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June 9, 2020

A global intifada


June 9, 2020

The ongoing protests over the May 25 police killing of George Floyd and the United States political establishment's heavy-handed response to them are seminal developments in modern American history.

They not only expose the deep-rooted racism of the American society but also provide yet another refutation to American exceptionalism – the widely-held belief that the US is fundamentally different from and superior to other nations.

This is because the events currently unfolding in the US mirror almost perfectly the core dynamics of the mass uprisings we regularly witness around the world that are triggered by the violent and oppressive policies of authoritarian or colonial regimes.

I personally experienced many such uprisings during my lifetime, in Israel-Palestine, several different Arab countries and also in the US.

I was a university student in the US in the late 1960s and early 1970s when widespread protests – then termed "race riots" – engulfed predominantly African American urban areas of the country. I also witnessed and engaged with the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement there in 2013.

What I observed in the last five decades as I lived through these citizen rebellions, and what I am feeling in my bones as I watch the widespread protests in the US today, is that they are all born out of identical political and human phenomena.

Three shared elements define all these uprisings across time and space: why protesters take to the streets, how the political ruling class reacts, and how the mainstream media covers what is happening.

First, a ravaged, poverty-stricken and helpless citizenry that has been mistreated for decades by its own ruling elite or by an occupying power finally takes to the streets to express its despair in the only manner available to it.

African Americans, Palestinians, and other Arab nationals have all suffered demeaning and sustained poverty, dilapidated socio-economic conditions, permanent political powerlessness and decades of unfulfilled promises of change.

The overriding motivation behind all the citizen rebellions that I have witnessed in my lifetime, from the repeated anti-racism protests in the US to the Arab uprisings of the past decade, has been the chronic humiliation of ordinary citizens at the hands of the ruling elites. The ruling classes' slow but steady dehumanisation of the masses eventually broke through the surface and triggered public protests.

The single demand that captures the aspirations of Palestinians, Arabs, and African Americans is "dignity" – not wealth, not power, not revenge, but human dignity. This is because dignity is the only antidote for people who feel they are being treated like animals and can be shot and killed at will.

Not surprisingly, the most common spark that sets off mass protests across the world is the killing of civilians by government troops or the private militia and thugs of ruling elites.

Oppressive governments and colonial regimes are killing unarmed, helpless citizens with the very same sense of entitlement and impunity from Palestine and the US. Within the same week that the Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, for example, Israeli army troops in Jerusalem shot and killed Iyad Halak, a 32-year-old autistic Palestinian man who did not understand their orders.

Once masses take to the streets to protest against the senseless killing of their compatriots at the hands of state security forces, the governments often make a series of generic statements: "We are investigating cases of security forces who killed unarmed civilians"; "People have the right to protest peacefully but not to use violence"; and "We will look into the wider grievances of citizens and make sure that unacceptable conditions are improved quickly."

Excerpted from: 'Towards a global intifada'.