What’s Next Los Angeles City Council? Blaming Jews for Nazi Germany? Blaming African Americans for slavery?

In response to the unconscionable resolution that my home city, Los Angeles, California, has recently introduced, blaming Palestinians in Gaza for the murder, massacre, and genocide that Israel with U.S.-made weapons creates, I have re-rendered the resolution. The original may be read here. Answer Coalition is organising a protest and I encourage people to flood the Facebook page of Herb J. Wesson and the Twitter account of Bob Bluemnfield in particular.

RESOLUTION

WHEREAS, any official position of the City of Los Angeles with respect to legislation, rules, regulations, or policies proposed to or pending before a local, state or federal governmental body or agency must first have been adopted in the form of a Resolution by the City Council with the concurrence of the Mayor; and

WHEREAS, “human shields” refer to the use of civilians, prisoners of war, or other noncombatants whose mere presence is designed to protect combatants and objects from attack; and

WHEREAS, since 9 July (only one day into Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge”) Israeli Occupation Forces charged with terrorising the civilian population in Gaza, dropped “400 tonnes of bombs and missiles on the Gaza Strip” where no one is allowed to seek refuge since Israel has imposed its 7 year long siege on the 1.5 million people in Gaza; and

WHEREAS, it has been observed that the Israeli Occupation Forces regularly use Palestinian children in Gaza—and elsewhere—as human shields; and

WHEREAS, Israel has not kept Gaza’s civilian population on a literal “diet”, preventing them from having unfettered access to the most basic of human needs and rights—food, shelter, water, powerPalestinians have resorted to the dangerous and expensive means of creating tunnels in order to procure these basic needs and other commodities from televisions to cattle; and

WHEREAS, Israel makes a pretence that they warn Palestinians in Gaza about the coming bombs dropping above them, which they have but a mere minute to try to escape, but it is disingenuous given that Israel’s 7 year blockade prevents anyone from leaving the Gaza Strip by land, sea, or air; and

WHERAS, all of Israel’s military attacks from land, sea, and air target civilian populations even with its so-called “precision artillery”: “Conversely, Israel, with a high-powered US-financed precision-guided arsenal at its disposal, has deliberately bombed civilian targets including private homes, hospitals and mosques, as well as schools, UN shelters, playgrounds, ambulances, media buildings, water treatment facilities and Gaza’s only power plant”; and

WHEREAS, Israel, the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations enable Israel to engage in state terrorism, pushing Palestinians further and further off their land, and ironically, given their propaganda, into the sea, and all of these bodies are responsible for Israel’s use of human shields, including local governments like Los Angeles which has been trained by Israeli military forces as part of the Israelification of US policing; and

WHEREAS, currently the United States government—both federal and local—seems to be complicit in Israel’s state-terrorist operations in the Gaza Strip even as Israel repeatedly thumbs its nose both at international law and the United States;

WHEREAS, opposition to the use of human shields is consistent with international law to preserve the rights of innocent bystanders in armed conflicts, especially children;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, with the concurrence of the civilian population of Los Angeles, that by the adoption of this Resolution, the City of Los Angeles hereby includes in its 2013-14 Federal Legislative Program SUPPORT for a NEW RESOLUTION that condemns Israel’s state terrorism and the U.S. government’s state-sponsored terrorism in violation of international humanitarian law.

PRESENTED BY: ______________

DR. MARCY NEWMAN

Los Angeleno since 1969

SECONDED BY: _________________

My fellow citizens

15 August 2014

Tibet and Palestine

Last month I started the summer off with a vacation in Dharamsala, in the northern part of India. I went there for the same cliched reason many other foreigners go there–for yoga and meditation. I’ve been meditating and practicing yoga for about 17 years. But for the past several years, since I first went to Palestine, I’ve struggled with this practice a bit. It’s been hard for me to reconcile the idea that working on one’s own inner peace, as it were, could lead to any global kind of peace. Moreover, the pessimist in me doesn’t believe that anyone in power would ever commit to such a practice, which is what would have to happen for such a change to emerge. True, it has happened in history–most notably with Ashoka who changed quite radically after his conversion to Buddhism. And there are others, too. In spite of my reservations, I’ve returned to these practices little by little in the past few years.

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I recalled a demonstration against Israeli theft of Palestinian agricultural land for their settlements and apartheid wall, which I attended in Bil`in in 2005. There was a Buddhist monk who joined us, although I recalled him as Tibetan, looking at the photographs now he’s clearly not. Still, I found it striking watching him beating his drum while the soldiers began to open fire on us. I never had a chance to speak with him because I was arrested that day.

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I remembered this image, though I hadn’t seen it in some time, because the more I explored Dharamsala and Tibetan history, the more I saw lucid parallels to Palestinian struggles. Just one glimpse of the images around McLeod Ganj, the main area where Tibetans, especially Tibetan monks, reside shows clearly an ongoing struggle for freedom, and not only in the Buddhist sense of liberation. At the Tibet Museum this resonated even more because I learned of the Tibetan resistance movement–I had not known that there had ever been armed struggle against the Chinese. But there are many similarities I noticed:

1. The time frame: Palestinians commemorate the nakba (catastrophe) on 15 May 1948, although the ethnic cleansing of Palestine began long before that and continues until this day. A year later, in 1949, China invaded Tibet.

2. Palestinians began their armed resistance movement to get their land back in 1968; the infamous Battle of Karameh marked its introduction to the world. In 1958, according the the museum catalog:

the flag of a united Tibetan resistance movement, the Tensung Danglang Maggar (‘Volunteer Freedom Fighters for Tibet’), was hoisted for the first time in Driguthang, Lhoka. Andrug Gompo Tashi was nominated as our chief commander. Many recruits from all parts of Tibet joined us and we soon had more than 5,000 members. Fighting began soon after. At Nyemo we faced our biggest battle, Less than 1,000 of us successfully fought against a much bigger Chinese force. (25)

3. Both Israel and China have led ongoing campaigns to destroy cultural religious buildings, among other structures, in Palestine and Tibet respectively. Israel also regularly destroys Palestinian homes (often forcing Palestinians to destroy their own homes and/or pay the fees for that process) and does not permit them to build or rebuilt as the case may be.  In Tibet, according to the museum,

The systematic eradication of Tibetan culture and religion saw the destruction of over 6,000 monasteries and temples. The handful still standing today are used as tourist attractions, army barracks, or public toilets. Precious scriptures and sculptures were destroyed or sold in international art markets. The Chinese used scriptures as shoe soles and monks and nuns were forced to desecrate religious objects. (29)

4. Just as Israel practices Judaisation, China practices what Tibetans call Sinicisation, which is includes the erasure of Tibetan identity and the inculcation of a Chinese one–starting with language. The museum explains:

The Chinese language is given priority in education and administration, thus marginalizing Tibetans in every sphere of life. Even more worrying are the population transfers that are diluting our culture and are reducing Tibetans to a minority in our own country. China is actively engaged in denials of our history, culture–our very identity. (37)

5. As indicated above, China also practices transfer, a euphemism for ethnic cleansing that Zionists have used since their pre-state days. In both cases, the occupying nation moves its citizens into the areas or homes where Tibetans or Palestinians used to live. One example is the expulsion of people from Yaffa and another more recent example is the ongoing nakba affecting Bedouins in the Naqab desert known as the Prawer Plan.

6. Of course, when one is faced with forced expulsion one becomes a refugee. Approximately 750,000 Palestinian refugees were expelled in 1948 and many more since then including internally displaced people. Because this process is ongoing (and because of normal population growth) that number is 7.2 million today. In the case of Tibet:

Since 1959, about 100,000 Tibetans fled to neighboring countries. Many died on the way as a result of Chinese attacks and harsh conditions. Thousands continue to escape oppression and persecution in Tibet each year. (40)

7. Recent struggles for both Tibetans and Palestinians have included boycotting products made in China and Israel respectively. Additionally, Tibetans have resorted to self-immolation to call attention to their plight.

I lay out all of these comparisons here because while in Dharamsala I read a book called A Jew in the Lotus by Rodger Kamenetz (1995). The book is not worth quoting, but essentially it is the tale of a variety of Jewish people–Orthodox, Conservative, Reform–primarily from the U.S. and Israel who come to Dharamsala to participate in a Buddhist-Jewish interfaith dialogue. From what I gleaned in the book, that dialogue was motivated by the Jewish delegation because of the great many Jews who leave their faith for Buddhism. There were so many odd concerns they held about joining this group and interacting with people who, for example, don’t keep kosher or who are formally addressed as “His Holiness.”

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In the book, there didn’t yet seem to be an Israeli colony in Dharamsala yet.  This is likely because relations between India and Israel were just beginning to publicly thaw in the early 1990s. But today there are many such colonies, (see here and here) most notably in this mountain top hill station and in Goa. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I went to explore these two areas, pretty far removed from each other–one on top of the mountain in Dharamkot and the other in a valley a few kilometres below, Bhagsu Naag. In Dharamkot there is a Chabad House (an Orthodox Jewish prayer house–the tall brick building, which is the tallest in the area). It’s a bit odd to see that here given that stories I hear and read about often detail the way in which Israelis come after their three (men) or two year (women) compulsory army service, trash the area, smoke a lot of hashish, and have a lot of sex. It doesn’t exactly seem like the type who would frequent an extremely religious space.  The photographs above are from Dharamkot and those below from Bhagsu Naag.

The most disturbing aspect of this Israeli take over of this previously Indian and Tibetan community is the inclusion of what restauranteurs call “Israeli cuisine” (hummus, felafel, etc.) with no sense of irony. There are several photographs of menus above that illustrate this. Unfortunately none of the restaurant owners (most seemed to be Indian, not Tibetan) are aware that what they are serving is Arabic cuisine originating in the Levantine countries of Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria. This cultural theft is akin to what I listed above as one of the many ways Israel Judaises Palestine, often taking on Arabic or Palestinian culture and claiming it as its own. This would be akin to Chinese restaurants serving momos and tsampa and claiming it as their own. Of course, they do that too. Also, I find it odd that just because a group of foreigners frequents another country that “their” cuisine must be readily available. Why travel if you’re not going to eat local food. Seriously! Likewise why is there a need for all the signage to change from Tibetan, Hindi, and English to just two foreign languages: English and Hebrew?

Finally, Kamenetz’s book made it clear that through their interfaith exchange Tibetans and Israelis would begin working together towards a common cause. From their point of view, the Tibetan struggle mirrors the Jewish and Israeli one (he often conflates the two) and, not surprisingly, Palestine is barely mentioned at all. (See Gideon Levy on this.)  Indeed, there is an Israeli-Tibet society. And Israelis seem to be collaborating with Tibetans on agricultural projects. However, if the Tibetans want to know what will come of such a venture, they should look at what people did in Andhra Pradesh at Kuppam once they realised how they were being deceived by Israeli promises to improve the agricultural practices here.

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One final image: at my meditation centre there were only two languages used other than English and Hindi: Russian and Hebrew.
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Comparing Malls

The first time I went to Ejipura and witnessed the displacement of the Dalit community by Maverick Holdings in collusion with the BBMP (Bangalore’s municipal authority), I couldn’t help compare the situation to what I have witnessed in Palestine. Recently UNRWA published a series of statistics on how Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes affects Palestinians (see a few of the charts below). Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 6.46.39 PM Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 6.46.50 PM Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 6.46.58 PMIn Palestine having Israelis bulldoze your home is quotidian.

It is rare to read news sources that monitor this, like al-Akhbar or Electronic Intifada, on any given day and not see news about home demolitions. It is a part of the ongoing nakba. Just this week al-Akhbar reported of two Palestinian homes being demolished in the West Bank. Here is a video of this most recent demolition. It looks quite similar to the demolitions taking place here in Bangalore.

Just as Palestinians steadfastly work toward their goal of returning home, and increasingly use boycott as a tactic to achieve this result, increasingly the residents of Ejipura are as well. In Ejipura this week there was a protest and there is a desire to boycott Garuda Mall as a strategy to achieve justice for the people so they may be granted the replacement homes they were promised by their government.

The root of the problem and the context differ, of course. In Palestine it is colonists uprooting indigenous people to steal land and build their colonies. Just this week 90 new homes have been approved for building in Jerusalem (for those who think that 50% of Jerusalem belongs to Jewish colonists this is what you call “East Jerusalem,” although for those who are anti-colonial Jerusalem has no dividing line). In 1948 Palestine the ongoing nakba continues as Israel continues to cleanse itself of Palestinians, especially in the Naqab (Negev) desert in the southern portion of the state.

But all of uprooting for the sake of a mall made me recall one of my dear friends’ villages, Malha, which is a neighborhood of Jerusalem. My friend is a refugee, although many of the original homes and a mosque (which seems to be used as a house by an Israeli Jewish colonist) remain. But on this land is also a large shopping mall.  Her uprooting was not for the creation of the mall, but its presence on her family’s land is disturbing nevertheless. Below are photographs I took of the mall as well as the beautiful, traditional stone Palestinian homes.

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It may not be the same cause or the same context, but uprooting and homelessness whether for a land grab or a shopping center is immoral and must be resisted via boycott or other means necessary to achieve justice.

Here are a few more recent articles on Ejipura:

Ejipura Demolition: Hundreds of Protestors Court Arrest

Photostory: Ejipura Bulldozed

Maverick’s Project in Bangalore: Il-legalizing the Poor

Of a City of Pieces and the Importance of the Larger Community

The Relativity of Gratitude

Violence Continues Against EWS Residents, Activists Say

Home demolitions in Ejipura

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I received a text message today asking me to come to Ejipura today. They needed volunteers to help deliver food and blankets and they needed people to help move the belongings from people’s homes away from the bulldozers. Homes were being demolished.

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The home demolitions had been going on for a few days. The activists who were attempting to intervene in this process through demonstrations were arrested–21 of them–for 2 days, just enough time to make sure they could not interfere with the destruction. When I arrived the entire landscape looked like a war zone. Homes razed to the ground. All that was left was the rubble and the flooring where the houses used to be. Many of the families who were able to, who had family elsewhere, left. But those who had nowhere to go or no means to go remained. Others stayed as an act of resistance. Some were making new, temporary homes in water pipes. And by the end of the day the slum relocated to the curb on the main road.DSC00074

Unfortunately, none of this was unfamiliar to me. I felt like I was back in Palestine watching Israeli colonists raze Palestinian homes to the ground, a regular occurrence in Palestine (see some of my blog posts on this here, here, here, and here). In Palestine it’s obvious why the settler-colonists want to destroy homes: to steal more land that they can use to build more colonies. This has been true since before the Zionists stole Palestine in 1948.DSC00085

In India it’s an Indian government demolishing Indian homes. In this scenario, a man (owner of Garuda Mall) bought the plot of land where the 3,000 families have resided–some for as long as 35 years–to build a shopping mall (just what every city needs: another shopping mall). In theory, half the land will be for the mall and half will be to build new homes for the community residing in Ejipura. But how long will that take? And what should these families do in the mean time? It also seems a bit unlikely that this scheme will be seen through given that the same man who bought the land also bought the judge hearing the case and the mosque adjacent to the slum. As a result there were some families who took cash and relocated. But there were many more who refused cash or food from the buyer or the mosque on principle.

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As we wandered about the former slum, people shared their stories. Many of these people are Indians without proper identity papers (this is an issue here for many people and it inhibits their access to all kinds of social services). It reminds me of non-ID Palestinians who carried an extra burden after the Lebanese army destroyed Nahr el Bared refugee camp.

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One woman who was rather gutsy when salvaging her remains underneath and beside the bulldozer that was skirting her home seemed to have a set of skeleton keys peeking out from beneath her sari, reminding me of the keys that Palestinians carry after their homes were destroyed during the nakba in 1948.DSC00131

Little by little families at the edge of the slum prepared to move their belongings in the late afternoon. We helped some pile them into auto rickshaws. Others just wanted them on the curb, some choosing to make a home at the bus stop. Others just moved them a few feet away to make space for the bulldozer destroying their home. There was one hold out family that refused to move their items and sat and watched as it made a path next to their house.DSC00162

Throughout the day children found spaces to play with salvaged toys or with the rubble. Young girls imitated their mothers, sweeping away the dust from the digging. DSC00173

It was heart wrenching to see so many families displaced and rendered homeless at once. Tonight they will spend another night out in the cold with no real shelter.  The elements already got to one woman, Rosemary, who died yesterday.DSC00181

Here are a few articles about the demolitions for those who want to read more:

More Houses Raised at Ejipura in Bangalore

Hundreds Rendered Homeless in Ejipura

HC Refuses Urgent Hearing of Petitions of Ejipura Residents

Ejipura Residents Lose the Roof Over Their Head

Seven Propositions and One Challenge for Ejipura Residents

G4S in India

 

 

 

So far I have seen three G4S offices in Bangalore alone. I have also seen their cars driving around the city. When I was in Darjeeling recently, I discovered that they also ran security for the Darjeeling zoo. They seem to operate as an ordinary security company, but they are anything but ordinary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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At present there is a campaign to vote for G4S as the worst company in the world. There are many reasons for this, but the main points of interest are related to G4S role in maintaining Israel’s colonization and occupation of Palestine, particularly its prisons, apartheid wall, and checkpoints. Writing for Electronic Intifada, Adri Nieuwhof explains their role:

The British-Danish security giant G4S has become the target of rights activists in different countries because of its provision of services to Israeli prisons, military checkpoints and to firms in illegal settlements in the West Bank.

In 2008, G4S Israel advertised its involvement with Israeli miitary checkpoints on its website. The text on the left of the screenshot above reads: “Systems for checking persons, manufactured by Safeview USA, first of their kind, were installed at the Erez checkpoint. The systems are in operational use by the army and enable the performance of full scans of the human body.”

G4S confirmed it had provided security equipment with “associated maintenance services” to the Israeli police, prison service and defense ministry, in a 21 December 2010 letter to the Business and Human Rights Resource Center in London. At the same time, the company claimed it did “not control” — and was not  “necessarily aware” — where its security equipment was deployed “as it may be moved around the country.”

In a follow up article, in part responding to G4S concerns about the claims made in the above-quoted article, Nieuwhof adds more details about G4S involvement in oppressing Palestinians for Israelis:

In the brochure, published by the Danish watchdog DanWatch, G4S describes the supply of a perimeter defense system for the walls around the Ofer prison compound and the installation of a central command room to monitor the entire Ofer compound. In addition, the company writes it also provided all the security systems in Ketziot prison and a central command room in Megiddo prison (G4S delivers technology to Israeli prisons,” DanWatch, 21 November 2010).

G4S boasts that the three prisons can detain 2,700-3,700 “security” prisoners — the majority of whom are Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip illegally transferred to detention centers within Israel’s internationally-recognized boundary. International humanitarian law forbids an occupying power from transferring prisoners outside of the occupied territory and the conditions in Israeli prisons do not meet international legal standards. Accordingly, G4S’s involvement in the Israel Prison Service apparatus abets violations of international law.

G4S’s promotional material contradicts its claim that it does not know where its X-ray machines and body scanners are used. Who Profits? — a project of the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace — has also documented that G4S luggage scanning equipment and full body scanners are used at checkpoints in the occupied West Bank towns of Qalandiya, Bethlehem and Irtah. G4S also provided full body scanners to the Erez checkpoint at Gaza. Who Profits? told The Electronic Intifada that this information is published in G4S’s own website and brochures.

Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur on  human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, highlighted G4S role in maintaining Israeli apartheid in his report on various corporations that profit off of Palestinian suffering.

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As a result of these findings, BDS activists have been working to target G4S in various ways. And in 2012 there were several success:

The British firm Good Energy announced that it would end its business relationship with G4S, the private security giant with a track record of complicity in Israel’s human rights abuses.

After sustained media attention and pressure from BDS activists, several Danish charities and a bank decided to end security service contracts with the British-Danish security company G4S for the company’s role in Israel’s occupation.

The University of Oslo in Norway announced it would drop its contract with private security company G4S in July 2013 over the company’s involvement with Israeli prisons and its providing of services and equipment to checkpoints, Israel’s wall in the West Bank, settlement and settlement businesses.

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One of my favorite actions targeting G4S last year was one done in London during the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

Michael Deas’ report on the action in the above video offers inspiration to those wanting to take action based on others who have been fighting G4S:

Danish bank, several major Danish NGOs and a UK energy supplier have all dropped their links with G4S after pressure from campaigners. The EU declined to renew a contract with G4S following a campaign supported by members of the European Parliament. Students at Edinburgh University in Scotland voted to block the union’s contract with G4S and students at Oslo university in Norway are campaigning for the university not to renew its contract with the security company when it expires in February 2014.

For those who want to read a detailed report about G4S role in Palestine, Who Profits published a report on the subject.

BDS is new in India, but it is growing especially among cultural workers and academics. I hope that it soon spreads to the economic sector, especially targeting multinational corporations like G4S.

A Week in Lucknow

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I spent last week visiting a friend in Lucknow in the northern part of the country (more pictures in gallery below). Our first day we ventured out to the village of Malihabad so she could conduct some research she is doing about nurseries and seeds. Much of the agricultural land is being converted from local food production to decorative house plants and flowers for export. Prior to our trip, she was online doing a bit of last-minute research on the village when she stumbled upon this little gem:

Shahnaz Ali, a senior research fellow at the National Institute of Immuno-Hematology, Mumbai, has been awarded a scholarship by the government of Israel for the academic year 2009-2010, to study the DNA of Afridi Pathans of Malihabad in Lucknow to confirm whether they are of Israelite origin or not.

It is not clear what the purpose of this research is or how the Israeli government would use such information. In any case, the researcher involved clearly doesn’t know about the academic boycott of Israel given that he’s taking funds from the Israeli government to conduct his research. He also seems to be under the mistaken impression that there is some kind of historical enmity between Jews and Muslims when that is not the case.  But the largest problem in the blog piece is its erroneous concluding paragraph:

Navras said that as per history, ten Israelite tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel were exiled by the Assyrian invaders in 721 BC. It is believed that some descendants of these lost tribes settled in India between AD 1202 and AD 1761. Afridi Pathans of Malihabad are said to be one of them. Some Israeli academicians have visited Malihabad in the last few years to study customs and traditions of Pathans to find if they have any resemblance to Israelite traditions.

In fact, if he had read Israeli historian Shlomo Sand’s book The Invention of the Jewish People, he would know that:

 the Romans never deported entire peoples. We might add that neither did the Assyrians and Babylonians move entire populations from the countries they conquered. It did not pay to uproot the people of the land, the cultivators of produce, the taxpayers. But even the efficient policy of deportation practiced by the Assyrian, and later the Babylonian, empire—in which whole sections of local administrative and cultural elites were deported—was not followed by the Roman Empire. (130)

Notice that while the Assyrians did deport some people, it idid not exile entire peoples and its deportation policy was not about one’s religion.

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From one colonial context to another.

After Malihabad we went to what is known as the Residency. It seems that each Indian city has a place with this name as it was once the home of the British colonials ruling the area. But the one in Lucknow is special. You can see it in photographs below more clearly. It was the site of the 1857 uprising (mutiny as the English refer to it) against the British. This expansive space includes the shells of all the former buildings that were destroyed during the Indian uprising against their colonial rulers. It’s quite impressive that one can still see this colonial history–and resistance to it–preserved in such a remarkable way.

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My friend’s childhood friend was speaking at a commemoration of Swami Vivekananda’s famous 1893 speech in Chicago at the Columbian Exposition, which celebrated Christopher Columbus’ colonization of the Americas. I had read about him in Vijay Prashad’s The Karma of Brown Folk, but did not remember much about him at the time. Prashad paints him in an interesting light–as one who plays almost a trickster role to the Americans wanting to Orientalize him and fetishize his Hindu beliefs. And, according to Prashad, he was quite critical of the way Americans approached religion:

You Americans worship what? The dollar. Int he mad rush for gold, you forget the spiritual until you have become a nation of materialists. Even your preachers and churches are tainted with the all-perfading desire. (35)

Yet I was struck by a different set of beliefs that he conveyed in that speech as I heard it in the Bengali association hall last week. Here is the part that I was taken aback by:

 I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to the southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny.

Obviously, in 1893 when Zionism was in its incipient stages, there were no Shlomo Sands to historicize the Roman presence in West Asia, alerting us to the fact that the Romans never expelled any people. And yet on this trip I was hearing yet another allusion to Jewish expulsion (although often it is also that they are the 12th tribe who wandered and got lost) from Western Asia, which is often the historical argument used for how Jews arrived in India over a century ago.

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The other main attraction I visited in Lucknow was the Bara Imbara, which is a fantastically preserved, beautifully designed Nawab palace from the eighteenth century:

the very romantic history associated with it – of Nawab Asaf-Ud-Daula commissioning the Imambara during the time of the great famine of 1783 to enable Awadhis to earn a living as they were too proud to have taken alms – makes it a fascinating piece of architecture.

This space, much like the Residency, is filled with fabulous nooks and crannies that seem to make the best hide-and-go-seek playgrounds for children. But in the Imbara there is also a labyrinth, which you need to hire a guide to take you through. One must travel up and down several flights of steep stairs and through a series of narrow hallways to navigate this area. There are interesting nooks, such as a passage way that leads underground, which people used to use to travel surreptitiously from one city to the next. However, the British closed it up. There are also several clever engineering feats that enable communication from one far off location along the same wall. Supposedly there is also a buried treasure there, but in order to discover it the entire property would need to be destroyed.

The photographs below are a bit mixed up, but they are of the places I mention above, plus random snapshots of the city, a couple of AIDS protests we saw because I was there during World AIDS Day, and its incredible food–especially the chaat and paan!

The Infant and the Infantry

When I first moved to Boise, Idaho, I received a welcome package on my doorstep. I can’t remember all that was in it, but there was a VHS tape introducing me to all of Boise’s churches. At the time I recall never having lived in a city with so many churches. But most of the time I didn’t see them because many were out in the suburbs. Their presence was ever present, however.

When I spent a semester teaching in Ghana, I was struck by the intensity of Christianity in the southern half of the country where I lived. There it felt different. It felt intensely colonial. The Mormon church in the center of Accra, in particular, with its excessive gold monument on top, was just one of many ways I found this Western Christian presence oppressive. It was the missionary presence, which felt all too colonial, that made it such. But even more than that: the presence of these churches and missionaries seemed to be coupled with images of white Jesus that were ubiquitous. I found them on taxis, cars, tro-tros, decorating businesses–everywhere. Most Ghanaians didn’t seem to get the irony of praying to a white man who came from Palestine (i.e., not the West). Below are some photos of those churches and images of white Jesus I took at the time (unfortunately it is posting the Bangalore photos too so readers will have to make out the differences for themselves until I can figure out how to change it).

Now I am in Bangalore and feeling that the missionary presence is even greater here–and even more oppressive. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this city was once a cantonment for the British army. Now all that land is occupied by the Indian armed forces. But equally pervasive, as far as I can tell, are the other hold over from colonial days: the churches. Thus, the title for this post: the infantry should be obvious. The infant is the baby Jesus. For there are many code names, often in Sanskrit, sometimes in English, in ways that attempt to disguise what is being alluded to. So the word infant becomes shorthand for baby Jesus. And it is a word one would be hard pressed to avoid as you wander through this city. I am rather in awe when I think of how much land space the army and the churches take up when you combine the two. I would love to see a figure on how many square kilometers they take up. It makes the outrage I felt when I first saw how much land UNIFIL takes up in Lebanon seem as if it merely occupies an office and not such a huge chunk of land along south Lebanon’s seashore.

Just in the little northeast quadrant of the city I’ve seen, and photographed, over 200 churches. Each Sunday I take a walk around a new neighborhood near where I live and discover even more. I live in an area that was once heavily populated by Anglo Indians. It’s now a mixture of Indian Christians, Hindus, and Muslims, and a few foreigners are sprinkled into the mix as well.

But it is not just the churches and their missionary zeal and colonial presence that I find disturbing (which is especially pernicious given how many schools these churches operate in Bangalore and, therefore how many young minds they have the chance to control). (For anyone who still associates Mother Theresa with India–see mural at the top of this post–I strongly advise you to read Christopher Hitchens’ work on the subject as he wrote it when he was at the top of his game and he got her dead on in a way no one else ever did.) It is the type of churches that are the most aggressive in this respect that I see all around me–American churches like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, Pentecostals,  and other variations on evangelism. As with in Ghana, their presence is not only in the churches, but also translates into people’s names and into their business names.

In Bangalore one can see this in the expected way with names like John or Mary. But what is unexpected are the names associated with Palestine like Nazareth and Hebron. But the more I wandered around, the more I saw that did not seem to be related to Palestine per se, but rather to the specific American brand of Christian Zionism that often comes with various brands of evangelical Christianity. One can see this, too, in everything from the names of churches to signs on ordinary businesses. When I Googled Bangalore and Zion, I found a number of businesses that turned up from IT companies to money changers to hospitals and clinics. 

Given the fact that there is a plethora of these symbols and signs related to evangelical Christianity and Zionism, it makes me suspicious of other signs that are dispersed around the city, such as the otherwise innocuous “shalom,” Hebrew for hello or peace that once finds decorating the entrance ways to many people’s homes here.

Below is a gallery of my photographs of Christian and Zionist Bangalore (note it starts with my Ghana photos  because I cannot figure out how to separate them).