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ABD-ELHAMEED: Persecuted people are not voiceless

Column: Something to Think About

Palestinian protests persist worldwide as protesters raise their voices for those who cannot. – Photo by The Manila Collegian / Facebook

On November 7, children in Gaza held their own press conference outside of Al-Shifa Hospital.

"Since the 7th of October, we’ve faced extermination," said one child. "All of this in front of the world. They lie to the world that they kill the fighters, but they kill the people of Gaza, their dreams and their future."

"We come now to shout and invite you to protect us," they added. "We want to live, we want peace, we want to judge the killers of children. We want medicine, food and education, and we want to live as the other children live."

These children are the victims of an ongoing genocide and are part of a people who have been suffering unbearable persecution in front of the world for decades. Despite their youth, these Palestinian children are not voiceless. Neither are their parents or their grandparents. And neither are the people of any oppressed group.

Not only is it incorrect to call any group of people voiceless, but it is also harmful to those groups.

This narrative of framing people who face political oppression and persecution as "voiceless" unsurprisingly stems from white supremacist roots and colonialist Western ideologies of a democratized West and uncivilized East, which I elaborated on in the most recent addition to my column.

The way the West specifically deems Arabs and Muslims, and especially those that are oppressed under corrupt political entities, as voiceless has always been — and still is — embedded within the U.S. political agenda. Because this trope is utilized in different ways, I will specifically focus on the situations within Afghanistan and Palestine to provide an understanding of how these tropes are employed.

During the War on Terror, Afghan women were used as "‘symbols and pawns’ in a geopolitical conflict," according to an article in the Humboldt Journal of Social Relations titled, "The Symbolic Use of Afghan Women in the War on Terror."

In sum, the U.S. meticulously painted Afghan women as voiceless victims who were nothing but brutally oppressed under the nefarious Taliban regime in an effort to cover up the agenda of tearing Afghanistan apart in retaliation to the events of 9/11, according to the article.

The U.S. exploited the lives of Afghan women in order to justify the occupation of Afghanistan in 2001 through the "saving" of Afghan women and the spreading of democracy to the land. This is the epitome of the "white savior" trope, and it has been used time and time again by Western powers to involve themselves in foreign regions in any way they please.

This agenda is also correlated with the media coverage at the time.

In 1999, broadcast media had only 37 programs focusing on Afghan women. Barely two years later, particularly from Sept. 12, 2001, to Jan. 1, 2002, the number of broadcast programs drastically increased to 628. 

Maybe you are thinking that Western media started covering Afghan women much more because they are oppressed, and we needed to show what was happening to them. That assumption is warranted as a result of how our government controls the media, but it is missing context.

Many rights of Afghan women were stripped from them beginning in 1989 under Mujahideen leaders. They ordered the assassination of women working for humanitarian organizations, ordered the wearing of burqas and forbade them from attending schools. 

The catch? The U.S. trained and funded the Mujahideen of Afghanistan in 1989 during the Afghan-Soviet War against the Soviet Union. Not only was the situation for Afghan women the fault of the U.S., but we also chose not to act in 1989 as they were being persecuted.

What the U.S. is currently facilitating against Palestinians uses the same narrative with minor differences. The U.S. destroyed Afghanistan in 2001 in the name of saving the voiceless and oppressed women of Afghanistan, while the U.S. currently suppresses Palestinian voices in order to exterminate the Palestinian people in the name of democracy and demolish the enemy.

In other terms, Palestinian voices are not highlighted or emphasized in government and mainstream media, which encourages the general public to believe Palestinians are voiceless. And when both the U.S. and Israeli governments depict Palestinians as oppressors and the enemy, their voices are buried even further.

But that does not mean that they are without a voice.

Razan Ahmad Al-Rifi, a 13-year-old, is among the countless Palestinian children who scream as they beg for us to see their humanity.

In a video, you can hear her cry, "What do I even say? Supposedly, Israel is a democratic and diplomatic state? Where is the democracy? ... My father was martyred. My mother was martyred. My brother was martyred. My nephew was martyred. And my sister was martyred ... We are so exhausted." 

Recently, 25 Middle Eastern artists came together to create the song "Rajieen," meaning "I am returning" in English, which is dedicated to the Palestinian people and speaks on their resistance and resilience.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), a Palestinian-American woman, courageously critiqued the Israeli government in Congress where she was then quickly censured.

Palestinian politicians, children, journalists, artists, students, scholars, teachers and doctors have been screaming for the West and the rest of the world to see their humanity since the start of the occupation.

But instead, their voices are deliberately being buried alive under rubble and media propaganda.

Naaima Abd-Elhameed is a senior in the School of Arts and Sciences majoring in journalism and media studies and minoring in Arabic and international and global studies. Her column, "Something to Think About," runs on alternate Mondays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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