The global awakening in support of Palestine has been nothing short of extraordinary. The forcible eviction of families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood to the desecration of Masjid Al-Aqsa in Ramadan and the aerial bombardment of Gaza did more than expose the monstrosity of Zionism to the world. These crimes against humanity-live-streamed daily through social media-provoked global outrage and galvanised an international Pro-Palestinian movement transcending ethnic, religious and class boundaries.
In recent weeks, we witnessed remarkable scenes of movements across the globe mobilizing in solidarity with the people of Palestine and their struggle for self-determination.
In the UK, civil rights activists and pressure groups organised several demonstrations, one of which was the largest pro-Palestine march in British history.
The recent clashes also prompted a wave of student protests, with unions encouraging Israeli boycotts and students spearheading campaigns to raise awareness of the Palestinian plight, often at the risk of disciplinary action.
Celebrities and social media influencers also leveraged their platforms to amplify the voice of those languishing under Zionist occupation.
Despite the skewed coverage of the conflict on mainstream media and the unhelpful conflation between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, the outpouring of international support for the Palestinian cause has led to a growing perception that Israel has decisively lost the propaganda war, which it previously managed with ruthless efficiency to obscure the reality of its brutal apartheid and ethnic cleansing.
If it is any consolation to the besieged Palestinians, after 73 years of settler colonialism and military occupation, people of conscience the world over are taking a stand and have enlisted in the social justice campaign to help them reclaim their narrative.
While the grass-roots advocacy for Palestinian liberation has finally attained international recognition, the trajectory in which this movement is heading warrants serious caution for Muslims. I say this because much of the activism on the Palestinian issue has taken on the dimensions of what contemporary culture calls wokeness.
Although the term ‘woke’ was traditionally a watchword of Black Lives Matter activists and a reference to being conscious of the structural racism towards black minorities, it has since been appropriated into a central tenet of leftist politics and is now associated with a general awareness of social issues and movements campaigning against injustice, inequality, and prejudice.
The concept resurfaced in recent years following a spate of police brutality cases in the US, which led to the horrific murders of several African-Americans including Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and George Floyd. However, wokeness is no longer the exclusive preserve of Afro-Americans fighting for racial justice.
Today, it has evolved into a colourless and timeless phenomenon and is the hallmark of both critical race theory and progressive social justice politics, which identifies a racial binary or asymmetrical and arbitrary power structure at the root of all social problems and microaggressions experienced by disempowered minorities at the hands of a privileged majority.
Common examples of woke struggles include the LGBT community’s campaign against exclusion and discrimination, the #MeToo movement’s crusade against sexism and misconduct and the #NoBanNoWall movement’s fight for the human rights of immigrants and refugees.
Hijacking the cause
It is important to outline this context for Muslim readers because the well-intentioned activism on Palestine is being hijacked by the proponents of liberal wokeism and many of us are failing to heed this danger.
As heartening as it is to witness scores of protesters donning the keffiyehs, waving the Palestinan flag and sporting the colours as a gesture of solidarity and unity, the grassroots discourse on Palestine has been largely dominated by an umbrella of leftist organisations including socialist and marxist groups who have traditionally boasted a wide range of different attitudes towards organised religion, ranging from fiercely anti-religious to mild and tolerant.
Muslim diasporas in the west have dangerously endorsed the notion that their interests are best promoted by creating synergy with such leftist groups as a buffer against the political right and anti-Muslim propagandists. Despite their values being inextricably at odds with fundamental Islamic principles, the Muslim religious leadership in the west has often sought alliances with like-minded organisations, given their age-old advocacy for minority rights and common ground on subjects like Islamophobia, structural racism, Palestine and the war on terror, which many on the left of the political spectrum interpret through the lens of wokeness and the meta-narrative of social justice.
While they may be genuinely aggrieved by the aggression of Zionists and the oppression of Palestinians, wokeist culture has redefined the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as per an asymmetrical power dynamic, where Palestinians are deprived of agency and Israel is cast as a powerful bully.
On the surface, there is nothing inherently wrong about framing the conflict in such terms. After all, Zionists are armed to the teeth and enjoy a qualitative military edge over their Arab neighbours and a disproportionately powerful influence in the geopolitics of the Middle East. Meanwhile, the Palestinians are a voiceless minority, politically ostracised, economically marginalised and have been languishing under occupation for decades.
However, the problem with Muslims jumping on the bandwagon of mainstream wokeism is that we fall into the trap of rebranding the problem in a way which is not only contradictory to our faith but also antithetical to solving the issue at hand.
It is essential for Muslims to acknowledge that Palestine is not your conventional social justice struggle as defined by leftist activists and contemporary woke culture and that the solution to the crisis lies outside of the international rules based system.
So what is Palestine if not a people’s struggle for justice and self-determination and what is the solution to the crisis?
One state or two state solution?
The social justice activism on Palestine does not offer Muslims a viable solution to the conflict as its proponents are unable to conceive of a coherent framework for peaceful co-existence outside of the language of international relations.
Despite almost three decades of diplomacy by the international community, neither a single binational state with different variations or proposals for a two state solution which envisages a democratic Israeli state living in peace and security alongside an independent and sovereign Palestinian state has ever united the warring factions to achieve a sustainable peace.
So long as the Zionist power structure remains intact, a one-state solution will never erode the bitter history and reconcile the different cultural and religious characteristics of the people. Time and again, the Zionists have resisted any olive branch for rapprochement so the highly improbable scenario of a merging of identities in a melting pot of co-existence and equality under one state is unviable with the current power structure in place, which will only inflame tensions and entrench conflicting narratives.
Furthermore, the very UNSC Resolution 242 which enabled Israel to justify the seizure of Palestinian land ultimately formed the basis for Arab-Israeli peace negotiations including the need for a two state solution along the internationally recognised 1967 borders. This is nothing but a thinly veiled sham which legitimises the Zionist occupation, feigning compassion and solidarity for Palestinians.
A two-state proposal overlooks the deeply fragmented Palestinian territory caused by Israel’s unrelenting settlement construction policy which has resulted in more than half a million illegal settlers in the West Bank. This renders any future Palestinian state an administrative impossibility and one that will be deprived of physical contiguity, operating with close to no real sovereignty, security and economic autonomy. Two separate and discrete national identities is not possible in such a situation. While proximity breeds children, it also breeds contempt.
Neither the one state or two state solution is committed to shifting the priorities of the prevailing Zionist status quo. Both options are implausible as they have insufficiently defined common ground between the conflicting parties and failed miserably at reaching a consensus on final-status issues such as the settlement of refugees and the status of Jerusalem. In the end, Palestinians suffer in silence under a dysfunctional system.
Instead of acting as a catalyst for progress, these half-baked proposals endorsed by the international community have resulted in a continued stalemate and has done little except complicate the crisis, forcing unstable realities disproportionately on the Palestinian side and offering no sustainable solution to the protracted conflict.
The solutions constantly mooted by politicians and peacemaking organisations breed nothing except pessimism as they are often based on Israel's predefined parameters which seek to de-historicize the conflict and establish a volatile Palestinian state with varying degrees of authority, therefore detrimental to the long term interests of the Palestinians.
The aforementioned history is known to many of us but how Muslims frame the discourse and categorise the struggle from this point onward is not a pointless exercise in semantics. Rather, it is crucial for any sustainable solution to the protracted conflict.
First of all, Muslims accept that Islam is the ultimate reference point for managing their temporal affairs on this earth. It is not an individualistic belief system limited to a set of rituals and nor is it a mere ‘religion’ divorced from politics as per the traditional secular understanding of the term. Rather, it is a unique deen (comprehensive way of life) which provides divine guidance for the totality of human affairs.
Everything from the way we conduct trade and commerce to our adjudication of civic disputes and interactions with the wider society must be referred to the primary sources of Islamic law to ensure that we are acting in a manner which is in conformity with our faith and not in contradiction to it.
With this in mind, Islamic law has issued an unambiguous ruling in the event that any territory once under the sovereignty and jurisdiction of the sharia is occupied by an aggressor. Simply, such an area is classified as Muslim land until the day of judgement and it is traditionally the duty of the head of an Islamic State (Khalifah) to mobilise an army for its liberation. In the absence of a Khilafah, this obligation falls on the shoulders of every single Muslim who is obliged to strive in the path of Allah according to their capability to liberate the territory from military occupation and reinstate the divine law and order as a fundamental matter of worship.
This prescription is unanimously agreed upon by the four schools of thought and is the normative position in orthodox Sunni jurisprudence and scholarship.
Not only does Palestine fall under the category of occupied land according to this Islamic legalistic definition, it is also the site of Masjid Al-Aqsa-the third holiest sanctuary in Islam- which Muslims are obliged to preserve, honour and protect at any cost.
Therefore, Palestine must be liberated by mujahideen with the sufficient capability and resources to reverse the occupation, in order to restore the sovereignty of Allah in the land and to preserve the sanctity of Masjid Al-Aqsa, which under no circumstances can be treated as a secular cultural treasure of equal importance to those of Abrahamic heritage.
The only workable alternative to the present stalemate is for Muslims to endorse the solution which stems from Islam, which demands a military strategy to end the illegal occupation by force. This can be achieved through the unification of the region so that all faiths can live together under the overarching security and protection of Islamic rule as per the history of the region.
Contrary to the fears and common misconceptions of some western observers, Islam has a robust tradition of rule of law and religious and political freedom. The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is enshrined in the Prophetic model, namely the ‘Sahifat al-Madina’, commonly referred to as the ‘Constitution of Medina’ where various autonomous tribes of different faiths were incorporated in a single confederation with common rights and responsibilities.
Just as the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions managed to successfully overcome inter-tribal rivalries and bring peace, prosperity and freedom between Muslims, Christians and Jews under an Islamic State, an Islamic law and order will function as a guarantor of minority rights and justice, as it had done for centuries before the Anglo-Zionist occupation of Palestine.
How much of this history and Islamic standpoint are we compromising and jettisoning by embracing wokeness and shouting well-meaning slogans at marches and demonstrations?
When Muslim protestors scream ‘Free Free Palestine’, which part of the region do they exactly wish to see liberated? Are they referring to the boundaries defined in the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine? Are they calling for the reinstatement of borders delineated by a 1949 armistice between Israel and its Arab neighbours? Are they calling for the restoration of the 1967 lines?
Knowing that the whole land has been occupied and the Islamic legal order uprooted after decades of colonial machinations, are protestors not contradicting Islam when vaguely gesturing for a two state solution and thereby acknowledging the legitimacy of Israeli statehood, when it is a shari’ obligation for the entire region to be liberated from the clutches of Zionism and placed under the sovereign control of an Islamic state?
When protesters shout ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’, how do they envisage Palestine being liberated? Are they appealing to the international community to enter into negotiations and broker a peace deal under the auspices of the UN? The same UNwhich has been consistently rendered impotent by Israel’s crimes against humanity and the Zionists’ flagrant violation of international law? The same UN which has never successfully managed to gain Israeli cooperation for an independent international commission to investigate alleged violations and abuses of international humanitarian law? The same UN which has been powerless in the face of Israel’s wanton brutality against the Palestinians from its very inception?
Are these protesters not contradicting the Islamic faith by calling on peacekeeping forces to stabilise the conflict zones by strengthening the rule of law based on a secular liberal order, when Islam demands mujahideen to liberate the territory by striving in the path of Allah to re-establish the Khilafah?
When Muslim demonstrators wave placards calling for the liberation of Palestine, it must also be asked why they want to see Palestine liberated? Is it because of a common humanity which binds them to the average Palestinian? Is it because they desire ‘social justice’, ‘freedom’ and ‘self-determination’ for all people on earth? Is it a personal grievance which overnight became a springboard for political outrage? If these are our motivations, are we not in danger of having our outrage co-opted since Islam is unequivocal in its framing of the conflict as a cosmic battle between haq (truth) and baatil (falsehood), where Muslims are duty-bound to show solidarity with Palestinians due to the common spiritual bond of imaan and not simply a humanitarian one?
Palestine is not a woke human rights crusade and liberation struggle and it would be dangerous to conclude that Muslims and non-Muslims share the same perception of reality. Rather, the current conflict is a war between the people of imaan and the people of kufr. It is fundamentally an Islamic issue, with an Islamic solution that must be delivered by Muslims and Muslims alone.
A fundamental error Muslims are making by seeking mutual support from the advocates of wokeism and leftist civil rights activists is that it places Muslim activism on a slippery slope. We ultimately shift priorities which are exclusively Islamic to progressive causes and risk refashioning our status in the UK as a secular identity group who share the same moral compass as the political left.
We fail to realise that the left’s tolerance with Muslim conservatism is strategic and that our allies expect us to unite under the far-left umbrella by embracing intersectional struggles such as feminism, transgenderism and the full patchwork of identity politics, despite the kufr basis of such social justice movements. A refusal to capitulate on gender roles, same-sex marriage or comply with any other sacred cow of the liberal juggernaut puts us in an incredibly precarious position and invites the leftist charge that Muslims are simply another plank in the power structure discriminating against oppressed minorities.
Another problem with viewing the occupation of Muslim land through the postmodern lens of anti-colonialism and racial equality is that it seeks to shift the political zeitgeist on the subject while ultimately leaving the existing oppressive and kufr power structures intact.
As much as the social justice crusaders purport to work towards the dismantlement of white supremacist, capitalist and patriarchal power structures, they seek redress from the very institutions which are proven to be incapable of deterring oppressors from their crimes against humanity or are strategically committed to maintaining the viability and regional hegemony of the oppressors in the first place.
Not only is this counter-intuitive, it ultimately functions as a distraction from the immiseration and subjugation of the oppressed peoples at the hands of a militarized imperialist elite and dangerously marginalises Islam to the fringes of the discourse, ironically referring the adjudication of the problem to those primarily responsible for sustaining the oppression.
As much as the social justice activist vents, protests, petitions, gestures and signals, they are not in the business of dismantling the architecture of systematic oppression. Meanwhile, the powerful elite who are capable of effectuating change will only champion minority rights and gravitate toward high-noise signals when it is at a low-cost to their control and dominance, contenting themselves with progressive gestures and cosmetic changes which amount to little more than navel-gazing.
Woke grievances are therefore addressed by the status quo as a substitute for genuine institutional reform, to ensure the long-term survival of the true power-brokers in our conflict-ridden world.
Take for example something as innocuous as diversity training. It offers a minimum level of disruption to an organisation. After all, why shuffle around the board of directors when you can get your workers to sit through an equal opportunities seminar and then applaud yourself for being progressive? Similarly, half-baked proposals like defunding the police and the occasional social media storm from senior politicians deploring the cultural tone-deafness on race does little to challenge the mass incarceration of people of colour and structural racism at the root and branch level.
This can also be seen in the way the powers that be are managing the culture-wide resistance to Israeli apartheid. Governments issuing hollow condemnations of Israeli aggression, funding reconstruction efforts in Gaza and pledging millions for the restoration of infrastructure incinerated by IDF airstrikes will ultimately do nothing to challenge the moral bankruptcy of Zionism and will never dismantle the bipartisan unconditional support for the Zionist status quo which functions as an agent of chaos and destabilisation in the region.
This is nothing but performative wokeness which provides the false impression of inverting the discourse. In reality, it pacifies the aggrieved by throwing around trendy social justice buzzwords for clout and engaging in the superficial art of virtue-signalling with the intention of protecting real privilege and perpetuating the iron law of institutions.
The playbook of woke capitalism is simple: Do the minimum amount of social radicalism which is necessary for survival while avoiding the kind of economic radicalism which has the potential to really improve lives and change realities on the ground. This brand of politics is weaponised simply to function as a tool to preserve existing hegemonic structures and will never reverse the occupation of Palestine, upend structural racism or address global socio-economic deprivation in any appreciable manner.
I am in no way undermining or discounting the real-life struggles of oppressed minorities against oppression and brutality. I’m simply drawing attention to the fact that by adopting the lingua franca of social justice activists, Muslims will also be limited to the same solutions they seek for their problems. This is the price we pay for kow-towing to activist trends.
When Palestine becomes another battleground and lightning rod in the west’s culture wars, the pro-Israeli consensus in Anglo-American politics can never be overturned and the Zionist state of Israel will continue to inflict pain and misery on the Palestinians.
We must not allow the collective energy and momentum on the Palestinian topic to be misdirected. It is time for the ummah of Muhammad (pbuh) to assume rightful ownership over the issue of Palestine by viewing the conflict from the right filters.
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