Decolonizing Knowledge Production: a Practical Guide

Photograph Source: Alec Perkins – CC BY 2.0

It was a pleasure for me to close 2020 with an invitation to deliver a virtual lecture titled “Decolonizing Writing: A Practical Guide” at the Kuala Lumpur Forum of Thought. The topic of the lecture is not only near and dear to my heart, but also a topic I have been thinking and writing about in different capacities over the last few years. It is a topic deeply embedded in my praxis to decolonize knowledge in the way I receive it and produce it. Because the lecture focused primarily on what it means to decolonize writing in practical steps, I decided to write this work to share with readers some of the key components of what I have learned from my own experience thus far. I write with the hope of starting, building on, and expanding many more conversations on this topic. I believe that the only way to ensure a better future for this world is by dismantling and destroying what the Peruvian sociologist, Anibal Quijano, calls “the colonial matrix of power”.

While the lecture engaged with the work of some key thinkers in decolonial thought, I tried to keep the focus on the practical side of the matter – how do we do it? I did so because I believe that the concept of “decolonizing” is being circulated, thrown around, and even abused by many individuals who hijacked it without having direct experience and connection to what many decolonial thinkers call the “colonial wound”. In doing so, the concept is at risk of being devoid of its effectiveness and deep meaning. To give a concrete example, I think it is absurd to have many privileged and institutionalized Western professors who have no firsthand experience with the colonial wound to give us lectures, workshops, or write about decolonizing this or that matter. Yet, not everyone who shouts “decolonize, decolonize” is genuine, good intentioned, or most importantly, qualified to do so. Furthermore, my choice to focus on the practical aspects of decolonizing knowledge production is because I seldom see any public writings that provide concrete and meaningful steps on how to decolonize the way we read, write, and engage with the slippery processes of knowledge production.

As such, building on my own praxis with how I started and continue to decolonize my engagement with knowledge production (reading, writing, sensing, and doing), I would like to address what I see as the most critical components to consider to be able to engage with knowledge as equals not as submissive minds and souls who have nothing to contribute. Before addressing these critical components, I would like to be clear about two things. First, for me, to decolonize knowledge production does not mean to dismiss or never engage with Western knowledge. Rather, as many decolonial thinkers have repeatedly pointed out, it means that the terms of engagement must change. It means that we should not only engage with Western knowledge, but also deeply engage with knowledge from all over the world. It means that we must not use Western knowledge as a compass to measure the value of other forms of knowledge produced around the world. In other words, to decolonize knowledge production is to reject and dismantle the Western hegemony of knowledge production; the Western control on what counts and what does not count as knowledge. As Walter Mignolo has rightly and consistently pointed out in most of his works, decolonizing countries from the West never ended coloniality itself (1). It simply changed its face and manifestations. Furthermore, just because a country was not colonized, it does not mean that it has escaped coloniality. To put this in a concrete example, decolonizing knowledge does not mean that we should stop reading Shakespeare or Jane Austin. It means that they are not the only great writers out there. It means that we should be aware that equally great writers in every field (literature is just an example here) exist in many other countries outside the Western world, and we need to know about them, translate their works, read them, and engage with their work in the same ways the world has been doing with canonized Western knowledge for centuries. And if that has not been done adequately throughout the centuries, it is only because of the suffocating effects of the colonial matrix of power.

The second thing I wish to acknowledge, which I have learned from my praxis, is that decolonizing knowledge shouldn’t put us in the position of only producing knowledge as a reaction to Western knowledge. Our existence should not become one in which everything we produce is to justify our intellectual existence vis-à-vis the West. It means to produce what we see as important, fit, and nurturing to our communities, countries, and cultures, in separation from the West and its colonial and imperial agenda. This way, we will ensure to not waste our energy in simply reaction to the West to justify the value of our contribution to knowledge. My point is that it is important to understand that constantly talking about colonization with colonizers is neither our job nor is it always effective. In some cases, it is like beating a dead horse. As is well known, beating a dead horse doesn’t bring it back to life – it simply makes its death louder and noisier. Therefore, sometimes it is more useful to look for new horses (new options) than beat dead ones.

As for the critical components that must be considered in the process of decolonizing knowledge production, those include what it really means to decolonize knowledge; why decolonizing language is essential; and how do we decolonize academia. I close with some final reflections on how to decolonize other aspects of our daily life such as: reading and writing, relationships, social and professional connections, hobbies, activities, and even travel destinations. I do so because everything is connected and intertwined, and therefore, a holistic approach to decolonize our entire existence is both necessary and inevitable.

What does it mean to decolonize knowledge?

My journey with decolonizing knowledge as both a receiver and producer started, unbeknownst to me, with reading some Arab writers and thinkers when I was in high school. These writers did not necessarily identify as decolonial thinkers, but later, the more I read the works of influential decolonial thinkers from other parts of the world, the more I saw not only important connections and correlations, but also that some Arab thinkers and philosophers have articulated and written ideas almost identical to ideas of major decolonial thinkers like Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, and in some cases they did so way earlier. I am currently working on a separate project of reading such Arab thinkers against the grain (through decolonial lenses) so that their works may get included in the decolonial conversations and debates worldwide. Mind you, not only are the works of such Arab thinkers not included in the conversations, but they are not even translated into English or other world languages, which makes them inaccessible to those who don’t read Arabic.

My path with the decolonial option as a way of thinking, sensing, and doing was further enriched and deepened while I was doing my doctorate at Duke University, where I had the fortune of knowing and working closely with Walter Mignolo. The latter not only had a profound impact on me, but also, through Mignolo, I was introduced to some other thinkers and writers who have produced incredibly important works on decolonizing knowledge production. Some of such thinkers include – and here I give just a few out of many names as points of reference –Anibal Quijano, Arturo Escobar, Enrique Dussel, Catherine Walsh, Nelson Maldonado-Torres, and others.

Going back to the practical part of the matter, when it comes to what it means to decolonize our engagement with knowledge (especially in the way we produce it), I have learned that decolonizing begins with three specific changes we must make, regardless of our field of research or practice. First, we must internalize the notion that decolonizing the self (and subsequently knowledge production) is not always about doing, but even more so, it is about undoing what has been done to us by all the disciplinary methods and institutions imposed on us from childhood to adulthood. This starts from family all the way to any type of entities, groups, or institutions we deal with or work for. Indeed, decolonizing is not always about getting further education, but even more so, it is about uneducating ourselves from the colonial shackles of knowledge production; from what does not work or does not spring out of our reality, suffering, or what does not resonate with the colonial wounds inflicted on us by coloniality.

Second, and in harmony with the first point, decolonizing is about reeducating ourselves in ways that allow us to reconnect with our own souls, minds, and bodies. To rebuild all that has been damaged by the colonial wounds and the disciplinary institutions we dealt with throughout our lives. It is indeed about reeducating ourselves in such ways that we realize our full potential to contribute to our communities and to the wider world. We must learn (or relearn) how to harvest the fruit of knowledge from every part of the world, not just the West. One of the most serious damages caused by the domination and hegemony of Western knowledge is that it makes you dismiss knowledge from every other part of the world – even your own – as less than or inferior. To decolonize, then, means to believe in our ability to be producers not just consumers of knowledge. In any walk of life, being just a consumer carries the danger of being deprived and impoverished as soon as the suppliers choose to block their production from you (be it knowledge, goods, mobility, and so on), which is precisely what happens when the West practices its favorite vicious game of sanctioning and cornering any country or group of people that dares to challenge its hegemony, or seek to change the rules of the game as we know it.

Third, and this should remain a constant throughout the entire process and praxis of decolonizing, we must regain and reclaim our self-value. The first step towards colonizing any mind, soul, or body is to devalue them. To make them feel that they are unable or unqualified to make any meaningful contributions. Coloniality puts colonized people in such a position that they must validate everything they do through the criteria and measurements of the apparatus put in place by Europe and North America. This has been the case for centuries. As such, nothing can be done without reclaiming our value, and reconnecting with that deeply buried voice of knowledge inside of us that has been silenced by the wreckage of wars, sanctions, racism, violence, sexism, and other forms of divisions, classifications manufactured and imposed by coloniality.

One of the biggest and most invisible – which in the long run becomes visible— wounds of coloniality is to make those at the receiving end of it question themselves; their physical, mental, and spiritual value and meaning; their ability to think, invent, innovate, and theorize. It happens so slowly, viciously, and unconsciously that many people suddenly see themselves at a point where the only expertise and knowledge they deem valuable come to them from the heart of Europe and North America. The colonized, slowly but surely, become at once the dagger and the wound to themselves. We come to such a place where we cooperate with the dagger against our own wounds. It takes a long time and reflection to realize that the wound (the colonized mind) will never stop bleeding so long as it is cooperating with the dagger (coloniality). If a car is made in Germany, it must be the best. If this medical research was published by Harvard, it must be credible and should be held sacred. If a chocolate is made in Belgium or Switzerland, it must be the best, even though the most essential ingredients of chocolate (e.g. cocoa powder, cocoa butter, vanilla) not only are not grown in Belgium or Switzerland, but they have been for the longest time plundered from African and South American countries like Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Ecuador, and others. As such, while the mouth drools upon hearing about the Belgian chocolate, brains trapped in the colonial matrix of power may never ask, resist, or insist on creating humane circumstances that make it possible for the best chocolate in the world to be made in Ghana, Ecuador, or the Ivory Coast, not by plunderers in Europe. Same applies when it comes to knowledge production. If a certain book was published in Syria, it must be propaganda. If a product was made in Iran, it must be cheap and faulty.

In fact, even a country like Russia, with all its advancements in most walks of life, is consistently treated as “less than” when it comes to anything made in Russia. I have often heard Westerners speaking of “cheap Russian weapons” captured in battlefields in “third world countries”. The colonial language is so dominating and blinding that it practically suggests that it is more effective for the colonized people to kill each other with Western-made weapons than with “cheap Russian weapons”. To use another example, consider the recent Western attacks on the Russian COVID-19 vaccine (Sputnik V). Regardless of the vaccine’s shortcomings and whether it needed more trials or not (not my focus here), the Western attacks on the vaccine were clearly about power not about genuine human efforts to work hand in hand with others to produce a vaccine that can protect humanity from the deadly consequences of a pandemic. I am not suggesting that the Russian vaccine was or is perfect. That evaluation is beyond my expertise. What is within my expertise as a social scientist is to clearly see that the attacks on it were ideological and about power relations not about the vaccine itself. It is crucial for the West to hold the power and knowledge to be able to produce the vaccine rather than have it come from Russia, or God forbid, Iran or any country they have been fighting for years to ensure that they never advance in any walk of life, especially knowledge and innovation. In a decent and more tolerable world (in a decolonial world), instead of attacking and tarnishing the Russian vaccine in the media, we would hear more about researchers cooperating and engaging with Russian researchers to discuss and overcome any shortcomings associated with the vaccine. These are just a few out of many examples that show how, over time, those classified as lower than the West, are consistently and systemically bashed and excluded. Yet nothing can be done without reclaiming that value as a first step. And this reclaiming has to happen by not using the West as a compass for measuring.

If I could summarize everything I have learned from my praxis, it is this: Every human being can and must contribute to this world. I believe that contributing to the world in meaningful ways is non-negotiable. Yet at the same time, most people never realize their dreams of making meaningful contributions. Most people I have met in most places, including in the West itself, feel unfulfilled. They feel alienated from what they love and what they do, regardless of where they are or what they do. Fulfilment seems to be reserved solely for the few privileged elites primarily interested in dominating everything under the sun, including knowledge production. And all of this, I contend, results from the fact that most people are never allowed to truly understand and respect the value of what they have to offer. Denying people self-value has for the longest time been an effective and vicious colonial wound that only produces submissive and self-sabotaging individuals. It is only through working seriously on these three steps and adopting them as a way of life that we may begin to dismantle (and over time destroy) the “colonial matrix of power”.

For readers unfamiliar with the “colonial matrix of power”, the concept was first introduced by the Peruvian sociologist, Anibal Quijano in the 1990s. As noted by Walter Mignolo (2), Quijano continued to refine the concept over the years, especially in two articles published in 2000, the first titled “Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism and Latin America” (3), and the second titled “Colonialidad del poder y clasificación social” (4). It goes without saying that many decolonial thinkers have built on and expanded the concept since. In Quijano’s original article, the colonial matrix of power consists of “four interrelated domains: control of economy (land appropriation, exploitation of labor, control of natural resources); control of authority (institution, army); control of gender and sexuality (family, education) and control of subjectivity and knowledge (epistemology, education and formation of subjectivity)” (5). The latter domain, being the most relevant for the scope and purpose of this work, is where I place my attention as it should remain central to any attempts to dismantle the colonial grip on producing knowledge and forming subjectivities. Yet, I also want to remind readers that these domains are extremely intertwined and interrelated. They overlap in many ways. This is precisely why they work together to form a web of deceit, control, and power to trap those at the receiving end of coloniality.

One way to dismantle this grip on producing knowledge, which I find the most effective, is by turning Mignolo’s concept of “epistemic disobedience” into a way of life. Mignolo first introduced this concept in 2009 in an article titled “Epistemic Disobedience, Independent Thought and Decolonial Freedom” (6). Mignolo gets to the crux of the matter right from the abstract of the article where he writes: “Once upon a time scholars assumed that the knowing subject in the disciplines is transparent, disincorporated from the known and untouched by the geo-political configuration of the world in which people are racially ranked and regions are racially configured.” This point is critical because it shatters the long-held Western claims to objectivity, and the assumption that knowledge produced by the West about the rest is independent, unbiased, and unaffected by power relations and inequalities. Mignolo goes on to raise another critical issue as he writes: “Scholars assume that if you ‘come’ from Latin America you must ‘talk about’ Latin America; that in such a case you have to be a token of your culture. Such expectation will not arise if the author ‘comes’ from Germany, France, England or the US.” This point shows that the West only permits contributions from the rest if the latter are reduced into a mouthpiece or informants for their own cultures. Even then, the contributions permitted are conditional upon being aligned with the geo-political interests of the West in the countries about which the colonized are allowed to speak.

For example, as a scholar of Iraqi origin, the West not only reduces me into a token or an informant to write about Iraq, but even more damaging than that, I have to write about Iraq on their terms, if I am to be acknowledged or given the “honor” of getting a place in their “prestigious” institutions and publications. I understood this game early in my intellectual life and chose to opt out (to delink) to save my mind and to preserve my value and self-respect. I did not see a point in reaching “prestigious” institutions while losing self-respect, knowing that I am not really writing, thinking, and doing knowledge conscientiously on my own terms. Moreover, I have also resisted this reductive approach of being of Iraqi origin, and therefore, being expected to somehow be an informant about Iraq by writing about whatever I want in whatever form or shape (articles, poems, prose, etc.) that I see fit. For example, if the Western media is barking about ISIS and I find writing about what I discovered about Greece in my latest readings or travels more pressing, then I will write about the latter not the former. And even if I write about Iraq or the Middle East (the areas of my expertise), which I often do, I write on my own terms, based on my own timeline, lenses, and what I prioritize as important topics. This is what I mean when I say that decolonizing knowledge means that our precious energy should be used strategically not only to react against, but simply to be, to do, and sense as we see fit. I refuse to fall into the trap of media sensations or submit to the projects that are being funded by universities and donors (funding that seldom comes with good intentions about the country or cultures researched).

To give another example, if you are a Syrian writer or scholar and all Western media and institutions are barking about how awful the Syrian government is (they call it “regime” when they want it toppled), you may not want to follow suit and start barking just because they say so. If they are all barking about a president of a certain country being an authoritarian leader, you may want to search or dig deeper into other places to see why exactly is that president rubbing them the wrong way. Again, my examples are not to defend any authoritarian leader or government, but to raise a critical point, which is this: if you have the slightest level of critical thinking skills, you should know that there are many other authoritarian regimes installed and supported by the West and nobody barks about them in Western media. Therefore, the Western media’s barking about the “authoritarianism” of a selected leader is certainly not the issue in and of itself. Ideally, it would be nice if it is the issue, and no double standards are applied in talking about all authoritarian governments (including those supported by the West), but that is certainly not the case. These are examples to show you that, if not extremely careful, and if we do not strive to decolonize the narratives surrounding us, it is easy to end up marching side-by-side with the imperialists, and be at the service of their vicious and inhumane agenda in other parts around the world.

Mignolo further solidifies the point that Western knowledge production is first and foremost interested in serving its own interests as he writes: “Geo- and body-politics of knowledge has been hidden from the self-serving interests of Western epistemology and that a task of de-colonial thinking is the unveiling of epistemic silences of Western epistemology and affirming the epistemic rights of the racially devalued, and de-colonial options to allow the silences to build arguments to confront those who take ‘originality’ as the ultimate criterion for the final judgment” (7). The use of the word “silence” is critical here, because, in many ways, to decolonize one’s writing and life (regardless where you live or come from), we must search carefully for and read works by writers and thinkers who have been silenced and marginalized (especially outside the Western hemisphere). We must constantly be mindful of the issues that coloniality purposely silences, erases, and marginalizes.

In this regard, the Haitian anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot provides a compass for any person involved in the process of decolonizing knowledge production by paying attention to or locating silences and erasures in every single work. In his important book, Silencing the Past, Trouillot provides an in-depth examination of the Haitian Revolution to show how power operates in the making and production of history. Of significance, especially for the purpose of this work, is the way Trouillot shows the process of history production, which, very much like knowledge production, is full of silences. For Trouillot, silences enter the process of historical production at four crucial moments: “the moment of fact creation (making sources); the moment of fact assembly (making archives); the moment of fact retrieval (making narratives); and the moment of retrospective significance (making history in the final instance)” (8). As such, when we engage in the process of knowledge production and examine existing knowledge, it is of utmost importance to use the four moments identified by Trouillot as conceptual tools. We must see how the facts were created; how and who assembled them; how they were collected and why certain facts were collected while others ignored or omitted; and now that they are presented to us as “legitimate” history, we must question whether they are indeed legitimate? Legitimate for whom? Who is being served and who is being disadvantaged by any given version of history (or knowledge)? In fact, using these moments as a constant way to evaluate any knowledge at hand will allow us not only to decolonize knowledge production, but also to constantly evaluate power itself, and to measure those who gave themselves the task of measuring everyone else with little or no accountability when it comes to measuring themselves. All this paves the way for the next section on decolonizing language, which I consider an indispensable tool to decolonize knowledge, and indeed, life itself. We read, write, and speak using languages; therefore, no decolonizing can even begin without decolonizing language. The quantity or contents of what we read are of little importance. What matters is how do we read? Same applies to the language we use to write and speak. In brief, we must ask: what kind of language do we need to decolonize knowledge production as both receivers and producers of knowledge?

Decolonizing Language

Language is a living being that grows and dies. It can be healthy, sick, nurtured, or malnourished. It all depends on those using it. Just as in you are what you eat, it is even more precise to say you are what you say, what you read, and what you write. As I have written previously and strongly recommend as a reference to complement this section (9), language can turn into a prison or a set of wings that can help us fly. It all depends on how we use it to challenge, expand, and question every single word we utter or write. Language is the beginning and the end of what makes us human. The language we do remains alive way after we depart this world. Language is in our mothers’ first lullaby, the first time we tell someone “I love you”, and we often talk about the significance of someone’s last words before they died. Therefore, we cannot decolonize anything, least of all knowledge production, if we do not examine why we say the things we say and how we get to internalize and express the things that shape our lives. In fact, language is truly the only home that remains even in exile when all else is lost.

Many writers have expressed how language is the only home that no one can demolish or steal from us. In brief, language is my home and I can keep it alive so long as my head is still on my shoulders. And since the horizon and the possibilities in our world shrink or expand in proportion with the ways in which we use language, it is dangerous to realize that almost all the components of the colonial matrix of power start controlling our minds and bodies through language. For example, the colonized people have “regimes” and “dictators”, whereas the West has “democracies”; the people in the “first world” “tolerate” cancer chemotherapy and “tolerate” refugees or other religions and beliefs; if you go to work and settle in the West, you are an “immigrant”, but when Westerners come to plunder your country and get overpaid jobs (often despite mediocre qualifications), they are “expats”; and on goes the list of how we devalue ourselves and glorify our killers and plunderers without even realizing it simply through the language we use daily. As Mignolo writes, which fits perfectly with my focus here: “The first world has knowledge, the third world has culture; Native Americans have wisdom, Anglo Americans have science.” The list can simply go on forever. The point here is to pay attention to what kind of defeated humans this language produces from those at the receiving end of coloniality. It unsurprisingly produces colonized minds with little or no self-esteem; unable to believe in their ability to make big and important contributions in their communities, countries, and the world. This, then, explains why the process must start with decolonizing and unlearning the language we have been taught as a first step to dismantle and destroy the colonial matrix of power. Unless we do this, we will discover one day that, regardless of our politics or convictions, that our biggest enemy is the very language we have been using all along. We will discover that, over time, the language we had been using was marching side-by-side with our killers – particularly with their attempt to govern our bodies, our countries, and our cultures. In brief, nothing turns us into our worst enemies like the language we blindly and uncritically inherit whether from our ancestors or the disciplinary institutions we encounter throughout our lives. Watch out for every word you are writing and uttering.

To give you a couple of other concrete examples, I find it curious that in the U.S. you see cases of corrupt and vicious political lobbies, neocons, and many academics who call themselves smart and critical, yet they, one way or another, end up supporting the conflict in Syria. The Western governments and lobbies supplant the Syrian “fighters” with weapons and promises of reward once the Syrian government is toppled, while, on the other hand, the Western academics, journalists, and activists loudly hail in support of what they naïvely still consider a “revolution” or “freedom fighters” in Syria. The outcome is that both sides, who on the surface appear to be opposed to each other in their thinking and approach, end up contributing to the same goal: destroying Syria. Both sides fail to provide alternative views and analyses about how things became the way they are. So, you find yourself in such a situation that if you criticize Western support for militias and armed terrorists in Syria, then you must be siding with the Syrian government. If you defend positive aspects of the Syrian government, you must be anti-revolution and supportive of a “dictatorship”. But why can’t we have other options to choose from? Why one must be caught between two equally problematic positions? This is exactly what it means to be caught in the colonial matrix of power. It is to be constantly suffering from lack of options, and constantly finding oneself in such a position that all the choices available have already been chosen for you. As a result, you are constantly trapped and unable to think or do otherwise. You are consistently deprived of the possibility of working with other possibilities.

Another example, which I have written about in 2015, is the issue of Charlie Hebdo (10). If you do not scream loudly “Je suis Charlie”, then it is assumed that you must be sympathizing with their killers. If we analyze this entire case through the decolonial way of doing and thinking, one finds that Charlie Hebdo is a despicable medium that does not distinguish between satire (in the deep and intelligent sense of the concept), and offending beliefs and values of people who have already been struggling for many years with colonization, marginalization, and stigmatization (Muslims). At the same time, killing is far from a wise approach to deal with the offenses of Charlie Hebdo’s staff. Therefore, instead of uncritically and blindly embracing the “Je suis Charlie” mantra, we must declare that we are neither Charlie Hebdo nor their killers. To decolonize is to refuse to be caught in a double bind. These cases, I hope, show what many decolonial thinkers mean when they declare that the decolonial option is one that enables us to do things otherwise. It is only through refusing to be caught between the anvil and the hammer put in place by the colonial matrix of power that we may start to see, do, think, and sense otherwise.

The other problematic issue we should pay attention to when it comes to decolonizing language is the language used by mainstream media to describe any individual, discussion, group, or viewpoint that does not align with the agenda and aspirations of Western elites, whether within the West or in other parts of the world. Such language seeks to implicitly or explicitly delegitimize, dismiss, downplay, or bury the object of their attack (depending on how fast they want to get rid of or silence them). For example, if there is a writer they do not approve of and would like to discredit because people are starting to pay attention to them, they are usually referred to as “self-proclaimed”, “self-described”, and other such dismissive or delegitimizing descriptions. They may also defame them as being “conspiracy theorists”. The mainstream media gets away with all of this, strangely, under the guise of “freedom of press” and “objectivity”. In his 2015 book, Exposing Lies of the Empire, late Andre Vltchek perfectly summarized the modus operandi of Western media as he wrote: “One could easily summarize the dogma of ‘free Western press’ as: ‘Only those atrocities that serve the geopolitical and economic interests of the West can be considered as true atrocities and, therefore, allowed to be reported and analyzed in our mass media outlets.’” (11) Not surprisingly, when Vltchek died in Turkey in 2020, the Westen mainstream media, in covering his death, wrote “Vltchek described himself as a novelist, philosopher, filmmaker and investigative journalist as well as a ‘revolutionary, internationalist and globetrotter who fights against Western Imperialism and the Western regime imposed on the world’” (12). The key issue here is in writing that Vltchek “described” himself as such and such not that he actually was so. But for us, the readers, when we evaluate how Vltchek described the mainstream media as cited above, and then we read how the mainstream media described him, it is not difficult to see who is more credible and has more integrity.

Now, imagine when we write, if we refer to CNN or BBC journalists as “self-proclaimed” journalists from CNN made such and such claims, what will happen? Is it something anyone would dare to do? Why not? In fact, many mainstream journalists, pundits, experts, and academics are so mediocre and clueless, that it would not be totally unfair to refer to them as “self-proclaimed”, “self-described”, “so-called”, or even appointed journalists as the mainstream media does when they wish to discredit or belittle anyone who doesn’t have their stamp of approval. Furthermore, having an institutional blessing to be called a “writer”, “journalist” or an “academic” does not really make one so. In fact, anyone with institutional support and titles is a suspect more than anything else. In the same token, not having institutional blessings should not discredit or devalue any individual who can convincingly show through their work that they are knowledgeable and able to contribute in any given field.

In a similar manner, as noted earlier, when the mainstream media wishes to shut down some serious conversations, debates, or discredit platforms, they simply taint them with the effective label of “conspiracy theory”. This, of course, is not to say that there are no vain individuals or conspiracy theorists spreading lies and propaganda out there. Those do exist and they must be evaluated accordingly. But this does not negate the fact that the label of “conspiracy theory” is also being increasingly weaponized to silence very legitimate voices and debates. Indeed, if not careful, it is easy to lose some important voices, insights, and possibility for change because of such dismissals. We, therefore, need to pay attention to the very language coloniality uses to describe knowledge that challenges its hegemonic goals, and not to take the ways they describe anyone or anything at face value.

In certain cases, I learned that the biggest reason to read and engage with writers, activists, and artists is precisely because they are being dismissed, silenced, or ignored by the Western mainstream media. Likewise, very often, it is probably safe to refuse to pay too much attention to ideas, individuals, or groups promoted by the mainstream, because they are most likely (intentionally or unintentionally) serving a colonial or elitist agenda. In my experience, anyone promoted by mainstream media is almost always mediocre and their primary job is to promote mediocrity for public consumption. As for the prepackaged accusation of “conspiracy theory”, the way to resolve it is simpler than many people imagine. if you have any shred of reasonable evidence or doubt about an issue, then it ceases to be a mere theory. It can safely be moved to the category of academic or journalistic investigation to search for any evidence necessary to provide solid proof and to create awareness about it. And any issues about which we have reasonable evidence or history of similar patterns or practices should not be dismissed as conspiracy. We, the people, should decide for ourselves. Do not take the mainstream media’s word for it.

The last part of decolonizing language that we must pay attention to is the politics of translation, which applies to every country around the world, not only the West. By politics of translation I mean that we must be aware of and acknowledge the fact that choosing which books to translate from other languages and which to ignore is often a purely political and ideological decision. In this regard, I am referring to any works that get translated from foreign languages into your own. It is critical to learn how to evaluate any translated work from a foreign language by asking such questions as: is this or these authors really the best authors from this country? If yes, who decided so, and based on what criteria? If not, why do we have their works translated and not others? What are the politics in the translated works and who is being served by such politics and thoughts made accessible in a certain language?

In the case of the Middle East, an example I know well, many Arab writers and thinkers know that, with rare exceptions, their only chance of getting translated into Western languages and to reach an international audience is if they write in ways aligned with the West’s agenda in the region, as well as in ways that “creatively” confirm the West’s viewpoint of the region. Examples of such favorite pastime topics that may get them translated include but are not limited to: women are oppressed, the hijab is a sign of Islam’s oppression of women, the plight of carefully selected minorities (not all minorities count in the same way), anything related to dictators and authoritarian regimes is always desired, corruption, the benevolence of Western charity and development projects in the region, refugees suffering because of brutal local governments (as opposed to suffering as a result of Western invasions or sanctions), poverty, lack of freedom of speech, and on goes the list, but you get the point. Now, it is important to remember that the issue is not that these problems do not exist in the region. Rather, it is the way they have been framed and used as proxies, pretexts, and justifications to invade, bomb, and plunder the region and its people for centuries. Moreover, the West is only interested to hear and promote works on such issues when they are presented as if they take place in separation from Western policies and interventions in the region, which ends up creating an endless vicious cycle of painting an image of a region where certain conclusions and stereotypes are constantly produced such as: “these people have always been like this”, “they have always been fighting and killing each other”, “their religion, society, and culture must be inherently violent to produce such communities or such circumstances”, and so forth. Any works that trace the genealogy of how things became the way they are (not just how they are today), are neglected, silenced, or dismissed. Even when certain good works get translated with individual well-intentioned efforts, they never make it to the mainstream discussions, the media, or decision-making circles within the West. They end up in very narrow and small circles (e.g. a few academics), which makes the translation of such works practically ineffective.

In brief, let me share a personal evaluation of the matter to give you a concrete example. I have read many Arabic works (especially in the field of literature) that have been translated into English. There are very few of them that I consider worthy of translation (or worthy at all). I rarely find them of great quality and holistically capture the complexity, beauty, and ugliness of the region. I often find most translated works from Arabic into English to be reductive, oversimplified, and clearly written to please and infatuate Western audiences. They may also seek to exoticize the region in the eyes of Western readers. This, in turn, results in not only serving the Western agenda in the region and confirming its colonial and racist gaze, but it also leads to reaffirming all the stereotypes that dehumanize the region and its peoples and cultures. In the same token, I can say with confidence that many great Arabic works I have read and that have influenced me profoundly when I was growing up are yet to be translated into English at the time of writing these lines. I understand that I am not a measure, but I still wanted to share this example, if it resonates with readers, or if it helps to further reflect on this critical matter.

To give you another example that you can apply to other languages, cultures, and countries, and still get similar results. A few years ago, I was trying to find some translated poetry from Albania (I do this with many countries to explore world literature), and as I did some research in English, two things became clear. First, to begin with, there are few literary works translated from Albanian authors into English. Does it mean that Albania does not produce enough literature? Does this mean that Albania does not produce valuable literature? Obviously, the answer is no on both counts. Second, the few translated works that exist (and I did obtain and read several of them), are simply works employing literature as a vehicle to strongly condemn communism in Albania, mostly dealing with themes that show how horrific life was under Enver Hoxha, or the communist era in general. It is as if Albanian writers had nothing to write about except these topics, which were conveniently aligned with Western agenda at the time when their biggest obsession was to topple all communist governments as well as turn as many countries as possible on this planet into capitalist economies to be plundered by the U.S. and Western Europe. The same could be said of many works of literature translated from Eastern European countries or the Soviet era by Russian writers. The familiar story would always go like this: you have a work translated by a “great” Russian writer from the Soviet times. The work is always, one way or another, condemning oppression, depicting Stalin’s horrors, and highlighting the fact that the Soviet era equals nothing other than being ruled by an iron fist. The story of the translated writers always goes like this: They were either imprisoned or had managed to escape the horrors of the Soviet Union (or both); they were later writing “freely” and “creatively” about what it means to have lived under the Soviet oppression, most likely while sitting at a desk in a lovely apartment in London or New York. Now, again, I am not questioning whether this side of the story is true or not. I am questioning why are such works the only works that get translated, and consequently, the only works that reach the Western and even global audiences? Why don’t we have, for the sake of argument, works of writers who really loved Albania during the communist times and wrote from different angles about how “good” it was and why they thought it was good? Why not translate works by writers who really loved the Soviet era or, even better, had a vision for other options beyond communism or capitalism? Since many Arab countries had very good relations with the Soviet Union, I was fortunate to get access to many works translated from Russian into Arabic (especially in Syria, Iraq, and Egypt), including volumes that contained thousands of Russian poems from different periods. Not surprisingly, when I checked many of the poets, whose works I liked, I found that little or none if their works are translated into English. Can we explain this without what I am calling the politics of translation? I will let readers answer that question for themselves and from their experience.

In the spirit of keeping this as a practical guide by providing as many examples as possible, here is yet another example that comes from my direct experience with writing. In 2016, as I was writing an article to commemorate the death of the great Dagestani poet, Rasul Gamzatov (13), I was shocked to discover how neglected his work was in the Anglo-Saxon world. This poet who has been translated into many languages worldwide, including Arabic, is practically unheard of in the English-speaking world. This, once again, speaks volumes about the politics of translation. My explanation for this neglect is not because of his merit, of which he has no shortage. It is simply because the poet was a nationalist who loved his country, culture, people, and language. But, more importantly, he was neglected because he was loved and respected in the Soviet Union, and he had received many medals, prizes, and awards, last of which was the Order of St Apostle Andrew the First-Called awarded to him by Vladimir Putin for his 80th birthday and shortly before his death in 2003. So, the problem here is this: why not translate the works of Gamzatov along with those like Nabokov, Brodsky, Solzhenitsyn, and other hand picked writers whose works are translated and glorified by the Western propaganda machine, and let the readers decide for themselves the value of each one of them? I hope you see the point I am trying to substantiate in that translating only works that ideologically support the West (and consequently the colonial matrix of power) is a purely political and ideological act, and therefore, it is an affront to the entire purpose of what translating works from one language to another is supposed to achieve (impart knowledge). As such, the politics of translation, in my analysis, is a key component in decolonizing knowledge production.

As we survey and analyze many works that are translated into English and many that have been ignored, it becomes clear, as I have argued elsewhere, that works of literature from other places are not only censored by banning them, but even more so by silencing them, by refusing to translate them in the first place. Marginalization is the worst form of censorship and intellectual assassination (14). Likewise, choosing what gets translated into a certain language and what gets marginalized is a form of shaping and constructing the historical memory of a place according to the whims of those who have money and means of knowledge production. Therefore, all of this needs to be put through the process of decolonizing knowledge production if we are to dismantle the colonial matrix of power, and if we are to find ways to read and engage with translated works from all over the world beyond the West’s political and ideological apparatus. In brief, the political processes of what gets translated and what gets ignored determine not only access to knowledge, but as a result, maintaining the status quo of who remains in control of knowledge production and knowledge consumption. For all these reasons, we need to dismantle and break this vicious cycle.

Decolonizing Academia

The next component to consider when decolonizing knowledge production is the role of the academy as a colonial and imperial space par excellence, which in the age globalization and corporatization of practically everything, has become the biggest enemy of knowledge and the decolonial option. In fact, the academy has become a space that instead of creating options, is doing everything in its power to deny most people options and keep itself as the only game in town. With rare exceptions, Western universities have for the longest time been complicit in enabling, supporting, and maintaining the imperial Western grip on the rest of the world. Moreover, the fact that many people from the rest of the world do (or aspire to) study in European and North American universities, and often impart to their own countries, makes the evaluation of the role of the contemporary “imperial university” more critical than ever before (15). The university’s role is imperial because there have always been strong links between the policing of knowledge on the one hand, and universities, militarism, and neoliberalism on the other hand, all of which are part and parcel of the colonial matrix of power. Upon closer examination, we shall discover that Western universities have always been at the service of colonialism and imperialism, and this matter has only worsened in the neoliberal age. So, you may ask me, what are some of the key areas to tackle if we are to decolonize academia, as opposed to just paying lip service to the idea of decolonizing it.

Based on my experience, I have identified a few areas and components, which I will address. Those include research inception and funding (e.g. the formation of ideas and funding research projects); the politics of citation (who is citable and who is ignored and why); academic writing and publications; the question of objectivity (the myth that the West is more objective than the rest, which keeps the game unchanged in favor of Western knowledge production); thought and intellectual classification; and the worn-out mantra of “publish or perish”. There is, of course, always the option of walking away from all of this and doing your own thing, if all the obstacles above constantly suffocate you and act as barriers in your way of thinking, doing, and sensing the world beyond the logic and limits of the imperial university. It goes without saying that, I, in no way claim that what is being addressed in this part is exhaustive. It is based on my own experience, research, and observations. I do hope, however, that it opens the door to many more conversations, debates, and actions.

Decolonizing Research and Funding

The first step to decolonize knowledge production in academia is by carefully examining how knowledge is produced, by whom, whose works get canonized and taught in “foundational theories and courses”, and what kind of bibliographies and references we get to see cited in every book and published article. I am not disclosing a secret when I say that they tend to be predominantly not only Europeans and North Americans, but often a minority of privileged individuals from the Empire; individuals who use their money and power to manage and control knowledge production. To change this, we need to critically question how research is done in the first place. How ideas are formed, nurtured, and financially supported, why, and who are the “kind-hearted” philanthropists pouring money on certain ideas, while fully ignoring or even burying others. I hope it is clear to anyone who has a shred of critical thinking skills that those who fund research projects in Western universities are anything but kind-hearted and generous, and that their intentions are anything but benevolent or intended solely for the objective advancement of knowledge. It is usually more about controlling who gets to produce certain knowledge about others, because nothing maintains the myth of exceptionalism like ensuring that knowledge only comes from the West, and particularly from selected or even appointed individuals.

Some years ago, when I was a new graduate student focusing on the Middle East region, I thought it was only in my field that funding is often generously bestowed upon absurd research questions and projects, while many important research projects I knew about were denied funding. As it turns out, the more I talked with researchers from other fields and disciplines, the more I started to get the big picture of how the imperial university and the funding agencies operate when it comes to producing knowledge through the type of research they fund, and what gets fully dismissed or ignored. Many scholars and scientists I have spoken with over the years have told me something like this: when we write a research proposal to get funding, there are three things that can and do happen. First, increasingly, most research proposals are denied funding. Second, if your proposal is too “safe” to be funded, you may get denied because they don’t see that you are going to make new and original contributions. Third, if your proposal is too innovative and groundbreaking, you get denied because it is too risky to get funded in such cases, too. Therefore, what happens mostly, many scientists write their proposals not based on innovative or creative proposals, but rather, they write what the reviewers want to hear. They write what is enough to just tick the boxes required to potentially get funding. In other words, the efforts they put in proposals are primarily focused on playing or beating the game, not coming up with innovative and groundbreaking ideas.

In the area of Middle East Studies, you can always count on getting funding if your research is about minorities being treated horribly by “authoritarian regimes” that the West want to topple, women oppressed and forced to wear the hijab, masculinity and femininity, gays are oppressed, refugees (provided that they are seeking safety in the West and running from a “dictator” the West wants to topple), and so on. The pattern and the intentions are clear to a vigilant observer. What all such topics have in common is not that they are not important or need attention (they are so on both counts), but that their function is to maintain the West’s colonial and racist gaze on the rest of the world, which, in turn, serves the West’s hegemony and control over others. Furthermore, the single thread that connects the topics above is that they all practically open the door for Western intervention in the region under the pretext of “salvaging” this cause or that group of people. Now, if you try to ask, research, and teach more daring research questions (Palestine is always a good example that most researchers in the field know well), then you get attacked, defamed, denied tenure, and even publicly shamed and put on blacklists created to discredit scholars (many Arab and non-Arab professors have actually been placed on such lists in attempt to defame, discredit, and silence their scholarship).

In other fields and disciplines, like medicine or pharmaceutical research, I have learned from many friends and acquaintances that much research on drugs and medications is not only funded by pharmaceutical companies, which is a conflict of interest in most cases and therefore automatically affects the quality and credibility of the entire research process, but such companies often fund research projects that are geared towards making drugs rather than finding cures for diseases. In other words, you have more chances of getting funded if your research ends up producing one pill a day for patients to take than funding a research that may find a cure for a certain disease (the former is much more profitable for pharmaceuticals than the latter). In many other fields, I have learned about examples of absurd research projects that receive thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars for absurd questions that benefit nobody but the ego of the individuals pursuing them and the vanity of their few buddies who will get to read the work upon publication. In graduate school, we spent an entire graduate seminar discussing a book about “how trees talk”, written by a Canadian “researcher” who went and studied how trees communicate in Ecuador. So, again, think about this: this “scholar” was awarded funding to go all the way to Ecuador to “understand” how the trees communicate there. At the end of the lecture, I thought to myself why didn’t he just save everyone time and money by studying how trees communicate in Canada? I have no problem with the topic of the research itself, but with the fact that this research gets funding while other more important proposals are denied funding. All these examples speak volumes about how problematic and absurd the entire research process can be in the social sciences. Again, when I took a class on grant writing to write proposals to get funding for research when I was doing my doctorate degree, the entire seminar focused not on the quality or validity of your research proposal and questions, but on how to play the game, how to write in such a way that you impress reviewers and convince them to award you funding. Make no mistake, there is a huge difference between the two. That is not to say that there is no good research done, but we have enough evidence suggesting how knowledge production is controlled with the iron fist, the mediocrity, and political agendas of funding agencies. This automatically has three significant consequences: first, the obvious one of controlling who gets funding to produce knowledge. Second, in controlling funding, it promotes mediocre research projects that get funded often at the expense or in place of really important and much needed research. Third, controlling funding can and does limit access and financial support that people outside of the West need to research. In doing so, it keeps knowledge in the hands of selected few within the oppressive walls of the imperial university.

To decolonize knowledge production in this area means to pay attention to what matters to you as a scholar; to believe in it and continue to nurture it. It also means, if necessary, to find alternative ways and funding to pursue your research. Considering how the politics of funding work, most scholars, unfortunately, end up tailoring their research proposals and questions to suit the desires and the criteria of those who provide the funding. Instead, funders and donors need to learn to accept new types of ideas and research proposals. It is crucial not to let the research gatekeepers in the imperial university or the funding agencies tell you what matters and what does not. You should be the judge so long as you believe in good faith that you have enough scientific and critical tools to pursue the research questions you care about. If you, deep down, really believe your questions matter, do everything you can to pursue them in any way you can. Do so even if it means that you have to walk away from academia altogether. I want to acknowledge that this is not an easy thing to do, especially in fields where expensive labs and equipment are required to conduct research. But I still believe that leaving is preferable if staying can only yield two results: first, you do not get the freedom to pursue the type of questions and research you consider urgent and needed for your field and for this planet. Second, if staying means cooperating with and abiding by the rules of those who have the money and resources to get you to become part of the machine designed to exploit humanity and plunder the planet under the guise of science, then leaving becomes a noble act; an act of mercy upon yourself and the entire world. If you feel trapped and intellectually suffocated deep down, trust that feeling. If such is the case, then I truly believe leaving and doing absolutely nothing is more meaningful than being caught between the anvil and the hammer of the imperial university and coloniality. I think of it as being in an abusive relationship. As anyone who has experienced abusive relationships will tell you, staying with the abuser is never a good idea just because they have enough resources and a palace for you to dwell in. Like abusive lovers, the imperial university will often fund you to pursue and satisfy its abusive whims and imperial aspirations, both of which are in total opposition of what the life of the mind is about in the first place.

The Politics of Citation

In addition to telling you what research questions are worthy and fundable, the imperial university also imposes on you the “big names” you are expected to cite. That is, which names you must have in your bibliography or the references cited section to prove you are a “good” and “rigorous” scholar or researcher in your field. Conveniently, such names are predominantly not only Euro-American, but also from the chosen elite of “scholars” imposed on everyone researching almost any given topic. The names imposed in almost every field or discipline sound eerily and suspiciously familiar. In the social sciences, depending on the specific discipline, you cannot go through your studies if you don’t prove that you are well-versed in certain names, and if you challenge such names, you risk your research and your entire career. Moreover, you are seen more favorably if you tie yourself to one of the big canonized names imposed on every scholar as foundational. For example, they will try to call you a “Marxist”, a “Foucauldian”, a “Hegelian”, “Kantian”, and so on. Many scholars naïvely think it is cool to have one of such names attached to their names or ways of thinking and doing scholarship. It never occurs to them that this, too, is a colonial method of validating oneself and research through such names. It equally doesn’t occur to them to ask this critical question: Marx, Hegel, Foucault, and many others have all been influenced by many thinkers before them, why are they not classified or associated with names of such thinkers? It is simple: if Marx was able to become Marx then you, whoever you are, should be able to be you. Anything else is a way to colonize your scholarship, and an attempt to validate yourself through names imposed on you.

Unfortunately, it does not occur to many that knowledge, by definition, means to be able to challenge everything that has been said and done before to open the door for new options and new perspectives to come into existence. Furthermore, anything you cite is also evaluated based on its source. The evaluation of sources itself is determined based on whether the ruling elite, including the elite that rules the universities, approves of the source as being “credible” or “rigorous” or not. For example, it is considered more credible and rigorous if the cited source is from a university press or an academic journal than citing sources by independent writers and scholars. Even if you cite works published publicly, there is a similar type of hierarchy. For example, citing the NYTimes, the Guardian, or the Washington Post (all elitist and imperial tools of public knowledge production), is seen as better than citing a blog or a newspaper in Ghana or Peru. They may not object to the latter, but they won’t be considered adequate, and therefore, they must be validated by citing Western sources. It still shocks me to see countless academics who consider themselves intelligent, deep, or critical who constantly post and share articles from places like NYTimes, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, and other such sources that, at the surface, appear to be intelligent, objective, and critical even of the power under which they operate (the Western elites), but if you dig deeper, you will discover that they are, one way or another, in perfect harmony with the imperial and colonial agenda of the West against the rest. In fact, this may not be apparent to many people, it is fair to argue that conservative and liberal media in the West are two sides of the same coin. I personally see CNN and Fox News as complementing not contradicting each other. The former gives viewers the false impression of being liberal and critical of the system, while the latter vehemently promotes and defends the existing militaristic, racist, and supremacist system in place. The former gives the world the false impression of freedom and democracy where everything and everyone can be criticized and held accountable (which is far from the truth), while the latter constantly agitates the public to ensure that the predominantly militaristic, capitalist, and racist system remains intact. The outside world thinks that America is so free to have a newspaper like the NYTimes, but they don’t realize that the system operates precisely as Fox News wants it to. In brief, giving the impression of freedom and democracy (NYTimes) and ruling with an iron fist of hate, militarism, propaganda, and racism (Fox News) are equally profitable and important for sustaining the Empire’s exceptionalism and myth of democracy and freedom. I have found this equation to apply to many Western European media also, though Europe remains – in many ways – freer and more open to critical perspectives when compared to the U.S. Ever since I concluded this, I decided to never cite such sources, except when I want to contest their content, or present a proof coming from the belly of the beast about a certain point. Otherwise, I hardly if ever, take them as credible sources for anything. I will never let them tell me anything. What the citation gatekeepers often forget – or conveniently overlook – is that every bit of evidence in any shape or form, is valuable in informing and enriching the process of knowledge production. Furthermore, it takes a long time for many scholars and writers to realize that, often, the most cited and canonized works in the imperial university are the last sources in which one may find sincere and credible knowledge that is unbiased and fair when it comes to representing other voices and perspectives. It takes a long time to understand that the majority of the canonized knowledge propagated and imposed on mostly unsuspecting students and scholars in the academy is filled with silences and blind spots that, if not carefully examined and resisted, could turn researchers into no more than cogs in the imperial and colonial machines of power and oppression.

When I was doing my doctorate in cultural anthropology at Duke, while some academics only considered “rigorous” research when students cited what they perceived as the ultimate authority on certain topics (usually chosen Euro-American scholars), I found it very empowering when Walter Mignolo reminded me that “theory is wherever you find it.” If you overhear an old lady on a bus saying something that can shatter everything you know about a certain concept or theoretical framework, do not even hesitate to theorize her words and give her full credit for it. It is possible for graffiti in a poor African American neighborhood to theorize and capture the race reality more than anything written by privileged Euro-American scholars on the topic of race. It is likely that a refugee in Europe might have a more insightful assessment of how democracy works in France or Germany than a privileged professor in either country writing from the ivory towers and from a privileged perspective. It is possible to find insights in a blog by buried writers whose insights might be way more original and groundbreaking than articles published by pundits, journalists, and writers on the payroll of the Empire whose works appear in the NYTimes, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and other imperial publications that try to propagate the false impression of free thinking and objective writing. My key point here is not necessarily to favor any source over another, or to pay attention to some sources and ignore others. Rather, the point is to treat any insightful perspective solely based on the value of the content not on where that perspective comes from or who published it.

Sources should certainly not be validated through what power determines as credible or prestigious. If anything, sources that have the support and protection of power and institutions should be treated as suspicious not superior. There are very few words that make me as nauseous as words like “prestige” and “prestigious”. Prestige is often a shortcut for getting power’s approval and blessings, which automatically, in my view, should disqualify any intellectual from being taken seriously. In brief, it must always be remembered that domination is nurtured and thrives in institutions more than any other place. In the same token, institutions are almost always the best vehicles through which entire societies are dominated. As several authors demonstrate in a recent edited volume on the way in which power and elites operate, “institutionalization of domination diminishes accountability… having no identifiable origin, it becomes elusive.” The authors go on to remind us that domination doesn’t only rely on institutions, but even more so “on the categories we use to conceive institutions. It consists in successfully claiming to impose ways of acting and perceiving. Therefore, it requires the material and symbolic power of institutions” (16). The sad reality remains that those who believe they have prestigious positions naively believe that any critique of prestige – as this one – is a result of envy and bitterness rather than the fact that seeing is always clearer and perception deeper from the margins not the center. When it comes to decolonizing knowledge production, it is especially urgent to read against the grain any canonized works designated as “credible” by the imperial university, while at the same time search for sources of knowledge that may shed light on the silences of history production as outlined by Trouillot earlier. We can’t afford neglecting any oral story and history, any handwritten letter, pamphlets, blogs, photographs, and so on, that challenge power and shed light on silenced voices and perspectives. While the imperial university continues to pay lip service to letting the subaltern speak, make no mistake: the subalterns have never been silent. They have always been thinking, writing, doing, and sensing. The problem has always been with the shortsightedness and racism of the colonizers and the imperial spaces where certain knowledge gets produced and promoted, while other knowledge gets silenced, mutilated, and buried under the rubble of indifference and arrogance.

A few years ago, one of my colleagues was trying to publish an academic paper about a prolific Arab novelist, thinker, and writer. Interestingly, most of her books are not translated into English for reasons I believe to be related to the politics of translation discussed in a previous section. So, since he considered her work valuable, he decided to write about it from certain angles to provide new perspectives on certain themes widely debated among intellectuals around the world. Several “peer” reviews came back with feedback which boiled down to this: this is a great article, very important themes and issues discussed, but the article needs to engage with X, Y, and Z (all Western authors who wrote about similar topics). So, basically, the reviewers found that the work about this Arab thinker cannot pass the filters of Western knowledge production unless validated by Western names and interpreted through them. This is exactly how controlling, colonizing, and dominating knowledge looks like. It did not occur to the esteemed reviewers from the imperial university that my colleague (as he shared with me later) intentionally did not want to validate the Arab thinker through Western writers. That he purposely focused on her, the impact of her work on the region, and how other writers and critics in the region have engaged with her work. This, to me, is a perfect case of controlling and censoring knowledge. My colleague insisted on not engaging with Western writers not because he has any personal grudge against the latter, nor because he was not deeply familiar with the works of Western thinkers who dealt with the topics the reviewers’ referred to. He did so because he believed that the writer he was writing about was enough on her own. How often do European thinkers and writers validate their work through using, say for the sake of argument, an Arab or a Chinese or Malaysian thinker? How often do they use thinkers from outside the West to validate or substantiate their arguments? Upon hearing about my colleague’s experience, I thought to myself: here he was writing about a highly regarded and prolific Arab writer, and yet, to get the paper published, he was pressured to validate her through other Western writers and scholars. My colleague chose to liberate the paper he wanted to publish from the gatekeepers who imposed these conditions on him. The article was eventually published after he made sure to submit to a journal whose editorial members were very diverse and committed to challenging the imperial university.

What I learned from this case of the “peer review” process, especially insofar as decolonizing knowledge production is concerned, is to beware of the very process of “peer reviewing”. In many cases, especially when writing about the Middle East, those reviewing our work (even if it is a blind review) are anything but “peers”. They are gatekeepers with great animosity towards the region and its scholars. Their first interest is in policing what type of knowledge gets produced about the region and by whom. I have seen enough such gatekeepers in my academic life to know that this is a very real and valid concern. I would not be surprised if this, in different ways, does apply to other disciplines and fields of research. If it does, I would be interested to hear from other scholars about it. At the same time, this in no way means that there are no dedicated people in the academy who are painfully aware of this reality, and who are doing everything in their power to challenge and change things. Yet, the numbers of such good people are often too small to make a tangible difference, and they continue to dwindle with the budget cuts, decrease in available tenure posts, and other draconian measures that seem to exclude those who matter and make space for more and more mediocre leeches to hijack the academy and the means of knowledge production. Yet, instead of discouraging us, knowing about all this vicious politics and policing of knowledge production, we should be more determined to think, write, sense, and do otherwise, even if that means doing it outside of academia’s thick and unforgiving walls of control and oppression.

Academic Writing & Publishing 

The previous section smoothly paves the way for the next major obstacle in the way of decolonizing knowledge within the academy, which is the convenient rules created on what constitutes as “academic” writing and what does not; rules that only serve a selected few who have the power and the resources to make, impose, and break such rules as they please. In the case of humanities and social sciences, areas I know well through training and expertise, academic writing is often convoluted, unnecessarily complicated, jargon-ridden, obscure, rigid, and monotonous. It is so in both content and style. If you, as a graduate student or a junior researcher or faculty member, try to challenge it, expand it, make it more creative, not only is this frowned upon, but you also get accused of all kinds of absurd accusations like “lacking rigor”, “lacking objectivity”, “not scholarly enough”, not being “well-versed in theory”, and so on. To sound and look like a “proper” scholar or academic, you are expected to go heavy on using words like  “situating”, “reimagining”, “(un)doing”, “mapping”, “spaces”, “performative”, “ontological”, “teleological”, “decentering”, “intersubjectivity”, “embeddedness”, “hermeneutical”, “discursive”, “teleological”, and other such words, which are not only obscure and excessively used, but also few people agree on what they really mean. The very fact that I listed some of them must have bored you to death, so imagine having to live day and night thinking, speaking, and writing with such language. The problem with using such words is not complexity, but rather lack of clarity, and not having agreed upon definitions on what they mean, even within the narrow circles of the academy. To be clear, I am not against complexity when it is necessary. Indeed, complexity is needed and healthy to dig deeper within any field of inquiry. What is problematic is lack of clarity. Equating obscurity with rigor, while at the same time equating a clear and creative language with lack thereof is one of the most serious ills one faces in Western academia. Neither of these equations are accurate. They are certainly not mutually exclusive. Often feeble minds with mediocre arguments hide behind obscure and convoluted language. I am sure most readers have seen enough examples of clear writing that is profound, deep, and able to convey very complex ideas clearly. We simply must be careful not to confuse complexity with rigor and profoundness, as drunk people mistaken their foolishness for wisdom. Nor should we dismiss a clear language simply because it is conveying the point without unnecessary complexity or beating around the bush.

Still, all the above is not the most serious problem we have at hand here. The real problem with academic writing lies in the fact that it is a matter of how much “power” one holds to be able to “get away” with certain ways of writing or not. In the following example, which I encountered many times during my graduate studies, I hope you see how power relations work when it comes to writing, and how double or even multiple standards are applied on evaluating academic writing in the imperial university. When I was a graduate student, I often heard comments from colleagues and professors reacting to what I thought was brilliant and clear style of writing. If that good writing was produced by a graduate student or a junior scholar or faculty member, the comment would be: “but you can’t get away with this type of writing.” If the writing was produced by a tenured faculty member, the comment would be something like: “it is brilliant”, “it is great, but he/she can get away with this type of writing because they are tenured.” Now, let us think for a moment about these comments that have nothing to do with good, clear, and creative ways of writing and thinking. They have everything to do with power – namely, how much power the writer has, and therefore what they can or cannot get away with. Writing has never been (and should never be) a matter of how much institutional power you have. Writing is measured by brilliance, wisdom, and the creative power of the writer, not their titles or institutions. As such, there is no such thing as being able to “get away” with a certain kind of writing based on your place on the tenure track. If your writing is awful, nothing should allow you to get away with it. And if your current position and hypocrite evaluators allow you to get away with it, the best Judge of all, Time, will not allow you to do so in the years to come. It is as simple as that. This is precisely why we often describe great writing as that which stands the test of time. In fact, I do not even agree with classifying writing as “classic” or “contemporary”. Great writing is contemporary regardless of when it was written. It is always timely. It communicates with readers across time and space. A great piece of writing is contemporary whether written yesterday or ten centuries ago.

Now, going back to the key point here, this whole dilemma of academic writing is often about power and gatekeeping not about writing and conveying ideas, whether within the academy or with public audiences. By imposing rigid, stifling, and unnecessarily complicated rules, the academy turns writing from a beautiful, rewarding, and powerful vehicle to produce and impart knowledge into a nightmare that only a select mediocre individuals can navigate and do. The good news is that no sincere and conscientious intellectual or scholar would have any interest or patience to survive such a stifling environment. There is always hope for those who can’t go through it by doing things otherwise, as the decolonial option teaches us. The bad news, however, is that this keeps knowledge production under the tight grip of the chosen few who create the rules of the game, decide who is a good player or not, and break the rules whenever they please. I have always maintained that genuine intellectuals, by definition, refuse to play any institutional games at any stage of their career or intellectual life. They can’t pretend to unsee once they see. They can’t “wait” until they have tenure or enough power to “get away” with things or be brave in their thinking and writing. A sincere thinker can’t fake or delay what they want to question, how, and the way in which they want to put it on paper. They can’t divide things into what can be said or done before or after tenure. A sincere thinker will die of a heart attack if they don’t research, write, and say what they want to say at the very moment they are ready to do it. Unfortunately, those who create such rules and apply them selectively do make the task of decolonizing knowledge production treacherous by deciding what gets through the publishing machine and what does not. Resisting these rules is critical in the process of decolonizing academic writing. One way to do so is through not following the rules of the game.

Another way, and this applies to all the areas covered under this section, is by practicing what I call intellectual boycotting, which I simply define as: boycotting any intellectual or writer canonized and imposed on us through Western academic institutions, media, or any other institution with money and power. Note that this doesn’t mean not to read them, but rather, to read and cite them (if necessary) with caution, and preferably with the intent of debunking or exposing their silences and blind spots rather than using them as a compass to evaluate other forms of knowledge. But, additionally, I personally believe (and I know many readers will find this controversial) that we should never engage with any writers or scholars whose work is intentionally Euro-American centered and purposely ignores or refuses to engage with knowledge produced by thinkers outside the West. In other words, in knowledge production, reciprocate treatment (whether in engagement or citation) can be effective in challenging and changing the rules of the game.

To add salt to injury, also imposed by the imperial university is the mediocre slogan of “publish or perish”, which, as I have argued elsewhere, does not take into account that, very often, writers may perish the minute they publish, if they do not have something meaningful to say. As though adding to human knowledge occurs simply by publishing (mostly recycling) a couple of articles a year or one book every few years. Many academics that operate according to this slogan do not seem to grasp that the most difficult thing in life is to say something new (17). The result is a disastrous overproduction with little new original thought – same as the logic of capitalism of too much production, very unequal distribution. Let us remember that what matters is the content not the quantity of what is being published. There are two creative conditions that I hold near and dear to my heart and mind when it comes to knowledge production: first, the more we know, the more we know how little we know. That makes it such that we soon realize how hard it is to add something new to the wide and deep ocean of knowledge. Second, it is hard to justify the existence of any work, in any field of knowledge, that doesn’t fully exceed everything that has ever been done in that field. If these two creative conditions are true, then that explains why it is hard to produce groundbreaking knowledge in all its forms, shapes, and manifestations. Once again, the uncritical slogan of publish or perish simply shows that those who embrace the slogan are more interested in playing the game than in producing original and authentic knowledge.

Decolonizing the Myth of Western Objectivity  

The last pitfall to be addressed in this section is the long-held myth of Western objectivity. Although many studies have shown that objectivity is nothing but a myth, Western knowledge production has for the longest time imposed itself on the world as being more objective than everyone else. In doing so, the West – through its cruel colonial matrix of power – has erased countless voices and contributions from the rest of the world. This ties back to Mignolo’s concept of “epistemic disobedience” cited earlier. In making it clear from the outset that the assumption of knowledge production being somehow separate and uninfluenced by geopolitics, Mignolo challenges and seeks to shatter the very notion of objectivity in doing, thinking, and writing. Many other authors, including conscientious authors from within the borders of the Empire, have not only questioned the myth of objectivity, but also insightfully shown that, in an unequal and unjust world, objectivity is not only impossible, but indeed undesirable. Here, two examples come to mind. The first one is the important body of work produced by the American historian, Howard Zinn. In his book Declarations of Independence, where Zinn provides an in-depth cross-examination of American ideology, the author questions the very idea of cherishing objectivity “as if ideas were innocent, as if they don’t serve one interest or another” (18). For Zinn, like many thinkers and authors before and after him, if anything, objectivity should mean “telling the truth as we see it, not concealing information that may be embarrassing to our point of view” (19). But, if objectivity means to pretend that ideas are not governed by geopolitical interests and power relations, then that is not only a false claim, but also not acting in good faith, regardless of the field of study. As such, Zinn declares that “it is impossible to be neutral”. Moreover, in a world already moving in a horrific and devastating direction that puts most people at a disadvantage and at risk, “neutrality means accepting the way things are now” (20). In fact, very often, the use of the word “objectivity” in the West means indifference. And, as is well known, nothing is more destructive than indifference, especially when it comes to knowledge production.

In her powerful work, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Gloria Anzaldúa perfectly captures the harms of the Western understanding of objectivity as she writes: “In trying to become ‘objective,’ Western culture made ‘objects’ of things and people when it distanced itself from them, thereby losing ‘touch’ with them. This dichotomy is the root of all violence” (21). Particularly important in Anzaldúa’s words is how objectivity defeats its own purpose when it ends up objectifying whatever is being studied (whether human or non-human), and it does so by making those doing the studying “lose touch” with what is being studied. Here Anzaldúa puts us in front a poignant and critical question: can any thinker or researcher involved in any field of study produce meaningful knowledge when they lose touch with what they study, all in the name of objectivity? Can you at once gain depth and understanding with indifference? The answer is no, and the proof is clear in how Western knowledge production has for centuries marginalized, objectified, and dismissed any and all forms of knowledge produced outside the West. This, then, is the root of indifference towards others that is nothing but the outcome of the West’s fraudulent and self-serving definition of objectivity, which, as Anzaldúa rightly concludes, is the root of all violence. Let us make no mistake then: indifference both produces and maintains violence even (perhaps especially) in the field of knowledge production.

So, how then should we think about objectivity, you may ask, dear readers. Within my praxis, as an anthropologist and writer from Iraq, which means someone violently affected by wars, occupation, and imperialism; and as someone living in the U.S. (of all places!), this question has always been important for me. I have always thought about it with every single line I put on paper. What I have learned, which I would like to share with you in the spirit of providing practical steps towards decolonizing knowledge production, is this: since each one of us is a product of everyone we have ever interacted with, and everything that has ever happened to us, any question we research, think, or write about will inevitably be shaped by who we are, and consequently, it will equally shape our findings, methods, and ways of understanding and interpreting data. Yet, that in itself does not really matter, because it applies to everyone, including Western thinkers who falsely like to think that they are more objective than the rest of the world. What matters is to be sincere in the way we approach, research, interpret, and write about any topic. Yes, dear readers, believe it or not, the secret of producing meaningful and powerful knowledge is simple:  be sincere. We must strive to be sincere in the way we approach any question, to be sincere in understanding our limits and blind spots, and to acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses at all times. I have learned that objectivity is impossible, but sincerity is not. It is the latter that brings us the closest possible to objectivity, and only through sincerity we can reconcile we can build bridges of reconciliation between the subjective and the objective. It is through sincerity that we may begin to dismantle the narrow and self-serving definition of western objectivity.

In a sense, it seems to me, sincerity in knowledge production simply means a deep awareness of how our subjectivity and objectivity shape, inform, and influence each other. I have always tried to center my praxis on the understanding that objectivity simply means sincerity. I have found a great comfort and solace in the way Paulo Freire approaches the question of objectivity as he reminds us in the Pedagogy of the Oppressed that “one cannot conceive of objectivity without subjectivity. Neither can exist without the other, nor can they be dichotomized” (22). The point, for Freire, is not to deny either, but rather to understand that both subjectivity and objectivity are in constant dialectical relationship. “To deny the importance of subjectivity in the process of transforming the world and history is naive and simplistic. It is to admit the impossible: a world without people…World and human beings do not exist apart from each other, they exist in constant interaction. Just as objective social reality exists not by chance, but as the product of human action, so it is not transformed by chance. If humankind produce social reality (which in the ‘inversion of the praxis’ turns back upon them and conditions them), then transforming that reality is an historical task, a task for humanity” (23).

Although Freire’s words are powerful and clear, I encourage readers to deeply reflect on one specific insight he provides, which strongly reminds us of the urgent task of decolonizing knowledge production. That insight is: since the objective reality is a result of human actions, it can only be changed through human actions. In the same token, since the colonial matrix of power is a result of human actions (colonizers) aimed at dehumanizing others (the colonized), it can only be dismantled and destroyed through human actions and determination. Such actions and determination, predictably, can only be taken by those at the receiving end of oppression and coloniality. This urgency of human action needed to decolonize knowledge production is precisely what the decolonial option provides to open the doors for the oppressed to take that action. While there is hope, there is much work to be done and it is hard work. I say this because, unfortunately, while even within the West many have started to realize that the West’s long-claimed objectivity has been nothing but an illusion all along, there is even a greater number of people outside the West still living under the myth that Western knowledge equals objectivity and credibility, and any knowledge produced outside the West can only be validated through the latter. In other words, when it comes to setting knowledge free from the hegemonic grip of the West, it seems that more work needs to be done outside the West than within. If this task is not treated urgently, then we risk more and more violence, including violence against thinking, sensing, and doing. Edgardo Lander clearly articulate this predicament:

The hegemony, universality, and violence of Western thinking must be confronted and a different thought constructed and positioned from ‘other’ histories and subjectivities. The implications for non-Western societies and for subaltern and excluded subjects around the world would be quite different if colonialism, imperialism, racism, and sexism were thought of not as regretful by-products of modern Europe, but as part of the conditions that made the modern West possible (24).

The violence Lander is referring to in this context is very similar in nature to that identified by Anzaldúa in the way she describes the destructive effects of Western claims to objectivity at the expense of humanity, and indeed, at the expense of everything on our planet. It is precisely for this reason why I have always insisted on sincerity and creating harmony between our subjectivity and objectivity. A long time ago, I discovered that all I have been taught about the disconnect and the contradiction between the heart and the mind is false and misleading. I have learned to feel with my mind and think with my heart. I have learned that the two are not enemies, but Siamese twins – you can’t silence one without crushing the other, too. It is against this backdrop that I hope, wherever we are, we start to decolonize knowledge production through rekindling that deep and strong spark between the heart and the mind; through understanding that the path to objectivity goes through the painful corridors of subjectivity. That the safest way to understand the limits of our subjectivity is by simply being sincere.

Closing Reflections

At the close of the lecture with the Kuala Lumpur Forum of Thought, some members in the audience raised some thoughtful and important questions. One of my favorite questions, which I’d like to reflect on at the end of this work came from an Algerian attendee who asked: I realize that much of the content of this lecture was about knowledge production, and therefore perhaps applies more specifically to people dealing with knowledge both as producers or consumers of that knowledge. The attendee then went on to acknowledge how this is important for every person, and added: how can we do it in every aspect of our lives? What is the take home message for those who are not in the field of knowledge production? I liked this question for several reasons. First, as noted earlier, knowledge production is only one out of multiple components of the colonial matrix of power, and while it is a crucial one (it is about knowing, after all), we must always remember that the components that create the oppressive chain Quijano calls the colonial matrix of power are intertwined and interconnected. They overlap in many ways. As such, despite the specificity of my focus on knowledge production, I am painfully aware of the fact that we can’t decolonize knowledge production until we decolonize everything else, and we can’t decolonize anything before we simultaneously begin the process of decolonizing knowledge production – everything is in everything else.

With that in mind, it is imperative to think of the task of decolonizing knowledge production as inseparable from every other aspect of our lives. It must be applied to the smallest and most hidden details of life, including but not limited to decolonizing romantic relationships (stop seeing beauty only in whiteness, blue eyes, and blond hair); decolonizing social connections (stop believing that there is more value in socially connecting and networking with powerful people who often happen to be Westerners); decolonizing the workplace (stop believing that expertise, management and power are embodied in Western individuals); decolonize our hobbies and activities (don’t do things or enjoy activities promoted and imposed on us by the West such as going to the beach or wasting one’s life watching TV or Netflix); decolonize travel destinations (shatter the illusion that nowhere is more worth seeing that Europe, or that traveling around Europe equals “seeing” the world). We need to seek and discover new destinations, peoples, and cultures to travel to and learn about and from. In fact, when it comes to travel, readers will be surprised how coloniality really leads you to believe that there is nowhere more beautiful (culturally and geographically) than Europe and North America. For other places around the world that are equally or even more beautiful, they are often referred to with such terms as the “Switzerland of the East” (as Lebanon was called in the past). But it doesn’t occur to most people to ask why should Lebanon be called the Switzerland of the East? Why have we never heard of a beautiful place in Europe called “the Damascus of Europe”? The answer is simple: it is because of the toxic effects of coloniality. I would argue that even decolonizing our spending habits is a crucial element of decolonizing our entire life. For example, in many non-Western countries, most people aspire to buy Western goods with the assumption that their quality is better than anything local they have, or anything manufactured outside the West. This is not only false in many cases; it actually ends up causing self-destruction and self-defeat by not supporting one’s own products and industries. As you see, dear readers, there is hardly any spot in our lives that has not been afflicted with and damaged by coloniality. And, as Freire reminds us, it will take human action to change this.

The decolonial option, based on my life experience and praxis, remains the most powerful and organic way of life that allows us to decolonize our entire existence. It is so because of its open-endedness. Nothing is more nourishing and promising in any option, any way of thinking or living, than allowing open-endedness, because the latter simply allow you as an individual to be an active participant in shaping and creating your world. There are two comments from the late novelist, Toni Morrison, that not only capture the deep meaning of the decolonial option, but also act as a hard proof on the possibilities and the doors the decolonial option can open. In a 2014 interview, Toni Morrison, speaking of the first book she wrote, said “I wrote the first book because I wanted to read it” (25). In 1981, speaking at the annual meeting of the Ohio Arts Council, Morrison, commenting on writing, said: “Writing to me is an advanced and slow form of reading. If you find a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it” (26). Morrison’s words in both cases capture the possibilities of the decolonial option, especially when it comes to knowledge production, in that we should fearlessly and confidently produce any knowledge that we want to see produced. Write the book that we want to read but it has not yet been written due to all the colonial constraints discussed in this work. Any options that are not inherently opened-ended, as the decolonial option is, inevitably hinder the process of creation. Catherine Walsh beautifully captures the possibilities offered to us through the decolonial option as she reminds us that:

The decolonial is not a fixed state, status, or condition; nor does it denote a point of arrival. It is a dynamic process always in the making and re-making given the permanence and capacity of reconfiguration of the coloniality of power. It is a process of struggle not just against, but also more importantly for—for the possibility of an otherwise. A process that begets movement, invites alliance, connectivity, articulation, and interrelation, and strives for invention, creation, and intervention, for radically distinct sentiments, meanings, and horizons (27).

The power of Walsh’s words lie in reminding us to beware of a fixed state of being, beware of anyone trying to convince us to accept the conditions we are in as unchangeable, beware of any process that is not dynamic and open ended. More importantly, beware of those who promise us a point of arrival, for the beauty and richness of life has always been in the interval between departing and arriving, the interval between womb and tomb. We should be especially wary of arriving if it means arriving at the fortified and merciless gates of coloniality. I often lament the fact that, as an exiled person from Iraq, of all places, I ended up in the U.S., which considering what the U.S. has done to Iraq and the entire region, literally means living in the belly of the beast. I often find myself caught in the most complicated paradox any person living in the Empire faces. On the one hand, there is the constant voice in your head asking you “if it is so bad, why are you here?” Then, another voice declares the bitter truth: “because the Empire has made every other place uninhabitable for you and those like you.” This is precisely Mignolo’s powerful notion that nobody escapes the wounds and abuses of coloniality, not even those who have never been colonized. Between these two voices of despair sounding in my head like sirens, I found great solace in the decolonial option that constantly reminds me that it is possible to live, sense, and do otherwise and anywhere on this beautiful planet.

Works Cited

(1)   Mignolo, Walter, The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011).

(2)   Mignolo, Walter, (2007) “Coloniality of Power & De-colonial Thinking,” Cultural Studies, 21:2-3, 155-167.

(3)   Quijano, A. (2000a) ‘Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism and latin America’, Nepantla, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 533_ 580.

(4)   — (2000b) “Colonialidad del poder y clasificacio´n social”, Journal of World System Research, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 342_ 388.

(5)   Mignolo, Walter, “Coloniality of Power & De-colonial Thinking,”, p. 156.

(6)   Mignolo, Walter, (2009) “Epistemic Disobedience, Independent Thought and Decolonial Freedom.” Theory, Culture & Society 26(7-8):159-181.

(7)   Ibid. 4

(8)   Trouillot, Michel-Rolph 1995 Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon, p.26.

(9)   Yako, Louis, “Language as a Prison: Why Do we Fall in Love,” CounterPunch, (September 27, 2019), accessed February 9, 2021,

(10)         Yako, Louis, “The Dangers of Being Charlie Hebdo,” CounterPunch, (January 30, 2015), accessed February 9, 2021,

(11)         Vltchek, Andre, Exposing the Lies of the Empire (Jakarta, Indonesia: Badak Merah, 2015), p. 11.

(12)         The Associated Press, “Turkey Probes Death of American Journalist Andre Vltchek , (September 22, 2010), accessed February 9, 2021,

(13)         Yako, Louis, “Remembering Rasul Gamzatov: The Poet of the People,” CounterPunch, (October 28, 2016), accessed February 10, 2021,

(14)         Ibid.

(15)         Chatterjee, Piya & Sunaina Maira (eds.) The Imperial UniversityAcademic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2014).

(16)         Denord, Francois, Mikael Palm, Bertrand Réau (eds.) Researching Elites and Power: Theory, Methods, Analyses (Springer, 2020), p.6.

(17)         Yako, Louis, “Academia Deserves its Crisis,” CounterPunch, (September 27, 2013), accessed February 11, 2021,

(18)         Zinn, Howard, Declarations of Independence: Cross-Examining American Ideology (New York: Perennial, 1990), p.4.

(19)         Ibid.

(20)         Ibid.

(21)         Anzaldúa, Gloria, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1987), p.37.

(22)         Freire, Paulo, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Continuum, 1970 [2005]), p. 50.

(23)         Ibid. 50-1.

(24)         Lander, Edgardo, “Eurocentrism and Colonialism in Latin American Thought,” Nepantla. Views from South, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 519- 532, p. 525.

(25)         Sutton, Rebecca, “Toni Morrison: Write, Erase, Do it Over,” American Artscape, No.4 (2014). Accessed February 12, 2021,

(26)         Brown, Ellen, “Writing is Third Career for Morrison,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, Page F11, Column 1 (September 27, 1981), Cincinnati, Ohio.

(27)         Walsh, Catherine, “Pedagogical Notes from the Decolonial Cracks.” e-misférica 11, no. 1 (2014). Accessed February 12, 2021.

Louis Yako, PhD, is an independent Iraqi-American anthropologist, writer, poet, and journalist.