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‘Pro-Palestine student movement challenging the West's colonial past and present’

May 16, 2024 at 7:40 pm

Students and community members gather for a rally at the pro-Palestinian encampment on the campus of the University of Michigan during the commemoration of the 76th anniversary of Nakba Day in Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States on May 15, 2024. [Adam J. Dewey – Anadolu Agency]

The global student movement in solidarity with Palestine is bringing to the fore important questions about the Western world’s hypocrisy and its colonial past and present, according to a prominent Greek social anthropologist and activist.

The students are “faced with incredible repression” because of their depth of knowledge and determination to challenge the world’s major powers, Nikolas Kosmatopoulos, a faculty member at the American University of Beirut (AUB), said in an interview with Anadolu.

“The students are exercising their right to protest the US and Western complicity, both in the form of arms deliveries and diplomatic support to Israel to commit genocide in Gaza,” he said.

What is noteworthy, according to him, is that the protests reveal that the Palestinian struggle inspires the global youth and allows them to articulate broader grievances and inequalities.

He said that now, many “intertwined issues” have come together with Palestinian struggle.

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“In that sense, I think it’s important that students rise against what they understand as colonial legacies and the colonial present in Palestine, as well as the US.

“They rise against the colonial present that murders civilians, children, women indiscriminately and the post-colonial hypocrisy that allows it to continue. Students rise against the colonial racism that regards Palestinians as subhuman,” Kosmatopoulos said.

On other issues fuelling the protests, he argued that the students were also aware of the bleak future awaiting them, with student loans accumulating even as the US government cuts down on social spending to funnel more funds to Israel’s war machine.

“I think the protests will definitely continue and we have to be following them closely, because they will be changing the world as the events in Gaza are changing the world.”

Western credibility at stake

According to Kosmatopoulos, the West’s attitude towards ongoing Israeli war crimes in Gaza and the way many Western governments and universities have treated the protests have cast a shadow over western credibility, especially for the US.

Pointing to how police and pro-Israeli media “attack protesting students” and how university administrations have expelled students for merely exercising “their legitimate right to protest”, he said this made many to question the democracy in the West and whether “the West can still dictate who is democratic and who is not.”

Kosmatopoulos emphasised, “Europe is also showing an ugly face, especially countries like Germany, whose stance towards the Israeli crimes in Palestine has been abysmal.”

“I believe that after Gaza, Europe is not going to be the same again. I do not see how their tarnished reputation can recover after this.”

He suggested that many countries in Europe “don’t really care so much”.

“It seems that Europe is turning its back to the rest of the world, and particularly the needs and opinions of the Global South,” he said.

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Some EU institutions and decision makers, however, have taken a different stance, he noted, pointing out that Foreign Policy chief, Josep Borrell, has been more critical of Israel, while EU Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, has been a leading voice on the continent with her stalwart support for Tel Aviv.

Palestine, students and progressive politics

Kosmatopoulos also struck a hopeful tone, saying that Palestinians’ struggle against Occupation and apartheid, along with the anti-war student protests, could spark a reawakening of progressive politics — long under pressure by both mainstream “left-wing” politics and the surge of right-wing parties.

“It is unfortunate that this has come at the cost of the blood of Palestinians … but we should be thanking the Palestinians for opening our eyes to what’s really happening in the West and the rest of the world,” he said.

“I hope that the student protests about Palestine will bring to the fore questions of colonial legacies, for example, of racial and economic injustice, of racism as an economic issue, of racism as a global concern, of racism as an environmental problem.”

Suppressors of pro-Palestine voices ‘should be losing their jobs’

More than 200 AUB faculty members recently signed a petition urging the administration to revoke the honorary degree awarded to Minouche Shafik, the Columbia University president who has drawn global criticism for her institution’s violent crackdown on protesters.

Speaking about the letter, Kosmatopoulos said the Columbia protesters were “extremely peaceful” and suffered unnecessary aggression.

“Shafik took the unilateral decision to violate the academic freedom of her students, staff and faculty by declaring their peaceful protest a threat to the university and by calling the police to suppress, arrest and expel students,” he said.

He said academics “are losing their jobs and being bullied at Columbia University and elsewhere for supporting Palestine and for speaking out against genocide.”

“I think Shafik and people like her should be losing their jobs, instead, and hopefully never returning to any position of power and decision-making,” he said.

“At AUB, we, as faculty, are determined to do whatever we can to make sure that her honorary degree is revoked.”

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.