Home Public Opinion Illusion of Decolonial Disobedience

Illusion of Decolonial Disobedience

Illusion of Decolonial Disobedience
Image Courtesy: Destra

The modern colonial system, however, skilfully conceals its mechanisms of oppression

We should have a State in which we could live and breathe as free men. The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. Disobedience is a liberating idea. It pumps fresh energy into the complacent dwellers of the economic and academic peripheries. Hence, disobedience is a popular idea. It can take many shapes and expressions. It can be a calculated strategy, a sudden outburst, a heated speech, loud applause, an anxious question, a fitting answer, groundbreaking research or a special issue in an academic journal. In all shapes, disobedience desires to break free from the system that oppresses.

The modern colonial system, however, skillfully conceals its mechanisms of oppression. By controlling knowledge and the ways of knowing, the modern/ colonial system controls the minds, the language, the imagination and the worldview of the oppressed, hence it deceives and distorts their desire to disobey. Disobedience of colonized minds often reeks of colonialism. Yet colonized minds often remain unaware of it. Probing the case of the Imran Khan government’s vision for Pakistan, I attempt to show how disobedient discourses in the Global South get entangled with the pervasive colonialism of mind and knowledge. I contend that the inability of leaders in the Global South to think beyond colonial categories, language and systems, severely limits their disobedient endeavors and the possibility of change they advocate. If attempts to disobey the system remain oblivious to the traps of the modern/colonial system, they may end up reinforcing the system they claim to disobey. I aim to alert dwellers of the peripheries to the deceptive traps of colonialism. Pakistan is a land marked by diverse shades of colonialism as well as disobedience. I use the term ‘disobedience’ in general to refer to the popular and/or populist discourses that claim to challenge the global powers and the status quo. Such discourses make a frequent appearance in Pakistan’s political spaces, academic spaces, foreign policy, economic plans and development visions. Imran Khan and his political party frequently employ the language of disobedience in their political campaigns and foreign policy. There are assertions, promises, commitments, goals and strategies that explicitly express a desire to challenge and change systemic oppression, to take an independent path and to cultivate cultures based on local/religious/Islamic values. I call them disobedient because they choose to break silence, to speak up, to refuse, to imagine differently. However, I argue that many of these supposedly well-intentioned efforts to disobey remain trapped in the web of colonial knowledge, language and systems.

It must be noted that disobedience in general is distinct from epistemic disobedience as conceived by decolonial scholars such a Walter Mignolo, who advocate an active ‘de-linking from the magic of the Western idea of modernity, ideals of humanity and promises of economic growth and financial prosperity’. Epistemic disobedience and de-linking lead us towards the decolonial option that allows dwellers of academic peripheries to produce knowledge from their own location, from their own embodied experiences of oppression and marginalization. The decolonial option decolonizes knowledge and knowledge-making, and in the process, it effectively decolonizes minds and subjectivities. I argue that disobedient endeavors in the Global South will be effective when they engage with epistemic disobedience, i.e. when they consciously de-link from the web of modern/ imperial knowledge and find ways to think independently. Disobedience that employs the knowledge, categories, language and systems of the modern/colonial world remains trapped in that treacherous world.

Ashfaque Sangi

Larkana Sindh


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