When Critical Theory collides with conflict in the Middle East

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When Critical Theory collides with conflict in the Middle East

October 13, 2023 -

Closeup of a map featuring the Israel–Gaza border. By Robert/stock.adobe.com.

Closeup of a map featuring the Israel–Gaza border. By Robert/stock.adobe.com.

Closeup of a map featuring the Israel–Gaza border. By Robert/stock.adobe.com.

The following article was adapted from “Who’s to blame for the crisis in Israel?,” an episode of The Denison Forum Podcast.

As searing, tragic images travel the globe from the Israel–Gaza border, many Pro-Palestinian groups are contending that Hamas is simply fighting for their rights against an oppressive Israeli regime.

Such thinking finds its roots in the aspect of Critical Theory that suggests all of history operates on the dynamic of the oppressor and the oppressed.

Is this true? Is an “oppressive” Israel to blame for the unfolding war?

The “right” to an uprising

Critical theory is a Marxist idea that goes back to Karl Marx himself, who believed that everything is based on sociology, i.e., on societies and economics.

Marx was working in the economic context, which oftentimes has clear demarcations between the oppressed and the oppressors. If you’re in the majority, you got there by oppressing the minority. You may not have ascended to that position on your own, but, as Marx’s argument goes, the oppressors who preceded you paved the way for your current opportunities.

In other words, getting to the top of the proverbial ladder means you climbed over someone else. And if you’re already at the top of the ladder, someone before you climbed over someone else.

Consequently, the oppressed then have the right—even the responsibility—to oppress their oppressors in order to reset history.

The call for decolonization

Such a movement then leads to an increasingly popular imperative: decolonize.

Pro-Palestinian groups are calling for Israel to be decolonized because they claim that the area formerly belonged to Palestinians and Arabs. Such decolonization is one of Hamas’s aims.

But decolonization demands asking the question: At what point in history do you define the first colonization? Do you decolonize back to the time of Joshua? Do you decolonize farther back, to the Canaanites before Joshua? At what point do you stop decolonizing? And who gets to make that decision?

That’s the illogic of the decolonizing approach.

The truth you’re not allowed to believe

Such thinking should not surprise us as it’s so pervasive in our “no truth but my truth” culture. The world often seems to say (and increasingly so to Christians in recent years), “You have no right to your beliefs, but I get to enforce my beliefs on you.”

In fact, such thinking has been a cornerstone of the growing antisemitism across the world. Our postmodern abandonment of objective truth is also behind the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movements on college campuses and in some companies.

This idea has deceived far too many into believing that Hamas is innocent by comparison to the oppressive force of Israel. But, as President Biden said, Hamas’ attack on Israel was “pure, unadulterated evil.”

The difference between Hamas and Israel

To be blunt, the war in Israel is not a morally equivalent war.

Some in Israel have said, “If Hamas laid down their arms today, there would be peace. If we laid down our arms today, there would be war.”

Unfortunately, that’s the difference between these warring parties.

Israel has not been innocent nor perfect in its dealings with Palestinians. Across the years, many in Israeli politics have used Palestinian animosity to advance their own careers and status or to solidify their positions of power.

Nonetheless, following the Marxist ideology that Israel is the oppressor and Palestine is the oppressed is subjective, speculative, and illogical at heart.

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