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When Denouncing ‘Settler Colonialism’ Blurs into Hamas Apologism: A Conversation with Michael Powell

The Atlantic magazine writer speaks with Quillette’s Jonathan Kay about the use of fashionable academic jargon to convey hateful propaganda.

· 19 min read
When Denouncing ‘Settler Colonialism’ Blurs into Hamas Apologism: A Conversation with Michael Powell
Image from a poster circulated by Within Our Lifetime, a New York City group that seeks to build a “movement for Palestine,” promoting an event titled, “Flood Brooklyn for Palestine.”

The text that follows is adapted from a January 17, 2023 Quillette podcast featuring Atlantic magazine writer Michael Powell.

Podcast #230: The Fine Line Between Denouncing ‘Settler Colonialism’ and Supporting Terrorism
Michael Powell explains how fashionable academic doctrines are being weaponized to delegitimize the existence of Israel, the United States, and other Western societies.

Jonathan Kay: This week, in my first podcast of 2024, I’ll be talking to Atlantic magazine writer Michael Powell, whose name you might know from the years he spent writing about education and culture at The New York Times.

In early January, Michael wrote a real barn burner of an article for the Atlantic website, titled The Curious Rise of Settler Colonialism and Turtle Island. And I have to say, this article really got my attention. Being a Canadian, I’ve become quite familiar with the odd spectacle of progressives embracing Indigenous creation myths, such as the idea that the world was created on the back of a giant turtle; or the idea that Indigenous people can exhibit a special, ethnically specific kind of gender identity known as “two spiritedness.” But I didn’t know that this kind of trend had spread to the United States. Nor did I realize that the fashion for endlessly denouncing North American society as an evil manifestation of “settler colonialism”—which, again, has become quite fashionable in Justin Trudeau-era Canada—had also been picked up south of the border.

Michael’s article isn’t just about fashionable hashtags and slogans, however. He focuses closely on the unsettling trend by which activists and academics are weaponizing the idea of settler colonialism to delegitimize the state of Israel within the context of the current war in Gaza—a rhetorical process that can include the justification of Hamas terrorism as a legitimate means of Indigenous “resistance” against the Jewish state.

The Curious Rise of ‘Settler Colonialism’ and ‘Turtle Island’
The problem with shoehorning a Middle Eastern war—or American history—into a trendy academic theory
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