JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
WHEN Dylann Storm Roof shot to death nine people who gathered this past Wednesday night for a Bible study at a landmark church, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in South Carolina (S.C.), United States of America (U.S.), it was an act of terror.
There are some though, who argue that if these violent attacks happen in the United States, as it’s just happened in (S.C.), the media, the academia and politicians, don’t call it “terrorism”. Because the imperialist United States of America sees itself as superior, they argue. They say violence of this kind is only called “terrorism” only if it happens in foreign countries, Africa and the Middle East.
My friend, Ernestas Jancenkas, commented on one of my statuses on Facebook this week. He said:
“Elijah,” replying to one of my friends “didn’t you know, white people do not engage in terrorism? Especially not Americans?” He further said:
“This perception has deep structural reasons rooted in the racist, colonialist discourse. E. Said termed it “orientalism”. Discourse which enables to dehumanize and deride “the Other” goes hand in hand with imperialist and colonialist policy. That way the mindset and the actions follow from each other and strengthen each other enabling the conqueror to reach “material” objectives while upholding a positive image of himself as “the unifier” or “the harbinger of civilization”. At the same time the said discourse helps the conqueror to deal with the subject in a convenient manner. This can be seen throughout history in some form or another.”
I partially agree with Ernestas, but cautiously. Because this I do not think really has to do much with racism and colonialist discourse.
I’d argue that people’s perceptions are mostly influenced by history, their background, their knowledge and the realities of life.
Not long ago, I saw a new security company here in Johannesburg – called Londoloza Protection Group. They usually have public marketing on the roads around Johannesburg. All their security guards were white and wore military fatigues, with huge guns strapped on their chests. Some of these men were tall, with long beards.
You know, the first time I drove past them I thought of Eugene Terreblanche’s Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) – a right wing Afrikaans extremist, racist movement that fought very hard against the end of apartheid in South Africa in early 1990s. The AWB never wanted apartheid to end. Thanks to God they failed in their efforts.
That was the perception that sprung out of my mind when I saw this security company. Why did I have these perceptions about these innocent men? Because of my knowledge on South African history. If I were someone else, I’d probably even fear getting close to them.
When a Muslim man walks on the streets in the United States, with his long outfit and his long beard, people hide their children, thinking he could be affiliated with Taliban or al-Qaeda. He’s searched and questioned by the police.
When I was a student, one of my house mates, an American, called a friend of mine at the time, a terrorist. Why? Because of the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kenya in 1998, and of course the devastating 2001 September 11 attacks in New York.
Not only because of that, there were many other things as well, that had strained relations between America and the Arab world. Add to that, the daily bombings of innocent lives across the Middle East by men who also wear long outfits, with long beards and call themselves Muslims.
All these had and has created a perception that when you see a Muslim, be vigilant.
Perhaps we may take this further to criminality in the United States. Criminality is, in comparison to other ethnic groups, worst in black communities – statistics show that. Because of this reality, a white person or an Asian walking in the black community fears that he could be mugged or assaulted. Again why this thinking? Because the high rate of crime in black communities has created this perception.
When I asked a lady at work this week to find me a place to stay at Soweto, she said “But why do you want to stay in Soweto? Why do you want to stay in a township?”
In Gauteng, many people fear townships. One guy once said to me that if I want to stay in a township then I must always be prepared for the worst. Why? Again, because there’s a high rate of crime there.
This high rate of crime has, unfortunately, created these perceptions. I could give many more examples to show that these perceptions are created by the realities we face in our world. But I will stop here.
The shooting in South Carolina was a terrorist attack – that I do agree with. Similar to the one that took place in Peshawar, Pakistan, last December –where members of the Taliban stormed into a school and shot more than 100 people, most of whom were children.
But most people around the world won’t really call the shooting in South Carolina a terrorist attack. Terrorist attacks in the West are rare. Yes they do occur, but they have not yet created perceptions to the level that people can overwhelmingly call them “terrorist attacks”.
Terrorism is largely associated with the Middle East and Northern Africa – it is in these regions where terrorist fundamentalists flourish.
This attack does have to do with colonialist racist discourse, but very slightly. In large part, it has to do with the reality that has created wrongful perceptions in people’s minds. That is the core of the problem, and that is what we should talk more about. PM
© PHUMLANI M. MAJOZI