Wednesday, January 24, 2024

What Is 'Settler Colonialism'? NYT

I'm very interested in this discussion as I have not been in the loop on the details of the concept of settler colonialism. Many on the left view it from a racial lens, which has often been true but as the article points out Japan engaged in it. And I remember that Stalin used Ukraine as a form of it -- and today's war is partially an outcome of his policies in the 30s and current eastern Ukraine is very Russian and used as a reason for the invasion. I need to do a lot more reading on the subject and there are some sources in this article.

Of course the major issue today is the question of Israel.  There are lots of links in this article to check out. Of course I expect to be called a self-hating Jew for just posting it.

A look at the academic roots of the idea, which has stirred fierce debate when applied to Israel.

In the intense war of words over the Israel-Gaza war, a particular phrase has popped up repeatedly. At protests, on fliers and in some mainstream publications, it is common to see Israel described — or more likely, assailed — as a “settler-colonial” state.

The concept of settler colonialism originates in academia, where its use has surged over the past two decades, whether in case studies of particular places or sweeping master narratives that purport to explain everything since Columbus. It has also been widely taken up on the activist left, invoked in discussions of gentrification, environmental degradation, financial capitalism and other subjects.

The term “settler colonialism” may combine two words that are very familiar. But in combination, the term can land as a moral slander — or worse.

Those who call Israel a settler-colonial enterprise see a country formed by waves of Jewish arrivals who pushed Arab inhabitants out to create an exclusive ethnostate. To others, that is a gross distortion that redefines refugees as oppressors and ignores the long history of the Jewish diaspora’s attachment to its ancestral land — as well as the continuous existence of a Jewish community whose ancestors never left.

More broadly, critics say that the embrace of the term reflects a dangerously simplistic view of history — a kind of “moral derangement,” as Adam Kirsch, an editor at The Wall Street Journal, wrote recently, which justifies violence and rests on “the permanent division of the world into innocent people and guilty people.”

But for many scholars, settler colonialism is a serious and useful analytic concept. For them, it is meant not to condemn or delegitimize, but to illuminate similarities and differences across a wide range of societies, past and present.

“I believe there is purchase to the term,” said Caroline Elkins, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian at Harvard and a co-editor of the 2005 collection “Settler Colonialism in the 20th Century.” “From a strictly empirical perspective, there are colonies — and in some cases, nations today — that were founded on the premise of sending settlers to different locations in the world.”

But amid today’s fierce polemics, even scholarly discussion of the term is fraught. “We have all become very cautious about how we use it,” Elkins said, “out of fear that we’ll be misunderstood.”

Historians have identified many forms of colonialism. Some involve trade or natural resource extraction managed from afar. Others involve systematic exploitation of a local labor force, with the profits sent back to the imperial center.

While uses differ, settler colonialism generally refers to a form of colonialism in which the existing inhabitants of a territory are displaced by settlers who claim land and establish a permanent society where their privileged status is enshrined in law.

The concept emerged out of postcolonial studies, which arose in the 1960s and ’70s as a way of understanding colonialism from the point of view of the formerly colonized across the world. Among the key thinkers was the Afro-Caribbean psychiatrist and philosopher Frantz Fanon, whose classic 1961 book “The Wretched of the Earth” argued that colonized people were justified in using violence to throw off their oppressors.

Fanon, who wrote in French, did not use the term “settler colonialism.” But his ideas are echoed in today’s conversations, said Adam Shatz, the author of “The Rebel’s Clinic,” a new biography of Fanon published this week.

But Fanon’s ideas, he said, have also been distorted, particularly by those who have emphasized his justification of violence. For Fanon, he said, decolonization did not involve a simple act of violent “cleansing,” but a social transformation that would reorder the relations between colonizer and colonized.

“It does not necessarily mean that the solution to a situation of colonial injustice is for the colonizers to simply pack up their bags and leave,” he said.

Many scholars trace the current sense of “settler colonialism,” and its exploding influence in academic circles, to Patrick Wolfe, a British-born Australian scholar and the author of the 1998 book “Settler Colonialism and the Transformation of Anthropology.”

In a tribute to Wolfe after his death in 2016, the scholar Lorenzo Veracini wrote that Wolfe said he had included the phrase in the title at the last minute, at the urging of his publisher. (It occurs infrequently in the book itself.)

“Like the British, who had supposedly set up an empire without really wanting to,” Veracini wrote, “this committed anti-imperialist scholar kick-started a scholarly field in a fit of absent-mindedness.”

Wolfe’s densely theoretical book, which focused on Australia, where white settlers styled themselves as arriving in “empty land,” included two much-quoted phrases. “Settler invasion,” Wolfe wrote, “is a structure, not an event.” That is, it is not a historical episode that ends, but a set of relationships embedded in the legal and political order. And it rests, he wrote, on “the logic of elimination.”

“It’s ‘a winner take all,’ a zero-sum game,” Wolfe told an interviewer at Stanford in 2012, “whereby outsiders come to a country, and seek to take it away from the people who already live there, remove them, replace them and displace them, and take over the country, and make it their own.”

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