Questioning Our Solidarities: Introduction



Welcome to the 46th issue of The Funambulist. Much like our 41st issue (May–June 2022), which attempted to challenge the predominance of the U.S.-based “software” of resistance in global struggles, this present volume is an orchestration of reflective texts—rather than the usual collection of contributions from specific geographies in relation to a question. As such, many of our regular readers will recognize a majority of the following contributors, in particular familiar names like Zoé Samudzi, Sophia Azeb, Karim Kattan, Joao Gabriel, Laurel Mei-Singh, or Anaïs Duong-Pedica. The reason for such a recurrence is because this editorial endeavor comes as a formalization of ongoing conversations between friends, and that the complexity of the questions we raise required a high degree of trust to get to the kind of dialogs we wished to generate. This level of trust manifests itself through a more heavy-handed editing of the texts—and countless voice messages!—as it also did for issue 41.

The Funambulist Alhara
The Funambulist radio show on Radio alHara during a worldwide-shared Covid-19 lockdown in the spring of 2020. The show described historical and/or contemporary forms of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for liberation in Kanaky, Japan, Aboriginal Australia, Chile, France’s quartiers populaires, Algeria, Tunisia, Indigenous Turtle Island, and Ireland.

The questions raised by this issue pertain to our solidarity practices. The “our” that I refer to, emerges from a relatively precise “We.” As such, the following texts constitute more of an introspection than a critique of external entities.

This “We” is formed through the global struggle against colonialism, structural racism, and for internationalism and environmental justice.

The term “global” is important here, as this “We” also finds itself in the common reckoning that the forces we are up against could not possibly be only circumscribed to just one actor (be it, say the United States, or the West in general) as Sahar Amarir points out in her text. Doing so would reinforce the idea that all things on earth are defined by their relation to this one entity, designated as “the enemy.” Although we may not agree on everything, we share this idea and many others as political foundations, which allows for our shared introspection to be a productive one. Even at a small level, thinking together has contributed to advancing the way we conceptualize our struggles.

The idea behind this issue emerged from two recent moments. In both cases, Palestine was involved, which may explain its (possibly debatable) predominance in many of the following pages. The first episode of this issue’s genesis happened during the spring of 2021, during the Save Sheikh Jarrah campaign in Jerusalem to prevent the further ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their land and homes. Occurring several months after the formidable uprisings of Black communities and their supporters in the U.S. settler colony—which had ripple effects in many parts of the world—this new punctuation in the ongoing fight for Palestinian liberation was instructive in many ways. Firstly, it confirmed the exceptionality of the Palestinian struggle in the Global North, as well as the timidity, if not outright hostility towards Palestinians, from large portions of the Global North’s Left. A few months earlier, numerous universities in North America had zealously issued vague statements about wanting to “decolonize their curricula”and “give space” to Black professors and students. It’s important to remember that the most cohesive demand of the uprising was to abolish the police, including those on university campuses—rather than be given these symbolic crumbs in academia. When the Save Sheikh Jarrah movement came, these “decolonizing” claims of universities showed their true face—for example, readers may remember our own open letter against the Cornell Chair of Architecture, who had censored a talk by Ariella Aïsha Azoulay organized by Samia Henni in October 2020.

That being said, this moment was also instructive because, while many Black activists extended their solidarity to Palestinians fighting against ethnic cleansing and settler colonialism, it was difficult to ignore slogans such as “Palestinian Lives Matter,” or tactless comparisons between the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis with police or military murders of Palestinian people, as Karim Kattan reminds us in his text. Back then, we (Karim and I) had felt a need to organize a conversation around this problem, as well as the asymmetrical nature of Black and Palestinian solidarity. This is how on July 31, 2021, our friends at Radio alHara hosted a much-needed conversation between three Palestinian thinkers, Sophia Azeb, Tasnim Sammak, and Bisan Abu Eisheh, each involved in their own way with the fight for Black Lives in Palestine itself, in North Africa, in the U.S. and in Australia. This conversation is thus the first foundation stone of this issue, in continuity of many conversations with Sophia Azeb who, naturally, is present in it. One of the key notions of these conversations has to do with the fact that solidarity does not erase the specificity of each situation and each struggle; quite the contrary. This is what points out Nolan Oswald Dennis in their reflection on the ways through which their important cartographic/diagrammatic work is being (mis)read outside of the context from which it is created.

The second moment that motivated (and actually triggered) the conception of this issue corresponds with my visit to the north of Ireland, in particular to Belfast and Derry, in March 2022. Like many, I began this visit in awe, observing so many explicit forms of solidarity from the Irish liberation struggle towards Palestine, the ANC, Kurdistan, the Black Lives Matter movement, and remarkably, Tamil Eelam. Palestinian flags were flown at many windows and could be even found in small Republican villages along the island’s coasts. Beyond this phase of awe, I also observed that, on the other side of the so-called “Peace Walls,” settler activists were ostentatiously flying the Israeli flag. This was not difficult to see it as a direct response to the Palestinian flags they could distinguish from their windows. This association of Irish and Palestinian flags on one side, and British and Israeli ones on the other, reminded me of the display of these four flags on the bleachers of the “Old Firm,” the legendary football match on the other side of the Irish Sea. This match displays the divide between the Celtic Glasgow supported by the Irish diaspora, and the Glasgow Rangers that coalesce the support of Scotts in favor of the London-based kingdom. As much as I love football, I felt (whether accurately or not) that the flying of Palestinian and Israeli flags in Belfast or Derry had more to do with a sports-type of competitive spirit than it did with actual anti-colonial solidarity, making me reflect on the difference between performative solidarity and what we might want to call “operational” solidarity. This subjective episode is, of course, in no way a challenge to the historical operational solidarity that has been part of the tradition of the Irish Republican Army and other Irish revolutionaries, nor is it disregarding organized forms of solidarity existing in the present; it is merely a reflection that has helped build the issue you’re currently reading. It also motivated commissioning a text from Derry-based curator Sara Greavu, who expands on these questions about solidarity emerging from the north of Ireland.

The question of performative solidarity becomes even more pervasive when we consider the prevalence of social media in the way solidarity is often thought to be formalized. This does not mean to deny the importance of verbal solidarity and statements that can be issued from one struggle to another, but, rather, I mean for it to be a critique of the idea that a verbal statement constitutes de facto an act of solidarity, or that the lack thereof suggests its refusal. This becomes even more of a problem when such statements are issued not in direct relation with the concerned political struggle but, rather, in reaction to state and/or fascist reaction to the said struggle.

What I mean by the idea is that we are, ourselves, becoming the reactionaries of reactionaries—to the risk of myself incarnating the reaction to the reaction to the reaction!—is that we, in particular through these verbal statements, tend to calibrate our solidarity with an ongoing political struggle after focusing on how the forces we fight on a daily basis are reacting to that same struggle.

The Funambulist 46 Diagram
Diagram referencing thirty texts or podcast episodes we published in The Funambulist, which addresses important questions about solidarity practices and internationalism. / Diagram by Léopold Lambert (2023).

Three recent examples have particularly fueled my frustration in this regard: the Russian military invasion of Ukraine, the Iranian women’s movement, and the FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar. First of all, it’s important to state that, despite the fact that these three “events” have been and continue to be hyper mediatized around the world, this should not be taken as an injunction to unthinkingly issue solidarity statements with Ukrainians, Iranian women, and South and South-East Asian laborers in Qatar—I know that this is frustrating to those who are trying to mobilize around these struggles, but no true solidarity is practiced through injunction. Yet, many of us have reacted not to the Russian, Iranian, and Qatari states’ imperialism, misogyny, and murderous exploitation, but rather to the reactions that Western states and mainstream media have had in reaction to them. Consequently, in a perverse idea of leveling down, some of us were not far from wishing harm on Ukrainian refugees, many of whom received proper welcoming conditions in a brutal contrast with non-European refugees and asylum seekers. Meanwhile, those of us fighting structural islamophobia in the West spent more time arguing that the fight of Iranian women was not about Islam, over actually reflecting on forms of solidarity that could be enacted, outside of monarchist nostalgia of a large part of the diaspora. In the case of the 2022 World Cup, the non-surprising Western hypocrisy seemed to be deemed by many of us as a greater crime, than the deaths of over 6,500 laborers from the Subcontinent or South-East Asia, caused by the brutally exploitative work conditions created by the state of Qatar, FIFA, and other Qatari and non-Qatari stakeholders. So here we are, having been too busy with our reaction to the reaction that we have very seldom practiced operational solidarity with those who have fought and continue to fight, whether in Ukraine, Iran, or Qatar, or anywhere else.

Staying with the 2022 World Cup for a moment longer—like Sophia Azeb does in her text—it is, of course, fully understandable that those of us who had decided to watch it would full-heartedly rejoice when seeing the amazing path followed by the Moroccan national team. To see a team from the Global South and the African Continent, composed of Amazigh and Arab players, defeat European teams, one can imagine the symbolic weight this has when these teams represent a country like Belgium, whose Rifan communities are often the target of structural racism. Or the Spanish team, which represents a country that still holds colonies in the Rif and, year after year, continues to brutally exploit Moroccan laborers in its fields. There is truly something that touches upon the question of dignity at play here. Furthermore, the display of the Palestinian flag by some players, sometimes over the Moroccan one (although perhaps not as “brave” as it was claimed to be), could be seen as a much-welcome response to the Moroccan monarchy’s normalization of Israeli settler colonialism negotiated by the U.S. President in 2020. Jokes about recreating the Andalus after defeating both Spain and Portugal were also fair game—how could they not be?

What motivates me to talk about it here, however, is the discourse articulated around the claimed “decolonial” effects of these football victories. Beyond the fantasized hypertrophied role that football can play in politics (something that surely has to do with the politics of representation), the brutal erasure of Moroccan colonialism in Western Sahara from this discourse has been painful to watch. On social media, maps showing the Moroccan territory extending north to the full Iberian peninsula in this humorous manifestation of a “return to the Andalus” proved much less funny when observing that to the south, Western Sahara was also a part of Moroccan territory—as it always is in Moroccan maps. How can we participate in this normalization of colonialism? Again, it would be arrogant and counter-productive to emit a moral judgment over those who are not enacting solidarity with the Saharoui struggle for liberation. However, the active participation in unquestionably spreading the Moroccan colonial narrative, which wipes out Saharoui sovereignty from the map overnight, is something that truly should motivate introspection.

Western Sahara, considered outside its immediate geographical context, poses a larger question about what we may call “our blindspots.”

This is where the “We” defined at the beginning of this text becomes a bit more fluid, as these blindspots are not the same in different places of the world. Yet, if we consider the internationalist “canon” of anti-colonial and anti-racist epistemologies along with the hegemony of its communication infrastructure, we’ll find that this canon is more often influenced by knowledge produced in the West, and in particular in the United States (as we had tried to challenge in our 41st issue). Consequently, we might be able to consider a “we” whose political imaginaries are mostly produced by this canon. Although the communication infrastructure I mention extends, to a certain extent, to Hawai’i since its annexation to the U.S. settler colony in 1898, Oceania tends to remain a blindspot the size of an elephant in the room for too many of us. And within this blindspot, for multiple reasons (none of which I am an expert on), Melanesia (Vanuatu, Fiji, Kanaky, Solomon Islands, occupied Torres Strait Islands, and the great Papua island divided between independent Papua-New-Guinea and occupied West Papua) could arguably be considered a blindspot in the blindspot. This motivated the commission of an epistolary exchange between Zoé Samudzi and Anaïs Duong-Pedica about the role Melanesia (and in particular its two ongoing struggles for liberation against Indonesian, French and Australian colonialisms in West Papua, Kanaky and the Torres Strait Islands) plays in global Blackness, in particular one that diversifies its influences beyond the northern Atlantic one (as we had discussed with Quito Swan in our 39th issue on the Ocean).

In their text, addressing what is for them everything but a blindspot, Laurel Mei-Singh and Davianna Pōmaika‘i McGregor tell us how the formidable fight against nuclear colonialism in the Great Ocean can help us part from the particular figure of the ally (and further, the “settler ally”) in political struggles. Admittedly, this conceptualization of the role of those who do not have (or rather, seemingly do not have) incarnated stakes in a political struggle, may have inspired more humble postures to those who, structurally, had been taught to forego this quality. But like every tool in the box, there is a need for us to realize when a tool no longer produces the same effects, and that it is now time to put it back in the box and use (or better yet, construct) another one. As Laurel and Davianna aptly describe, the hyper-individualized understanding of politics that the figure of the ally implies, makes us consider what we are fighting against as an isolated entity and not as the hyper-connected system of forces that affects and structures us all. Importantly, we all remain unequally and negatively affected by it, and, as such, should be mindful of this inequality in the way we organize ourselves. Just as importantly, absolutist designations reinforcing individualism over the collective nature of the struggle can only be politically counterproductive. This is also what Joao Gabriel warns us about in his text.

While the inapt binary opposing those “concerned” by the struggle against others, supposedly “unconcerned,” is to be ruled out, we have to recognize that some binary modes of structural differentiation between us are undeniable: who is recognized by the state as a citizen; who isn’t? Who embodies a figure conforming to the way colonizers/racists/patriarchs represent themselves; who doesn’t? Who has access to mobility; who hasn’t?…  Rather than reinforcing some essential divide, these differentiations can be put to profit in that struggle’s strategy. Examples of such practices should not be overly romanticized but rather appreciated for the humble yet effective contribution they make to the fight.

The historical example of the French porteurs de valises (suitcase carriers) provides such an example. This group consisted of a few dozen men and women who served the Algerian Revolution by providing Algerian militants various kinds of services facilitated by their proximity with whiteness and in turn access to resources?—importantly some of these activists were Ashkenazi Jews, which makes this proximity all too relative ten years after the Holocaust. These services could go from clandestinely driving a member of the National Liberation Front (FLN), hosting another in their home, to transporting “suitcases” of weapons or money across international borders to serve the anti-colonial Revolution. Perhaps this example bears some limits insofar as these French activists always considered themselves as external to the Algerian Revolution, while on the contrary, the few French settlers in Algeria who fought for the Revolution were integral members of the Algerian nation, in the way the FLN understood it. Yet, if we think of solidarity as retaining some differentiation between its two or more stakeholders, then the suitcase carriers can be thought of as instructive embodiments of operational solidarity.

At this concluding point, I feel obliged to restate that this critique is introspective and, as such, it targets tendencies to which none of us can claim to be immune. More precisely, what is being judged here are not individuals who, in their actions or their writings, may have contributed to the frustrations described earlier, but, rather, it is this idea of a collective “us” and the forms we organize within that constantly needs to be questioned in order not to reproduce similar logics of violence as the ones we are dedicated to fight. With all the great imperfections this implies, I wish you an excellent read. ■