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June 4, 2020 11:24 am

Palestinian Journalist on George Floyd Death: Arab Society ‘Must Also Examine Our Own Racism’

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Protesters gather at the scene where George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was pinned down by a police officer kneeling on his neck before later dying in hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 26, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Eric Miller.

As the world reacts to the unrest that has followed the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer last week, one Palestinian columnist wrote that Arab society “must also examine our own racism.”

According to a translation by Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), the article “What Racism Are You Talking About?” by Abd Al-Ghani Salameh and printed in the Palestinian Authority’s Al-Ayyam daily stated, “Floyd’s tragedy is also an opportunity for us Arabs to examine the forms of racism that have existed in our [societies] for millennia: racism against blacks, against women, against minorities, against people of other faiths or sects, and against the disabled.”

“Just as we demand to expose the American, Israeli or European racism against the Muslim communities, we must also examine our own racism, acknowledge its existence, and only then resume our justified campaign against all forms of discrimination and racism,” he added. “Otherwise our criticism of America’s and Israel’s racism is completely meaningless.”

Turning to Arab history, Salameh noted, “Arab slave-traders plied the Indian ocean for centuries, carrying African slaves to the Arabian Peninsula and from there to the Old World countries.”

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In contemporary Arab culture, he said, “the color black has negative, reprehensible and pessimistic connotations, while the color white is associated with cleanliness, beauty, and optimism.”

“In addition to the racism against blacks, there are hundreds of examples in our [Arab societies] of racism against Asian and African servants and workers,” he pointed out, “especially in Lebanon and the Gulf, but also in the rest of the Arab countries.”

“It comes to the point that they are beaten, arrested, deprived of sleep, humiliated and robbed of their pay — treatment that does not meet the lowest standards of humaneness,” Salameh said.

Salameh also denounced discrimination against women in the Arab world, noting oppressive “family laws,” spousal abuse and punitive divorce laws.

“True, such behaviors are common throughout the world, but they are especially bad in Arab societies,” he asserted.

However, he said, the “gravest” discrimination in the Arab world was religious, which “has given rise to civil wars, sectarian conflicts, acts of terror against innocent people, a culture of takfir [accusations of heresy] and accusations of treason, and an attitude that disparages and excludes ethnic minorities and [various] small sects.”

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