Thursday, November 29

Cultural Practices and Colonialism

Nunatsiavut means "our beautiful land" in Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit. This is the name of my home territory in Labrador. Nunatsiavut is the realization of a dream for Inuit to have sovereignty; however I don't view it as true independence since we are still in Canada. What this version of sovereignty means is that we have more control over our land and that Canadians acknowledge it is our territory and we have inherent rights to it. The Inuit negotiated a self government deal with Canada. If only this were true for Palestinians.

A ceasefire has been called in Israel and Palestine. This is the news many people have been wanting to hear. Both sides claim victory but is there a victory for either side? What are the implications for Palestinians and Israelis? Palestinians want their homeland, a right of return for refugees and a cessation of illegal homes being built on their lands. Israelis claim they would like peace and security but they have been illegally stealing more Palestinian land.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is meeting with the UN this week to request to have Palestine recognized as a legitimate state. This is being opposed by Israel, the USA and Canada. However, there is overwhelming support from over 100 other nations and that is enough for the resolution to be passed. This is a great step for Palestinians in their fight for independence.

"We are (operating) on four fronts: The military front, the home front, the diplomatic front and the public diplomacy front. We must fight for the truth, for the facts, and your help is worth more than gold ... refuting the industry of lies," Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Cultural production has been central to colonialism. Edward Said, the Palestinian American scholar who is known for his ground breaking work in post colonial theory discussed the relationship between culture and imperialism in his book "Culture and Imperialism." Mr. Said who was a literature professor had a distinguished career in examining European literature and art history. His work compelled him to examine how culture was involved in European colonialism. His theory of Orientalism asserts that people of "Orient" or "Middle East" were depicted inaccurately by Europeans for the service of colonialism. That is to say that in order to justify the mistreatment of colonized peoples, they were to be depicted as inferior.

Said's thoughts about Orientalism have been applied to other colonial nations. It isn't difficult to draw  parallels between colonized peoples the world over; whether it is Israel and Palestine, Canada and native peoples or New Zealand and Maoris... there is a similar practice of dominance and subjugation. The scope of colonialism is breathtaking since Europeans colonized 85% of the earth.
How was the project of colonialism sold to the European masses? It was not only through material gains for colonial nations, it was also via propaganda depicting the "native" as inferior beings who needed to be saved. The more superior people and culture had to rescue the natives (from themselves).

Above, a still photo taken from a video on the website Electronic Intifada. Israel hijacked Al Quds, the Palestinian TV station to promote propaganda, depicting the leader of Hamas as rats. Credit: Electronic Intifada.
 Even now, in Israel and Palestine, cultural depictions are also central to the colonial project, though the methods have changed from earlier times. Today the information machine is operational via the Internet, television, radio, books, newspapers and magazines etc. The website Electric Intifada reported that the Israeli government hijacked Palestinian TV Al Quds with its own version of "truth" and in a video clip depicted the leaders of Hamas as rats and to promote a pro-Israel message. This act not only demonstrates the lengths to which Israel will go to affect public opinion, it demonstrates the technological power that that nation possesses.

"You cannot continue to victimize someone else just because you yourself were a victim once-- there has to be a limit."-- Edward Said

Israel deploys many tactics to affect public opinion. As part of its knowledge production regimen, Israel has created an "anti-incitement index" in order to monitor Palestinian information about Israel which is seen in the examination of school textbooks and other literature.

Israel also has staff who surf the internet during any escalation to give its side of the story, hitting social media sites like twitter and facebook. A report by reveals that the Israeli government seeks hundreds of volunteers to send out misinformation about Israel to gain international support. Recently, Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at a conference to rally people to join this "media war."

"We are (operating) on four fronts: The military front, the home front, the diplomatic front and the public diplomacy front. We must fight for the truth, for the facts, and your help is worth more than gold ... refuting the industry of lies," Netanyahu said.
With Palestinians being able to publish information via the Internet immediately and cheaply, they too can affect public opinion. It appears they are winning. In a Spring 2012 opinion poll commissioned by BBC--22 nations were polled and overwhelmingly Israel was viewed as mostly negative. Out of the 22 nations that were polled, 17 viewed Israel as mostly negative.

With all the attempts to control what is said about Israel, it is failing in international public approval in my view because of:
 1)  its actions against Palestinians and human rights violations 2) the theft of more Palestinian land by building more "settlements" on Palestinian territory. 
These contravene international law and Israel should be brought to task for these criminal actions. Note, since this conflict began, more almost six times as many Palestinians have been killed than Israelis. This fact is in direct opposition to the propaganda Israel promotes.

We Inuit did not have to approach the UN to negotiate a deal with Canada for sovereignty. Though our territory isn't considered prime real estate and is not densely populated either (that may change with climate change, but that is another article). In other parts of Canada, many other Aboriginal groups are negotiating sovereignty and have yet to work out a deal. There are over 800 land claims currently outstanding in this nation.

Palestinians, too, will ultimately have to negotiate with their colonial state of Israel to have their land returned and for independence. However, with the deployment of the information machine and cultural practices, they may get there a little bit faster and Edward Said's dream of Palestine as a nation again may be realized.

Said's caution for Israel are still apt: "You cannot continue to victimize someone else just because you yourself were a victim once-- there has to be a limit."

Mitzi Brown is an Inuk writer living in Toronto and sixties scoop survivor originally from Nunatsiavut, Labrador.

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