06 July 2020

By Ziyaad Ebrahim Patel

Above Photo – An Israeli soldier presses his knee into the neck of Palestinian youth in the West bank city of al-Khalil                           (Hebron) on May 11, 2012, Occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com

The untimely death of George Floyd has sparked outrage, but also anti-racism campaigns across the United States and the world.

Rights groups are vehement, racial discrimination is deeply entrenched in American society. Racism against black Americans is rife despite every US citizen, black or white expected to be accorded equality of civil and political rights

It becomes incumbent to investigate whether the current US political establishment perpetuates white racial supremacy and discrimination or diffuses racial tension by advancing life, equality and human dignity to all its citizens.

NEVER JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER

Trump’s predecessor was the first black president which appeared on the edifice, America had finally evolved from its racial enclave. But the parochial proverb, “never judge a book by its cover’ could not hold truer in underscoring the darker shade of skin colour would respect human rights, including the right to life, dignity and equality.

It is unfortunate that US foreign policy under Obama’s administration was fraught with a dismal global human rights track record.

US military forces have been at war for all eight years of Obama’s tenure, the first two-term president with that distinction of airstrikes or military raids in at least seven countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.

Photo – Former US President Barack Obama

 THE CASSIUS CLAY TRANSFORMATION    

A comparison of influential black leaders on human rights and international solidarity, I am drawn to the US civil rights movement in the 1960’s. Muhammad Ali was voted the greatest athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated. This rights advocate was stripped off his championship titles and at the prime of his career was banned in participating from heavyweight boxing.

Why? He undertook a just religious and moral position at a time of heightened black consciousness where white superiority complexes and racism tore through the United States. This infringed on his own human dignity and equality rights, whilst in the same vein he was conscripted to serve in the US army to fight an unjust and immoral war.

He aptly argued it was his government that acted immorally, and he did not personally have any dispute with the Viet Kong.

Photo – Muhammad Ali, Sports in Black and White, A study of civil rights movement through sports

DEMOGRAPHICS OF BLACK US SERVICEMAN

In 2019, Pew Research Center disclosed 2017 racial and ethnic profiling – 57% of US service members were white, 16% black and 16% Hispanic. Some 4% of all active duty personnel were Asian and an additional 6% identified as “other” or unknown.

The Iraq war, black serviceman constituted an average of at least 15% combat troops in-country at any given time and in the earliest weeks of the conflict accounted for a startlingly high percentage of casualties.

Black US servicemen have been actively deployed to regions like Afghanistan and Iraq in sustaining US imperial hegemony. These unsanctioned wars have incontrovertibly inflicted severe harm and displaced millions posing a direct danger to world peace, safety and security.

Should these servicemen implicated in the gravest perpetration of injustices against humanity, war crimes and disproportional use of force be preferentially treated on the premise that a black life holds more weight than an innocent human life? Of course not.

                              Photo – Reuters US Iraq War Timeline, The Telegraph

ANTI-RACISM FIRST AND FOREMOST IS A HUMAN STRUGGLE FOR OUR COMMON HUMANITY

We must remain conscious in our advocacy tools by not inadvertently excluding global solidarity to localised struggles which may perpetuate the colonial psyche of white domination. More so, can we ever expect of white neo conservative supremacists deeply rooted in racism to acknowledge black lives matter without further humiliation to black people?

The South African anti-apartheid struggle was able to successfully bridge that gap in bringing black African equality rights to the fore.  Anti-racism constitutes first and foremost a human struggle of our common humanity that must be protected by law. So too, should other struggles by emphasising that being human comes first before colour, creed or religion.

The analogy may be applied in how successive US administrations have cast peace loving Muslims as terrorists. Whilst the war on terror conceived Islamophobia, the struggle continues in changing Islamophobic attitudes that tramp equality and dignity rights of Muslims.

Do all Muslims lives matter? The answer lies in human rights which must be applied equally to any religious affiliation which may justly and constitutionally be limited by the rule of law, where religious fanaticism antithetic to any religious beliefs poses or causes severe harm or danger upon the life and dignity of other innocent human beings.

FLOYD’S MURDER IS A MICROCOSM OF THE EFFECTS OF US IMPERIALISM

Successive US administrations have unashamedly iterated that its economic and regional interests will always trump fundamental human rights violations and war crimes, be they in the middle east states Iraq and Syria or Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya. Notwithstanding, the US long and brutal history of covert operations in Latin America and recent political meddling in sovereign states like Venezuela.

Saudi Arabia and Israel routinely violate, torture and maim its own citizens or those protected under international humanitarian law and the Geneva conventions with full support and enjoyment of US bilateral ties. Acts of resupplying these regimes with military munitions in crimes perpetrated against the Yemenis and Palestinians are wholly unconscionable deeds.

Floyd’s murder is a microcosm of the millions of dead and displaced in the Middle East. The physical defects of children born in Iraq, from the effects of depleted uranium belies a nefarious system which has for decades advanced imperial hegemony, despite the skin tone colour of its Commander in Chief or its US serviceman.

One must probe into the agenda of security collaboration between abusive agencies where   aggressive law enforcement, manhandling of Palestinians languishing in Israeli prisons and detention centres in the OPT’ s or slaying of the innocent and vulnerable, like Eyad Al Hallaq remains a daily occurrence in Palestinian lives.

The importation onto American shores and into the Minneapolis Police law enforcement agency with the deadly knee on neck restraint, “I can’t breathe!” must beckon the plight of the oppressed.  

Photo – Israel Palestine News, Israeli police officers detain a Palestinian protestor on March                          12, 2019

 PEACE IN THE 21st CENTURY

We must strive for a safe future world for all who live in it, where life, dignity and equality rights are mutually respected. This requires assiduous implementation within a constitutionally informed universal human rights framework.

With zero tolerance on racial discrimination, law enforcement and institutionalised commissions and equality courts in adherence to a human rights culture, may be the beginning in altering racist colonial divides of the “us” and “them” mentality.

 Towards a common citizenry of life, equality, human dignity and opportunity must be the mantra.

Equally so, should be strong advocacy by Rights Groups for transformation of US Foreign Policy ushering in an era of accountability for war crimes perpetrated under imperial agendas seeking justice for the innocent violated with impunity. The US must submit its state leaders and military commanders to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court for war crimes investigation.

The calling for reform whilst not abusing veto rights in safeguarding universal human rights rather than protecting regional interests at the UN Security Council will perhaps advance and restore the purpose of the United Nations formation.

ANTI APARTHEID STRUGGLE

For universality of human rights causes, I draw on my own country which bore the brunt of white supremacy, apartheid, and colonisation. The anti-apartheid struggle was hard fought on commonality principles that out of apartheid would emerge a multiracial, free and democratic society ascribed in the freedom charter for all who live in it. This was ratified in the South African constitution, considered to be the most advanced entrenchment and justiciable bill of rights. These inalienable rights include both civil and political rights with non-discrimination on race, colour, creed, or religion.

The anti-apartheid struggle succeeded for a multitude of reasons, economic sanctions, boycotts, divestment, global solidarity, grass root resistance, UN resolutions and conventions on suppression of apartheid and state enforcement.

Indeed, the wisdom of creating a multiracial society where human rights applied displaced counterproductive ideals. Nelson Mandela at the infamous Rivonia treason trial declared from the dock, “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

 CLOSING REMARKS

The future demands that we breakout out of historical colonial shackles of race and class divides, which imprison minds. Our different shades must enrich our common humanity as South Africans embraced a rainbow nation. Mandela’s profound words at the cusp of his freedom, As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind , I’d still be in prison”.

We must advance out of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, wars and regional conflict to realise an economically equitable and environmentally sustainable world free of militarism, occupation and prejudice.

Finally, Oliver Tambo’s prophetic words are relevant today as when it was first said, “What we want in South Africa is our humanity to be acknowledged”.

This should equally apply to the world we live in today in growing inclusive societies with the uprighteous morality of Muhammad Ali and his generation in upholding human rights.   

 

Author: Ziyaad Ebrahim Patel

Practising Attorney in Johannesburg. Partner at the firm Ziyaad E Patel Attorneys. International Human Rights and LAWFARE ACTIVIST.