Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of my white, non-Middle Eastern friends posting about Palestine and Yemen on social media. Some of the content has been about protesting recent annexations in Palestine, or the Israeli government. Others are about the famine in Yemen, though with very little political context. This is a good start, but honestly, I wish these allies would step up their game. Activism for SWANA people does not start or end with Palestine and Yemen.
I think it’s great that people are protesting imperialism by the Israeli government. However, I never see any of these people standing up for other colonized or oppressed groups in the Middle East. How many of you are standing up for the Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Yazidi, or the Druze? Listen, as a Middle-Eastern person, I get that the intricacies of ethnicity in the Middle East can be complicated. Still, there’s no excuse to not stand up for these minority groups. All of them are fighting for human rights, dignity, and autonomy. Do their struggles not matter as well? Or are their struggles just not as popular?
I’ve seen few posts about the media crackdown in Iran or the financial crisis in Lebanon – that is at least until the Beirut explosion opened people’s eyes to what’s happening in the country. Is it because these issues don’t seem as clear cut? Because it’s harder to project a white savior complex onto them? I’m not so sure.
But I do know that white Americans prefer to center conflicts where they can be the saviour.
Part of me thinks that white allies aren’t willing to speak out on these issues because there’s no media coverage. Another part of me thinks it’s because white allies don’t understand them. When it comes to issues of oppression and imperialism, white Americans have trouble seeing things outside of a Western context.
Race, ethnicity, and religion function in different and complex ways in South West Asia, and so you can’t project Western notions of oppression onto the Middle East. Often, people of the same race or religion oppress each other. It’s easier for white allies to understand Israel and Palestine, in which they are seeing white, Jewish, colonizers versus brown, Muslim, indigenous people. They don’t bother to look at the multitudes more nuanced examples of oppression.
For example, the Kurds, a majority Muslim ethnicity, face repression and violence from the Turkish government. They are often made up of Turks, who are also from a majority Muslim ethnicity. Just because they are both Muslim and appear to be the same ethnicity to Western eyes, doesn’t mean that oppression can’t function in this way. In Palestine, right now, a government made up of Jewish people is oppressive. Still, in most other countries in the area, Jewish people, specifically indigenous Mizrahi or Sephardic Jews, are oppressed by majority ethnic groups.
I’d ask white Western allies to examine why they only pay attention to certain issues. It’s great if you’re passionate about these causes, but consider why you only care about the ones that are trending.
It’s also important for white Westerns to not hold double standards for South West Asian countries. Go ahead and criticize the imperialism and ethno-nationalism present in the Israeli government. It’s justified. But don’t you dare ignore the settler colonialism that created countries such as America, South Africa, Australia, or the ethno-nationalism responsible for the formation of almost every European country.
Speak out for the treatment of ethnic minorities in Turkey, by all means. But you still must ask yourself how your own country treats ethnic minorities as well. If you’re upset over the media crackdown in Iran, make sure you also criticize secret police arrests in Portland.
Many white Western allies are making an effort, but they need to do better. I understand that Middle Eastern politics can be confusing, but it’s not helpful to anyone to reduce these issues to a singular “endless war” that only Westerners can solve. Palestine and Yemen are great starting points, but we need more consistent allyship. I want to see white Western allies show up even when it’s not trendy.
So stand with us even when you don’t hear about it in the news, even when you don’t gain “woke pains,” and even when it’s complex and not easy to understand. If you’re a real ally, it shouldn’t be an issue.
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