Tuesday, 06 March 2018 16:00

Fighting colonialism

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An important and timely book has eluded the attention of the thinking public. This could be attributed to the fact that the book was not given due coverage by mainstream media or poor marketing by the publisher.

Dominance of the West over the Rest by Citizens International is a must-read book not only for intellectuals and academics, but also the masses. The compendium of essays in this book aims to raise critical consciousness by deconstructing the Western knowledge system.

As most of us are aware, the Western knowledge system was transplanted by the West over the rest during colonialism. From resisting Western intellectual discourse to confronting conspicuous consumption, the book offers an insight into Western hypocrisy.

In devouring the book, one is reminded of what Frantz Fanon had written in The Wretched of the Earth: “Colonialism is not simply content to impose its rule upon the present and the future of a dominated country. Colonialism is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverse logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts it, disfigures and destroys it.”

Apart from boasting a list of impressive contributors, the book is a rarity mainly because few intellectuals in Malaysia challenge the Western knowledge system.

Our universities, for example, tend to accept knowledge from the West uncritically.

The same knowledge is then passed on to students. Herein lies one of the strengths of the book: it urges the reader to question major Western paradigms, such as modernity, globalisation and neo-liberalism, which together are packaged as the necessary ingredients for a trip to the promised land of happiness.

Yet, when people do not buy it or have other ideas on how the economy and society should be organised, they become subject to direct and indirect violence. The crooked rhetoric that naturalises dominant Western paradigms as a universal global process and as something that developing countries should emulate hides its darker side, the constant reproduction of coloniality.

To uncover the perverse logic that acts as the underlying philosophical conundrum of modernity and the political and economic structure of colonialism, the book argues that we must consider how to decolonise the mind and the imaginary. Since the mid-1970s, the idea that knowledge is also colonised and therefore needs to be de-colonised, was expressed in several ways and in different disciplinary domains.

In the Malaysian context, the pioneering works in decolonising knowledge were laid out by one of its leading public intellectuals, S.M. Idris through Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) and Citizens International. Dominance of the West over the Rest is just one example of the many publications by CAP and Citizens International that aims to decolonise knowledge.

Decolonisation is a double operation that includes colonised and coloniser. The colonised do not have epistemic privileges of course. The only epistemic privilege is in the side of the coloniser, even when the case in point are emancipating projects such as liberalism or Marxism.

Colonised knowledge simply refers to Eurocentric categories of thought that carries the seed of emancipation and the seed of regulation and oppression.

A book such as Dominance of the West of the Rest reminds us of the importance of keeping the memories and histories of coloniality alive. We should not lose sight of the wounds and humiliation that were brought about by colonialism. In confronting the demons of colonialism, decolonial epistemic and political projects are absolutely essential.

Decoloniality means working towards a vision of human life that is not dependent on or structured by the forced imposition of a single ideal of society on those that differ, which is exactly what modernity does, and hence, where decolonisation of the mind should begin. Dominance of the West over the Rest tries to change the terms and the content of the discourse on, among others, modernity.

One might ask why do we have to change the content and terms of the prevailing discourse on modernity.

The answer lies in the fact that the discourse has been changed in the colonial world by liberalism and Marxism. Decolonising requires that economic, political, philosophical and ethical conceptualisation that makes Adam Smith and Karl Marx necessary (because Western categories of thoughts have been globalised through the logic of coloniality and the rhetoric of modernity) but highly insufficient.

Dominance of the West over the Rest explores the different politics of knowledge organising the darker side of modernity, the irrational myth that justifies genocidal violence within the layered historical frame established the process of emancipation, liberation and decolonisation.

By changing the terms and the contents of the discourse that heavily rests on Western categories, we will be able to delink from the hegemonic ideas of what knowledge and understanding are and, consequently, what economy, politics, ethics, philosophy, technology, and the organisation of society are and should be. Dominance of the West over the Rest has fractured the hegemony of knowledge and understanding that have been ruled since the 15th century and throughout the modern, colonial world by Western categories.

The writer is director of Centre for Policy Research and International Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia.

Published in: The New Straits Times, Sunday 25 February 2018

Source: https://www1.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2018/02/338706/fighting-colonialism

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