If you think acknowledging America’s awful history of slavery, genocide, and discrimination necessitates that you don’t love America, then guess what? You don’t love America! Because those things did, in fact, actually happen. So to call someone out for discussing them is less a sign that they don’t love America than a sign that you only love some vague, nonexistent fantasy version of America, and find the real thing detestable.
We like to think of historical people as trapped in the morals of their times, but history is filled with well-researched, articulate debates on the moral harms of slavery or Indian genocide—in societies that decided in favor of them anyway. The fact that we talk a lot about racism or sexism today can’t be taken as evidence that we’re effectively dealing with them.
People have been destroying physical public symbols of their oppressors since at least as far back as the ancient Egyptians. It often helps societies clarify their direction at the end of an era or in a period of transition.
In recent weeks, there has been a lot of attention of the symbols of historic oppression omnipresent in many public places in the United States. While the bulk of that has been about the Confederate Flag and monuments/statues related to the Confederate cause, this week public tributes to Christopher Columbus came in for a round of well-deserved criticism. Far less deserved was the perennial but diehard defenses, which usually show up in October (around our mystifying national holiday dedicated to him), but which made a special mid-year appearance.
People around the U.S. who are now distraught over a (once-again) vandalized statue of Christopher Columbus in Boston need to find better things to cry over and build idols to. We need a better statue and the elimination of Christopher Columbus from public spaces here. Nothing even vaguely useful or positive that he did in his life offsets the scale of the horrors he personally unleashed directly, let alone set in motion for others. If, in 2015, your hero is an incompetent 15th century genocidal “explorer” who almost single-handedly began mass chattel enslavement in the Americas, you need to admit that and own it or find someone else to cheer. There have been billions of people in history who were not total monsters. It’s not that hard to find someone halfway decent to get behind instead.
I’m also confident that, with 15 minutes of solid research, the Italian-American community — where many (but not all) of the diehards come from — could find someone way cooler and less awful (and more Italian!) to get excited about and feel pride in. This is truly not the hill to die on.
Not a great couple weeks for Qatar, in their quest to present a good face to the Western world via soft power campaigns. The latest development was that two British human/labor rights investigators, representing a Norwegian organization, disappeared suddenly on assignment in Qatar. Al Jazeera America, the US arm of the Qatari royal family’s media empire, reported that the government had confirmed yesterday that it had arrested them. They are still in detention but have now been afforded access to representatives from the British embassy.
In the first official comments made by the emirate in regards to the missing men, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said the pair were “being interrogated for having violated the provisions of the laws of the state of Qatar,” the Qatar News Agency reported.
The announcement follows calls on Qatar from rights groups including Amnesty International to reveal the whereabouts and ensure the safety of the two men, named as Krishna Upadhyaya and Ghimire Gundev.
Researcher Upadhyaya, 52, and Photographer Gundev, 36, work for the Norway-based Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD).
Both went missing on Aug. 31 as they were preparing to leave Qatar. GNRD had suggested that Qatari security services were behind their disappearance and has called for both men’s release.
On Sunday, the Qatari Foreign Ministry said that all actions taken against the men are “consistent with the principles of human rights” outlined in the laws of Qatar, and that British Embassy officials have visited them to check on their situation.
Qatar, slated to host the 2022 World Cup, has been plagued with serious and credible allegations of migrant worker abuse and enslavement generally, as well as specifically with relation to World Cup construction activities. Other British investigators delivered a damning report at the start of 2014 alleging that 4,000 enslaved workers were projected to die during World Cup preparation between now and 2022. The overall foreign worker population in Qatar is more than six times the size of the ruling Qatari population, at about 1.65 million to 250,000. The foreign population has grown very sharply in the past few years so the numbers are a bit hard to track. The ruling family and local citizens are extremely wealthy.
But the other recent development has been on the topic of Qatar’s increasingly hard to ignore state sponsorship of terrorism across the globe. It’s by no means new — involving a mix of official government money and “fundraising” by local and foreign Gulf-area plutocrats, all flowing into active conflict zones — but the condemnation is starting to intensify as Qatar continues to funnel donations, weapons, and ransom payments to extreme groups so destabilizing and threatening that virtually every other country in the area has opposed or abandoned them publicly, despite their own past histories with terror sponsorship. The cozy relationship that allows for easy “negotiation” with terrorist organizations holding kidnapped Western citizens is rapidly becoming more of a reputation liability than a strategic asset. Even Qatar’s support for somewhat more moderate organizations has been criticized heavily because it has become out of step with the agenda of the other regional powers.
(The New York Times today also attributed the rising criticism and attention in Western media to the fact that Qatar’s regional rivals have been hiring U.S. consulting firms in Washington to feed stories to journalists on the subject. But one also suspects that the sheer clash of Qatar’s soft power pretensions and modernizing aims with its terrorism ties and slave labor is a pretty tempting target for journalists anyway.)
For the latest discussion of 2018 Russian and 2022 Qatari World Cup controversies and potential consequences, listen to my radio segment with Nate on last week’s Arsenal For Democracy – Episode 98 Part 2:
Part 2 – Russian and Qatari World Cups – AFD 98
For our prior discussion of the problems surrounding the Qatar World Cup, listen to my radio segment with Nate on Arsenal For Democracy – Episode 87 Part 2 – FIFA/World Cup:
Part 2 – FIFA World Cup – AFD 87
It seems like the emancipation of 23 million serfs in Russia in 1861 was a lot better organized and planned out than the emancipation/abolition of U.S. slaves during the American Civil War happening at the same time. In part, this difference would likely have stemmed from the fact that the Imperial Russian government could act by fiat and receive compliance. Moreover, the serf-holding landowners in Russia were way more indebted/obligated toward their government (than the already literally rebelling Southern American slaveholders) and thus couldn’t resist such a decision from the central government.
But, more importantly, the committee that planned the Russian emancipation also did a lot of theorizing on how to handle emancipated serfs in a manner that didn’t trap them on old lands and gave them some economic opportunities. Freed serfs didn’t exactly get 40 acres and a mule either — and it was still a pretty bumpy outcome — but it was a lot closer to a comprehensive and effective dismantling of the system in a responsible manner. The U.S. approach seems to have ended up at “you’re free now, problem solved. ok, next thing on the agenda,” which immediately led to slavery-by-another-name practices like abusive sharecropping contracts.
President Lincoln was elected by a pro-abolition party (even though that wasn’t personally his primary or even secondary campaign plank). Many of his generals repeatedly tried to brainstorm and implement measures — such as the aforementioned, abortive 40 acres land grants proposal — to deal with the slaves encountered in the South while suppressing the rebellion (and he objected to all of them). So obviously, in spite of (and because of) the Civil War going on at the time, a lot of people in the United States were thinking about this issue on some level.
I would have hoped somebody in the Republican Party or government or military would have at least had a working group on implementation of abolition. After all, this wasn’t a foreign concept because the northern states already had plenty of experience with dismantling their slave-inclusive economies with relatively minimal disruption. Yes, they consistently had fewer slaves, but they still figured out something that worked. So the information and ideas needed to plan for this eventuality — foreshadowed as early as the Constitutional Convention of 1787 — should absolutely have been there by 1861.
But instead, U.S. abolition was implemented chaotically and indecisively over the 1860s, with little plan for what to do with/for all the freed people, and with little enforcement (especially after the removal of Federal troops at the end of Reconstruction) to prevent abuses.
As ethically bad as the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia are going to be, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is going to be worse. Several years ago, that Persian Gulf absolute monarchy, a country the size of Connecticut, won its bid to hose the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament for the summer of 2022.
Most criticism at the time focused more on the superficial (though valid) points about how hot the desert country would be in the middle of the summer and how that might affect the tournament. There was also consternation over the government’s human rights laws (the lack of them) and some allegations of possible bribery in the bid. But more recently, concerns over labor conditions in the World Cup preparation stage have pushed to the fore.
Current estimates say hundreds of marginally compensated foreign laborers preparing for the tournament have already died during construction and as many as 4,000 may be dead by the time construction ends. Some workers haven’t been paid at all in the past year and a half and all live in dangerous, packed tenements.
This is, to be clear, not a problem solely restricted to the World Cup, though that’s the angle with the most global ramifications. The overall foreign worker population in Qatar is more than six times the size of the ruling Qatari population, at about 1.65 million to 250,000. The foreign population has grown very sharply in the past few years so the numbers are a bit hard to track.
Due to oil wealth and concentrating it in native hands, Qatari citizens are among the world’s wealthiest populations. But they’ve also preserved their wealth by chronically underpaying (even enslaving) the huge migrant worker population. According to IMF data, even if the national wealth were distributed annually over the whole population, including non-citizens, everyone would still be making well over $100k a year, even adjusted for purchasing power.
Instead, through pure avarice, the kingdom is determined to keep its foreign workers — who make the country function daily — in horrid conditions.
If Qatar doesn’t make a big change soon, there’s going to be an awful lot of blood on the hands of the world through the World Cup’s presence there. And sadly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.