Who’s Calling Who a “Nasty Little Country”

By Stephen Schulman

A recent OP-ED entitled “South Africa’s emerging Department of Homeland Security” in the Daily Maverick by the Head of the Department of Journalism, Film and Television at the University of Johannesburg, Professor Jane Duncan, opened with the following:

Every sensible person should be horrified at the racist, ethno-nationalist developments over citizenship around the world, notably in the US, Europe, Brazil, India and Israel. We need to ask ourselves – do we really want to join the growing list of nasty little countries that have defined themselves recently according to who they can exclude, repress and marginalise?”

(By Jane Duncan January 2020)

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Jane Duncan is a professor and Head of Department of Journalism, Film and Television at the University of Johannesburg. She is author of ‘Stopping the Spies: Constructing and Resisting the Surveillance State in South Africa’ (Wits University Press, 2018).

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Lay Of The Land publishes hereunder an Open Letter response to the Op-Ed by a former South African  – Stephen Schulman (M.A. in Education), who is today a citizen of Israel.


Dear Jane,

You don’t know me, and actually there is no reason why you should or would want to, since I am living in Israel that in your opinion is one of those “nasty little countries” that “defined themselves recently according to who they can exclude, repress and marginalize”.

Now, dear Jane, while I am not as learned as you (being a professor and all that!), I would, with your kind permission, like to draw your attention to a few pertinent facts.

My “nasty little country” is a true functioning democracy according civil rights to all its citizens irrespective of race or religion. In fact, it is acknowledged as the only one of its kind in the Middle East.

My “nasty little country” has a parliament (called the Knesset) that has representation that even includes parties calling for its very dissolution.

My “nasty little country” has an independent functioning judiciary.

My “nasty little country” allows and guarantees freedom of worship. Jews, Moslems and Christians have their safeguarded places of worship and holy sites. The Baha’i faith, long persecuted in Iran, has a splendid home here. Druze and Circasians as well.

In my “nasty little country” the LGBT community openly lives and functions – as opposed to the rest of the Middle East.

In my “nasty little country” – unlike in yours – you can walk around at all hours without fear of robbery, assault, murder or rape.

In my “nasty little country“, children do walk around freely on the streets – we do not have your reported twice daily kidnappings for ransom, slavery or muti.

In my “nasty little country“, there is freedom of the press and toleration of differing points of view. You are free to express your opinions without looking over your shoulder.

In my “nasty little country” it is possible to take public transport without fear of assault, robbery and hijacking.

In my “nasty little country“, the trains run on time. There is no arson, wholesale burning of coaches, stealing of cables and equipment. The busses run on time as well. You do not fear for your life. On our intercity lines there is no need to worry about being held up by assault rifle armed bandits.

In my “nasty little country“, the electricity supply is stable. The electricity company is not riddled with nepotism, cronyism and corruption, resulting in bankruptcy and inefficiency. We do not have the euphemistically labeled daily “load shedding” that you every day enjoy.

My “nasty little country“, as many others, has its own political/economic refugee problems. However, it does not have the asylum seekers in terror for their own lives from the local population huddling and clustering around church doors for sanctuary.

My “nasty little country” while having its own imperfections – as all counties do – is not ruled by an institutionalized kleptocracy intent on plundering the state coffers with such impunity that a large percentage of the GNP goes into personal pockets at the expense of the impoverished general public.

Dear Jane, there are some nasty little minds with attendant nasty little vision problems clouded with bias, bigotry that find it politically correct to exclude certain countries from their field of view. Consequently, I humbly take it upon myself to enlighten you, a self proclaimed “public intellectual” about some of those that you have chosen to exempt.

China has a horrific human rights record dating from its invasion of and massive resettling of Tibet. It has hounded the Falon Gong sect, incarcerating, torturing, murdering and harvesting the organs of its members. It is currently also incarcerating and relocating Uighur Moslems causing them great suffering. Why is it absent from your list? Is it because that country has huge investments in South Africa, and you do not want to bite the hand that holds the chopsticks that feed you?

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People hold a banner during a protest against China’s human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province, calling on U.S. government to take action against Beijing, on April 06, 2019 in Washington, United States. (Photo by Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Turkey under Erdogan has an abysmal record of suppression of the press, persecution of journalists, trampling of freedom of expression and human rights. It has arbitrarily dismissed tens of thousands of teachers and civil servants. You, a proclaimed crusader for freedom of the media, have failed to include it on your list.

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A newsstand in Istanbul in 2018. The Turkish government’s ban on Wikipedia was part of a larger suppression of free expression. (Chris Mcgrath/Getty Images)

Iran is a theocracy, intolerant of dissent that has lately had its peaceful protesters murdered by live fire from its law enforcers. Many of its citizens are imprisoned and have been tortured. This country along with Saudi Arabia holds the world record for the highest number of executions. It exports world terrorism, denies the Holocaust and preaches genocide against Israel – a member of the community of nations.

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Iran executes the most people in the world per capita for crimes which include being gay and drinking alcohol. Not uncommon for the ‘condemned’ to be executed by being hoisted on cranes with nooses around their necks.

The Palestinian Authority and Hamas in Gaza blatantly flaunt human rights and religious freedom. Christians live in fear in Gaza. The once Christian majority in Bethlehem has shrunk to ten percent as many have fled overseas. Journalists are terrorized into toeing the official line.

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Hamas arrests and beats seven journalists covering economic protests in Gaza on February 24, 2019. ( Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

And lest we forget: Saudi Arabia is a member of the same club – a medieval kingdom that with an iron hand suppresses dissent, human rights, religious freedom and practices public floggings and limb amputations. It has chosen to exclude all Moslem refugees, not admitting a single one.

Why your silence on these countries?

Is it because you do not wish your Moslem fellow citizens howling at your door that you are a white racist?

Dear Jane, amongst others, you further failed to include North Korea, Pakistan and Russia. I note that your myopia exempts them too. I find it ironic that you condemn Europe that has taken in millions of refugees, paying a high price in the increase of crime and the burden of social welfare whilst you blithely ignore their brethren in the Gulf States who have closed their doors to them.

In conclusion, I find your words deeply disturbing. Your silence regarding a host of countries that practice “racism and ethno-nationalism” that “exclude, suppress and marginalize” is ominous. Your ethical double standards reek of a flawed morality dictated by a  possibly self-serving current political correctness. For an academic, the “public intellectual”, your bigotry and bias is both blatant and shameful.

Stephen Schulman

Ramat Hasharon





About the writer:

Stephen Schulman, is a graduate of the South African Jewish socialist Youth Movement Habonim, who immigrated to Israel in 1969 and retired in 2012 after over 40 years of English teaching. Stephen, who has a master’s degree in Education, was for many years a senior examiner for the English matriculation and co-authored two English textbooks for the upper grades in high school. Now happily retired, he spends his time between his family, his hobbies and reading to try to catch up on his ignorance.