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IRGAC statement on the war in Gaza and Europe's attack on civil rights

In PerspectiveAs scholars and activists from the Global South, we appeal to colleagues around the world and the global community to pay attention to the great injustice and suffering now taking place in Palestine.

As members of the International Research Group on Authoritarianism and Counter-Strategies we aspire to understand, denounce, and resist all forms of authoritarianism, repression, and violence.

We condemn in the strongest terms the war that the Israeli armed forces are waging in Gaza, which severely violates not only universal ethics but also international humanitarian law. Moreover, we are disturbed by the antidemocratic and racist repression in Germany and other countries against voices demanding a peaceful solution in the Middle East and draw attention to the long history of violence against the Palestinian people.

The Israeli offensive against civilians in Gaza is unacceptable and has to be stopped immediately. Herein, the decades-long violence exerted on Palestinians by the Israeli state and far-right settlers must not be forgotten, along with the ineffectiveness of international human rights and justice mechanisms in enforcing a humane and dignified solution in the region. Stating this fact does not put into question our repudiation of the terror against civilians in Israel committed by Hamas, which we consider to be a reactionary, authoritarian, and misogynist organization. We unite our voices to those who demand an immediate freeing of all hostages.

We are likewise profoundly disturbed by the current extent of repression in Germany and other countries in the Global North against the voices that criticize the politics enforced by the extreme right-wing Israeli government and draw attention to the long history of colonial violence and the ensuing brutal war against the Palestinian people following the attack. We agree that there can be no space for antisemitism in Germany or elsewhere and strongly condemn the deeply worrying anti-Jewish attacks that occurred in recent days. Yet, we are deeply worried about the authoritarian political instrumentalization, the suspension of fundamental political rights, and the openly racist discourses that are being enforced in the name of countering antisemitism.

Germany and other Global North countries – alleged cradles of fundamental human rights, freedoms, and democratic values – now impose severe restrictions on freedom of speech in academia, culture, and the broader public sphere. In the name of “Western values” and a whitewashed German nationalism, this bias and double standard increases discrimination against immigrants living in these countries and polarize societies. We should not forget that, as a recent open letter from Jewish intellectuals and artists based in Germany reminds us, the restrictive discourses misrepresenting the pro-Palestinian assemblies as a threat against Jewish life in Germany “grossly inverts the actual threat” wherein, according to the German police, the vast majority of antisemitic crimes are committed by German right-wing extremists.

As Judith Butler recently drew attention to, there is almost a ban on analysis (Denkverbot) befalling Germany, showing the latent authoritarianism embedded in liberal democracies as they face such “crises”. German authoritarian backlash is further seen in the assaults on migrants of Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim descent, exacerbating anti-migrant sentiments and policies. In this environment, severe modes of violence by nation states, first and foremost the brutal offensive against Gaza, and the suffering of  many are systematically overlooked and painfully normalized.

What happens in Palestine sadly is not the only example of colonial and nation-state violence and invasions unfolding in the Middle East and ٔNorth Africa, which are habitually overlooked in the agendas of Global Northern publics. The ongoing genocide in Darfur, the recent forced displacement and ethnic cleansing of Artsakh, and attacks by Turkish and Russian forces on Rojava and Syria are blatant cases where many civilians have been killed and forced to migrate. Nevertheless, Palestine is an open wound that tragically illustrates all the atrocities of our world and reflects the interconnected urgent issues of our time: racism and dehumanization, authoritarianism, colonialism, fundamentalism, climate injustice, violence, and, more importantly, the lack of fundamental humanity in our time.

As scholars and activists from the Global South, we appeal to colleagues around the world and the global community to pay attention to the great injustice and suffering now taking place in Palestine. We reject and oppose the oppressive discourses and policies curtailing freedom of speech in academia and other sites of public life, which conflate critical voices and demands for a dignified peace with support for terrorist violence. We will continue our struggle to build spaces, both in IRGAC and in our other academic and activist circles, to raise these critical voices and foster transnational solidarity against authoritarian and violence.

As the famous Persian poet, Mansour Al-Hallaj, exclaimed centuries ago, “Hell is not where you suffer, it is when nobody knows that you suffer.” In that spirit, we urge the public to witness and respond to what is happening at the moment: that the very fabric of human civilization is being torn in the Middle East.

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