If You Prick Us, Do We Not Bleed?

Arab men are racialised as terror adjacent in the West, an association that leads us to forget the innocence of Palestinian men.


Labels are tricky. They can elide as much as they can reveal. They are stalked by their own inadequacies in being able to describe the objects they are attached to. But now is the moment when nothing but unflinching candour will suffice.

I do not like to centre my maleness in political discussions because I know it is an instrument of oppression. Too often, men clamour for attention towards their own problems whenever attention is focused on the oppression they themselves create and enable. Women and children are often the focus of concern because they fit the script of ideal victims. This is not one of those moments.

When I saw the images of dozens of Palestinian men, sitting on the ground, stripped half-naked, with their heads bowed down, armed men surrounding them, the destruction wrought upon Gaza as their backdrop, my soul let out a yell of fury. That characteristic fury perhaps only men know. A violent rage bellowed within me because I knew what that image really meant. It is this rage that forces me to write frantically and scream at whoever reads this: “if you prick us, do we not bleed?”

When people see stories emphasising the threat posed by “young men of military age” seeking refuge in the West, they are talking about these men. When German politicians talk about “young Pashas”, they are talking about these men. When they suddenly take an interest in the misogyny of Islamic societies, they are thinking of these men. When they print headlines about weaponizing rape as an instrument of war, they are thinking of these men. When they scream themselves hoarse about beheaded babies they are thinking of these men. These are the men that are brutes until proven human.

The men they do not think about, are the men with guns stripping them naked and murdering in cold blood those that refuse to be humiliated. They do not think about white men in robes that rape boys. About fascists and skinheads spraying Swastikas and committing arson against Jewish owned businesses. They do not think about the ages of boys who eagerly joined the Hitler Youth, an alumnus of whom became Pope. They do not think about men in suits immiserating millions with their choices. They do not think about the men that dropped nuclear bombs. They do not think about the men that led two world wars and murdered 6 million Jews. In essence, those are the very males who are human, who have the right to rape and murder and starve and steal, who bleed when you prick them. Those beings in that photo on the floor, they are not men. They are mere fleshy vessels to be used for target practice, for entertainment abroad, and for casting suspicions on at home.

If I asked you, how would you know by looking at me, that I am an Arab? If you were to look at the faces of the men with guns, would you be able to immediately differentiate between Arab and Jew? Plainly, you cannot. All you would do is reveal the implicit bigotries that haunt your conscience. One is not born, but rather made an Arab, just as much as one is made a Jew. The great tragedy of the present moment, is that one is made a Jew in direct proportion to one’s willingness to oppress an Arab. This is quite literally the case in some quarters where Jews who stand against the genocide are labelled as un-Jews.

We men, we have our faults, they will persist long after this conflict reaches its grisly conclusions. The tone of our skin doesn’t change the burden of our collective guilt as men, but neither does it diminish our essential humanity. Palestinian men deserve as much sympathy as that afforded to the women and children that are dying beside them. The women and children that we so deeply mourn, they weep for them too. They weep for their brothers, for their sons, their fathers, uncles, and grandfathers. They grieve for their mentors and teachers who took the place of the men that were murdered or imprisoned their entire lives. They wail for each and every man who suffered an intolerable fate, for the loss of comfort, humour, and laughter that these men filled their lives with. They possessed all these qualities alongside their innumerable faults; faults that in no way merit their torture, dispossession, or death.

I am not an Arab; I merely resemble one. I don’t speak a word of Arabic, and I would likely struggle to relate to an Arab man just now. Yet I weep with them and for them because I know that we share a common destiny. We will either become, in the eyes of the world, human together, or we will be relegated as brutes among the “Civilised.” We do not have the guns or the bombs, the planes or the tanks, the money and the credentials necessary to qualify as civilised people. If the opposite were the case, we savages of a brownish complexion may participate in the same brutality that the West and Israel is currently gratifying itself with. However, in the present moment the savages and the saints are abundantly differentiable.

Women and children can indeed be victims of the very men they weep for upon their deaths. It does not serve their interests to see them treated like thieves, rapists, or murderers. It benefits no woman or child to have the men in their lives discriminated against, to be underpaid and abused, or to be collectively punished for the crimes committed by people who resemble them. To have the torture, humiliation, and murder of their men broadcast incessantly for months on end alongside a systematic denial of their suffering, inflicts tremendous harm on the very women and children we are so eager to express compassion for. This is all self-evidently true but, given all that has happened without nearly enough moral indignation in response, it bears repeating.