With Palestine, we are in a unique time in history. Savagery is the domain of power, and history is replete with examples of human barbarity. But it is impossible to find such a moment when a group of world powers banded together to participate in the starvation and murder of a dispossessed, imprisoned people, and collaborated in the mass killing of their children, elderly, and critically ill.
The ticket to this bestial feast is bought by these powers with the abandonment of their foundational social codes; with the suppression of the voices of their own people demanding an end to this savagery and the voices of the Jewish people, who with great moral clarity have stood in solidarity with the Palestinians, and foiled the efforts by Zionism’s criminal enterprise to make them complicit, by linking its name to their faith. But more than anything else, it is bought at the cost of repudiating their human dignity.
It is such a colossal cost that we must ask ourselves why it has been paid with such deliberate readiness.
It seems clear that this may not be a tactical stance, but a permanent shift towards a conduct that will henceforth be hegemonic, brutal and indifferent to the laws that have allowed peace in human society. That a template of violence is being manufactured that will be enforced on societies well beyond Palestine, for their domination and plunder. And that, in these actions, all their institutions will be equal partners, be it their academia, cultural institutions, or humanitarian bodies.
We can be sure that appeals for sanity will not only go unheard by the leadership of their state institutions, but will also not be heard by their leaders of academia, cultural institutions and humanitarian bodies, the majority of whom have, with their words and actions, offered moral sponsorship for Israel’s genocide.
If their state institutions have done it by criminalising protests against Israel’s genocide of the Palestinian people, and targeting those who have shown their humanity in supporting the oppressed, their academic institutions have done it by de-listing student groups asking for ceasefire; their literary organisations by trying to silence the voices of writers and artists demanding an end of brutalities; and their medical bodies — founded to care for and protect human lives — with their criminal silence in response to the cries for help by Palestinian doctors and international medical teams heroically performing the duty of care, as both they and the sick are being bombarded, and hunted down in hospital wards by Israeli assassins.
It manifests that for Western power structures, subscription to the adornments and virtues of human essence, which must needs be underwritten in the human character by an infallible regard for human dignity, will now be only ploys to maintain a guise, to be disposed of at the first opportune moment for some gain. And this will not only be a matter of policy for those beyond their borders, but also for those living within them.
To enact this neo-colonial world order, and make it successful, people and societies will have to be systematically desensitised, dehumanised and incapacitated.
Of this desensitisation, we already have a model in those demanding “humanitarian pauses” in the genocide of the Palestinians. These pauses are meant to desensitise us to the spectacle of savagery against the Palestinian people — a commercial break to help us recalibrate our sensitivities — and gain our cognitive acceptance and participation in the continuation of their suffering.
Dehumanisation may take many forms, from epistemicide, the erasure of knowledge systems, to the erasure of languages and culture over the long term. As educationists, writers and artists, it is our duty to realise what is in the offing, and to be prepared to protect our knowledge systems and our cultural heritage from extermination.
In this hour, our biggest tool is language. We cannot allow the degenerate propaganda from Western leadership and media to define the semantics of language. They must not be allowed to determine what we should and should not say, and what our words ought to mean. If they have repudiated with their actions the foundational principles of humanity enshrined in the laws of their own lands, they must not be allowed any token of privilege or legitimacy in civilised society as its spokespersons.
The attempts to weaken societies could also take many forms, from denial of responsibility for the degradation of the Earth and its environment, which has put human life in the poor and vulnerable regions of the world under mortal threat, to literal acts of economic manipulation, nothing of which is new or undocumented, and unfolding before us even now.
But this uniquely vulgar moment in human history — where a consolidated and coalesced evil stands before us exposed in its degenerate nature, feels its power over us, mocks our grief, and grins with impunity — is also a blessed moment.
If many of us in recent days have experienced a seething rage that has burnt up our tears, our hearts have brimmed with tears at the humanity of those who have risen from all the nation states colluding with this unprecedented evil, and who in a clear, strident voice condemned the actions of their rulers. The sense of a human family has never been more palpable, strong or widespread. A global solidarity against this evil is building, and must be nurtured at every step.
Systematic boycotts of economic interests of this neo-colonialism, activation and strengthening of networks of law to bring to justice all who have been a part of this genocide, and the development and strengthening of independent media to counter the malicious propaganda, are what will break this template of violence, and allow us to see justice being done for crimes against humanity that we have witnessed.
Those who have read monster stories know that all monsters have a failing. The very impunity the monster enjoys in its excesses will be its undoing.
The columnist is a novelist, author and translator.
Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, November 19th, 2023