The silence of Brazilian philosophy on Gaza

Khaled Hourani, Unnatural Landscape, 2020
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By RAFAEL LOPES BATISTA*

The extent to which Brazilian philosophy and critical thinking are aligned with the practical and effective defense of fundamental human rights

How has Brazilian academic philosophy behaved in relation to the events that occurred in the Gaza Strip in the last six months? How do researchers, teachers and students position themselves (if there is any position)? Why the very little repercussion regarding the topic? With questions like these in mind, this text is about philosophy, but it is also a manifesto against inertia and omission.

Since the terrorist attack by the Hamas group was carried out on Israeli territory, it has been observed that, with rare exceptions[I], little has the Brazilian philosophical community engaged in historical-theoretical debate, and even less has it engaged in militancy. No, I do not dissociate historical-theoretical debate and militancy, especially if what is at stake is an entire ethnicity and culture. In other words, I do not dissociate theory from practice here. As a defender of the assumption that our positions, principles and actions must be anchored in the rigor of philosophical analysis (and this should apply especially to those who are part of this community), I understand that our practical commitments - that is, ethical and political - cannot be mere thoughtless or unfounded actions. This clarification is important so that a certain conception of philosophy can be demarcated here, which sees in this knowledge the need to interrogate, understand and intervene in the problems of concrete reality. In this sense, interrogating, understanding and intervening are understood as imperative values ​​that must permeate philosophical practice, understood here as an activity that is not restricted to contemplation and interpretation.

The idea that philosophers would live in a kind of ivory tower circulated and still circulates in the ideas of common sense, as if they looked at the earthly world from a position where they are indifferent to what happens at the level of the mundane daily life of people. people. Given the variety of examples that could be given of thinkers who intervened in the major issues of their respective times, there is no reason to agree with such a view. However, we must recognize: philosophy has indeed become entrenched when it comes to the Israeli massacre against the Palestinians.

And that is exactly what it is about, a war of mass destruction by the State of Israel against the Palestinian people, their culture and memory. This observation has already been more than evident and proven for several months, we just need to follow the reports that reach us daily and that shock anyone who is minimally sensitive to pain and human suffering. Even in the traditional Brazilian media, which is notably pro-Israel, there are news of the most perverse atrocities committed by Israeli forces, who, of course, only act under the representation and legitimization given by the Israeli State.

Now, at these times, where are our ANPOF Working Groups, for example? Citing only those who possibly have the greatest theoretical proximity to the facts in Gaza — so that perhaps they are not only the most capable of contributing theoretically to the problem, but also the first ones who should take a stand: we have GTs on Human Rights, Political Philosophy, Philosophy and Gender, Eastern Philosophy, Critical Theory, among others. Where are all these people? Dealing with such issues on a daily basis, aren't you bothered by the brutal violence to which the Palestinian population is subjected? They can continue teaching classes, meeting to discuss texts, writing articles, guidelines, etc. without at least making your position public? Can you remain indifferent to human pain and war crimes? Is this how you do philosophy, pretending not to see such a perverse humanitarian crisis?

Data from the UN and other entities have confirmed that the vast majority of Palestinian deaths are civilians, and, even more terrifying, many are civilians, women and children. How many families were destroyed and how many lives were ruined! What will the social, economic, physical and psychological future be like for these thousands of children who had their parents, grandparents and siblings murdered? What future are we helping to legitimize? Complete barbarism is underway, passing before our eyes! Barbarism against an entire people, against their ethnicity, their thought, their memory, their art and their culture. Again: where are the comrades who study Frankfurtian Critical Theory[ii], for example? Theodor Adorno and his colleagues who spoke so much about barbarism, education against barbarism, the need to avoid a repeat of Auschwitz... Let's shut up now, let things happen, and then, almost cynically, make this catastrophe the subject of an article , dissertations and theses to swell our CV lattes?

Recently, anthropologist and professor at the University of São Paulo (USP) Francirosy Campos Barbosa published a text in which she highlighted the silence of the university community, however, she placed greater emphasis on the omission of feminist intellectuals[iii]. In fact, as Francirosy notes, it seems that our academic feminists generally care more about women who meet Western standards. It seems to be no different with feminist philosophers. They are silent in the face of the crimes and abuses committed by the State of Israel against Palestinian girls and women, such as murders, rapes and torture – which are even openly recognized by the UN[iv]. What about groups within philosophy that study decolonial, postcolonial and anticolonial authors and perspectives? These then… their omission has been even more evident, and not for now. It is widely recognized by experts that Israel has been practicing a regime of colonialism against the Palestinians for decades, and even allies and mainstream media in favor of Israel constantly refer to the people who took over Palestinian lands in the West Bank as “settlers”. Yes, that's right, SETTLERS! Beyond imperialism or epistemic colonialism that some members of ANPOF have fought so hard, where is their fight, philosophers from universities, against old-fashioned imperialism and colonialism? This is colonialism and imperialism that kills, eliminates the bodies of children, elderly people, men and women — regardless of their sexual preferences or orientations.

The Gaza Strip is under rubble, rubble made up of libraries, museums, hospitals, universities, theaters, schools, markets... in short, history, philosophy, science, culture and, above all, Palestinian humanity, were and are being humiliated, vilified and destroyed. We cannot afford not to take a stance, to not direct philosophy towards the concrete problems of the world.  

disengagement

A sign of hope for this immobility appeared in February 2024 when the creation of the University Network of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. This is a gathering of professors from Brazilian universities who oppose the passivity of the intelligentsia, understanding that the “Brazilian academic community is challenged to take a public stance in defense of justice and historical rigor”[v]. Were there professors and intellectual philosophers who signed up to the Network? If yes, how many? In fact, how many are at least aware of the existence of the organization and are interested in the Palestinian cause in general? Questions like these ultimately aim to identify and measure how much Brazilian philosophy and critical thinking are aligned with the practical and effective defense of fundamental human rights.

Seeking information from the people who operate the Network, they confirmed to me, via email, that behind the idealization of the project there was no philosopher. More alarming than that: by April 27, 2024, the date of the email dialogue, only around 1.540 people had signed the manifesto creating the Network, which was reasonably well publicized in progressive media. It's a laughable number, considering the universe of more than 315.000 teachers[vi] working in Brazilian higher education. But returning to the specific case of philosophy, it is significant and worrying that academics from other areas have been concretely concerned with humanitarian issues while philosophers have not. What would explain this fact? Why this omission from philosophy?

Looking for reasons for omission

Here I will try to explain the three reasons that seem to be the most likely, and in the end, a little of each will probably help to explain the phenomenon. Firstly, perhaps there is a fear among professionals of suffering some type of threat, punishment or persecution, even in the sense of losing their job, given that it is almost a taboo to oppose Israel's actions. In some cases, people with this stance have been cynically and cowardly labeled anti-Semites or pro-Hamas. But against this possible argument would be university autonomy and other constitutional principles that guarantee freedom of thought and expression.

The second likely reason is simple: professors and researchers in the field of philosophy certainly care little about the destruction of Palestine and its people, which leads us to believe that they also don't care much about – or believe it to be a minor problem – the crises and transformations that are taking place in the dynamics of global power, so that mass destruction appears to them as just another everyday fact that requires, at most, staying informed in the daily news. Here would come a kind of lack of interest in the historical determinations of what our current world is, and, at the same time, there would also be a deficit of sensitivity in relation to what is distant and what is different from us.

The third possible explanation is directly linked to the second: people and institutions often cultivate and practice, even if they are not fully aware of it, a type of philosophy that is based on a withdrawal and disdain for the real world and its concrete problems, especially if These problems are on another geographic plane, made up of non-Westernized people. In the latter case, the study and debate of concepts is always noble and valuable, such as freedom, democracy, barbarism, justice, emancipation, communicative reason, instrumental reason, empowerment, equality, decolonization, etc. However, these concepts are only recognized and valued if they are restricted to the walls of the university or if they are mobilized to think only in the West, and cannot appear on the philosophical scene to denounce or understand what happens to the Palestinians.

I repeat: there are commendable exceptions. The big issue is that these demonstrations were only sporadic, casual, insignificant compared to the scale of the humanitarian, ethnic and cultural catastrophe. They were not structural, insistent positions, organically linked to political and civil society actions. At this point, I return to that topic mentioned at the beginning of this text, about philosophy and activism. To the extent that philosophical activity is inexorably mediated and linked to the countless determinations of its historical time, it seems to me to be counterproductive, and perhaps even a little mediocre, to do philosophy without being interested in resolving or minimizing the real and immediate problems of our time. . In this sense, the philosopher's work must be articulated with society, with the real world and its institutions, with social movements, with political practice. The space of University Network of Solidarity with the Palestinian People would successfully fulfill this role of ethical, social, political and militant action. It is a shame and a historical waste that so few colleagues join together in this endeavor, as it would be another chance for us to show that they are not “armchair philosophers”. But the most important thing is to realize that philosophy cannot be done without appropriating and actively participating in the dramas, challenges and needs of its historical time.

Philosophical thinking, because of its very nature, cannot be conformist and harmless, on the contrary, it must attack themes and problems at their roots, at their most basic foundations, and this, of course, both in the theoretical field and in the field of practice and everyday actions. That engineers, physicists, agronomists, chemists and mathematicians do not speak out on humanitarian issues, although equally problematic, is more or less understandable; as their fields of activity, in the academic sphere, have a certain epistemic and ethical-political distance from the Palestinian issue and the terror that is ongoing there. But for us, who experience the Human and Social Sciences, this silence should be unacceptable, especially for philosophy, which has always valued – at least on a theoretical and abstract level – humanist values.

A ceasefire in Gaza is more than urgent and necessary, and it is our duty to defend it publicly, whether in lectures, courses, classes, in projects or even on social media. This is the time to put into practice the Kantian idea, so famous and acclaimed, of making that “public use of reason” (1985), present in the text “Answer to the question: What is Enlightenment”. Philosophy cannot hide at a time like this, and, remaining like this, in this state of lethargy, it runs the risk of having to accept its own failure in the future.

* Rafael Lopes Batista He is a professor of philosophy at the state education network in Goiás.

Notes


[I] The best-known name in philosophy that has been addressing the topic of Gaza-Israel is Vladimir Safatle, including material published on YouTube that has received thousands of views. Furthermore, until the writing of this text, only three or four opinion articles were found in the official column of ANPOF (National Association of Postgraduate Studies in Philosophy), and a brief official note from this Institution. However, it is still disturbing that ANPOF only made this note public more than three months after the Israeli army's invasion of Gaza, that is, long after Israeli barbarity had already been widely demonstrated. The document can be read here: https://anpof.org.br/comunicacoes/notas-e-comunicados/nota-da-anpof-sobre-a-situacao-do-povo-palestino.

[ii] A regrettable situation for Critical Theory, as an important philosophical tradition, are the hypocritical words signed by Habermas and his colleagues, defending Israel's measures against Gaza. It is emblematic that the text published by them brings positions that were reported in a celebratory tone on far-right media channels in Brazil.

[iii] Text available at: https://jornal.usp.br/artigos/a-morte-de-mulheres-palestinas-eo-silencio-das-feministas-e-da-academia/. Accessed on: May 01st. 2024.

[iv] News available here: . Accessed on: May 01st. 2024.

[v] Excerpt from the project presentation text, available at: https://universidadesspelapalestina.com/.

[vi] Data available here: accessed on: 02 May. 2024.


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