This spring, students at Harvard University will be served a buffet of all-you-can-eat courses in post-colonialism. The English department has offered “Remediating Colonialism,” which “focuses on the public memory of settler colonialism and indigenous dispossession in North America”; in the Native American Program, a class entitled “The Caribbean Crucible: Colonialism, Capitalism and Post-Colonial Mis-development in the Region” examined the “complex and formative role” that Western colonialism and capitalism has had on the development of the Caribbean; there likewise was a class offered through the Department of Anthropology, “Colonial Encounters, Postcolonial Disorder” which will “review issues related to the complex relationships between anthropology and colonialism(s) and their after lives in the postcolonial settings”; “The Matrix: Modern Art and Its Colonials” through the Department of History of Art and Architecture” promised to examine the “exoticization of Asian and Islamic cultures, and the “primitivization” of African and Native American traditions. The preoccupation with colonialism does not just affect the Humanities: “Decolonizing Global Health,” offered through the Department of Global Health and Population” explored how the widening gap of “inequity” and “persistent power imbalances” affects marginalized patients.
That’s just Harvard.
Suffice it to say, there is an impassioned love-affair on college campuses between inquiry and Post-colonial Studies. And it is not recent at all. In the United States, the field of Post-colonial Studies has been gaining prominence since the 1970s. At its core, Post-colonial Studies is anti-Western, anti-American, and anti-Zionist. Proponents of Post-colonialism have concluded that all peoples who have been dispossessed, occupied, and marginalized by white imperialists are forever innocent. Of course, the fourteen centuries of Islamic occupation of the Middle East and North Africa (including Europe temporarily) belies Post-colonial Studies’ myopia.
How Israel, the indigenous land of the Jewish people, found itself at the center of Post-colonial Studies is a wild story involving a nexus between two unlikely bedfellows, Marxism and Islamism, known today as the Red-Green Alliance. Likewise, Edward Said’s 1978 book, Orientalism, a work of historical fantasy, placed Israel center-stage in post-colonial discourse. Said’s revisionist history of Zionism concluded by drawing senseless and dangerous parallels between Israelis and Nazis: “You cannot continue to victimize someone else just because you yourself were a victim once—there has to be a limit.” It is remarkable that Said’s academic work was not only taken seriously but continues to cast a long shadow on college campuses. Orientalism remains the most widely read book in the Humanities.
How did this happen?
While many have been rustled from a protracted slumber after the bloody October 7 pogrom in Israel at the hands of jihadists known as Hamas, a select few have been wide awake to the dangers of a one-size-fits-all approach to understanding the world; put differently, to analyzing historical and contemporary events through a post-colonial lens that divides the world between oppressor and oppressed.
The few who have been warning of the infatuation with post-colonialism do not hold fancy degrees; they are baby boomers with thick Slavic accents hailing from an empire that promised to correct inequity by giving “peace for the people, land for the peasants [and] bread for the workers and all working people.” And though many direct attention to the American civil rights movement in the 1960s as a harbinger of today’s post-colonial cornucopia, the true source of today’s discourse on justice can and should be traced to the Soviet Union, and in particular to a narrative framework fixated on power dynamics shipped to the West alongside the anti-Zionist propaganda campaign.
Indeed, the anti-Zionist campaign launched by the Soviets in the late 1960s was deeply rooted in anti-Western attitudes and, in particular, anti-colonial language. We do not need to look further than a 1961 poster (see below):
Titled “An Answer to Colonialism,” the poster depicts three individuals, united against colonial hegemony represented by a Western soldier. Though the experiences of the African man, the Arab man, and the Slavic man are disparate, they unify under a shared grievance against colonialization (if this reminds you of intersectionality, it most definitely should. This, too, was developed by Marxist-Leninists at the turn of the twentieth century and later reappropriated during the Soviet anti-Zionist campaign). Such posters were widely circulated in the Soviet Union.
For the Soviets, who promised their citizens that they will one day live under communism, colonialism was an evil that must be eradicated. In 1960, at the 15th session of the General Assembly, the Head of the USSR delegation introduced the declaration on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples, urging to put an end to colonial slavery. There, Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, denounced the actioned carried out by colonialists and complimented freedom fighters in Cuba, the Congo, and other countries.
In reality, the discourse around de-colonialization was weaponized by the Soviets in order to obtain power initially on the African continent and, later, the Middle East. Posters such as the one above had very little to do with genuine interest in de-colonizing Africa or the Middle East and much more with securing power in strategic places across the globe in the era of the Cold War. (The Soviets, of course—while calling for global de-colonization—had themselves colonized all of Eastern Europe and much of Central Asia.)
In the late 1960s, Israel found itself at the center of the Soviet de-colonization campaign. By 1970, anti-Zionism was fully operational. In the Soviet Union, anti-Zionism thrived because the de-colonialization framework, used as a weapon against America and the collective West, was an effective fertilizer. Canards such as “Zionism is racism,” “Israel is an apartheid state,” “Israel is guilty of genocide,” were not born on college campuses. They were crafted by KGB operatives.
Of course, calling Israel colonial could not be further from the truth. In fact, to label Israel “colonial” in the Russian context is a mockery of truth as throughout the history of the bloody pogroms that swept the Pale of Settlements, Russians and Ukrainians yelled “go back to Palestine” to the Jews.
It is therefore no wonder that pro-Hamas rallies today parade banners with language deeply entrenched in Soviet rhetoric. It makes one wonder, to what extent do these Hamas operatives know that there is absolutely nothing original here; that they are rehashing a lie crafted in Moscow.
And what’s more, how cognizant are these activists of the iconography they use. Nestled between “Zionism is fascism” and “colonizers out of DC” is a snake. This snake can also be found in a 1968 political cartoon titled “The Israeli Python and the American Barrel” from Pravda Vostoka:
And how about the morally bankrupt statement that “resistance [violence] is justified when people are occupied”? Where exactly does this derelict perspective come from? I have now seen pictures on Instagram of pro-Hamas hooligans ripping American flags in the United States. Accompanying these images is a quote from Marxist philosopher Frantz Fanon, a behemoth of Post-colonial Studies: “Decolonization is always a violent phenomenon.” Similar to Said’s Orientalism, Fanon’s book, Wretched of the Earth, remains canonical in Humanities departments across the United States. Fanon argues that colonialism “is the bringer of violence into the home and into the mind of the native.” The only way to fight it, he insists, is through violence. Through violence, “the native discovers that his life, his breath, his beating heart are the same as those of the settler. He finds out that the settler’s skin is not of any more value than a native’s skin.”
In truth, the pro-Hamas—pro-jihadist—embrace of Fanon, suffers from a serious case of amnesia. The spread of Islam in the seventh century was a not a peaceful hey, let’s discuss Islam over coffee situation. It was colonization in every sense of the word. The remnants of Arab colonization of the Levant, North Africa, and parts of Europe is apparent in today’s flags of Muslim-majority countries:
Ever wonder why the flags of Muslim-majority countries look so similar? Ever wonder why the duplication of blacks, whites, greens, and reds? Black is for the Abbasid and Rashidun Caliphates; white is for the Umayyad Caliphate; the green is the unofficial color of Islam itself; and the red is the Hashemite dynastic color. Caliphates were polities based on Islam which developed into multi-ethnic empires.
But truth is not a virtue for an agent of propaganda; and especially if that truth dislodges your entire worldview in which all white people are guilty. To be sure, in his 1986 book Black Skins, White Masks, Fannon writes “what matters is not to know the world but to change it.” There it is in all its unfiltered glory: the goal is never to seek truth, but to produce it.
The de-colonization narrative in regard to Israel is not only false but dangerous. And just as in the Soviet Union it provided the necessary support for anti-Zionism to become fully operational, it is currently being used to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish people and Israel; to call Jews colonizers of Israel is not just an assault on truth, it is an assault on Jewish identity.
It is sick that three days after the biggest massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust, Professor Russel J. Rickford of Princeton University called Hamas’s massacre “exhilarating”; it is sick to watch Western academics embrace the slogan “From the River to the Sea,” a chilling call to annihilate the Jewish state; it is sick to excuse the murder of babies, children, women, and the elderly as a righteous expression of “punching up” to colonialism. But it should not come as a surprise. It has been in the making for decades. What is even more alarming is that the de-colonization narrative continues to be taught at elite universities all across America, infecting the minds of future teachers, lawyers, policy makers, and politicians.
The Jewish people have survived lies viciously spread against them. These rumors, from the blood libel to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, can and should be measured in blood, Jewish blood. Someone asked me once, “How many Jews died because of the spread of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion?” Though not impossible to quantify, I can confidently affirm that six million Jews were killed between 1941 and 1945 as a direct result of their dissemination.
We are living through an era of another lie being told about our people: Israel is an occupier. How many lives will this lie take? Never in my nightmares would I ever imagine that the murder of 1,200 Israelis would be celebrated in the West. And then, on my way to work, I passed by a pole dressed in posters calling each Israeli civilian an “occupier” and realized, the Great Occupation Lie has taken 1,200 lives on October 7, 2023.It has also taken 67 Jewish lives in 1929 in the Hebron massacre; the lives of 6,373 Jews defending themselves against Arab aggression in 1948; 776 Jewish lives in 1967 during the Six-Day War; 2,688 Jewish lives in the 1973 Yom Kippur War; 200 Israelis killed during the suicide attacks of the First Intifada; and 8,103 Jews killed in suicide attacks during the Second Intifada.