Real decolonization is a physical process. It is about removing bodies from a place. (Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/picture alliance via Getty Images)

This Is What ‘Decolonization’ Looks Like

Fancy-sounding academic jargon is not a curious intellectual exercise. Words make worlds. Words make nightmares.

On Saturday, as the raping and murdering and kidnapping were happening in Israel, Najma Sharif, a writer for Soho House magazine and Teen Vogue, posted on X: “What did y’all think decolonization meant? vibes? papers? essays? losers.” 

So far, Sharif’s post has been liked 100,000 times and reposted nearly 23,000 times—by, among others, The Washington Post’s global opinions editor, Karen Attiah

The point was: Don’t be squeamish. Never mind the Jewish girl being pulled by her hair with blood streaming between her legs. Never mind the women being raped beside the corpses of their friends at a music festival. Never mind the children and babies snatched from their parents.

If you can’t handle it, if you condemn it without a preamble or equivocation, you’re an apologist for the Zionist colonizers. 

All this is a good reminder that when people say something, they often mean it, and we should believe them, or at least take them seriously. Fancy-sounding academic jargon is not a curious intellectual exercise. Words make worlds. 

Here is how Quillette editor Claire Lehmann put it on X, formerly Twitter: “For the past decade I’ve been told that jokes, words & scholarly debates need to be suppressed because they may cause ‘harm’ to vulnerable minorities. Yet when a global minority is butchered, tortured & maimed, those who suppress words shrug as if war crimes are no big deal.”

Real decolonization is a physical process. It is about removing bodies from a place. 

The meaning of Sharif’s post—a very tidy, very millennial encapsulation of the old Bolshevik spirit—is: the ends shall justify the means, and if that bothers you, well, you’ve probably been infected by some bourgeois, liberal fungus. 

Nor was she alone.

“And as you might have seen, there was some sort of rave or desert party where they were having a great time until the resistance came in electrified hang gliders and took at least several dozen hipsters,” a speaker at a Democratic Socialists of America rally in New York proclaimed to whoops and laughter. (DSA members include representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jamaal Bowman, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar.) 

“Decolonization is about dreaming and fighting for a present and future free of occupied Indigenous territories,” Jairo Fúnez-Florez, an assistant professor at Texas Tech, posted. “It’s about a Free Palestine. It’s about liberation and self-determination. It’s about living with dignity.”

A pro-Palestinian rally in New York’s Times Square. (Photo by Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images)

Columbia student groups called the attack on Israel “an unprecedented historic moment for the Palestinians of Gaza, who tore through the wall that has been suffocating them.”

A joint statement issued by dozens of Harvard student organizations declared “the Israeli regime” is “entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.” 

“Shabbat shalom and may every colonizer fall everywhere,” wrote Barnaby Raine, who received his PhD in history from Columbia and now teaches at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research.

The writer Mohammed El-Kurd, the Palestine correspondent for The Nation, stated: “What is happening in occupied Palestine is a response to weeks and months and years of daily military invasions into Palestinian towns, killings of Palestinians, and the very fact that millions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are besieged under Israeli blockade.”

Rania Khalek, a Lebanese American journalist, wrote: “Watching armed indigenous people take their land back from their colonizers is something else.”

Self-styled “journalist” Mariam Barghouti said: “Gaza just broke out of prison.”

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis suggested “the path to ending the tragic loss of innocent lives—both Palestinian and Israeli—begins with one crucial first step: the end of the Israeli occupation and apartheid.”

The New York Times decided this was the right moment to run a story headlined “Gaza Has Suffered Under 16-Year Blockade.” The Times was good enough to note that the blockade was made possible not only by Israel but by Egypt, but it failed to mention Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza in 2005; that Palestinians elected Hamas to rule them; that Israelis routinely give Gazans notice before attacking to minimize loss of civilian life; and that one reason (maybe the reason) so many Palestinian children have died during Israeli air strikes is Hamas uses them as human shields—the better to generate sympathetic news coverage.

Then, of course, there were the moral relativists, those who provide a patina of legitimacy to the alleged freedom fighters. Amnesty International’s Agnes Callamard called on “all parties to the conflict to abide by international law and make every effort to avoid further civilian bloodshed.” Representative Ilhan Omar reminded everyone, “Gaza doesn’t have shelters or an iron dome” (one wonders if she mentioned this to the Hamas leadership in Doha or its patrons in Tehran before the violence commenced). Or Jeremy Corbyn, Britain’s national embarrassment, declaring, “we need a route out of this tragic cycle of violence.”

Meanwhile, the ersatz activists of Hollywood and Silicon Valley are eerily quiet. The people who turned the Ukrainian flag into their avatars, those who worry about misgendering and triggering and safe spaces, those who insist words are violence (those for whom violence is apparently not violence)—they’re busy ignoring all this. 

We should listen closely to these latter-day Bolsheviks and their many enablers. They are being honest. They are saying exactly what they believe and what they want to see happen.

Which means the next time some academic or media personality on cable blithely informs us that Palestine must be liberated “from the river to the sea”—that means from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean, i.e., the whole of the Jewish state—we should ask them whether they are okay with all the girls who will be raped, all the old people and toddlers who will be mowed down or strung up. We should ask if they believe that as a “settler-colonialist” entity, the United States awaits a similar fate.

What would this death cult do if it could do anything? We have glimpsed that over the past 72 hours. We know what they are capable of, and we know that they have many defenders here at home. Those who imagine themselves fomenting the long-awaited revolution. Those who know that the beloved academic language of decolonization means nothing if you’re unwilling to see it enacted in flesh, and especially blood. 

Peter Savodnik is senior editor at the Free Press. Read his dispatch from the second Republican presidential debate here.

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