Why I Endorse American Student Protests For Palestinians – OpEd


Normally, I prefer academics to remain separate from politics. It’s fashionable among certain groups to “politicize” everything, which, basically means, one key for every lock on this planet. They hold the bizarre view that everything is “political;” therefore, not to talk about politics in a classroom is somehow being unfaithful to this idea of what academia means. I strongly subscribe to the conventional view that academics are meant for personal and professional growth. You cannot come to a university to become an activist. If you really want to be an activist, the university should be the last place for one to begin activism. All real revolutions happen in the mind and on the street. Political action is but an expression of a solid idea. 

I tend to like students individually. As a group I find it hard to romanticize them, despite the fact that like most teachers in the field of higher education, I spent my best years with them. The view of students as somehow heralding revolutionary changes is largely a myth from popular films. Students tend to be a herd like most other groups, sharing the same mentality, and their politics are often for reasons that are personal, not to mention opportunistic. My unbounded faith is still in the peasant, lower middle and working classes, for all their limitations. Although they largely tend towards reactionary thinking, they are the movers and shakers of history. Their aims are practical and they possess the grit and endurance required for long-term struggles. None other than Gandhi was shrewd enough to figure out that these are the people who will end British rule of India. He became one with them. And they made sure that the British understood how unwelcome they are as occupiers.

I briefly followed the titbits of congressional hearings where presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and MIT were subjected to rigorous questioning on the topic of campus antisemitism. Two of the presidents resigned eventually. When Columbia University President Minouche Shafik appeared before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, her responses were as embarrassingly tepid as those of the other presidents. What was common to all these so-called “presidents” of the universities is that they were talked down to as if they were five-year old kids with a hand in the cookie jar. In response to the indignity that the presidents were subjected to, they themselves were defensive to the point of being like mice before a bunch of cats sitting in judgement. Basically they were trying to save their own skins knowing how powerful the pro-Israel lobby is. And New York Republican congresswoman Elise Stefanik is everything that the rest of the world needs to fear about US domination of the world. Women who internalize patriarchy can be as dangerous as the patriarchs themselves.

Therefore, for the students of some of the top universities in the US to confront head-on with the powers that be is no laughing matter. Dead serious, in fact. As far as I can see they are largely nonviolent which makes the movement credible and a far greater threat to politicians and corporate backers of the universities. Universities and businesses need the intelligence of students to run the system. The students are aware that without their cumulative intelligence nothing works both inside and outside the university. For them to go back to their classes, all that they seek in return is that universities divest from companies doing business with Israel, which is one way of asking for the freedom of Palestinians. I think that’s a fair bargain. Their governments, universities and corporate lobby are complicit in the occupation and planned genocide of the Palestinians. No human being should be silent in the face of such complicity. 

Not only the students but their parents too should join these protests. The students should also reach out to the working classes for support. Once that happens we can be certain that American politicians and universities will start taking student demands much more seriously. Jewish-American, Arab-American, white, black and students from diverse other groups have come together in an unprecedented manner to fight for the cause of the Palestinians. My own view is that they should stick to the one-point agenda, which is Palestinian liberation. The bigger issue is American foreign policy in the Global South. Challenging that is definitely going to take a longer time. But, there is absolutely no reason to delay Palestinian freedom any longer. 

America’s moral authority has touched rock bottom in the last two to three decades. Just now with the ongoing genocide by Israel and the US support for it, things couldn’t be worse for the US on the moral front. Israel is using starvation as a weapon to destroy Palestinian resistance. A hungry population is physically incapable of resistance. The man-made famines of British India were more or less doing the same thing by taking away the basic survival of the masses and thus destroying the remotest possibility of a resistance. Using food or rather hunger as a weapon of war is not something unusual. The issue is that we are able to witness the gut-wrenching horror on a regular basis, while being able to do nothing about it. 

The students are salvaging the American image and showing the world that their ideals of democracy also apply to people living in other parts of the world. Their leaders are however speaking in a different language. They are living in the past. They think that the rest of the world owes allegiance to American lawmakers for the great role that they are playing as self-appointed policemen. To the recent report on human rights violations in India, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), responded by saying, “we are all judged by what we do at home and not what we say abroad.” Of course, the MEA and the government in general would like us to believe that we Indians live in a paradise of human rights. Clearly we don’t. But, the point is, the US itself is guilty of the suffering and deaths of countless innocents across the world.  

There are two kinds of education, the way I see it. One is the education of the heart and the mind where students are taught to be sensitive to human suffering, irrespective of where that suffering happens. Another is education where you get a degree and you learn nothing else. The “degree” educated people are in an absolute majority. The illiteracy that comes with lack of a degree never bothered me personally. It is the illiteracy of the heart and the mind that is vastly troublesome. By fighting for the human rights of Palestinians, American boys and girls are setting an example to the world, that they are literates in the true sense of the word, because their hearts and minds are sensitized to human suffering, more so because that suffering is caused by a human agent. Despite all the wrongs committed by their leaders, it is the students fighting for justice for Palestinians, who continue to prove against all odds that America will not stop being a great country.    

Prakash Kona

Prakash Kona is an independent scholar who, until December 2022, was a professor at The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad, India. He was “removed from service” for making allegations of corruption against an unscrupulous university administration and is currently challenging his dismissal in the court of law.

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