On Thursday 12th October 2023, IHRC hosted an author evening with Sandew Hira, author of, Decolonizing the Mind: a guide to decolonial theory and practice. The event was chaired by former NUS president Malia Bouattia.
WATCH THE AUTHOR EVENING:
Malia opened up the event by introducing Sandew, and sending solidarity with the people of Palestine. She emphasised that due to the horrific events in Palestine, colonialism is still as relevant today as it was during the decolonial era. Sandew added further context to the subject by making the following statements in his opening remarks:
“In order to understand whats happening today, you have to understand what the face that colonialism is now in the Middle East… What role does israel play in the process of colonisation. And then you have to understand what colonialism is. In liberal theory, colonialism was a political system where a country administers another country and decolonisation is political independence. Then come other scholars like Kwame Nkrumah saying ‘economic colonisation is also an aspect’. Come lately, the theories of a few decades ago, Orientalism until decolonial theory that says ‘no, we have to look at how knowledge has been colonised.’ And has a critique of colonial knowledge. And now I argue, we need to go beyond the critique, because once we know that colonialism is wrong, yes we know that, what is the next step? And in the case of israel, the next step is to understand that we are at the end of the hegemony of western civilisation.”
Dew gave a very interesting take on what he defines as Western civilisation. By defining Western civilisation as a “collective set of institutions”, it highlights the importance of civic institutions in the decolonial process. He continues;
“So, what do I do in the book? First, I discuss how knowledge is produced. I go in to philosophy and I say that the western civilisation is based on the European enlightenment and European enlightenment has evolved in contradiction and opposition to Christian theology… then the knowledge was based on observation and reasoning. In other civilisations, imagination was the source of knowledge”.
Using this perspective, Sandew explains that in israel is promoted as a military power, hence why many people believe it can never be defeated but if you use your imagination, you will see a lot of opportunities to overcome israeli apartheid.
The event centralised the importance of knowledge in the process of decolonisation, namely focusing on the idea of the ‘concept’, which is used to understand how someone views the world. In Sandew’s idea of ‘concept’, there are certain factors that need to be considered:
- How we view the world
- What is the storyline?
Sandew explained that in order to unlearn colonialism, we have to use different epistemologies in order to deconstruct what we have learnt and how we view the world. He uses the issue of mathematics to make his point before going in to other subjects such as philosophy and capitalism before highlighting the positions of other cultures on these subjects and their moral viewpoints. He goes on to explain;
“I argue now, if we want to decolonise knowledge, we need to go through the general stage of how they constructed lies, we need to go there to reconstruct the disciplines, reconstruct the philosophic philosophy, economic theory, social theory etc. We reconstruct world history, the theory of world history.”
Sandew goes on to emphasise the importance of racism that is embedded in knowledge production, he states:
“I argue in chapter 6 on the theory of racism, that in the different theories, we link the notion of superiority and inferiority to the way knowledge is reproduced and the way the institution of colonialism has been set up”.
He explains that at first, we need to understand who were the authorities of knowledge production, i.e., who rubber-stamped the production of knowledge to verify what was correct or not? Sandew connected the issue of racism in the production of colonial knowledge by highlighting how knowledge production evolved from religious knowledge to biological knowledge, which complimented the Transatlantic slave trade before going on to highlight the position of superiority and inferiority in the social sciences.
Malia then interjected, further exploring the fact that it is through colonial knowledge, that we find it difficult to imagine freedom for colonised peoples such as the Palestinians. She then asked Sandew, through the example of Palestine, if he believes that there has been a better engagement with the idea of decolonisation. Sandew responded by saying that there has been a positive development, the fact that decolonisation is on the agenda is a positive development. He goes on to say;
“But then I see what they mean by ‘decolonial.’ Then you see a big difference in the west, in the global north. I must say the UK is a step ahead compared to the Netherlands which is quite backward in that regard… So, what you see in the UK universities, the narrative they put forward is about representation”. He explains that in the global south, decolonisation is not about representation, but going deeper in to the fact that the source of knowledge should go beyond Eurocentric ideas and that this is what needs to happen to the UK.
Malia asked Sandew if he believes that the decolonisation movement has failed in the UK due to the states objection to movements, such as the Rhodes Must Fall campaign. Sandew responded:
“I argue that decolonising the mind is really a fundamental way of changing your view of the world. The first point is if it took 500 years to build a colonial world civilisation, how in the hell do you think you’ll change it in ten years? Why do you think that ten, twenty or thirty years is your horizon to change a civilisation that was built in 500 years? That means you are really not understanding the world… change takes time, but then if you see the change then obviously you will understand the change.”
He then further elaborates on his beliefs that we need to fundamentally alter what we learn and not just focus on representation. He says:
“We need to build a social movement that is not based on liberalism, not based on Marxism but based on decolonising the mind.”