Saturday, June 22

Defrocking Decolonisation’s Priesthood

Shortly after 7 October, a friend phoned for help in understanding her daughter’s social media messages. “What’s decolonisation?”, she asked. Like many Kiwis, my friend was mystified by the younger generation’s sudden and religious passion for a conflict on the other side of the world.  What appeared to be “a spontaneous eruption of moral outrage”, turned out to be “a highly orchestrated, well-funded propaganda campaign”, one that had been decades in the making. Recently published research has revealed the degree to which funding connected to Hamas has poured into USA university campuses, fueling antisemitism and contributing to the angry and often violent protests.

It has long been argued that Israel must be defended as the only western-styled democracy in the Middle East. Israel has been seen as the beach-head, standing against medieval forces that would drive the world back to an age of barbarism. Such language is now considered part of the imperialist lexicon that the enlightened must jettison. Hamas, the radical Islamist terrorist organisation that slaughtered the greatest number of Jews in a single day since the Holocaust, in an orgy of sexual violence, blood curdling torture and depravity, is now feted on American university campuses as a valiant force fighting for the liberation of the “oppressed Palestinian people”.  Thus, savagery is now defended in the enlightened halls of power and influence and the Gaza war has become the symbol of the Progressive Left’s battle against western civilisation. The ideological war is directed not just at Israel, but the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the western world more generally. Advocating for the preservation of western values is seen as a “Euro-imperialist talking point”. Embracing the Palestinian cause is “acting to dismantle empire”.  Indeed, one needs a language guide to decode the rhetoric. Even the word “terrorist” is considered a “racist and politicised” term and defending Israel’s right to exist is interpreted as “white supremacy”. 

The West is considered the source of all evil in the current zeitgeist, purveyor of the great sin of colonization and imperialism, in which the world is divided into the white oppressor and brown oppressed. If you happen to be brown but don’t buy into the ideology, behold, you are actually white. The fact that the majority of Israelis are brown is irrelevant. They are still white, according to the dogma. One’s skin colour grants political advantage, but as it turns out, only for those on the Left who are not Jewish.

We have witnessed public intellectuals, here in Aotearoa and elsewhere, calling Hamas’ actions “justified armed resistance”. These sentiments are echoed by activist politicians and students alike, in a frenzy of mindless virtue-signalling. More puzzling is the attempt to marry the Palestinian cause with Indigenous causes. We see this in statements like “centering Te Tiriti in this conversation on Palestine and decolonisation” and the “Liberation of Palestine, in so far as it will wound Western imperialism will open a liberated horizon for all racialized people”.

If these seem somewhat obtuse, Te Pati Māori leader, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer’s statement is abundantly clear:

“Palestine is the last bastion of resistance against global Western colonisation. If Palestine is not free, neither are we”.

Ngarewa-Packer has evidently bought the false narrative that Palestinians were once a people who had sovereignty over the land of Israel, even though there is no historical evidence to support such a claim. Under Ngarewa-Packer’s reading, and according to her chant, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free”, Palestinians must have sovereignty over the entire land of Israel. The necessary implication is the genocide or displacement of the Jews, and of course, denial of a Jewish right to self-determination in ancestral lands. (One wonders if she intends to apply such a framework to the situation in Aotearoa New Zealand?)

The illegitimate coupling of Māori sovereignty to the Palestinian cause does have a precedent amongst Māori thinkers. It has been cultivated over decades and has become the default position in certain sectors. Donna Awatere’s book, Māori sovereignty (1984), was modelled on the ideas of the Palestinian Liberation Front (PLF), a designated terrorist group. According to Laura Kamau’s 2010 thesis, 

The point for the PLF was to filter a clear perspective of the enemy to the masses so that they may know the weaknesses and the strengths of their enemy in order for the PLF and the masses that they represent to become stronger. This founding document for the PLF concluded that, 

1. Our enemy in the battle is Israel, Zionism, world imperialism and Arab reaction. 

Awatere embraced this idea, replacing Israel with Pākehā New Zealand, Zionism with Christianity, world imperialism with Britain and Arab reaction with colonial Maori. 

These were the forces Awatere saw as obstructions to the possibility of establishing New Zealand as a Māori Nation State. Awatere’s hostility toward Pākehā New Zealand, Christianity, imperialism and “colonial Māori”, shows obvious similarities to the modern day decolonisers’ attacks on ‘western civilisation’. Ironically, it is western culture, the culture of freedom and enquiry, that enables academics to develop and disseminate views that directly seek to undermine the West, and the very liberties it affords. 

Alarmingly, the apologists for Hamas readily turn a blind eye to the extreme fundamentalism of the Hamas regime and its systematic mistreatment and torture of Palestinians critical of the regime.  Such is the nature of the “sacred”. The Palestinian cause has become hallowed in the worldview of decolonisation’s priestly class. It is a central tenet in the battle to undermine the foundations of the West, and its values of rationalism, the disinterested pursuit of truth, the rule of law, equality before the law, freedom of conscience and expression, human rights and liberal democracy.

Decolonisation’s binary framework of oppressor and oppressed, colonizer and colonized offers a convenient dogma for devotees, but lacks explanatory power and abuses history in the process. Some of our great Māori leaders readily embraced the best of both worlds in their efforts to advocate for their people. In 1858, Pōtatau was declared king at Ngāruawāhia with an oath that bound him to Queen Victoria, Christianity and the law. He was anointed with a Bible over his head, a practice that has continued with his successors to this day. Leaders like Apirana Ngata worked for reconciliation between Māori and Pākehā. Tahupōtiki Wiremu Ratana held a Bible in one hand and the treaty in the other symbolising his dual mandate and Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu had a love for Israel and welcomed Israeli ambassadors onto the marae. 

Māori who aspire to follow in the footsteps of these champions are not “colonized Māori.” They simply reject a construct designed to keep them shackled in grievance, anger and bitterness. Even as they seek redress, they refuse to be defined or confined by the pain of colonisation, discrimination or disadvantage. They follow the example of their tupuna who were entrepreneurs, who embraced modernity and literacy, who chose to turn away from tribal warfare, cannibalism and slavery. They embrace their identity with pride, gratitude and dignity and reject the destructive dogma of the decolonisation priestly class. 

Viewing the whole history of Aotearoa through the lens of decolonisation robs us all of the richness of our heritage, one in which there is much to celebrate. While a rigorous scrutiny of the legacy of colonialism is needed, the decolonisation priesthood’s attack on everything the West has given us makes as much sense as the man who destroys the very city in which he prospers.