Professor Harik has again demonstrated a willingness to engage in open discussion on the troubled relations between Africans and Arabs (dialogue # 915). Unfortunately, his latest contribution, like the previous one, is steeped in the rhetoric of denial. Harik's defensive and escapist tone detracts from his otherwise very sensible, even if problematic, post. While it makes some crisp and insightful observations, the submission is suffused with a needless rush to defend and exonerate Arabs from charges of racism against Africans.
This defense takes off from a wrong premise: an assumption on the part of Professor Harik that one is suggesting that all Arabs are racists or that Arabs are more racist than people of other races. No one on this forum has made any such argument. There is no society, not even Hitler's Germany, where racism is subscribed to by everyone. There is, to my knowledge, no verifiable methodology for determining the degree of racist thought in a society. Nor is there an index for measuring or ranking the quantity or spread of racism in a particular locale.
Professor Harik's construction of equivalences between Arab racism and the supposed racist practices of other races is diversionary and begs the question. To the extent that the existence of racism in other parts of the world does not justify or excuse the prevalence of anti-black racism in the Arab world, I fail to see the analytical usefulness of simply pointing to the existence of racism outside the Arab world as a mitigation of Arab racism. I sincerely hope that this is not the impression Professor Harik intends to create.
Before I go into specifics, let me say that the fact that Professor Harik had to go to painstaking and laborious lengths and had to invoke a rather convoluted logic to de-Arabize Ghaddafi and cast him as an "Arabized Berber" goes to indicate the extent to which the discourse of denial can be taken. We are now supposed to be believe that Ghadaffi, who has built his political reputation and personal identity as an Arab leader (even the name of his political party, the only party in Libya, has as its first word "Arab"), is not an Arab. To therefore attribute his anti-Black policies and the racist attacks on blacks in his country to Arab racism is, according to Harik, unfair. This kind of distinction is too pedantic, too forced, and ultimately too nit-picky to belong in the province of serious intellectual discussion. It clutters and threatens to derail the main issues under discussion.
Let's not impose a strange Berber identity on a man who clearly identifies himself as an Arab, and his country as a racially Arab country, in order to mitigate or excuse his anti-black practices. The invocation of an overly complicated racial taxonomy by Professor Harik reveals a shortage of cogent defenses against the charges of anti-black racial attitudes on the part of many Arabs. At any rate, even if Ghadaffi is a Berber, are his countrymen and women all Berbers as well? The Next time the Arab submit meets, let Professor Harik insinuate publicly that the Libyans and/or their leader are not Arabs but Berbers and let's see if that does not inaugurate an internal debate on, and the questioning of, received narratives of Arab identity.
Professor Harik also discusses the Hutu/Tutsi problem, whose racio-ethnic dimensions and claims have been thoroughly researched, analyzed, and debated. He advances it as evidence of black racism. My question is: how does this excuse Arab racism against black Africans or invalidate the legitimate probing of Arab attitudes towards blacks and their interests? It is appalling that Professor Harik is clinging to a fictive distinction between racial and cultural Arabs as an analytical framework for discussing the Darfur crisis in spite of my discussion (in my last submission) of how the racial and cultural Arabization of North Sudan occurred as a process of constructing a racial and social memory anchored on intermarriages and meta-narratives of origin. I hope that Professor Harik will be bold enough to tell the North Sudanese, especially their leaders and intellectuals, that they are not Arabs. This insistence on de-Arabizing the North Sudanese is baffling since identity is ultimately a matter of personal choice and intentional and strategic immersion and assimilation.
The most disappointing and offensive aspect of Professor Harik's contribution has to be his assertion that the "rebellious" Dinkas' attitude towards the people of the politically and economically dominant North Sudan amounts to racism. Constructing equivalences is never a good way of challenging accusations bordering on immoral conduct or attitude, especially when such equivalences are forced. I hate to lapse into a lecturing mode here, since that would be condescending to the eminent Professor. But let me point out to him that while anyone, even the oppressed, is capable of expressing racism or racialism (there is a difference), the racism or racialism of the oppressed is ineffectual, inconsequential, and not morally comparable to the racism of the dominant hegemon or oppressor for two reasons:
1. Racist practices or attitudes by the oppressed are reactive rather than proactive. They are impulsive and organized mechanisms of self-defense, the natural and predictable expression of human dignity in the face of racist oppression. Such a racism does have a victim (a human object), but such a victim suffers no injury to his dignity and does not lose anything tangible from such encounters.
2. The racism of the oppressed is without power; it is not backed up by the apparatuses of power-political and economic-since the oppressed cannot translate such racism to policy, or enforce or propagate it as a norm.
I hope that this brief explanation shows to Harik the fundamental distinction between the racist attitudes of the North Sudanese and the "reverse" racialism of the Dinka. It also explains why, in the context of Africa-Arab relations, it is a contradiction in terms to suggest that Africans engage in racism towards Arabs, a charge which Professor Harik is deploying to dismiss the serious allegations of widespread Arabs racism against blacks. In more than one thousand years of recorded intercourse between Africans and the Arabs of North Africa and beyond, power-both economic and political- has always resided with the Arabs, giving them the leverage to determine the terms of engagement and thus giving them a platform to control the nature and scope of the relationship. Africans have always been the powerless "Others" in these admittedly mutually beneficial relationships. Racism is a function of power. Without power, racism can only be feebly expressed, with an inconsequential outcome or result.
It is a good thing that Arabs are engaged in the sponsorship of various initiatives in Africa. It is also significant that Arab intellectuals and institutions have made efforts to connect and collaborate with their African counterparts. But I do not see how institutional linkages between African and Arab cosmopolitan elites and intellectuals will change the deeply entrenched racist attitudes of Arabs towards black Africans. Also, one has to point out that Arab investments in Africa have been largely in the area of cultural imperialism, the building of mosques, Islamic institutes, and other cultural enterprises. Ultimately these projects are more beneficial to Arab-sponsored, self-interested dreams of pan-Islamic solidarity than they are to Africa-Arab relations or to Africa's economic development. I attended university in the Northern Nigerian city of Kano, a major of bastion of Islam in West Africa and a major recipient of such gestures of Arab cultural and religious imperialism. I am familiar with the political economy of such supposedly noble gestures of Afro-Arab friendship. As I write this, Ghaddaffi is planning to build an Islamic institute in Kano, which may soon be promoted as another gesture of tolerance and altruism by Arabs towards Sub-Saharan Africa.
None of the projects cited by Professor Harik is altruistic in nature. On the contrary, they may be disguised bribery to Sub-Saharan Africa for the routine shedding of black African blood by Arabs and for the painful sacrifices that Africans make at the altar of Afro-Arab relations, relations that do not cost Arabs anything but give them an international political clout and voice that they would otherwise not have.