Monday, 25 January 2016

Stop Bringing Cultural Appropriation into Israel/Palestine

"You can take our land, you can take our women 
but you'lll never take our hummus, falafel and Sahlab!"

Cultural appropriation as a concept should viewed with skepticism and suspicion especially in todays internet rage culture. Occasionally it can be valid but often times it misses the point and is taken way too far.

This will make me unpopular and bring me many haters but I dislike it when the Palestinian cause and the Israel/Palestine conflict in general is reduced to "cultural appropriation". Israelis often get alot of flak from leftists and pro-Palestine activists for unfairly staking claims to foods that are really the cultural property of Palestinian Arabs.
A popular argument you often hear among pro-Palestine activists is, part of the Zionist colonial project in Palestine is not just stealing land from Palestinians and evicting them, but also a deliberate, systematic, effort to culturally colonise Palestine. According to them, Israelis appropriate "indigenous" culture and cuisine. So, they will take foods like falafel, Shakshuka, olives, Shawamma, hummus (of course). Even fashion apparently.

In my view, food and culture are not the ownership of one specific ethnic or racial group. Cultures are fluid. It mixes, evolves and changes over time. Palestinian cuisine is no different. Over centuries it has had Persian and Turkish influences just like the broader Levantine cuisine in the Middle East of which Palestinian and Israeli foods derive from. Technically, these specific foods I mentioned are Israeli, Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian. What is also often ignored is the fact that Israel has a significant population of Jews who are of Arab descent who will share similar a cuisine to their Palestinian Arab counterparts. Is anyone going to accuse them of "cultural appropriating" their own culture?

I worry the current debates on cultural appropriation will have the effect of poisioning issues with purile identity politics. In all honesty, there is a creepy, yet subtle  totalitarianism to these "cultural appropriation crazes". It effectively tells people according to their race or ethnicity what they can eat, what they wear, what hairstyle they can sport, what music you can listen to. This is a want to control and police an individual's behavior, when it is clearly not harming anyone. It is dissappointing when I hear this reactionary, provincialist nonsense mostly coming from people who would label themselves leftists, internationalists and progressives.

This isn't to say culture isn't important for the Palestinian people and their cause. Of course it is. Culture is important for any cause or movement especially the arts and cinema. But if cultural appropriation is the dominant kind of political rhetoric of which the Palestinian solidarity movement has to offer, then it just shows how tepid it has now become and how little credibility they will have.

These pointless, hysterical debates on "cultural appropriation" gives people a "safe option", it helps them ignore the difficult problems and the real struggle since you're soothing your conscience by buying politically correct olive oil. They are also a distraction from the real problems in regards to Israel/Palestine like settlements, the occupation, harsh Israeli policy, the authoritarianism of Hamas and The Palestinian authority and the detiriorating humanitarian condition of the Gaza strip. Instead of addressing these problems, you scream about a Jew enjoying some hummus since allegedly that is cultural imperialism.

No one cares where hummus comes from or whom it "belongs" to. All that matters is that it tastes good! In my ever so humble opinion anyone should eat whatever the fuck they want, but hey that's just me.

1 comment:

  1. It's funny that the accusation quoted at the top includes the phrase, "you can take our women." As it happens, the IDF is known for the lack of rape its troops commit. And that point's been turned around as a sign of Israeli racism! Talk about Alice in Wonderland!