The Intersection of Religion, Resistance Culture, and Colonial Occupation

Nabil Abdel Fattah
Thursday 18 Jan 2024

The historical phases of Western colonialism represent the nadir of exploitation and plundering of the wealth of subjugated peoples and communities in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and other groups of islands.

 

Economic exploitation was entwined with oppressive practices such as coercion, enslavement, murder, imprisonment, arrests, and exile as responses to any resistance efforts against the brutal colonizer. In certain cases, these efforts escalated to attempts at eradicating indigenous populations, as seen in the United States, Australia, and elsewhere. Consequently, colonial history stands as the darkest chapter in our world's history, shaping the collective memory of successive generations in these nations and contradicting Western claims and values of ethical modernity, human equality, justice, freedom, brotherhood, and their philosophical and political frameworks, including the Enlightenment.

Exploiting and looting the colonized people's wealth was integral to the struggle of Western capitalist processes to accumulate capital surplus to transfer it back to the colonial centres in Europe in Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and others. This transference contributed to the economic development and hastened industrial processes that brought about qualitative changes in the colonial nations' political and economic capitalist systems, as well as their social, class, and cultural structures. This transformation led to individualism, the individual as a social and political actor, the liberal system, political pluralism, competition over conflicting social interests, and the emergence of the working class with industrial advancements.

From the surplus of colonial plunder, social foundations expanded to include education, scientific research, technological advancements, and the production of social sciences, philosophical schools, legal systems, and various media outlets. Some of these developments were the result of utilizing a portion of the accumulated plunder and exploiting colonized societies.

The resistance of the Western colonized was the counterface to the exploitation, enslavement, and oppression of colonial policies – be it indirect British rule, direct Western rule, and so on. The culture and policy of resistance adopted various references among some of the colonized peoples and communities in our world. Some were formed from within traditional social formations – tribal culture, extended family, ethnic and religious situational groups – clinging to their oral and written memory, inherited cultures, rituals, myths, and "popular" social narratives. Their system of food, drink, and clothing, as well as their collective memory and oral narratives, aimed to build their communal cohesion and solidarity in the face of the Western colonizer's ascendancy and its arrogant practices, rituals of forceful dominance, and brutality towards the colonized community/communities.

In the crucible of changing times and the juxtaposition of traditional religious teachings and Western modernity, some individuals from colonized communities embraced certain Western ideas about values such as freedom, dignity, equality, justice, and human brotherhood. This adoption served as a means of resistance against the cultural impositions of the colonizers, addressing cultural, religious, and ethnic specificities while focusing on the atrocities of colonial practices in their respective lands.

Historical resistance leaders strategically employed the discourse of freedom and national independence, shaping both armed and civil resistance movements. Notably, figures like Leopold Senghor in French-colonized Senegal engaged in parliamentary activities within the framework of direct French rule, providing a platform to articulate the quest for independence in their nations.

In Arab-occupied countries, the culture of resistance and movements for liberation and national independence drew upon a multi-sourced discourse. This included:

The discourse of traditional religious elites, like the scholars of Al-Azhar in Egypt, leveraging historical religious narratives to sharpen determination, religious pride, and opposition to the colonial culture.

Educated and intellectual elites amalgamated Egyptian history, cultural specificity, and Western political values to advocate for independence and constitutional governance within the evolving nationalistic movement.

Grand national uprisings, such as the notable 1919 Egyptian Revolution, echoed the demand for both independence and a constitution, encapsulating the spirit of national unity.

Parliamentary platforms were used to articulate the discourse of independence and constitutional adherence and negotiate for freedom against the British and colonial rulers.

In other Arab cases, resistance against colonization was deeply intertwined with armed struggle, Islamic culture, values, and creed, as observed in the Algerian national movement. The discourse of freedom and independence merged seamlessly within these liberation movements, incorporating cultural particularities into the narratives of national freedom.

The Israeli Zionist colonization of Palestine, founded on British colonialism and informed by Jewish ideology, saw the convergence of religious identity, armed might, and unbridled support from European nations and the United States. The resultant state and society, marked by ethnic and national diversity, thrived on the arrogance of power, ethnic cleansing, forced displacement, and systematic collective punishment.

The ongoing Israeli settlement policy, backed by American and European support and the continual defiance of international legitimacy, poses a significant challenge. The narrative of Israel's self-defence in the face of resistance overlooks the ongoing Israeli occupation, settler colonialism, and the collective punishment of Gaza. The discourse often negates the right of Palestinians to negotiate for a two-state solution and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

It is crucial to acknowledge the historical and cultural roots of Islamic resistance against colonization, with some dismissing it as terrorism. The complexities lie in distinguishing between Hamas as a governing authority that was elected through democratic processes and Hamas as a resistance movement against blockade, forced displacement, and genocide. Islam, intertwined with Eastern Christianity, remains a historical reference for the culture of resistance and Arab national independence movements.

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