Professor Connects Ferguson to Palestine

Zane Razzaq '15 Contributing Writer 

Last week on Dec. 1, Alex Lubin, Professor and Chair of the American studies department at the University of New Mexico, gave a lecture called “A History of Afro-Arab Political Imaginaries: Militarized Policing and Carceral Regimes in the U.S. and Palestine,” revealing the connections between African American political thought and the people and nations of the Middle East.

Ranging from the 1850s through the present, Lubin discussed how international geopolitics established the conditions within which African Americans imagined their freedom and the ways in which various Middle Eastern groups, like the Palestine Liberation Organization, have understood and used African American struggles to shape their own political movements. In light of the failure of grand juries in Ferguson, Mo. and New York City to indict two police officers for their use of excessive force resulting in the deaths of two unarmed black men, Lubin focused on how the United States and Israel often share policing and security methods. Throughout the lecture, he discussed examples drawn from his book, “Geographies of Liberation: The Making of an Afro-Arab Political Imaginary,” which came out earlier this year.

In discussing the solidarity between Palestinians and African Americans, Lubin began by highlighting the current examples of solidarity between residents in the Gaza Strip and protestors in Ferguson on the issue of state violence and police control in urban cities. He showed pictures from Twitter of Palestinians offering advice to protestors in Ferguson on how to cope with tear gas inhalation and other riot control methods and mentioned how Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush recently posted a message on his Instagram account comparing the events in Ferguson to Palestinian casualties during the military onslaught over this summer.

Lubin emphasized that these examples of solidarity are not new, but rather part of a long pattern of similar moments in history when African Americans and Palestinians built communities based on shared struggles of state violence and colonialism. One example is Malcolm X’s 1964 visit to Middle East and North Africa. On this trip, Malcolm X met with the head of the newly formed Palestine Liberation Organization, hoping to unite the concerns with the African American world with an anti-imperialist and Muslim social movement.

Lubin also illustrated how cultural politics has developed the Afro-Arab political imaginary, bringing specific attention to the role of poetry. The African American feminist poet June Jordan traveled to Lebanon in 1996 while it was under bombardment from Israel. Jordan, worried that the West was ignoring Lebanon, began to write several pieces dedicated to it, most famously her collection of political essays “Moving Towards Home.” Jordan also made connections between African Americans and Palestinians, writing “I was born a Black woman and now I become a Palestinian.”

He compared her writings to those Palestinian American poet Suheir Hammad, who developed Jordan’s trajectory over a decade later in her own work, “Born Black, Born Palestinian.” In one of her poems, Hammad goes through the many ideas surrounding blackness, including anti-black stereotypes and positive African diasporic images. Hammad’s poem demonstrates that blackness is multi-dimensional. For Jordan and Hammad, “Shifting between blackness and Palestinian-ness produces a political consciousness that brings African American thought and occupied Palestine into contact,” Lubin said.

Lubin also discussed the relationship between the United States and Israel, especially in regards to the sharing of police and military techniques. The United States gives Israel $3 billion annually, and $2.5 billion of that $3 billion comes back to the United States, via Israeli purchases of U.S. military equipment and military defense contracts. “That’s why the U.S.-Israel bond isn’t going to be broken anytime soon,” Lubin said, on this. “It’s based on that economic order.”

Lubin also pointed out the specific connections between the U.S. police and Israel’s, namely the way many United States police departments have received training from Israeli security forces in recent years. The relationship between U.S. police departments and Israel has become so strong that the NYPD recently opened a local branch in Israel. At least some of the law enforcement agencies that have been deployed in Ferguson — the St. Louis County Police Department and St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department — received training from Israeli security forces.

Lubin concluded the lecture by raising the question of whether or not these politics of comparisons will materialize into a social movement.