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Ryan – 2 Steven – 0

steven_salaita_resizeI first met Steven a few years ago when a particularly odious article was brought to my attention by an Indian friend of mine who read something he had written comparing Jews to the American and Canadian settlers who colonized North America. My friend who was not very well versed in the subject of Middle Eastern politics, was knowledgeable enough to say “How can the Jews be colonizers when even the Bible tells us that is where the Jews came from?” I explained that people like Steven care less for facts than they do for emotional impact, and that basically they inverted history in order to usurp the Jewish indigenous claims to their ancestral homelands.

Anyone capable of reading past a 4th grade level knows that Arabs come from Arabia and that they left the Hejaz (Arabian Peninsula) in the 7th century, and went on a binge conquering most of what was the known world at the time – colonizing and forcefully converting many indigenous peoples, especially in the Middle East (something Salaita’s mentor and hero Edward Said neglects to mention in any of his books on colonization and Orientalism).

I don’t think I really have to tell you all about Steven. This is a guy who whined about being de-hired to teach Native American studies after tweeting several ridiculously antisemitic things and being called out for it. Some tried to turn him into a champion of free speech, apparently forgetting that Steven has also been a very loud and very vocal proponent of BDS, signing the NAISA petition to support it. For those of you who do not know, BDS is the very antithesis of free speech – it’s the silencing of Israeli academics and artists.

I think that someone who attempts to silence academics and artists is rather hypocritical when they claim to be proponents of free speech and academic freedom, but what would I know? I don’t have a PhD, in fact I think PhD stands for Piled Higher and Deeper.

I, as an actual Indian, find it problematic that almost none of the people teaching Native Studies have degrees in anything relevant. Most of them have degrees in such academic fields as Consciousness Studies, English Literature and other completely ridiculous fields that have nothing to do with anything remotely concerning Indians. Salaita’s hiring, I believe, came strictly through his buddy buddy relationship with another anti-Israel clown named Robert Warrior, who also has written a pile (and I use that word on purpose) of execrable refuse that is better suited to lining a birdcage than actually being read by serious academics. After all how can anyone take someone seriously when they insist that the return of indigenous people, who were forcefully displaced, ever be compared to colonization? I find it very interesting that so many Native Studies teaching positions are held by unqualified and outright damaging individuals. That needs to change.

I think that the constant attempts by these people to co-opt the Native North American story needs to be called out, because it’s damaging and dangerous. Many Native activists have been taught a false narrative but many of them are intelligent enough to see the truth when it’s shown to them. I cannot help but notice that when the Arabs talk about the struggle against colonialism, they rarely make salient points, preferring to remain vague rather than detailed. Salaita is very guilty of this.

Now for Steven’s most recent idiocy, I can only assume that he is not used to peer review that isn’t done by his buddies of like mind – and I am not Steven’s peer by any valid or logical measure. I am by far his superior by orders of magnitude. Steven never uses one word when ten will suffice, and he tends to attempt to utilize grandiose verbalization in order to obfuscate the issue. In plain English, he tries to baffle us with bullshit. He tries to use as many buzzwords, and frankly it gets more than ridiculous. But then Steven has never had any shame.

I will go from the beginning to critique his article and debunk it point by point.

“There’s no way to adequately represent the heterogeneity of Native and Palestinian viewpoints, commitments and ambitions. It is unwise to present Indian Country and Palestine as stable sites of inquiry, especially if we approach them in tandem.”

I was not aware that DNA had anything to do with viewpoints, commitments and ambition. I cannot speak for Arabs who are actually not heterogeneous – and in fact consist of an extremely large genetic background given their conquering and colonization of what was almost the entire known world – but I can speak for native people in North America when I say we are far from homogeneous (the word I think Steven actually meant to use) when it comes to our viewpoints, commitments and ambitions.  It is unwise to present Indian country (actual indigenous peoples) and “Palestine” (descendants of colonizers and forcefully colonized people who accepted the conqueror’s mantle) as in any way similar.

“The point of comparison isn’t to theorize uniformity, but to discover political and intellectual paradigms that traverse national, cultural and geopolitical boundaries.

Comparative work is exceptionally difficult; my sloppiness often inspires rejoinder and correction. Tension is a necessary element of meaningful dialogue.”

The problem with Salaita making a statement like this is many fold, but let’s focus on the largest ones. The idea that all oppressions are interconnected assumes that all oppressions are valid and real. To make the assumption that political and intellectual paradigms traverse national cultural and geopolitical boundaries makes the assumption that you will do it in an intellectually honest and unbiased manner. His self admitted sloppiness often stems from lack of knowledge and a need to remain vague and the mental gymnastics required to maintain his ill thought out and biased positions. How exactly can one base one’s position on valid scholarly sources when there are none? For instance, one cannot deny the indigenous status of the Jewish people when using any meaningful checklist just as one cannot make an argument for Palestinian indigenous status based on any meaningful checklist. The only argument Salaita ever gives for indigenous status that could even be arguable is that the Arabs have been there for a “really long time.” They have no cultural constructs generated in the land of Israel, they have no spiritual or ancestral sites, and they cannot point to any traditions that are solely stemming from “Palestinian” cultural genesis. There was never a self-ruled entity called “Palestine” under control of Arabs who called themselves Palestinians. If one’s basic premise is completely based on falsity, one’s premise invites correction. The tension comes not from meaningful dialogue but from the usurpation of Jewish history, culture and basically their people’s entire story.

“We have to select which points of tension are worth navigating. Here I’m concerned with the perception that Natives are defeated and disinherited. This perception exists in the Arab World, but originates in Canada and the United States.

People often assume that Natives have been permanently dispossessed or exist as ahistorical monuments of conquest unable to access modernity, if they exist at all.

Based on this assumption, those concerned with the colonization of Palestine can be tempted to evoke Natives as the victims of a tragic fate that Palestinians must avoid.”

This is kind of hilarious. Steven himself has been accused of using Native Americans as a ploy or as a tool to evoke pity for the Arabs he calls Palestinians. He even wrote a book about it where he compares the return of indigenous people to self-rule over their former conqueror/colonizers, to the colonization of North America, two events that are in no way similar unless one takes a very basic and flawed reading of the history. How does one compare the return of the Jews whose culture, language and traditions all stem from the Levant, who were killed, subjugated and forcefully converted by Arabs who arrived in the 7th century? How does one say that the ARABS – who were descended from conquerors and who maintained relatively privileged positions over the actual indigenous people even under the Ottomans and who conducted pogroms against Jews while ascendant, who forcefully kept the Jewish populations low through a combination of genocide and resource impediment, and even under Jewish rule now have access to usurped sacred sites and have had a vast population growth WHILE UNDER JEWISH RULE – are anything like Native North Americans who had our populations drastically REDUCED through genocide, resource impediment and various other measures taken to reduce or remove entire populations? The ridiculousness of this comparison is not just sloppy, its criminal. We do not need Steven to speak for us when the obvious cost of his “advocacy” is to weaponize our struggle against other indigenous peoples.

“It is based on an inaccurate understanding of both the past and present. Of course we don’t want Palestinians to be forever deprived of their homeland or exist as romantic emblems of an irretrievable past. Nor do we want Israel to eternally occupy Palestine’s history.”

Steven’s entire understanding of the past and present is based on inaccuracy. He subscribes to Edward Said’s ridiculous view of the world, where everything “white” is bad and everything “brown” is good. While there may be solid arguments against colonization and the world view that led to it, Steven applies inconsistent standards in his criticisms, for instance allowing Arabs to commit genocide in the Middle East against multiple indigenous peoples, forcefully converting millions to Islam and imposing their value and belief systems on an unwilling populace.  Sound familiar? Of course it does, because the truth is that settler colonialism does exist, it’s just not always “white people” behind it. In fact, it happened in Africa – it happened across the Middle East during the Arab conquest, something Steven and people like Steven would prefer to ignore because it invalidates their entire position. The Arabs are the ones who are trying to steal someone else’s homeland. Israel consists of less than 1 percent of the Middle Eastern land mass. History, genetics, archaeology, pretty much all of science, supports the claims of the Jews over that of the colonialist Arabs, yet Steven clings to this false narrative the way a child clings to his baby blanket. I would like Steven to provide us with some of “Palestine”’s history that isn’t Jewish; to be honest I’ve been waiting for years.

The entire next section is Steven’s ham-handed, unsubtle method of sucking up to Indians. We are well aware of the struggle for decolonization, as we live it. In his usual obvious way, Steven yet again tries to get us Natives onside with detailing how Native people are regaining our precolonial indigenous culture, traditions and beliefs and shedding colonialist thought processes and identity forced on us by colonialists. But if Steven was honest, he would understand what this means for Middle Eastern people who have lived under Muslim domination for a couple of centuries. This, though, would remove the majority of his support base, because the people who now self identify primarily as Muslims, who make up the anti-Israel commonality, would never accept actual decolonizing. They prefer to think decolonizing means screaming about America and Europe and the “West” in general (white man bad brown man good to paraphrase Orwell). They do not understand that it is actually about regaining your identity.

If one really applies the methodology of actual decolonization to the “palestinian” struggle, one sees quickly that it means that anyone who carries indigenous Jewish blood, should be relearning Hebrew, Jewish spirituality, history and culture and regaining their JEWISH identity, while anyone who is Arab from other countries, would either be acknowledging their actual history and not trying to steal indigenous people’s land, or self-determination, and fitting into the national identity as allies of the indigenous Jewish people, not co-opting and appropriating Jewish sacred sites, history and culture. Steven and his ilk do not want to see actual decolonization in “Palestine” because it would result in their entire cause being exposed for what it is, a sneaky more neo left-wing sounding version of colonization, the usurpation of indigenous people’s very identity in order to replace them with colonizers.

“Working on Palestine solidarity from the Arab World doesn’t necessitate the inclusion of Natives, though any analysis of Israeli settler colonization that ignores corresponding colonial projects will be limited.

Working on Palestine solidarity from North America, however, does necessitate emphasis on Natives. Casting aside the notion that Natives no longer exist or are relics of a tragic past means making ourselves available to assist their political aspirations.”

This is why I find these people problematic – they are colonizing the struggle against colonization. They do not have a valid narrative based on fact; they have a narrative that requires them to steal credibility from the struggles of my people. We neither want nor need the assistance of these people, people who use terrorism in their own failed bid to remove indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands. Here Steven is openly admitting that his cause needs our credibility, that they need to emphasize our struggle. What he doesn’t say is that it’s because our struggle is real and valid and they need that veneer of honesty to hide the truth of their “struggle”.

“For instance, to perform boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) activism in North America means being attuned to the horrors of settler colonization. Being attuned to those horrors should entail an understanding of its existence in the geographies we inhabit.

This isn’t to say that we must find ways to make Natives and Palestinians analogous. We merely need to recognize that our obligations extend beyond Palestine.

Those of us in North America inhabit contested spaces. Deciding to align with the native or the settler should be an easy choice.”

In point of fact, BDS is nothing more than bigotry. It is not activism in any sort of way. Salaita earlier in this piece wrote of tension being necessary for dialogue, but BDS is anti dialogue. It’s all about the silencing of any dissenting voice. It’s based on this flawed understanding of colonization that is at the heart of the “Palestinian” argument. The funny part is that suddenly Salaita is no longer trying to make Native Americans analogous to Arabs – enough of us are speaking up now against that obvious fallacy.

“Read as much as you can about Indigenous peoples in North America (and, preferably, on other continents).

Seek sites of protest, celebration and learning. Proffer the forms of support that you most appreciate in relation to Palestine solidarity activism.

In short, participate in the projects that enliven rather than ossify Indigenous peoples around the world.”

While I encourage people to read about Native Americans, we do not appreciate the forms of support that anti Israel people proffer us. We do not want your solidarity when it comes with the price of Jew hate – we have enough problems in our communities with bigotry and prejudice. We do not need to add your burden.

It is his conclusion where Steven comes right and says what he really wants…

“Despite my vigorous rejection of the disappearing Native paradigm, we can nonetheless find appropriate models for Palestinian nationalism among Native communities.

Instead of declaring that we don’t want Palestinians to become like Natives, it would be more accurate to think of Natives as a model for Palestinian resistance and survival. The point isn’t simply recognition, but to emphasize the need for decolonization in North America.

Natives are still around despite persistent attempts at physical extermination and centuries of forced assimilation. They vigorously contest land theft and violations of autonomy. They are at the forefront of movements to transform the US and Canada from plutocratic armories into spaces of equality and justice.

If Palestinians can similarly survive the brutal assault on their peoplehood, as they have done thus far, then it will be an achievement worthy of celebration. That Natives aren’t fully liberated doesn’t negate the value of thoughtful comparison; it amplifies the need to compare.

It likewise amplifies the need to make decolonization of North America a central feature of BDS activism in the US and Canada.”

Again, we are not “models” for the palestinians. In fact, we have very little in common with them and, unlike them, we are living on our ancestral lands for the most part. We are still fighting for self-determination and we do not use terrorism as a mechanism for it. Steven continues trying to force a commonality that simply does not exist. The ARABS ARE NOT INDIGENOUS TO THE LAND THEY ARE CLAIMING, they have no connection to the land that is not simply from a small percentage carrying indigenous blood – the vast majority of “palestinians” do not have ancestral ties that date past grandparents or great grandparents. Trying to tie this to BDS, which goes against every native American Ethos, is beyond the pale and quite frankly ridiculous.

“As long as we practice anti-Zionist ethics on colonized ground, we necessarily involve ourselves in the politics of Native independence, whether or not we’re aware of that involvement.”

No thank you! As stated before, we do not want your baggage. You were continuously offered a state on someone else’s ancestral lands and refused because you were venal and greedy – that’s a poor example for us.

“Those in the Arab World can explore the implications of discussing the United States and Canada as settler colonies rather than merely as imperial powers.”

This is the pot calling the kettle black. It’s hypocritical and ignores your own culpability in colonization in the Middle East. I suggest you do some soul searching and introspective research. Start with Arab conquest seventh century – Google is your friend.

“This sort of shift might generate greater recognition of Natives as contemporaneous agents and produce even deeper understanding of the conditions in North America that inform the colonization of Palestine.”

Our struggles are not the same, and its funny that Steven’s entire long-winded and poorly thought out screed could have been avoided and time saved had he simply written this in the first place. Now however, we all know that Israelis regaining their ancestral lands is nothing like what happened in North America. Yay science.

“Wherever we live, it is imperative to avoid replicating narratives of colonial triumph.”

Israel is the antithesis of colonial triumph. In fact, it’s the first time that an ancient indigenous people has not only managed to survive forced displacement, but also the first time an indigenous people has regained control of their ancestral lands. I know this is problematic for colonizers and conquerors, especially ones like Steven who descend from the people who displaced and colonized Jews and now must watch as they build a thriving and amazing nation in a place where the Muslims only created desolation. And the temerity of those Jews to do it without oil? That’s adding insult to injury!

“We needn’t set Natives and Palestinians against one another in fixed iterations of linear history. It’s better to participate in the timeless models of resistance that disturb settlers on both sides of the Atlantic.”

Au contraire mon enemy, my people are nothing like yours. We believe in decolonization, we believe in indigenous rights and we believe that all indigenous peoples have those rights, while you believe that colonization is ok as long as it’s done by Arabs.

So in conclusion, please stop trying to tie your wagon to ours. You have your own “struggle” massively aided by oil money and the UN’s billions. It’s nothing like ours and its offensive for you to keep pushing yourself where you are neither wanted nor needed. Away with you, your sloppy academics and your pathetic desire to steal my peoples struggle to go with your stolen history and false narrative. Get lost.

About the author

Picture of Ryan Bellerose

Ryan Bellerose

A member of the indigenous Metis people, Ryan grew up in the far north of Alberta, Canada with no power nor running water. In his free time, Ryan plays Canadian Rules Football, reads books, does advocacy work for indigenous people and does not live in an Igloo.
Picture of Ryan Bellerose

Ryan Bellerose

A member of the indigenous Metis people, Ryan grew up in the far north of Alberta, Canada with no power nor running water. In his free time, Ryan plays Canadian Rules Football, reads books, does advocacy work for indigenous people and does not live in an Igloo.
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