Perhaps the Western academic swallows their shaky voice for fear of their academic positions, careers, future salaries, and social standings. Nevertheless, there must be a greater reward for this complicity. There must be a greater sense of self-importance and collective realization. Perhaps it is a collective insistence by Western academic institutes to maintain the ‘Middle East’ at an arm’s length (or much farther) so that they can continue to study it from a distance and to plant in the geographies, bodies, and literatures of those children of darkness a utopia, a dream, an orientalist heaven. Perhaps because a liberated Palestine, a liberated Arab World, would have nothing exotic, nothing grotesque, nothing inaccessible, nothing dreamlike, nothing nightmarish, nothing pathetic, nothing victimizing, nothing criminal, nothing far-removed about it that would be worthy of study.
Thus, much of the West’s academia collapses categorically. It proves at this critical point in liberatory and decolonial history that its sole goal is to accumulate, archive, enumerate, pile, regurgitate, reproduce, and further take up space. All the while, it is granting those academics bigger paychecks, higher positions, retirement plans, and an illusory social status that the popular intellect rivals against and easily triumphs over. Its complacent and fatal silence has wholly hollowed out the term ‘decolonization’. Decolonization in those academic contexts morphs into an empty shell, a space filler, a standby trend, a conversation starter, and occasionally a means of self-congratulation. It does not attempt to interrogate white ‘humanity’ or white ‘morality’ or overall white blindness, which kills. It sits in the corner and watches until the severed Palestinian bodies have been removed, the blood cleaned, and the reports brought to the table. Then, after a long slumber, the West’s academia goes back to accumulating, archiving, enumerating, piling, regurgitating, reproducing, and further taking up space.
Sanabel Abdelrahman. Whose Humanities? Western Academia’s Persisting Complicity.
Achille Mbembe argues that Western/Northern/Capitalist academia can only reproduce ‘codified madness’, or disciplinary cultures, structures and practices that make it impossible to imagine, let alone enable, alternative stories and archives, unless they are curiosities. And for Mbembe the struggle is to demythologize this violent mundanity, and as a result, to demythologize whiteness.
Whiteness is at its best when it turns into a myth. It is the most corrosive and the most lethal when it makes us believe that it is everywhere; that everything originates from it and it has no outside.
Instead we might witness whiteness, not in its extraordinary violence as we scroll our phones over coffee, but by naming it as unfolding settler-colonial practice, or by naming settler-colonialism as the unfolding practice of whiteness. Naming a practice of zoning and enclosing for capital, ratified by the institutions of the North and their disciplines. Naming the violence of these ratifications of a particular History, alongside the archives that house its very particular endorsements.
Reproduced inside universities for impact.
The archives of ratification remind us, as Gargi Bhattacharyya simply states, that the ruling classes assemblages of extraction are proliferating. And in limiting our ways of knowing the world to the profanities housed inside those Northern archives, we enable reactionary whiteness to degrade all life for everyone. These archives are unable to label the emerging, unspeakable conditions for the degradation of not just work, but also of life. And the intellectual, University workers who tend to the archives of the North maintain their tendency to quiet acquiescence, even as a long material history of trauma unfolds through the masochism of vengeful nationalism, externalised as a terrible sadism.
These are the current, material conditions for University work. To consider whether monetising a genocide in the making, through future impact and public engagement, or to ignore it in order to reproduce value now. Or to use that impact case study or knowledge transfer or monograph or whatever as a form of cognitive dissonance and deflection and safety blanket. And this prompts a return to Eve Tuck’s asking of how shall we live?
How shall we live?
And sitting with this question makes me reconsider the material conditions and possibilities of protest and No! In all those eruptions of student protest in 2010-11, were a few of us just playing in a space that had widened, but which we couldn’t drive into fully out of fear of losing privilege and prestige? Had too few of us lost enough to find a level of mutuality with those students being kettled and batoned and taken into custody? Were we kettled by our commitment to a particular, settler-colonial archive? So, whilst we spoke about co-operative higher education and mass intellectuality and tried to build alternative forms, were these just curiosities? Just three or four-star curiosities?
I feel the qualitative difference in the emergent and insistent energy of being on demonstrations and vigils for Gaza and for ceasefire and for the return of the hostages. In vigils for murdered children and healthcare workers. In reading and hearing and holding the names of the murdered, and in remembering the dead in Gaza-Israel, we share an insistence on a new archive. An archive that refuses settler-colonial truth, built on an insistent energy that teaches me that this man-made world is unspeakable and horrific and beyond fucked-up. But it could be otherwise.
Those vigils and demonstrations remind me of the borders of the University. Because they are not taking place within the University, and there is no reason why they should, except that we want the freedom to hold them there. In those alleged bastions of liberal thought. Although we have seen that at times this cannot be tolerated, because these places are simply a representation of settler-colonial ideas and ideation. Because the prestige economy and its discipline-specific ontologies cannot tolerate them.
And this is one foundation of the problem. Our reaction to atrocity, and to the real time reporting of the slaughter of the innocents, is conditioned by our struggle for prestige as our primary motor. As if genocide in the South exists as evidence for future impact and world-leading outputs in the North. It is as if we can only organise around the unfolding of prestige and the wage and the pension, even whilst capital and its institutions reproduce a degraded idea and ideation of our prestigious, waged work.
So, we are condemned to remain trapped inside the University’s seductive promise of inclusion. And our compromise is our silence, and our living death. For Achille Mbembe in Critique of Black Reason, this ‘new fungibility, this solubility, institutionalized as a new norm of existence and expanded to the entire planet, is what I call the Becoming Black of the world’ (emphasis in the original).’
What does this Becoming Black of the world’ mean for us and our settler-colonial pedagogies and research agendas and disciplines and institutions?
How shall we live? How shall we live with ourselves?
And Ruthie Wilson-Gilmore insistently confronts us with the reality that abolition and transcendence requires that we change one thing, everything. This cannot be the safety for some of the gravitational pull of prestige and the homeliness of simply resuscitating comfortable problems. It has to be a new, mutual unfolding of a new war of ideas from within the University. A new war of ideas that reframes our work from where we have potential strength in the machine: our relationships and our pedagogies and our ways of knowing.
We cannot, we must not, carry on as if we can continue to turn the human and non-human waste of the unfolding genocide in the making into value. As value turns humans and non-humans and environments into waste.
In reminding us of this deep connection between value and waste, Ali Kadri confronts us with the valueless value of the university, whose ideas represent the class position of its top performers. And he reminds us, in the tendency towards silence around atrocities and genocides in the making, that academic ideas are the weapons that reproduce the system. And they underpin the technologies and bureaucracies and processes and chemicals and histories of a settler-colonial system that feeds off the waste of other human and non-human lives.
And what is the materiality of our ideas? The decomposing and recycling of other people’s waste, commodification and death. These are the ideas that reproduce the conditions for and relations of genocide.
How shall we live (with ourselves)?
Fred Moten reminds us of MLK’s insistence on the ‘fierce urgency of now’, which, of course, is situated inside a complex vision of the local/global in relation to matters at hand. He reminds us that this is about Gaza and not Gaza, now and not now, and that we have to inhabit these contradictions intellectually and ethically. And our work is developed in relation to a system that cannot be proportionate as it generates and feeds of human waste and the waste of human life.
And Fred Moten forces us to consider a new question: how do we give up our prestige in order to help make History? Because we cannot simply feed off it for impact. And if we can let go of our conditioning, how do we use that capacity to make History to renew anti-colonial struggle, now? Because Gaza is everywhere and everything, and we have to work from where we are.
His words quietly reveal that we don’t need the University to validate our stance against genocidal intent, even if we might want it to, so desperately. Instead it would be better if we were to realise and to accept that its colonial intent is so instilled and taken for granted that the University doesn’t care what we teach or research. Moten reminds us that the University and its system reproduces its colonial intent not in what we read and discuss, beyond culture wars, but rather in its extraction of value from our allegedly radical intent.
In our impact, and excellence, and commercialisation, and self-exploitation, and on, and on.
Yet its colonial intent is such a given that we also have leeway in the classroom and in the agendas that we set. Especially where we do this with mutuality and reciprocity as our intent. We have to talk among ourselves, as our working from where we are, in order to name and to label. Beyond the foreclosure of the discipline and the institution, our talk amongst ourselves is to build a front of struggle that takes insistent energy from the naming of the murdered and the kidnapped at vigils and on demonstrations. In the naming of the trauma, in the hope of moving with and through the trauma, we must refuse the ontological violence of our disciplines and institutions.
How shall we live? How shall we live with ourselves?
Our work must be anti-colonial. We must insist.
So, I continue to ask myself, how do I mobilise to support those who are adjunct or working on the margins or in anti-colonial (Palestinian) content? How do I demonstrate the courage to open-out the classroom so that it is anti-colonial? How do I radicalise my pedagogy such that it names and refuses genocidal intent? How do I radicalise my research such that it is clearly anti-colonial, and that it turns its gaze on that intent.
Because in this moment, teaching and learning and scholarship and research and knowledge transfer and whatever else the University does in society is meaningless if it is not about naming a genocide in the making, and asking what might be done in the name of peace.
What might be done in the name of peace, as a means of making peace? A peace in the making.
And this requires that we think about our disproportionate and asymmetrical relationship to structures, cultures and practices that reproduce ontological brutality.
And in the war of ideas this relationship cannot be built upon the colonial intent of the University. Rather, a human intent that asks, how and where might intellectual workers mobilise now? What practices do we urgently need to enact now? Because, reflecting on Saidiya Hartman, Fred Moten clearly states that we have to radicalise our spaces so that we can meet this crisis rather than react. We need an urgent refocusing of attention now, to name this genocide in the making, and to work together to prepare for the brutality that will come.
Peace be with you.