely to die from Covid-19 as their white counterparts. According to the report, these Covid-19 disparities are due to “genetic risk factors” along with “cultural” and “behavioural” factors. There is no evidence of “genetic risk factors”. Sufficient evidence exists showing that these disparities are partly due to high risk public-facing jobs, living conditions such as multigenerational households, poverty, chronic co-morbidities, as well as racial discrimination and the effects of structural racism such as residential segregation.
Hate Crimes, Stop and Search, Knife Crimes, Drugs and Gangs
Using police record and crime survey data, the commission find that during the 2018-2020 period there about 142 racially motivated hate crimes per day. There were over 10,000 incidents of violence without injury and about 4,500 incidents of violence with injury. But the commission fails to put hate crime in a wider social and political context of racial violence which has become normalised.
As Liz Fekete has convincingly argued, in reality hate is not an abstract category, and cannot be delinked from the material act, whether it is discrimination or physical violence. And hate is not merely the prejudice shown in individual encounters, but the verbal and physical working out in aggression of racist ideas imbued in individuals by a wider political framework that demonises minorities. Racially aggravated hate whether verbal or physical, is most often accompanied by violence, ranging from a public order offence on the street or on buses or trains to physical assault on individuals and criminal damage to religious and community centres.
Stop and search has been a major issue for the black community for years causing great resentment against the police amongst black youth. In almost every police force area, Black people had the highest recorded stop and search rate. In the Metropolitan Police force area where 60 percent of the black population resides, 80 percent of the searches target black people. The commission takes the view that Stop and Search is “a critical tool for policing when used appropriately and lawfully” – which is in agreement with the police who justify it for drug possession and knife crime.
The commissioners feel that is important to acknowledge other factors, in addition to racism, when considering disproportionality between ethnic groups in policing. So as an example, instead of asking the police why black young men in London are up to 19 times more likely to be stopped and searched, it wants the focus on why so many black children are brought up by single parents.
On ‘knife crime’, drug offences and gangs, the report does not offer us any ground-breaking analysis. It does not set out to analyse the extent to which the media and politicians distort the public perception and trigger panic. Such crime cariesy heavy racial connotations, with politicians linking it to the gang, drug and music culture of black youth.
Teenage knife crime is an episodic obsession with the tabloids’ front pages, blaming the ‘feral youth’ who run riot in our cities. For each family, it brings a tragedy. Vigils follow for the victim and public indignation rises. There are appeals from the police, mayoral statements, knife amnesties, a new charity in the name of the fallen and interventions by the politicians. All these efforts have little effect because positive interventions are dwarfed by austerity-driven decisions to cut youth services, underfund child mental health services and swingeing cuts to education and policing.
The complete failure by the commission to investigate how joint enterprise has been used by the police to arrest and imprison youth, not on the basis of committing a crime but solely for being associated it. A survey of 250 serving prisoners in 2016 found that three-quarters of the black and minority ethnic prisoners reported that the prosecution claimed that they were members of a ‘gang’, compared to only 39 percent of white prisoners. This apparent ‘gang’ affiliation’ was used to secure convictions, under joint enterprise provisions, for offences they have not committed. This searing injustice is one of the most intolerable for the nearly 4,500 families whose sons have been locked up without committing a crime.
The commissioners want us to recognise that the challenges the police face when dealing with both victims and perpetrators of crime are complex as the causes are beyond their control. In their view great strides have been made by the police towards becoming a service that can fairly police a multi-ethnic society. There is no attempt made to suggest how the police service should be made democratically accountable to the community, apart from the need for clarity and consistency in police communication for communities to understand the drivers of police activity.
Past injustices forgotten
The report observes that past injustices still loom large in perceptions of the police for some ethnic minority Britons, especially Black Caribbean people. Yet it does not recount what these injustices have been, nor that they are still going on.
There has been a deadly silence over black deaths in police custody over decades. There is a roll call produced by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) of deaths from 1978 to 2002. Their most recent covers the cases of 509 people from BME, asylum seeker and migrant communities who have died in custody, in suspicious circumstances, between 1991 and September 2014. Such violence occurs on many sites – on police patrol, home raids, on arrest, at the police station, in prisons, in hospital custody, etc. The families of those killed have formed a coalition to fight for justice and have reasonable demands that have still to be addressed by the government.
Britain’s industrial decline in the 1970s led to an increase in racist violence on the streets, including the deaths of Gurdip Singh Chaggar in Southall (1976) and Altab Ali in London’s East End (1978). This led to the establishment of the Asian Youth Movement (AYM) to defend communities from racist attacks. Recently, the memories of the cruel killing of Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005 at Stockwell station are still fresh in people’s mind. The shooting of Azelle Rodney in 2005 was later found to be unlawful by an enquiry in 2013. The shootingof Mark Duggan in 2011 by the police in Tottenham led to widespread riots in London and beyond.
This year we mark the 50th anniversary of the Mangrove Nine trial on charges arising from violent clashes with the police during a protest march. After 55 days at the Old Bailey, the Mangrove Nine were acquitted and forced the first judicial acknowledgment that there was “evidence of racial hatred” in the Metropolitan police.
The report mentions the significance of events such as the Bristol Bus Boycott in 1963 which shaped race relations legislation in the United Kingdom but fails to recognise that black struggles went from resistance to rebellion to change British society. From 1958’s Nottingham riots to 1981’s St Paul’s riots, followed by Brixton and five cities during Thatcher’s rule, these drew attention to the discontent of black people. There were more to follow 1985 (Handsworth, Brixton and Broadwater Farm), 1987 (Chapeltown), 1989 (Dewsbury), 1995(Brixton), 2001(Bradford), and 2011 (English cities following the shooting of Mark Duggan).
Great Britain the beacon
The commission’s eagerness to sell ‘Britain as a beacon’ is peppered throughout the report. It begins with the well-rehearsed Olympic opening ceremony as a metaphor for the unity and diversity of British society. Accordingly, Britain has fundamentally shifted from the past and has become a more open society entering a new era of ‘participation’. It has become a more ‘open’ and inclusive society.
This serves the government’s agenda after Brexit to portray the British nation as a beacon of good race relations and a diversity model for ‘white majority countries’. It claims that incremental progress has been made beyond doubt and that building on this progress is more important than refighting the battles of the past.
For this it is prepared to distort, sanitise and erase the history of black people’s struggle for justice and equality in the country which transformed it into a multicultural society. It finishes the job started by the Scarman Report of ethnicising minorities, with different ethnic minorities having nothing in common. In doing so, it seeks to advance the state’s drive to detach ethnic minorities from their history and prevent them from uniting.
The report fails to fully explore the intersection between class and race in Britain because for the commissioners these are invisible. It is blind to the exploitation of the labour of ethnic minorities who are vulnerable and occupy the lowest rungs in the labour market.
Hence all the all the contradictions that exist in British society are brushed under the carpet – the increasing social inequality, the class divisions between bosses and workers, the racial tensions fostered by the media, the existing institutional and popular racism, the warehousing of refugees, the unbridled executive power, the lack of democracy at local level, the draconian police powers, and the criminal justice system that does not provide justice for the many.
It envisages that the stories of different ethnic groups could be linked to create a unifying sense of ‘Britishness’. Further, it could contribute to a wider understanding of how the UK with its regions and four nations, as well as the Commonwealth and former colonies, are mutually connected in defining ‘Britishness’. Such a preoccupation with ‘Britishness’ would place limits on learning about the histories of the Caribbean, African countries, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc., in the making of the interdependent world which we share.
Astonishingly, the only “great example” it comes up is “a dictionary or lexicon of well-known British words which are Indian in origin.” For such a history to be truthful, it would need to include the history of resistance against oppression by colonial powers, of national liberation, of independence struggles, of insurgent politics, of the men and women who led such struggles, of the works of fiction that capture these. Such understanding seems to be beyond the commissioners.
Black struggles made invisible
The commission finds the biggest challenge for our age is not overt racism but building on and advancing the progress won by the struggles of the past 50 years. Yet, at no stage, does it include the experience, resistance and struggles of black and ethnic minorities which produced the multi-cultural society here.
There were struggles against fascists attacking communities, struggles to make the police protect people against such attacks, struggles against the ‘Sus’ laws that criminalised black youth, struggles against deaths in police custody, struggles against Afro-Caribbean students classified as Educationally Subnormal, struggles for children not to be bussed out of schools, struggles to include other histories in the educational curricula, struggles to teach the roots of racism and much more. Ignoring such a rich history of struggles as a foundation cannot take us forward in building policies.
The commissioners deserve contempt in the way they portray anti-racism as “bleak new theories about race that insist on accentuating our differences” and an “increasingly strident form of anti-racism thinking that seeks to explain all minority disadvantage through the prism of white discrimination”. Anti-racist campaigns and intellectual ideas over the last 50 years made a real difference. There would not have been an inquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s murder without the relentless six-year campaign to force the government to set it up.
There are giants of anti-racist analysis whose legacy continues to influence black activists – C.L.R. James, George Padmore, Claudia Jones, Stuart Hall, Darcus Howe, Sivanandan amongst others. They did not fight “white discrimination”, they fought the embedded systemic racism in unity with many white activists. They wanted to create a plural tolerant society for the common good of all where black and white working classes are united. There are activists like Cecil Gutzmore (Brixton Defence Campaign) who witnessed the Brixton uprising, Suresh Grover (The Monitoring Group) who was involved in defence of Southall against National Front attacks in 1979 when Blair Peach was killed, and many more who are still alive to tell stories of resistance and self-defence.
There is a remarkable absence of calls for the accountability of institutions, of those who exercise power, including the government. Instead the report is an instrument for providing the narrative to mould social reality. It is essentially a conservative manifesto to manage ethnic minorities in the years ahead and maintain the status quo.
Its anodyne recommendations about trust, fairness, partnership and transparency are in the government’s comfort zone. They may be useful but are largely regulatory and do not touch fundamental issues such as the hostile environment, racist immigration laws and regulations, injustices under counter-terrorism laws, police accountability, injustices in the criminal justice system or the free play of media racism.
Furthermore, the report is remarkably consistent with the historical amnesia and vicious historical revisionism of colonialism pedalled by the far right. In line with this, the report mischaracterises the demands of ‘decolonising’ as the ‘banning of white authors’, a crude attack line often used in the culture war agenda. This also promotes the idea of white victimhood and discounts race inequity as a lesser problem. It adds credence to the false binary that the nation faces a choice between addressing racial inequalities or class disadvantage.
The report is deeply marred by its misuse of data to pursue polemical points to push its own agenda. It castigates those who see institutional racism as a significant factor and promotes an illusory meritocracy, where individuals are wholly responsible for their own success and Black and ethnic minority students must simply work harder and pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they are to succeed.
Developments have already left this report behind. Racism does not stand still but changes according to the economic, social and political framework. Globalisation has fuelled the displacement of people, both through war and economic capture of the global South through neo-liberalism. The racism that is meted out to asylum seekers and migrants who may also be white, particularly from Eastern Europe, is an amalgam of xenophobia and the existing racism, a xeno-racism as defined by Sivanandan.
The last two decades have seen the rise of a new racism, that against Muslims across Europe, the US and elsewhere. This new racism sees the two trajectories of the war on asylum and the war on terror converge. It is, in the words of Sivanandan,
“a racism which cannot tell a settler from an immigrant, an immigrant from an asylum seeker, an asylum seeker from a Muslim, a Muslim from a terrorist. We are, all of us blacks and Asian, at first sight, terrorists and illegals. We wear our passports on our faces or, lacking them, we are faceless.”
As far as the struggle against racism goes, the report is irrelevant but we have to fight its pernicious underpinning ideas which would set us back by 20 years. We have to fight the existing racism at all levels and the far right that is continually raising its ugly head. Whether it is the control of borders, the immigration laws or the terrorism laws, the state is behind this racism which shows its different faces in the form of the institutional racism of government ministries, local government, the media and the popular racism they foster.
We need to oppose the stigmatisation of communities by the newspapers and join campaigns for media reform and accountability. We need to build a broad coalition of activists, students, academics, lawyers and artists to fight against racism, against the demonisation of migrants, against deportation, and to defend human rights, the fundamental rights to protest, freedom of association, freedom from state surveillance, the right to fair trials and much more.
The Myanmar coup shows that the military is an existential threat to democracy in many nations
The latest overthrow of a democratically elected government in Myanmar on February 1st, 2021 shows dramatically how the military can set back democracy. The Myanmar military, known as Tatmadaw, has declared a one year “state of emergency” and taken full control of the country’s government and infrastructure. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Chairman of the State Administration Council, is now exercising supreme power over the country.
Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and several dozen other senior officials were arrested in early morning raids in the capital, Naypyidaw. The charges laid against Ms Suu Kyi allege that she illegally imported and used communications equipment -walkie-talkies -found at her home in Nay Pyi Taw. The military repeatedly claims that there was fraud in the elections of November 8th 2020 which the National League of Democracy (NLD) won by a landslide.
The party backed by the military, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) performed dismally. Given that the military holds a quarter of all seats in both the House of Nationalities and House of Representatives in accordance with the 2008 constitution devised by the military, giving the military a veto over any change, the claim of fraud is contrived. The deeper reason is the anxiety of the military that its monopoly of political, social and economic power has come under serious threat by the electoral popularity of NLD and the demand for constitutional reform.
When Myanmar opened up to liberalisation, there was a protracted move to democracy and the NLD won the 2015 elections when she assumed the post of State Counsellor (equivalent to Prime Minister). Her image was tarnished when she appeared before the ICC to deny the allegations of genocide against the Rohingya by the military.
Our hope should lie with the mobilisation of the people united in a common front. The demand for democracy must include the Rohingya in the North West of the country if there is to be meaningful democracy for all. The ethnic cleansing must stop and those who sought refuge in Bangladesh must be allowed to return.
We have to go back to Burma’s colonial period to understand how modern Burma developed as a nation. British colonisation of Burma began in 1824 and after three Anglo-Burmese wars spanning over 60 years, it consolidated the annexation of Burma in 1888, sending the last king of Burma, Thibaw Min, into exile in India. Of those years, George Orwell who spent five years in Burma, wrote in 1929 that that the British were robbing and pilfering Burma quite shamelessly. They seized the mines and the oil wells, controlled timber production and acted as all sorts of middlemen, brokers, millers and exporters, making colossal fortunes from rice without the peasant producers getting anything out of it. The get-rich-quick businessmen make their pile from rice, petrol etc., and sent the money to England, rather than investing it in the country.
Secondly, Orwell said that the British government was at pains to give the people only summary instruction, merely sufficient to produce messengers, low-grade civil servants, petty lawyers’ clerks and other white-collar workers. They were unwilling to develop a well-educated Burmese class which could assume the leadership of the country in the future.
The Second World war was a turning point. Burmese independence fighters set up a Burmese Independence Army (BIA) to free the country from British rule. They initially forged an alliance with Japanese forces to obtain training and weapons. The British, on retreating, followed a scorched earth policy to thwart the Japanese advance. They destroyed the major government buildings, oil wells and mines for tungsten, tin, lead and silver to keep them from the Japanese. When the Japanese occupied Burma and refused to give independence, the BIA switched allegiance to the British and rebelled against the Japanese by deploying its units across the country. It became the first truly national organisation in Burma which is still honoured by its people.
Myanmar was bombed extensively by the Allies. At the time of independence, the country was in ruins with its major infrastructure completely destroyed. Independence began badly with many of its best leaders assassinated. Over the next decade, the fragile democracy struggled to rebuild the country, a task that should not be underestimated in an underdeveloped colonial country where there was no Marshall plan to reconstruct it.
The military guns first crackled in 1962, when Gen. Ne Win overthrew a fragile government. The Revolutionary Council centralised state power, established the Burmese Socialist Programme Party with anti-communism as its motto and banned all other parties. Myanmar also turned away from the outside world when it came to economic policies. During the military’s 49-year direct hold on power, the country declined economically until it opened up to liberalisation in 2011.
In the wake of the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, the UN set up an independent fact-finding mission to assess the economic interests of the military in Myanmar with a view to recommending how these needed to be brought under the control of civilian authorities. In its report in 2019, the mission revealed a business empire is so vast and secretive that there is no transparency and accountability over the military budget. The Tatmadaw uses its web of commercial interests, established through military-linked companies and subsidiaries, relationships with state-owned enterprises and private crony companies, to secure financial resources to support its activities and personnel.
Furthermore, there were reasonable grounds to conclude that China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Israel, the Philippines, Russia, and Ukraine allowed arms and arms- related transfers and assistance to Myanmar which posed a direct and foreseeable threat to human rights to the people of the country. The military that were the champions of independence have become parasitical, treating the country as their fiefdom.
There has been a swift international response against the coup. The UN Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution calling for support for Aung San Suu Kyi and other officials, and to refrain from using violence on people protesting against the military coup. The US government has imposed sanctions on some military officers but it remains doubtful if that would provide key leverage for change. What is needed is corporations investing in Myanmar to begin to pull out their investments. That would worry the military deeply because it holds substantial shares in its joint ventures with corporations. However this response at its best has been rather timid. It is hampered by a legacy of seven decades of impunity when the international community failed to take any significant action when the military was violently repressing the minorities like the Karen and expelling the Rohingya muslims.
When the Burmese military took power in 1962, neo-fascist military dictatorships were in power South Korea, Guatemala, Iran, Nicaragua, Brazil, the Philippines, Indonesia, Zaire and Thailand among many others. Through the cold war period until 1979, the USA supported these regimes, generally viewing them as promising stability in an unstable Third World. These regime intensified the use of organised terror in the name of ‘modernisation’.
American policy changed when the Shah’s dictatorship in Iran, installed after he coup against Mossadegh in 1953, was swept away by the Islamic revolution in 1979. It encouraged a new wave of democracies, albeit managed in its client states through electoral manipulations. However this promotion of democracy is not consistent as we saw in Egypt, after the uprising of 2011, when the first elected government of President Morsi was overthrown and replaced by one of the most brutal dictatorships under General Sisi, fully supported by the USA and many regional powers.
Western intervention in the name of freedom, human rights and democracy has been a dismal failure across the world. Progressive movements have rarely been supported by the dominant powers. In fact these powers have done everything possible to destroy such movements and have supported reactionary forces. The war on terror launched almost 20 years ago erased the boundary between terrorism and freedom struggles, hence all resistance movements across the world were labelled terrorists.
Military coups are not aberrations but integral to the imperialist system. Geopolitical interests play a significant role in the turn of events in any nation. Military aid by the most powerful countries create a class of privileged military officers with guaranteed pensions and business investments. They are linked to the dominant countries. They are a marked feature of uneven development when the gap between the highly developed countries and the undeveloped countries is so vast that it drives some classes to believe that a strong authority will lead to development. That is why the military remains an existential threat to democracy in many nations.
Military leaders are trained in the ethos of control, regimentation, discipline and order. They are not able to foster participation, negotiations, consensus and accountability necessary for democracy. The takeover by a strong man promising social order attracts many who fear chaos, including the rich who wish to keep on making money. That is why, when the military assumes power over society it represses politics and people and distorts society. It ends up in a mire of corruption and in the long term fails dismally. Myanmar is no exception.
Progressive forces should never disregard the power of nationalism and the role the military plays in the suppression of democracy. The illusion that the military in any country is a neutral force politically must be shed. Mass movements for political change need to be firmly based on popular participatory democracy, racial and ethnic equality, gender equality and an economy linked to ecology, to be developed for the good of all. This is going to be a long march to freedom for many people in the world including the people of Myanmar to whom we should extend unreserved solidarity.
First published in The Labour Hub on February 24 2021- link below
Towards the end of 2020, nearly 20,000 economic migrants from West Africa made their journey across the Atlantic to the Canary Islands. This is an eightfold surge from the numbers who arrived in 2019. The routes the migrants take are less than 100 kilometres from the Moroccan coast, anywhere up to 450 kilometres from the Western Saharan coast but about 1,500 kilometres from Senegalese coast. They come in small fishing boats. The crossings are perilous. Hundreds have lost their lives.
With the route to Europe blocked off through the militarisation of the Mediterranean crossing, these migrants are risking their lives to find an alternative. Just as the crossing across the Mediterranean has become a graveyard for thousands of migrants, the Atlantic crossing is increasingly becoming a watery burial site for many migrants.
This reminded me of the Mati Diop’s haunting film Atlantique, where young labourers in Senegal whose wages have been held by the property mogul decide to board a flimsy boat and make the dangerous journey across the ocean to Spain hoping for a better life. They lose their lives but their spirits come to haunt the rich through their girlfriends and their memories.
Young men from Morocco, Senegal, Mali and many other countries along the West African coast are trying to escape the dire, unending poverty. There are no jobs that would bring an income for them. Some of them face a life of precarious low-paid employment without any prospects. There is no economic development that could absorb their labour. The Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated their situation further by decreasing economic growth significantly.
The poverty in Africa has deep historic roots. Since the 16th century, Africa was turned into a warren for slave hunting. The abduction of the youth across the continent to be ferried by tortuous slave ships across the Atlantic and set to work in death camps of plantation slavery left African societies fragmented and depleted of the life-blood of youth to maintain and develop the productive forces of their societies. Western countries accumulated their social wealth through the exploitation of African blood and sweat at one pole and left Africa poor and underdeveloped at the other. Walter Rodney’s arguments of how Europe underdeveloped Africa remains true today.
As slave uprisings and abolitionist movement in the mid-19th century, followed by the American civil war, led to the gradual end of chattel slavery, at the Berlin Conference of 1884, the imperial European powers carved up Africa with arbitrary boundaries to further their trade and exploitation. All resistance by the African continent was crushed with overwhelming military force including air power. Such resistance has been erased in the Western narrative of history, which lauds the opening up of Africa by David Livingstone, and noticed in passing when Gordon was slain in Khartoum followed by the much celebrated massacre of the Mahdi army with machine guns.
White racial supremacy led to the horror of the extermination of ‘inferior races’, notably the Herroros in German South West African territories and the indigenous people of the Congo under Belgian King Leopold’s rubber monopoly. These were reflected across the continent where African life was considered cheap and forced African labour was widespread. There was no civilising mission in the continent. The ‘civilising’ mission was to drag the continent through mud and blood to a capitalist extraction of as much wealth as possible. Christianity spread by well-organised and well-funded missionary societies turned out to be a subtle tool for pacification. Co-option and collaboration by traditional leaders with colonial powers became embedded.
White settlements in South Africa, Rhodesia, Kenya followed, through the dispossession of Africans from their lands in climes favourable for Europeans. Throughout the continent, apartheid was embedded in one form or another. Both World Wars I and II saw regional wars between European powers in Africa and a great loss of African life. The quest of Africans for democracy and trade union rights emerged but was quashed. It was after the WWII, that the liberation struggles across the continent emerged strongly. The decade-long Algerian revolution resulted in the removal of French power at a great cost. The Mau Mau revolt in Kenya against settler domination was defeated with massive military force and methods using torture, disappearances, and concentration camps.
Across the continent, the colonial powers ushered in neo-colonial administrative regimes with national flags but without a fundamental change in the social and productive relations. Where imperialism was challenged by radical African leaders, the assassination of political leaders like Patrice Lubumba and the installing of pro-Western military regimes was favoured. Other revolutionary anti-imperialist leaders who wanted to change their countries to serve their people, such as Amilcar Cabral, Thomas Sankara, Samora Machel, Steve Biko and Chris Hani, were among many who were also assassinated crushing the hopes of the continent.
Even moderate leaders like Nkrumah were toppled. Only right wing conservative leaders accommodating to imperialism survived. Counter-revolution was the extreme manifestation of Western policy during the Cold War. Military dictatorships were fostered unreservedly. Where there were modicums of elective democracy, the elites preferred a one-party state. The encroachments of Soviet Union in a few countries ended up in the cul-de-sac of military dictatorships.
The Francophone countries in West Africa are even today in the monetary grip of the French Treasury which controls their reserves and their currency, limiting their autonomy to decide on investments. The late Portuguese decolonisation after the revolution in 1974 led to proxy wars fomented by the apartheid South African regime and the United States. These devastated Angola and Mozambique for over a decade and left a million dead. The fall of the nationalist regime in South Africa in 1990 after 70 years of Western powers’ support, leading to a non-racial democracy led by Nelson Mandela, did not fundamentally alter the class relations within the country.
Over the last three decades, the imposition of neo-liberal policies from the 1970s onwards, led by the trio of International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organisation, reinforced the underdevelopment of most African nations. These Least Developed Countries (LDCs) of the world, locked into a dollarised economic system, became heavily indebted during after the 1973 oil crisis. The IMF swooped across the continent, insisting on structural adjustment in return for any loans. Structural adjustment demanded deregulation of their economies, allowing free movement of capital, imposing domestic austerity, cutting back on public sector investment and exporting primary produce to earn dollars. The Ebola outbreak showed how West African nations had lost their primary health network to protect their people because of these policies.
The ties of the African economy to the metropolitan powers were deepened after decolonisation. Africa’s mineral wealth across the continent was extracted with profits taken out through devious methods. A War on Want report by Mark Curtis in 2016 documented how 101 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange — most of them British — have mining operations in 37 sub-Saharan African countries. They collectively control over $1 trillion worth of Africa’s most valuable resources. Under the guise of the UK helping Africa in its economic development (a mere continuation of the colonial paternal narrative), $134 billion has flowed into the continent each year in the form of loans, foreign investment and aid. However, the British government has aided and abetted the extraction of $192 billion from Africa, mainly in profits by foreign companies, tax dodging and the cost of adapting to climate change.
Such huge sums flowing out of the continent have left it underdeveloped. Not that there is not economic development – there is. Cities and towns have grown but the top one percent are the beneficiaries.
But the surplus produced by African countries is sucked out by imperialist corporations. Economically, it is imperialist relations that determine that African currencies decline in value and their purchasing power. These interventions ensure that the oligarchy which rules across the continent salts away the gains in partnership with the imperialist centres. This self-enriching pact, well analysed by Andy Higginbottom, has kept Africa underdeveloped. Of late, China’s encroachments in Africa have become of concern in the West, but currently the dominant corporations are on the whole Western, with deep colonial roots.
All demands from social movements, dissidents, or political parties are met with repression, dismissal and hostility. Protestors are met with police gunfire and detentions. The oligarchy cements its hold by cultivating religious, ethnic and tribal sectarianism as foreseen by Franz Fanon. Yet people across the continent are yearning for popular democracy and rebellions continually break out against oppression. One day there will have to be a reckoning.
Too often, economic migrants are treated with casual dismissal, meaning they have no rights to migrate into other countries when compared to refugees and asylum seekers. But this is not defensible, because such migrants are also seeking a better life from poverty which is no less deserving than those seeking refuge from war and conflict. Both poverty and conflict have been fuelled through exploitation, toxic trade deals, dodgy debts, land grabs and climate change for which rich countries, including Britain, bear great responsibility.
As a recent report by Global Justice Now for freedom of movement argued so trenchantly, “It cannot be right that the place you are born dictates whether you will live a life of poverty or plenty, of freedom or imprisonment. It cannot be right that while the richest, at least in normal times, move around with ease, the poorest are imprisoned in geographical poverty.” To accept the current situation is to endorse a form of apartheid on a global scale. African migrants are harbingers calling for an end to this apartheid.
First published by Labour Hub on 28th January 2021
It has been common knowledge for decades that black youth are disproportionately excluded from school permanently. No significant progress has been made to significantly change this reality in spite of many reports. The most recent data show that black pupils are nearly four times more likely to be permanently excluded than their school peers.
The London case study by Jessica Perera of the Institute of Race Relations is ground breaking. It shows that exclusions and criminalisation of black working class youth are not isolated issues that should be confined to school level without relating them to wider social and political developments over five decades.
In response to the media and commentators who deliberately sensationalise serious black youth crime by projecting black youth as a menace and racialising it, Perera reviews the evidence thoroughly to present a more nuanced view. Although black youth are disproportionally over-represented in serious youth violence, it is only a small cohort of less than 1% of black youth that are involved in such violence.
Evidence from many studies show that ethnicity is just one factor, while other socio-economic factors also contribute to youth violence. The most recent research by the Institute of Health Inequity demonstrates that the systematic dismantling of vital social services over the past decade has exacerbated the levels of youth violence. London has the highest rate of child poverty of all the English regions and 800,000 children live in poverty with one in three growing up in persistent poverty. Being a perpetrator or victim of crime is closely associated with deprivation and exclusion. Several reports over the past few years have drawn a direct connection between school exclusion, knife crime and youth imprisonment.
The 1970s and 1980s were decades of radical ferment with campaigns for social and racial justice which were influenced by the struggles of the black community outside school. Many organisations, campaigners, community activists and teachers made significant progress towards the inclusion of multiracial and anti-racist education material into the curriculum. Schools and teachers had greater autonomy in the choice of materials and methods. The Inner London Education Authority was at the forefront of such curriculum initiatives and teacher development.
Every major inner city saw periodic youth uprisings since the 1970s sparked by sus laws, attacks on the black community by the National Front, police shootings, racism and poverty. However, no administration in power enquired into the root causes of such uprisings. The lived experience of the black communities of resistance was just ignored by those in power, who saw black struggles and anti-racist education as subversive. In fact, every uprising was followed by legislation to assert British values, culture and school discipline.
Perera recounts the history of key education policy ideas and legislation pursued by subsequent governments, beginning with Thatcher from 1979, to help us to understand how we came to the present situation. The New Right launched a vigorous political campaign which aimed to roll back the progress made in multi-racial and antiracist education, to sow the seeds of common sense conservatism within the working class and to weed out progressive ideas and people. The process of restructuring education away from the egalitarian 1944 Education Act and comprehensive education accelerated after the inner city rebellions of 1981. Thatcher’s dictum was that ‘people must be educated once more to know their place’. The passing of the landmark 1988 Education Reform Act set out the technocratic and monocultural National Curriculum, with emphasis on the core subjects (English, Maths and Science) and foundation subjects with a testing regime. The Inner London Education Authority was abolished. Furthermore, the pressures on schools to perform well in league tables led to putting pupils ‘off-roll’ and permanently excluding those who would perform poorly. Local Management of Schools provided the wedge to ease schools out of Local Authority control and finally to move towards privatisation. The era of teacher autonomy and curriculum innovation was over, with the overwhelming demand for compliance by school management and teachers with the whip hand of school inspections.
Elected in 1997, Blair reinforced and expanded the neoliberal pivot of the Thatcher era and continued the market policies of choice and diversity. The smaller dispersed rebellions in northern England, including in Oldham and Bradford in 2001, sparked by far right attacks and the launch of ‘war on terror’ after 9/11, were attributed to lack of ‘community cohesion’ within poor multiracial communities which were seen as not sharing the same ‘British values’ by people leading ‘parallel lives’.
This was to be corrected by the Education Act (2002) laying the foundation of ‘Fundamental British Values’ which evolved into active promotion of ‘democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs’ through ‘citizenship studies’ over the decade. On the contrary, as Sally Tomlinson has argued, the failure by New Labour to develop a curriculum for a multi-ethnic society contributed to an increase in xenophobia and racism, with no educational policies to deal with the increased hostility towards young Muslims. Home Office policies targeting refugees and asylum seekers encouraged racial hostility towards their children.
To remake the large multiracial communities in London, New Labour commenced state-led gentrification with crackdowns on anti-social behaviour, in the belief that the close proximity between middle and working classes would lead to the imparting of middle class social and cultural capital to the working classes. This led to an extensive expansion of the academies project and the simultaneous development of Pupil Referral Units (PRU), both open to private sector management. Perera concludes that “It was New Labour that fired up the exclusion engine and firmly established it as an essential cog in the state’s neoliberal education machinery”.
Academies, unlike state schools, were exempted from financial penalties for excluding pupils. Perera finds the legacy of the academy project as profound and New Labour’s manifesto pledge that ‘we send a clear message – every child has a right to a good education, but no child has the right to disrupt the education of other children’ prophetic, resulting in “the academy programme and PRU system have continued to work hand in glove, producing de facto race and class segregation between schools.”
The Conservative-Liberal coalition passed the Academies Act (2010) which saw a mass privatisation of local authority-maintained schools, removing democratic accountability and exempting Academies and Free-Schools from following the national curriculum, to provide market choice. In the aftermath of the 2011 inner city rebellion, David Cameron asserted, “We need an education system which reinforces the message that if you do the wrong thing you’ll be disciplined.” Soon the Education Act (2011) was passed, focusing on behaviour, discipline and exclusions. Overseen by Gove, a network of military-style state schools recruited ex-army veterans to manage disruptive youth.
The Act gave ministers powers to close PRUs deemed inadequate — and outsource them to new private sector providers. Such Alternative Provision, and Free Schools in particular, were seen a route for new voluntary and private sector organisations to offer high-quality education. Of course, for these schools to be viable, there must be a constant stream of young people being excluded. “The idea of private investors profiting from vulnerable young people deemed ‘disruptive’ in a competitive market was no problem for the education secretary,” says Perera.
The Johnson government has made a priority of ‘good behaviour’ in schools and established a regime of ‘zero tolerance’ for poor behaviour. It boosted investment in Alternative Provision to provide an enclosure for excluded students. Schools began setting up ‘isolation booths’ where disruptive pupils are made to sit in silence for hours without any consideration of risks to mental health.
The low achievement of black working class youth is still attributed to the dysfunction of black families, the lack of fathers, the prevalence of single mothers, etc. In the 1970s there was a manufactured moral panic about black ‘muggers’ and decades later this panic shifted on to knife crime and gangs. Following the declaration of the ‘war on terror’, Muslim communities became ‘suspects’ with a panic about radicalisation and extremism of Muslim youth.
The racialisation of gang culture, knife crime and radicalisation has led to the securitisation of schooling. Pupils are the subject of risk assessment, to work out the threat they pose to the stability of the social order. In tandem, it brings into being a continual surveillance of black youth using video cameras in schools. Face recognition technologies, finger identification, palm vein and iris scanners are being used to monitor children in Alternative Provision. The call for stricter disciplines has led to School Based Police Officers (SBPOs) and the employment of ex-military officers as teachers. All these strategies can be seen as a continuum with the prison-industrial complex embedded in the criminal justice system.
Adapting the concept of ‘Schools to Prisons Pipeline’ (SPP) which is widely used by community activists in the US, Perera puts forward the concept of a ‘PRU to prison pipeline’ (PPP) specifically for UK. According to this framework, PRUs are run for profit and are pathways not for education but trajectories for future incarceration. The HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales found in its annual report for 2017-2018 that a staggering 89 per cent of detained (or ‘imprisoned’) children and young people aged 12-18 reported being excluded from school. Perera convincingly argues that the system that has emerged in inner city London has led to ‘educational enclosures’. Black working class youth are excluded from mainstream education into ‘enclosures’ of PRUs and Alternative Provision where they are assimilated into a monoculture focusing on Fundamental British Values. They are thereby torn away from the collective history and experiences of their communities while being subjected to continual surveillance.
Drawing on her research on gentrification in London where she found that regeneration projects severed working class family networks by displacing them and pricing them out of upmarket amenities, she sees a strong parallel in the new emerging education market for ‘gentrifiers’ which similarly decants poor working class youth from mainstream schools into PRUs and Alternative Provision, on the grounds that they lower standards. Academies and Free Schools have been found more likely to permanently exclude pupils than maintained schools. Perera says that the result is we have a “two-tier state education system: academies for the aspirational and pupil referral units for the defiant and apathetic.”
Instead of improving the prospects of black working class youth, the last five decades have damaged them. In creating a highly competitive system largely run by private providers to the advantage of the middle classes, black youth have been marginalised. Academies of all kinds with combined assets of £60 bn have not created more educational opportunities for working class children. Although the case study focused on London, it would be surprising if its findings are not applicable to the rest of the country.
We need to act to stop this ever-expanding exclusionary system that is damaging the future of so many working class pupils. This report is a powerful tool in the hands of campaigners against exclusions, giving them an analytical perspective of the underlying social and political drivers of the system. Perera’s voice in defence of the right of poor black working class Londoners to a good education is a passionate call against injustice. It echoes the demands of Black Lives Matter against the criminal justice system resulting in impunity for police brutality and connects it with the structural injustices of the educational system which normalises the exclusion of black youth.
The key issue we face is whether the transformation of education under Conservative governments is so deeply embedded that it is irreversible. This is a practical question of resistance by the black community to mobilise a coalition with other groups against the system. This would aim to put the issue on the political agenda to challenge these policies which have led us to exclusion and segregation in education.
Such demand for change should not be for schools merely to go back to Local Authority control, but to create a new vision where schools will be democratically accountable to the communities they serve. One transformative policy could be that schools are governed by Community School Trusts (CST). Such CST schools would be inclusive and abandon exclusion as an instrument by considering their duty to educate every child no matter how difficult. They will put in place conflict resolution, mediation and targeted support to ensure that pupils who have behavioural difficulties are supported.
Following the precedent that Academies and Free Schools are exempt from the National Curriculum, such CST schools would also be free to design their curriculum that would take into account the multi-ethnic and multicultural society we live in. The destructive competition of testing and league tables would be abolished. There would be lines of accountability with the trust governing bodies elected by the community that the school serves. Parents, teachers and students would have greater involvement in the running of schools. This might sound utopian but we need to transform our educational system to remove it from the grips of private unaccountable organisations as a wider agenda for democratisation.