Colonial Enterprises: How Legitimate Is a Resistance? Jamming, 18/11/2014

Thinking about the politics of post-colonialism, colonialism, and one’s complicity in or resistance to colonialism is an immensely tricky subject. Anything that you could write or say on the subject is bound to make someone angry. In that sense, it’s ideal for contemporary online media: blog publishing is driven by encouraging reader anger because rage is most likely to generate shares and clickthroughs. I didn’t make this system; I’m just learning about its details as part of my education in modern communications.*

* Mind you, this isn’t actually part of my program at Sheridan College; it’s part of the supplementary reading that I’m exploring while I work through my program.

So I thought I’d put together a short set of reflections on how I’ve engaged with the issue in my thinking. I’m not sure how these concepts will apply to the larger philosophical book projects that I’m slowly working on. The Ecophilosophy manuscript is a very separate topic, and while utopian elements are built into the ideologies of many anti-colonial resistance movements, their relationship to the vision of the mechanized man of Marinetti and Jünger’s imaginations at the centre of biopolitical totalitarianism is complicated. Mechanizing humanity is an inherently Western cultural idea, after all. 

But after going through Spinoza’s political writings (in reaction to my engagement with Robert Nozick over October and November), I realized that a core question of his work in the 1600s had become essential to understanding contemporary anti-colonial struggles, many of which had or plan to replace the current regime with one that’s even more oppressive. Why do people fight for their enslavement with the devotion they should apply to fighting for their freedom?

Negri: Imperialism vs Empire

While I now have the entire Empire/Multitude/Commonwealth series on my shelf, I haven’t really gone into Antonio Negri’s Empire since 2008. It was always on my list to revisit for the Utopias project, and I think I’ll start through that in December. 

One thing that stood out to me, and this was Negri’s major conceptual innovation in Empire, was that he distinguished the nature of the economic and cultural globalization of our current era from the empire-building of the past. States and control of territory through military occupation and governance were no longer the driving processes. Economic domination was occurring without direct state sponsorship. The result was a much more networked, centreless form of economic intensification. 

Negri clearly identified what had changed, what caused this radical change, and what its implications were. I learned from Negri that you could never denounce the West and its governments in this decentralized structure as directly or obviously as the sole cause of exploitation on Earth. In current times, you see the leaders of states that have been liberated from Western colonial control still carry out openly colonial practices in the Victorian mode. Yes, for the most part, the royals were the vassal governors and puppet rulers of Western colonial regimes. But to say that the ruling class of monarchist authoritarian states who buy African nature reserves to hunt for sport are more legitimate governors than a democracy founded on values of communitarian solidarity because 'colonialism' is a schizophrenic political blindness to a reality that makes nonsense of your knowledge categories.

The network had become much more complex, which made moral and political culpability a more difficult matter to settle, and maybe made it a non-issue if even nations who materially benefited from these arrangements had enough people who were otherwise disenfranchised. Blame would be the wrong question to ask.

One thing I've learned about Israeli society is that people
in North America don't often take seriously just how
different it really is from here.
The Vilification of Israel

When I read that late-period Karl Jaspers book a couple of months ago, it featured a quality that I find amazing to read today. Jaspers was a left-wing figure who lionized Israel as a bastion for democracy and a nation leading the world to the elimination of racism. Israel was founded by secular socialists, some of the most intelligent people of Europe in union with the Sephardic Jews who had lived in the territory for literally millennia. It was a democratic country building a strong tradition of communitarian anarchism through the kibbutz movement.

Today, however, Israel is identified largely on the global left with the terms ‘racist,’ ‘apartheid,’ ‘colonialist,’ and even ‘genocidal.’ I find far too many people for my comfort in the Western educated left thoughtlessly parroting the conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial regularly spouted by Saudi-sponsored Salafist clerics and radical militarist organizations. The government of Israel has certainly not been innocent in its hand-wringing disenfranchisement of the people in the Palestinian Territories after the Six Day War in 1967. But it is still a democracy where dissent is possible. 

In any other country in the Middle East, a socially conservative government with xenophobic tendencies, like the Netanyahu-Lieberman coalition, would have rounded up their opponents with the secret police, and would never have been seen again. That includes not only Assad, El-Sisi, and the House of Saud, but the monarchs of the Gulf sheikhdoms and the ever-so-Westernized royalty of Jordan. Instead, the Israeli government’s internal opponents fight them constantly in the Knesset, and the peace movement still continues its struggle against reactionary and xenophobic nationalists.

Violent Radical Islam as a Liberation Force

Nationalism is a danger in any state, because the mere existence of a state institution encourages a national identity to grow around it. That excludes people by its nature. The state is bureaucratic tribalism post facto rationally justified, after all. If we do it reasonably well, we get a democracy with a decent public health and welfare system that protects people’s rights.

So why does a movement that ostensibly fights against oppression choose a fundamentalist religious ideology, the most violently tribal extremism** humanly possible, as its banner of presumed liberation? It’s the ideology that its leaders and popular supporters seek to replace Western domination.

** Not only do you commit terrifying violence against a perceived oppressor, but that violence is justified by an absolutized transcendent authority. Not only do you act only on the material authority’s orders, but you act on your god’s orders too. That’s multiple dimensions of self-enslavement.

But it’s trading one form of enslavement for another. And because the topic is the subject of such a wide range of controversy and the resulting hyperbole, I don’t know if I could ever figure out a straight answer on the particular question that at the same time understands both the humanity of its practitioners while understanding how they can act so inhumanly.

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