Discourse is not simply that which translates struggles or systems of domination, but is the thing for which and by which there is struggle, discourse is the power which is to be seized.
The empire struck with discourse and it is possible to discourse directly back. Discourse sugarcoats violence.
–Zeina B. Ghandour
One could argue that I live in an echo chamber of my own creation. The news sources, online resources, writers and activists from which I get my news are chosen for a simple specific reason: I like what they say and how they say it. When I read something that is particularly offensive or reactionary from whichever politician or mainstream news source that may have said it, I usually read it by way of progressive, critical, thoughtful writers and advocates who package the offending quote with cogent criticism. As such, I am largely unable (or perhaps unwilling) to gauge the mainstream reaction to events such as the brutal murder of a 16 year old girl in Palestine because of the suspicion that she was attempting to stab a settler. I, however, do not see this as limiting my intellectual analysis or ability to critically engage with opinions with which I do not agree. Rather, I see this community of journalists, activists and writers engaging in a vital process of producing and honing, in conversation with one another, alternative discourses that challenge the dominant narratives produced by those in power. The producers of these alternative discourses worry not about balance or objectivity. They rightly recognize that in order to be perceived as balanced, they would have to shed all frameworks, histories or narratives that the dominant discourse deems unacceptable. In doing so, they would sacrifice the very crux of the issue they were trying to discuss.
An example: the dominant US discourse on the Palestine question produced in mass media and by politicians does not identify Israel as a settler-colonial state and does not acknowledge the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. These are the fundamental facts that underpin the entire issue and explain the events that have occurred since. The dominant discourse, which is highly racialized, instead points to Israel as a model of democracy and liberalism. It tends to either decry the “cycle of violence” or denounce what they see as the racist targeting of Israelis by the inherently violent Palestinian Arabs. Attempting to enter such a conversation, which many Palestinian writers, thinkers and activists bravely do, requires leaving the major features of the conflict out of the discussion. If they attempt to bring them up, they are branded as biased, anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. Because the dominant discourse is racialized, supporters of Israel can openly advocate for the massacre of Palestinians and land theft without such accusations. This racialized nature also means that white Palestine-focused writers, thinkers and advocates (like me) are more likely to be believed or are, at least, given more leeway to bring up issues that challenge the dominant discourse. They (or we), however, are still marginalized, and their challenges do little to change the main racialized tenets of the dominant narrative. Engaging in such a discussion, therefore, does more to legitimize this racialized discourse than change it.
This, I suppose, is the value I see in discoursing back (a term I borrowed from the above quote in Ghandour’s excellent A Discourse on Domination in Mandate Palestine). Foucault wrote that discourse, in addition to being an instrument of power, can be “a hindrance, a stumbling block, a point of resistance and a starting point for an opposing strategy.” I intend for this blog to be my way of participating in the process of formulating alternative discourses as a starting point for opposing strategies. I will not attempted be balanced. This is for two reasons. The first reason is, as described above, I will be writing critiques that will automatically be labeled biased because of the very nature of the dominant discourses around the issues I will discuss. The second is to challenge the assumption that there is a correlation between accuracy and balance. As Walid Khalidi wrote, “There is no such correlation. The truth is not equidistant between two poles.” I will try to write weekly, keeping my posts brief and purposeful. I hope you enjoy reading.