Brown University is working hard to become the most anti-Israel school in America. In its competition with Columbia University and New York University, Brown not only boasts the nation’s first ever endowed chair in Palestinian studies (named after PLO poet Mahmoud Darwish), but the recipient of that dubious honor, professor of history Beshara Doumani, is currently serving as the president of Birzeit University, located down the road from PLO headquarters in Ramallah. Brown University has become the Providence Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
To that end, Brown’s Center for Middle East Studies competes with Columbia’s Center for Palestine Studies and NYU’s Kevorkian Center to celebrate Palestinianism and decry the evils of Israel. Brown’s latest effort came on November 12 in the form of a Zoom talk by Somdeep Sen, associate professor in international development studies at Roskilde University, Denmark. Sen was promoting his book, titled “Decolonizing Palestine,” which is academic-speak for “Denouncing Israel.”
Like many anti-Zionists, Somdeep Sen lives in a dream world, partially of his own creation and partially thrust upon him by the fantasy world created by a sect of pro-BDS, anti–Semitic liberal-arts academics who insist that Israel is an “apartheid state” and there is a country called “Palestine.”
He announced repeatedly that his book is an attempt to “normalize Hamas” by rendering it “de-exceptionalized.” In academic jargon, this means that Sen’s work is dedicated to softening the image of Hamas, contextualizing the terrorist organization so that it seems to be just another movement of downtrodden underdogs fighting against oppressors. This delusion led him, multiple times during his talk, to compare Hamas to Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
A hint of the muddy jargon can be glimpsed in his book blurb (published by Cornell University Press, which may be looking to get in on the competition) explaining that it focuses on “two seemingly contradictory, yet coexistent, anticolonial and postcolonial modes of politics adopted by Hamas following the organization’s unexpected victory in the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council election.”
Most people do not think of Hamas as a collection of freedom fighters forced to negotiate the schizoid abyss between terrorist group and government thrust upon it by success, but that’s precisely Hamas’s problem as Professor Sen sees it. He even finds a way to blame Israel, because the Oslo Accords “introduced false coloniality and introduced the rituals, institutions and structures of the postcolonial state as a way of changing the subjective identity of the liberation faction as a way of transforming them from being liberation factions to bureaucrats.”
Curiously, Sen believes that the most tenuous part of his effort to “normalize Hamas” (or “the hardest part to sell,” as he put it) is that he “introduced post-colonial statecraft discourse” before “Palestine” has reached the “post” era — in other words, before the settler-colonial force has been vanquished.
In describing the complexity of his nuanced approach to the group responsible for conducting hundreds of suicide bombings in Israel and launching thousands of missiles into the Jewish state, Sen casually dismisses the unwashed masses of analysts who “resort to the same the old tropes of terrorism, political Islam, and Islamism.” Apparently Sen has never read the Hamas charter (1988), which makes clear that its war with Israel is a religious one.
Rather than groping for ill-fitting contexts to “normalize” Hamas as both a terrorist organization and government, he should familiarize himself with the work of French criminologist Xavier Raufer, who coined the term “gray-area phenomenon” to denote a traditional anti-state, covert terrorist organization that has grown so large and powerful that it assumes many of the roles of a legitimate state. Examples of gray-area phenomena are the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelan (LTTE); ISIS circa 2014–17; Hezbollah, which effectively controls the government of Lebanon today; and Boko Haram, which controls the northern half of Nigeria. Hamas fits the model perfectly. It is an illegal, terrorist organization that controls territory and poses as a legitimate government. Its suicide-bomber recruiters, militia leaders, tunnel excavators, and summer-camp counselors all pretend to be politicians, some calling themselves ministers and generals.
Acknowledging these facts would preclude Hamas fanboys like Somdeep Sen from portraying the goons of Gaza as heroic men struggling “to conjure up a sense of indigeneity.”
Sen explained that his Indian (Bengali) heritage has inspired his work and led him to observe that India has “exceptionalized” Kashmir the way that Israel has “exceptionalized” Gaza and its Hamas rulers. He does not like that India and Israel have “become close,” as he put it, but seems confident that “a growing solidarity between Palestinians and Kashmiris” would benefit both. In fact he ended his talk by looking back at the success that “ten years of Palestine studies scholars have had” and was delighted to see the Palestinian flag waved at Black Lives Matter protests.
Newsflash to Professor Sen: It’s going to take a lot more than feeble academic jargon to “normalize Gaza” and make the world forget the “old tropes of terrorism, political Islam, [and] Islamism.” Normalization can come only when Israel begins to see some normal behavior from the people of Gaza, when Hamas develops a normal government that doesn’t instill in its people a longing for martyrdom, and when there emerges an ethos in Gaza with the belief that the welfare provided to Palestinians by the world in the form of construction materials (metal and concrete) should be used for something other than missiles to launch at Israel and for tunnels designed to deliver Fedayeen fighters into Israel to kill Israelis.
Reprinted with author’s permission from Middle East Forum