Professor Stephen Small on ‘Palestine… It is Something Colonial’

On March 9th, Professor Stephen Small of the Department of African American Studies at UC, Berkeley spoke at the book launch of Dr. Hatem Bazian Book launch: ‘Palestine… It is Something Colonial’. Below his introduction on the importance of this work for the decolonial framework.

“I join you this evening to celebrate the publication of this book – “Palestine… it is something colonial” by my colleague and friend Professor Hatem Bazian.  I would like to thank East Wind books for organizing the event, for being the distributor of this book, as well as the distributor of other books in the Decolonizing the Mind (DTM) book series of Amrit Publishers. I would like to thank the Ethnic Studies Library for hosting the event, and the Center for Race and Gender too.

I am an Associate Professor at UC, Berkeley, in African American Studies, since 1994; I am a faculty member at the Black Europe Summer School BESS, in Amsterdam, founded and directed by Kwame Nimako, since it began in 2007; I also teach on the Decolonizing Knowledge and Power Institute, in Barcelona each summer, founded and directed by Prof. Ramon Grosfoguel; and I am co-editor of the book series  – Decolonizing the Mind – which Sandew Hira and I began about 3 years ago. This is the book series in which Prof. Bazian has published this book.  This DTM series is a series in Amrit Publishers, based in The Hague, Netherlands. I should add that our colleague and friend, Arzu Merali, who works at the Islamic Human Rights Council in London, has joined us recently as co-editor of the DTM book series. And so tonight I speak our behalf of Sandew, Arzu and myself, as co-editors of the Book Series.

Prof Bazian is a lecturer in the Department of Near Eastern and Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies; Director of the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project Center for Race and Gender at the University of California, Berkeley. Cofounder of Zaytuna College, the first accredited Muslim Liberal Arts College in America. Those of us that know him, know that he is a scholar that does not fear to enter the realm of politics or policy; a frequent contributor to a range of printed and online media; an organizer, sponsor and participant in conferences, seminars and workshops; not only across the United States, but also across the world. He is a scholar, a journalist, a political activist, and a proud advocate of freedom. He is also on the board of organizations like the Islamic Scholarship Fund and Muslim Americans for Palestine.  Despite all of these accomplishments, and the energy required to engage in them, those of us who know him, know that he retains a depth of intellect, a generosity of spirit, and unassailable integrity. And he seems to be able to do all of this, while retaining an air of calm and equanimity! But we know it requires tireless energy.  

I can say without fear of contradiction that my colleagues, Sandew Hira and Arzu Merali are delighted that Professor Bazian agreed to publish this book in our book series. Before I say something about the book, let me say something about the context of the book, and the book series.

Those of us that work in the academy, know that the aim of scientific and intellectual inquiry is to the production of knowledge, sometimes for itself, frequently in the service of social and political change. But we also know that Western colonialism, conquest and domination – and their many legacies today – have defined many of the ways in which the European and European-American founders of the academy regarded social reality. In particular, the relations between those that dominated the world, and those that were dominated or subordinated. The perspectives of the colonizers have consistently been translated into research and knowledge production of a wide range of topics, and the academy has often been the main vehicle for those perspectives.

The sine qua none of the academy is the idea that it encourages rigorous and broad-minded inquiry and research, from a variety of disciplinary perspectives and on all topics the describe, interpret and explain humanity. But those of us who have worked in the academy know that far too often it is more likely to be restricted in access, limited in scope of study, narrow-minded in the range of epistemologies employed and lacking in ethnic, gender, class and religious diversity. These institutional corridors all too frequently stifle the intellect and block broad-minded study.

It has always been necessary to challenge dominant knowledge production about any topic, more so when the issues are to do with people of color; and to do with Islam in general and Muslims in particular. This was necessary in the past, when the majority of the world’s population was subordinate, subjected and excluded from the academy. It has been necessary in the last half century, even after so many any nations nominally freed themselves from colonial domination. It remains important today, given many of the continued restrictions in the academy, and society more generally.

It is from this context that the DTM series emerged and that Sandew Hira and I began the DTM books series. Sandew Hira in fact established Amrit publications more than a decade ago, to publish progressive research on a wide range of topics from perspectives that the academy often refuses to engage with; and that Dutch publishers typically refused to cover. In the DTM series we publish a range of books on a range of topics.

  1. This book is number six in the DTM series, of which 2 are in Dutch and 4 in English. We have published books on Dutch Slavery, Reparations, Gender and Islam, and on Malcom X. We will soon publish a book on Black Europe.
  2. The aim of the series is to develop the theory and practice of Decolonizing the Mind. How does Hatem’s book contribute to this aim?

Overall, he puts the Zionist project of Palestine in the context of colonialism and explores the mechanism of colonizing the mind. This includes:

  • the mechanism of organized amnesia that seeks to ensure that the historical facts of the brutal confiscation of land are erased from memory; The same mechanism was used in the colonization of Africa and the Americas.
  • the mechanism of using religion to justify colonization. Hatem reveals how this was done in the case of Palestine, just as it was done in the case of justifying the kidnap, transportation and enslavement of Africans in the Americas.
  • he articulates how the relationship between oppressor and oppressed in terms of superiority and inferiority was a key mechanism of colonialism in general and the colonization of the mind in particular. It has been explored in decolonial theory in many studies and Hatem now reveals exactly how it is used in the colonization of Palestine and how Zionism has become a racist ideology
  • and he highlights how, in the case of Palestine, the naming of the land represents a mechanism of colonizing the mind. Just as ‘America’ was named after a European, Amerigo Vespucci, while the names of indigenous people were symbolically and literally annihilated.

Professor Bazian’s book is full of these examples, with historical specificity, rich insights and unexpected revelations.  It fits wonderfully in the series and we believe it is a major contribution to decolonial theory more generally. I have learnt a great deal from the book and from my friend Hatem, not only about Palestine and settler colonialism, but also about the many ways in which comparisons offer profound insights, broaden our horizons and deepens our analytical insights.

For all these reasons, and many more, we welcome the book. As I’m sure so many present here, and elsewhere, will do the same.

With these few words, let me turn over the mike to my colleague and friend. Professor Hatem Bazian.”