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  • Ooretoluse Delano

Two wrongs don’t make a right, but they make a good excuse: Understanding and contextualising violence

 

Do we truly understand what it means to be violent, and the different forms of violence that can exist? Is our view of violence influenced by who commits it, and who suffers from it? We need to examine violence in context and expand our understanding of it. We often treat retaliatory acts as if they occurred in a silo, ignoring centuries of systemic oppression.

 

 Perhaps this is because state-sectioned violence only works when there is a bias against its victims. Black and brown bodies have historically been depicted as intrinsically ‘violent’ and ‘savage’ thus such treatment is often depicted as a necessary means of maintaining order.

 

Yet, sanctioned violence is still violent. Colonisation is an act of violence, encompassing years of oppression and subjugation. It involves stripping people of their language and culture, trading human lives, looting art and labour, and displaying these stolen treasures in museums to this day. The exploitation persists through the periphery-core relationship, alongside the continued dehumanisation of black and brown bodies, police brutality, Islamophobia, settler colonialism and restrictive borders.

 

However, when the oppressed fight back—through protests or acts of violence where necessary—the focus often shifts solely to their retaliation, overlooking the fact that this response arises from violence that can only be ended through confrontation - see the ‘All Lives Matter’ response to ‘Black Lives Matter’ as a prime example of this dynamic.

 




 

Similarly, in the ‘Wretched of the Earth’ Fanon also noted a stark double standard in how violence is perceived and treated. When the oppressed resort to violence, their actions are often condemned more harshly than the systemic violence inflicted by the oppressors. The world tends to focus on the immediate acts of retaliatory violence, while the prolonged, systemic violence that provoked such reactions is frequently overlooked or minimised.

 

It is impossible to divorce recent events from the violent history of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Most notably, the 1948 Nakba that involved the violent displacement of more than 700,000 Palestinians from over 400 villages and towns by Israeli settlers, and the preceding British colonial occupation of Palestine. Yet, the West continues to treat the current genocide against Palestinians as though it started on the 7th of October, as opposed to the 7th of October being a response to years of oppression, settler colonialism and over-policing.

 



Violence begets violence. We must ask ourselves what we expect of people who have been wronged and the atrocities against them not acknowledged. What happens when your resistance is decontextualised, ahistorical, and made to seem random and simply typical of your demographic? How do we create sustainable solutions when we are not ready to admit to the atrocities and realities of the situation?  Even for those who genuinely wish to avoid violence, ignoring the root causes and the pain of the violated will not further the goal of peace and justice.

 

In this context, Frantz Fanon contended that the violence of the oppressed is a natural and inevitable response to the oppressor’s violence. He argued that this retaliatory violence is a cathartic act of reclaiming humanity and agency. For the colonised, violence becomes a means of breaking free from the psychological shackles of oppression, asserting their existence, and demanding recognition as equals. Fanon's work urges us to see the retaliatory violence of the oppressed not as isolated incidents of brutality but as desperate, albeit profound, assertions of human dignity and the liberation struggle.

 



 

However, the oppressed must know what they are fighting for, if not this leads to a power vacuum allowing room for those who don’t want to end the cycle of violence but merely want to become the perpetrators of it.

 

 

 

 

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