Conflicted Commitments

Conflicted Commitments: Race, Privilege, and Power in Solidarity Activism

Copyright Date: 2014
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  • Book Info
    Conflicted Commitments
    Book Description:

    Conflicted Commitments analyzes a form of non-violent, direct transnational solidarity in which activists from the global North travel to support and protect people in the global South. Gada Mahrouse contends that this brand of activism is a compelling site of racialized power relations and is highly instructive for a nuanced understanding of systems of race. Mahrouse argues that the individuals who partake in this form of activism consciously deploy their white, western privilege to offer support and protection to those facing threats of violence. Moreover, given that this type of activism asserts itself as an exemplary form of anti-racist commitment, it illustrates that well-meaning practices can inadvertently reproduce racialized power structures that are embedded in imperial and colonial legacies. Mahrouse focuses on Palestine and Iraq in the post-9/11 era to contemplate the contemporary challenges that these regions pose for solidarity activism. By exploring how individual activists manage and negotiate their dominant positioning in these encounters, Mahrouse reflects more broadly on the ethics of social justice strategies in an increasingly transnational world. A detailed study of the racialized complexities and contradictions inherent in transnational solidarity activism, Conflicted Commitments makes a significant contribution to critical race and feminist studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9208-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Passport or Carte Blanche? On Race, Privilege, and Power in Transnational Solidarity Activism
    (pp. 3-24)

    An Internet search for the term “international solidarity” turns up many compelling calls for volunteers by various movements, networks, and organizations in recent years. One is an “urgent” call posted on the website of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). It is an invitation to “internationals” to come join Palestinian communities for the Olive Harvest Campaign. The presence of these volunteer-activists is needed, the website explains, because “it has proven in the past to help limit and decrease the number and severity of attacks and harassment.”³ Another is the Oaxaca Solidarity Network (OSN) request for an emergency humanitarian delegation to provide...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Whiteness and the Divergent Responses to Rachel Corrie’s Death
    (pp. 25-44)

    The white girl from Olympia, Washington, to whom Palestinian-American poet Suheir Hammad is referring in the quote above is Rachel Corrie, a twenty-three-year-old who died in Palestine on 16 March 2003.³ Corrie went there as a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). In an attempt to block an Israeli army bulldozer from demolishing a Palestinian home, Corrie stood squarely in its way, and it subsequently crushed her to death. Hammad’s poem, written just days after Corrie’s death, and just prior to the impending American invasion of Iraq, wrestles with ways of maintaining hope in the face of militarism and...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The CPT Kidnapping: Citizenship, Sexuality, and the Racialized “Politics of Life”
    (pp. 45-62)

    In late 2005, four men with a group called Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) were kidnapped in Baghdad. Two of the men, James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden, were identified as Canadian citizens, Tom Fox as American, and Norman Kember as British. Soon after the kidnapping was reported on international news, the public learned that cpt is a long-established organization whose members are driven by the Christian faith and the principle of non-violence and that the organization had an ongoing presence in Iraq since October 2002, prior to the last US military invasion.¹ Their motto is “getting in the way” which...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Compelling Story of the First World Activist in the War Zone
    (pp. 63-78)

    In addition to the protection they can offer by being physically present in war zones, many First World solidarity activists who travel to conflict zones also gather and disseminate reports on the conditions of violence and repression that they observe with the idea that they can raise awareness as well as summon political pressure because they relay information that is not readily available in mainstream Western media. Being physically present at the geopolitical site of conflict enables the activists to offer eyewitness testimonials and report on the conditions first-hand. Typically, the information they disseminate are moving accounts of the horrors...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Race-Conscious Transnational Activists with Cameras: Mediators of Compassion
    (pp. 79-92)

    In her bookRegarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag traces how photographic pictures are largely believed to provide evidence of “truth” in advanced capitalist democracies.² She and others have shown that when accompanying written or oral text, photographs reinforce ethnographic and journalistic claims on authority, independence, authenticity, neutrality and objectivity.³ Sontag points out that this especially applies to photographs taken by amateurs because they are considered more authentic, or less “staged.”⁴ Wendy Kozol suggests that this is because on their own, witness testimonies can be discredited whereas visual documentation has historically retained great authority as juridical evidence.⁵ Moreover, Catherine...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Conflicted Commitments: The “Fine Line Between Advocacy and Imperialism”
    (pp. 93-116)

    One of the lines of inquiry followed in this book is how First World transnational solidarity activists negotiate and manage their dominant positioning in relation to their social justice commitments and understandings. Specifically, I am interested in how individual activists understand and reconcile their roles vis-à-vis racialized power.

    The eighteen activists whose experiences are examined in this book represent a range of motivations and perspectives.³ They were associated with various faith-based, women’s, and/or political groups, each with a particular mandate and political/philosophical orientation. Their political views and commitments ranged from anarchy to pacifism, and they had been involved in various...

  11. CHAPTER SIX “Split Affinities”: Gender and Sexual Violence in Solidarity Movements
    (pp. 117-136)

    An Internet flyer that reached the desk of a right-wing Israeli newspaper journalist in 2010 led to heated feminist debates and what has been described as “a media storm.”² The flyer advertised a sexual harassment workshop for young Israeli women activists who were involved in direct-action solidarity against the occupation in theSheikh Jarrahneighbourhood of East Jerusalem.³ The very need to hold such a workshop, the journalist argued, was evidence of the widespread sexual harassment of young women activists by Palestinian men with whom they were in solidarity. In response to these accusations, Yvonne Deutsch, a long-time feminist anti-occupation...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Liberal Universalism and Pragmatism: Implications for Decolonizing Solidarity
    (pp. 137-154)

    As the chapters in the book thus far have shown, the political efficacy of accompaniment-observer activism largely depends on being seen and recognized as white/Western, and therefore as distinct from those being targeted by violence. In effect, it is a politic of embodied racialized practice insofar as activists’ bodies serve as symbolic markers of whiteness. This book began by questioning why race is rarely explicitly acknowledged in this activism despite the blatant ways in which it is mobilized. In this chapter I return to this question to theorize how that comes to be.

    The experiences of the activists I interviewed...

  13. AFTERWORD: Solidarity Tourism and the Depoliticization of Activism
    (pp. 155-164)

    At the start of this book I was interested in a small subset of thoughtful, exceptionally committed, and socially conscious people who travel to conflict zones with the explicit intent to participate in social justice demonstrations and activism. Yet, I end the book on the topic of tourism to suggest that deep consideration of the increasing overlap between tourism and activism is needed.

    The blurring between transnational, direct action activism and tourism first became evident to me when I solicited the views of Palestinian community leaders to consider tensions arising for them in their work with Western solidarity activists. I...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 165-198)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 199-220)
  16. Index
    (pp. 221-230)