John Aziz

As a Palestinian, I deplore what is happening at Columbia and other campuses – and what Hamas has done to us

If universities cannot instil their students with peaceful, tolerant, and coexistent attitudes, then they have failed as institutions of higher learning


Students outside the Columbia University campus (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

April 22, 2024 13:12

“A message to the scum of nations and pigs of the Earth. Paradise lies in the shadow of swords. Glory to he who makes the occupier taste bitterness”, the tattered brown cardboard sign read in peculiarly pretentious and melodramatic language, attached with a wedge of black duct tape to a nondescript tent.

“Let it be known”, the woman in the brown keffiyeh spoke into the microphone with a coiled passion, her voice inflected with an American accent. “It was the Al-Aqsa flood (of October 7) that put the global intifada back on the table again. And it is the sacrificial spirit of the Palestinian freedom fighters that will guide every struggle on every corner of the Earth to victory. How far are we willing to go in losing all of the trappings of a respectable life, the material spoils that we have been taught to value as individuals?”

This is the kind of message that as a Palestinian, I have heard a lot over the years from a range of voices on my own side of the conflict. A message of unrestrained militancy, a threat to the world, a warning, an omen of violence. The language of Hamas, the language of al-muqawama (the resistance), the language of war.

But this is not Gaza, nor Yemen, nor Tehran. These are not the militant words of some radical imam amid the dust clouds of Arabia, or the war-torn Mediterranean landscape of Gaza. These are signs posted and words spoken at Columbia University’s Gaza solidarity encampment, in New York, the city with the largest Jewish population in the world - a city populated by 1.6 million Jews as compared to second-place Jerusalem’s 546,000 Jews. If these students wished to emulate their heroes of the Al-Aqsa Flood and attack or kidnap Jews, they would have plenty to choose from.

“Jews, Jews”, the hordes of American students chanted, “go back to Poland”. Many of these students might identify as left-wing and anti-racist, but the only recent historical parallel to this uncloaked antisemitism were the naked chants of “Jews will not replace us” spewed by the so-called alt-right, the incels, groypers, and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville in 2017.

How far have Hamas — the ideological heroes of these campus wannabe warriors — been willing to go in losing all of the trappings and the material spoils of their lives? They have gone all the way. Gaza today is shrouded in dust, shrapnel and rubble, and the relative — albeit limited — economic and material progress attained before the war is gone. In the region of 30,000 Palestinians, many of them civilians including women and children are said to have died as a consequence of the war Hamas instigated on October 7. Every university in Gaza has been damaged, a majority of the hospitals are out of commission and have been replaced by field hospitals. Gaza’s productive economy has been replaced with food packages dropped from planes and delivered by trucks.

Hamas’ approach, in other words, has been a disaster for Palestinians in Gaza, not to mention the Israelis and people of other nationalities — including Americans and Britons — murdered, raped, and kidnapped on October 7 itself. Those who wish to style themselves as pro-Palestinian should recognise the failure of Hamas as leaders for Palestinians.

But this ongoing pattern of failure has not stopped American students from falling into the arms of Hamas. While support for theocratic militants may for many be a juvenile silliness that most will simply grow out of and cringe about in future years, there is a risk of people following through on their words and turning to violence and terror, very literally globalising the intifada. At the very least, this is a fertile recruiting ground for radicals.

But as much as these wannabe radicals might shout and scream, in the long run, neither side — not Palestinians, nor Israelis — are going anywhere.

What is actually needed to resolve the conflict and bring dignity and freedom to the Palestinian people — and what I wish these students would advocate for — are mature, empathetic, and compassionate leaders on both sides willing to work together to build towards coexistence, economic development, and opportunities for the ordinary people living in the land. This means mutual recognition of the legitimacy and rights of both peoples on the land.

Continued and growing militancy is not the solution. Extremist ideologies that call for total victory and ethnic cleansing or try to paint one side or the other as temporary and removable settler colonialists are a pathway to hell.

The explosion of Hamasnik ideology on campuses in the United States and in Britain, as such, is a major embarrassment for these institutions. If universities cannot instil their students with peaceful, tolerant, and coexistent attitudes, then they have failed as institutions of higher learning.

April 22, 2024 13:12

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