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Settlerist First Instincts in Colonial Genocide

 In the days immediately following the October 7th assault on the concentration camp boundaries of Gaza, the Israeli state sanctioned atrocity propaganda machine worked overtime to depict the Hamas-led action as the most dire form violence so as to justify what quickly became an open genocidal war upon Palestinian life. Indeed, rabid Zionists are still calling it the worst assault upon Jewish people since the holocaust despite the fact that now––following tens of thousands of Palestinian lives lost to IOF ethnic cleansing, the targeting of hospitals and journalists and aid workers and children––the Israeli narrative of October 7th has been largely debunked or unsubstantiated. Back in early November I already noted that this narrative was dubious (the beheading of babies and similar such weird claims were already being debunked) but even more evidence has come to light since then––such as Sandra Ifrah, the main person behind the unsubstantiated stories of mass rapes, admitting that she made up the story.

And yet, as I also noted in my early November post, and then in my later post about Benhabib's shameful article, numerous leftist intellectuals went out of their way to accept the Israeli narrative as truth the moment it was pronounced. Within the first week of the IOF's assault on the people of Gaza I interacted with numerous people who saw themselves as "left wing" in real life and on social media whose first instinct was to say something akin to "yes but what about the rapes and baby beheadings?" A number of intellectuals––like Benhabib but also people whose work I respected, some of whom I also knew personally––also accepted the atrocity propaganda as fact. Their responses to this fact varied in degree: the worst opted for a morally vacuous "both sidesism" that you would usually find liberals espousing (although in this case actual dyed-in-the-wool liberals just opted to fully support Israel), the best would condemn the genocide but also perform ritual mea culpas about Hamas and October 7. That is, their first instinct was to accept the narrative of the colonizer and to structure their own responses around this narrative.

As Steven Salaita pointed out in his article Scrolling Through Genocide: "Western academe was completely unprepared for the material demands of decolonization despite its popularity as a professional brand. Many among the intellectual class, including scholars of Fanon like Adam Shatz and Lewis Gordon, either disavow or diminish anticolonial resistance or ignore it altogether. Academe is where resistance goes for processing and beautification after it has been completed." And as Abdaljawad Omar wrote in Hopeful Pathologies, a reply to Shatz's bullshit use of Fanon, "when Palestinians dare to rebel and challenge their imposed fate after years of oppression, the responses are predictably schizophrenic. The same intellectuals who once sobbed at our plight are now torn. Many become moral policemen, quickly brandishing the baton of condemnation, but even more importantly, readily 'adopting' with full intensity Israel's curated and sensationalized version of the events of October 7 in the so-called Gaza envelope." And yes we saw all of this: that lack of being prepared for "the material demands of decolonization" despite the fact that the term decolonial has become fetishized in radical intellectual circles; that "brandishing the baton of condemnation" and the adoption of the "curated and sensationalized" narrative of October 7; that first instinct to accept the colonial discourse, repeated over and over.

But why is this the first instinct among this strata of the left, particularly those who made a name for themselves in Marxist or anarchist, post-colonial, decolonial avenues of study? Why is the knee-jerk reaction to accept Israeli atrocity propaganda and to see the world from the perspective of the oppressor. Back in a revolutionary organization I was a part of before it reached is limit, we used to talk about how there are two ways to see the world: from above and below. The former is the perspective of the oppressor and exploiter, and it os consistent with the way they see the world as structured by global capitalism; the latter is the perspective of the oppressed and exploited, that is the perspective of resistance and the making of another world. The intellectuals who begin by condemning the October 7 attack on the boundaries of the Gaza prison are seeing the world––to some degree––from above rather than below. Their position is not "to sanction all revolts no matter how desperate" (as Fanon would say, and as mentioned in my earlier post) but instead to think things through the lens of imperial hegemony. In this way they are not thinking from the position of those from below, at least not completely. They might try to justify their perspective with talk of civilians, of a shared working class unity, and other left sounding language to make it sound like they are seeing the world from the perspective of oppression and exploitation, but they aren't thinking about the principal contradiction that defines the social formation in question: colonizer and colonized. (Some of them even know about this contradiction, they may even teach the term "decolonial", but they're still failing concretely to understand it.)

To truly understand what is happening in this current phase of colonial violence in Palestine is to understand what has and still defines other settler-capitalist formations, particularly those within which many of these intellectuals are embedded. Every act of violence performed by the colonized has been a response to the generative violence of colonialism and yet the narrative of colonialism has been to flip the relationship so that the violence of resistance is treated as the origin––has been to conjure away the violence of colonial conquest. The Indigenous nations of the Americas were depicted as savage; their resistance to the Indian Wars as criminal. Even worse, the very life of the colonized is treated as an abomination: white supremacists celebrated the lynching of Emmett Till, believing the atrocity propaganda of Carolyn Bryant so as to justify his extermination. These are the same patterns, repeated as farce, in Gaza––to maintain them is to repeat the narrative of the Alamo, of Custer, of Bryant. We should expect this repetition from the ideologues of colonial hegemony––from Israeli state ideologues, from Zionist reactionaries, from liberals and conservatives invested in global capitalism––but it is particularly shameful when such a repetition comes from self-proclaimed "leftists" and even worse from those who claim to study and teach "decolonial" theory and philosophy.

You would hope that now that so much of the October 7 atrocity propaganda has been either debunked or remains unverified, these "leftists" who performed these sad little mea culpas would apologize and admit that they had been duped. But such an apology remains largely absent. Lewis Gordon is silent on social media. To my knowledge Seyla Benhabib has not written a follow up to her complaint about the "Philosophy for Palestine" open letter––despite the fact that, as a supposed radical legal scholar, one would hope she is paying attention to South Africa's charge of genocide before the ICJ. So many of those scholars whose first instinct was the colonial mea culpa, including some who I know personally, remain silent and incapable of self-criticism. Even worse, some have doubled down. Despite the fact that the IOF has ritually claimed without proof that hospitals are legitimate targets, that members of UNRWA was involved in the October 7 attacks, that Palestinian children routinely carry out terror attacks and thus should be killed… Despite all this there is a refusal to abandon the initial moment of atrocity propaganda, which leads to the legitimization of more and more of the same bullshit claims. Maybe when the dust settles we will see who was complicit and who remained complicit, but to wait for some kind of settling of accounts in the midst of genocide is terrible.