Dehumanization of Palestinians rooted in phenomenon called ‘Western modernity’
By: Xavier Villar
Since October 7, we have witnessed rapid and alarming dehumanization of Palestinians, which is essentially rooted in what is known as ‘Western modernity’, a discourse based on the creation of two antagonistic spaces: humans and non-humans.
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As Jamaican philosopher and novelist once wrote, the struggle is between the concept of ‘human’, reduced to its Western dimension, and the rest of the bodies that have been constructed from the perspective of the former as mere biology without humanity.
Following this line of thought, Professor Osamu Nishitani of Tokyo University of Foreign Studies explains that the world is divided, from Western ideology, between what he calls humanitas and anthropos.
The former would be the population capable of reasoning and achieving universal knowledge, which facilitates their political projection into the future.
At the same time, the latter would be incapable of constructing this type of complex thought.
Politically, therefore, the former have sufficient agency to build history, while the latter, due to their passivity, are at the mercy of the former.
This line of thinking originated in what is known as Western modernity. In fact, it can be said that from Descartes (a French thinker of the 17th century) onwards, the idea of Western thought as 'objective' or 'impartial,' as well as 'rational' and 'scientific,' became the most explicit form of racism that persists.
This racism can be defined as epistemological, as it universalizes Western knowledge as applicable to all people in the world while delegitimizing other forms of knowledge by considering them "unscientific" or "non-modern."
In Western modernity, there was a shift from the figure of God as the center to the figure of the Western man occupying that same position.
In other words, there was an ideological change whereby the Western white man positioned himself as the ‘supreme being’ within the order of existence.
At the same time, as this discursive shift was occurring, the inherent violence of this division of the world between humanitas and anthropos was being exported.
The Martinican philosopher Aimé Cesaire, in his well-known "Discourse on Colonialism," wrote that "a poison has been distilled into the veins of Europe."
The poison Cesaire spoke of was precisely that colonial and genocidal vision created by Western ideology. Simultaneously, this colonial vision necessarily entailed racialization and the subsequent division of the world in racial terms.
It should be noted that when we speak of "race," we are not talking about phenotypes, that is, biology, but rather about a technology for managing human difference, whose primary goal is the production, reproduction, and maintenance of white supremacy, both locally and globally.
Due to all of the above, the "man," understood as Western is constructed as the ’imperial man’,as described by Puerto Rican philosopher Nelson Maldonado-Torres.
It is a type of humanity that becomes egolatry. A perverse egolatry that operates based on the rejection of otherness. Ultimately, narcissism becomes homicidal, and the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" is transformed into an identity project based on the principle "I kill, therefore I exist."
This discourse was internalized by some Muslim figures in the late 19th century and early 20th century, who uncritically accepted notions of "civilization," "culture," "modernity," and "progress."
Many of these intellectuals believed, therefore, that the only way to overcome the supposed backwardness of Muslim countries was through the adoption of Western discourse and all its categories. This type of discourse, despite being wrapped in an "Islamic" exterior, remained a self-imposed colonial vision.
In Iran, for example, this type of racist discourse of Western origin guided the Pahlavi dynasty (1925-1979) in its national construction project.
Without delving exhaustively into analyzing how this discourse manifested in pre-revolution Iran, it's interesting to mention some details.
This was an essentialist discourse that privileged a mythical view of the pre-Islamic past, which was seen as "destroyed by the Arab-Muslim invasion." As we can see, this definition encapsulates Western thought entirely.
Similarly, it is the distinction between humanitas and anthropos that underlies the colonial movement in Palestine.
The idea that Palestinian lives and bodies do not matter because their humanity is not fully recognized is a product of that ideological complex known as "Western modernity."
In the Palestinian context, Palestinian resistance, both materially and ideologically (i.e., refusing to accept their dehumanization), is enmeshed in a process of constant re-racialization, always positioning them as "rebellious natives" and, as such, targets of the Zionist genocide program.
However, this resistance highlights that the Western discourse about the lack of political agency among Muslims is simply a discourse that seeks to create what it describes. Just like the Islamic Revolution, both moments are part of the same discourse that aims to rehumanize the ‘other’ of the West.
Therefore, from a political-ideological standpoint, the existence of the Axis of Resistance poses a vital threat to Western ideology, an ideology already weakened by the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and the events that followed.
In other words, the Western domination system no longer holds the same strength or capabilities to reproduce itself. It is an exhausted paradigm that finds itself in a defensive position, a position that is utterly genocidal.
Xavier Villar is a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies and researcher based in Spain.