Intellectuals have a deep addiction to terror. From the French revolutionaries of the late 18th century who invoked Jean Jacques Rousseau to the physician ideologues of ISIS like Ayman al-Zawahiri, intellectuals have been at the forefront of justifying and instigating mass violence.
The latest iteration of this intellectual tradition of terror is "decolonization." The invasion of Israel and the murder of over 1300 Israelis to date have illustrated this mindset at work.
In the wake of the slaughter, Walaa Alqaisiya, a research fellow at Columbia University, wrote "Academics like to decolonize through discourse and land acknowledgments. Time to understand that Decolonization is NOT a metaphor. Decolonization means resistance of the oppressed and that includes armed struggle to LITERALLY get our lands and lives back!"
Likewise, for Uahikea Maile, Assistant Professor of Indigenous Politics in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto, "From Hawaiʻi to Palestine—occupation is a crime. A lāhui [Nation, race, tribe, people, or nationality] that stands for decolonization and de-occupation should also stand behind freedom for Palestine."
Leave aside the malleable notion of "settler colonialism," which is regularly leveled at Israel as well as Western states like the U.S. and Australia but never at Muslim, Arab, or African ones. Many pro-Palestinian intellectuals have long claimed that "resistance" may include any means and may not be criticized. For academics, who dominate wide swaths of academia, the notion of "decolonization" has been cited but with little specificity regarding the term's meaning, at least in practical terms.
Indeed, in an often cited paper, "Decolonization is Not a Metaphor," academics Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang expound at length on the "entangled triad structure of settler-native-slave," and the "the real and symbolic violence of settler colonialism."
They posit decolonization as "a distinct project from other civil and human rights-based social justice projects, is far too often subsumed into the directives of these projects, with no regard for how decolonization wants something different than those forms of justice." But they insist that "decolonization specifically requires the repatriation of Indigenous land and life. Decolonization is not a metonym for social justice." But "decolonization is not obliged to answer" what methods are involved or what the future looks like for anyone.
But now we know. Decolonization in Hamas' case looks like rape, murder, kidnapping, beheading, torture, and execution of hostages, in this case with a uniquely Islamic bent reminiscent of ISIS. Its future is simply the extermination of Israel.
Decolonization dissolves fundamental categories of combatants and civilians, it legitimizes everything, including the abuse of corpses, and demands our acquiescence in the name of "resistance" and "liberation." It renders international law meaningless except to bend it over backward as a tool of violence and terror. Decolonization is thus an explicit license for ethnic cleansing and genocide, provided it is done by, and against, the proper people. Not surprisingly, "decolonization" increasingly dominates university courses and academic discourse.
What explains this intellectual love of violence? One understated feature is the role of philosopher Frantz Fanon, whose book The Wretched of the Earth provided a justification for retributive violence that stands outside of any conventional morality. Ussama Makdisi of UCLA approvingly cites Fanon's famous quote "But every time Western values are mentioned they produce in the native a sort of stiffening or muscular lockjaw...when the native hears a speech about Western culture he pulls out his knife—or at least he makes sure it is within reach."
Makdisi goes on to claim that "the Western idea of morality has long had a Palestine-shaped hole in it. The West simply does not count Arab Palestinians as equal human beings. Which is why Palestinians turn to armed struggle in face of massive Western-funded & backed oppression. Then the West condemns them [sic]." This pretzel-shaped morality fails to account for billions of dollars in Western support for Palestinian institutions and billions more from Iran for Islamist ones. Similarly, for philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who lauded Fanon, the liberation of the "colonized" can only come about by eliminating all aspects of European life. Apparently, this now includes taboos against the rape of captives and the murder of infants.
Yet, at the heart of this matter is an intellectual psychodrama, of passive-aggressive participation by the intelligentsia in something an authentic and exhilarating revolutionary moment. Events of historical importance give otherwise humdrum lives meaning, even if no one in Cambridge or Morningside Heights has to pull the trigger themselves.
The question of whether, if given the chance, Hamas supporters including "decolonial" intellectuals, would pull the trigger, or behead fellow human beings, is pressing, especially as thousands of supporters march through the streets of Western cities cheering the bloodshed. Of course, the fact that the victims were Jews—now redefined by too many intellectuals and progressives in the Soviet-style as Nazis or fascists themselves—helps to suppress whatever tinges of compassion might remain.
How should normal people with normal morality respond to academics who advocate terror? One is to identify, repudiate, and isolate intellectuals who espouse these views, and who use the shield of academic freedom to defend their hateful views. Publicize them widely and condemn them, challenge their ideas and their immorality, and question their fitness to be accepted into society, much less their role as teachers and thinkers.
What can be done institutionally? Condemning universities and think tanks that employ bigots who salivate over murder may cause embarrassment but no change. Refusing to engage with these institutions is key. They rely on their social reputations for their very existence—reputations that should already be in tatters for countless other reasons, from exorbitant costs to nonsensical course offerings. Moral obscenities like cheering mass murder in the name of decolonization should be the final straw.
Shattering their reputations and repudiating their influence and roles in society, is key. Without it, murder will find high-sounding advocates who sway students, like those thirty student groups at Harvard who "hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence." Those students, too, should be isolated and shunned. But without addressing the intellectual foundations that support, in this case, Islamic antisemitic terrorism, academia will become irredeemable. The moral foundations of global society stand in the balance.
Alex Joffe is the Director of Strategic Initiatives of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa. Asaf Romirowsky is the Executive Director of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA) and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME).