Learning from Gaza

By Randa Aboubakr, Cairo, 22 February 2024

This is not the first time Israel has bombed Gaza during my lifetime. Yet, this time, the eyes of the world have been caught. Not only because the carnage and massacres are massive and unrelentless, but also because the dissemination of information, particularly visual live coverage, is huge. And because of that, more people than ever around the world are following and reacting. For some, it is not easy to make a decision or have a clear moral stance. For others, it is easier: Human life is sacred. Equally. And civilians should be protected during unavoidable military operations. Equally.

A couple of weeks into the crisis, one of my students at Cairo University indignantly asked me what the point was of talking about decolonization when colonialisms are still thriving, and military occupation and illegal settlement according to the standards and resolutions of the United Nations, continue to be internationally defended and supported for over half a century. For her, decolonization has become a fancy word denoting little more than a hypocritical desire to pretend that past imperial atrocities can be whitewashed. I understood her frustration. And I knew I could not explain things away as I used to in the past. Symbolism does not always work when there’s too much blood.

But I can also see a glimpse of hope amidst the forced displacement, massive starvation, and the maiming and killing. My academic friend who came from Norway to give a lecture at Ain Shams University in Cairo in January insisted the world was not going to be the same after Gaza 2023. She argued that, because this time people everywhere saw, they would begin to question narratives they have long lived with. I believe her because I have been witnessing that myself across the region, especially with the youth who have started to search and educate themselves about things they had previously conceived through the lens of authoritative narratives. And it is happening in the rest of the world as well. The unearthing of one’s own truths and the uncovering of different versions of history, away from intimidating national narratives and discourses. And colossal lies are crumbling.

I am aware my outraged students are not triggered by Gaza alone. In their little-more-than-two-decades of life, they have witnessed a failed revolution at home, a fierce global pandemic, a raging war in Europe, and a grinding economic crisis at their doorsteps. They are besieged by uncertainties and unanswerable questions. But I am reassured that they can dig out their own answers, not only because they have learnt how to, but also because now they are more motivated and involved than ever. And I trust that, in an age of global interconnectedness, new ways of ‘knowing’ will spread wider.