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1492 and the Formation of Modernity

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Modernity is a civilizational project of death. By Ramon Grosfoguel

The issue we need to discuss is the formation of modernity. There are issues that are long lasting that haven’t been solved. A lot of issues have been reshaped in crazy ways because of how the modern project has instrumentalised them. Modernity was formed with the European colonial expansion after 1492. And modernity from its beginning was a colonial genocidal project that we can trace back to the conquest of Al Andalus. Epistemicide - destruction of the knowledge structures; genocides - killing of people. Modernity is not an emancipatory project in the way we have been colonised to think. It is a civilisational project of domination, oppression and exploitation. It happened when Europe put itself at the centre of world economy in 16th. Expansion to the Americas - colonisation of indigenous people; colonial oppression of Africa; genocide in Al Andalus, killing of thousands of women in Europe accused of being witches. 1450 - 1650 was when the past events all happened at once. Put European men at the centre of everything - the rest were all considered inferior beings. This is a racist structure that consisted of implementation of genocide and epistemicide. Creating racist, sexist, epistemic structures of knowledge that makes all knowledge apart from European man inferior. Even European women are inferior (witches killed in Europe.) Amazing that all these things were happening at the same time in Europe/Africa/etc. Racist ways of identifying Muslims and Jews in the South of Spain after the genocide. Modernity killed more Muslims than in any period of history - they call this ‘progress’ but it was not. Slowly destroyed all existing civilizations for the next 400 years. Slowly they go to different parts of the world and proceeded with destruction of indigenous civilizations.

This happens not just as some kind of abstract thing, but this racist structure comes from the implementation of genocide epistemicide. This then creates structures of knowledge which I call epistemic racist and sexist knowledges. I call it epistemic racism because they (Europeans) are going to inferiorise the knowledge of everyone else except the European man and also the knowledge of all women, including European women. This is after the genocide of European women who were accused of being witches in Europe. At the same time that they were burning alive women in Europe they were colonising indigenous people in America, enslaving people and destroying Islamic civilisation in the south of Europe. They used racist terms to identify Muslims and Jews.

Modernity is a civilizational project of death. It has not only killed more human beings in war history but it has also destroyed and killed other forms of life in a way that has never happened before in human history. As critical as we can be of structures of domination in the past there is nothing as bad as this and they call this ‘progress’ and a superior civilisation vis-à-vis the others. In the process of expansion, they were systematically destroying all the other civilisations which existed in 1492 and the early 16th century. Slowly they went to other parts of world, like Andalus. They destroyed civilisations in the Americas and Islamic civilisation in Asia and it goes on and on until the early 20th century with the destruction of the Ottomans.

Everywhere they (Europeans) went, despite the particularities of the structure, the same repetitions occurred of imposing a racist, sexist structure by force, by colonialism and creating universities and narratives of history that are accordingly coherent with the statement that the West, especially the European man is superior to the rest. Part of what we are facing is how they have been systematic at producing narratives of history that are completely Eurocentric and work in a systematic way to divide and rule. They invent all kinds of narratives to make us fight each other in crazy ways. What you have here is the destruction of knowledge structures of the rest of civilisation. In the 15th century, in 1492, Europe was a very, very isolated obscure place in the world. Science, knowledge, spirituality was flourishing elsewhere. In Indian civilisations in the Americas they had the most precise calendar of the time, the Mayas, and other developments in science and technology. The same with Chinese civilisation. Europe at the time was under-developed, obscurantist and isolated.

We are fighting Christendom. The question is how they established these structures - they destroyed the infrastructures of knowledge production in the rest of the world. They were plundering the places they went to so that their knowledge production structures in the countries became stagnant. They stole sciences and knowledge from all these civilizations and erased the memory of where they got it from. That is the history of science that we read - as though it was always inherent to the white European men. They were destroying the spirituality and science production structures and taking them at the same time. Gutenberg is seen as guy who invented printing machine when they stole that from the Chinese who invented it in the 2nd or 3rd century. The Chinese had already invented the printing machine in the 2nd or 3rd century of the modern era. So we are talking about the appropriation of knowledge and making it seem that it is European. Same with Copernico. They talk about it but don’t talk about Ibn Shatir, who did a demonstration about how the earth goes around the sun and 500 or 600 years before Copernico. In philosophy, the Greeks say philosophy has a European origin but philosophers of the Andalus show that texts from Muslims civilisation were being translated there. All this is there for us to see and look at carefully.

Then the Europeans started building universities based on epistemic racism and sexism. These are configured on 2 foundations:

1) The foundation of thought in these universities is the western man. The study in these universities is usually narrowed down to 5 countries: France, Germany, Britain, America and on the side is Italy. In almost every discipline without exception we find this. This is the structure of the westernised universities. This is one of the problems we are facing today. They have authority on knowledge on everything, politics, economics. They are the ones who see themselves as superior epistemically so they claim they know truth, reality, better than everyone else and also what is best for you. So it doesn’t matter what you claim is best for you as their knowledge is seen as superior to yours. They won’t pay attention to what you say. These are epistemic structures of imperialism and colonialism. They will justify their civilizational mission on the level of epistemology. This is a foundational thing.

2) They split knowledge because the European states needed specialisations for their policies so they had a department of economics, and to deal with politics, they had political science. To deal with colonies and subjects, they had anthropology. To deal with geo-politics, they had geography. In each discipline, (even now) they are structured on a European-centric view of the European states in the 19th century.

This ties with the question of dualism which Dr Ameli mentioned. Part of what the Europeans did when they destroyed other epistemologies was to install ‘modernity’ as a shirk system. The foundation of modern science and philosophy of the West e.g. ‘I think therefore I exist’. This ‘I’ is going to be described using the God of Christendom, not God of Christianity. The God of Christendom is a white man with a long beard in a cloud who is watching and punishing everyone. His attributes are going to be transferred to this “I” and this “I” will be able to produce knowledge beyond any particularity, universal beyond time and space. This “I” is able to produce a God -like view, beyond time and space, and it is a western man. After the genocides of the 16th century, in the mid-17th century, this “I” could not be a Muslim or a Jew, after the conquest of the Andalus, or an African after the genocide of Africans. It couldn’t be an indigenous person in America after the conquests there. It could not be a European woman after the burning of women in Europe. So who is left – a Western man. Now it is not just a Western man, it is a Western man who thinks of himself as God on earth. So now we see the destruction of spirituality and the throwing away of knowledge. Now, you have dualism between nature and man being presented. Nature is presented as inferior to man. We can dispose of nature for another end because now Western man is thinking of himself as God on earth, deciding who can live and who can die. This dualism has the epistemology of the destruction of life. Any technology you build based on the duality of nature and humans has the rationality of the destruction of life. Technologies are embedded in spiritualties, so the moment you throw away spirituality and bring in a materialistic structure, you have principles and rationality for the destruction of life. So, part of what we are facing is how this thing which appears to be dualistic, we need to look at its implications for the world today in terms of life and death today, and pollution. This is not ‘human’. This is western civilisation which loves to always bring the good things on themselves but when there are problems they say ‘we, the humans’. It is not humans which are destructive, it is Westerns. Humans have been on planet earth for how long, and they haven’t been as destructive as Westerns.

They destroyed other holistic cosmologies like ‘tawhid’ in Islam which has the idea of diversity within unity. That dualism doesn’t show up in European thought. What would happen if we built technology on this principle? Nature isn’t something out there but it is something where, multiple forms of life, exist together. In other cosmologies, e.g. pacha mama in the Andalus region is very close to Islam. The concept of ‘abundu’ in parts of Africa is very close to diversity in unity.

Colonialism destroys other spiritualties, breaking down and bringing a reductionist view everywhere. In the destruction of the other civilisations there is, in a sense, the problem is not just that we are fighting a Western power structure. The problem is the West within us. How, in having been colonised by this Western centric structure, we have swallowed and internalised these notions. How do we go beyond this? We need to tackle our own colonialities.

We have a Christopher Columbus in all of us. Inside the traditions of the world, not just Islam, the colonised has been left inside us and in the religion itself there are a lot of colonial narratives themselves, and we just repeat this. We just repeat this in the name of some authentic Islam. This happened in cultures in the Americas too. Colonisation left a deep seed in our own spiritualties and narratives so we see versions of Islams today which are Christian-centric versions of Islam.

I want to move from the concept of looking at the universality of the West. Universality of the West is very different from other cultures. They define for you what is truth and reality and what is good for you, which is a Western man. This is a shirk system with new idols. Dr Shehabi was saying how shirk is not just people worshipping a tree or a stone but people worshipping colonial powers, worshipping unjust systems. We have been taking a form of power as sacred and so we need to decolonise our structures of knowledge away from the universality of knowledge and move to a different structure. In Malaysia, there have been meetings where we have discussed ‘pluraversity’, but this isn’t relativism. ‘Pluraversal’ is being anti-imperial, critical of western civilisation, desacralizing all the Western idols. Within that structure, we can think of a ‘pluraversal’ structure, so that from other perspectives we can build a world where many worlds are possible. We can share values of justice. This is not just a universe where one decides for everyone. This notion of universality has colonised our own cosmologies. We hear the same thing ‘Islamise or I will kill you’, which is the same Western-centric project, ‘Christianise or I kill you’. The problem is not just that we have the structures, it is that in all of us there is a West there and you have versions of Islam and indigenous peoples which repeat the Western things and present them as authentic. Decoloniality is also about dealing with inner structures that this civilisation has put in all of us. We need to move to ‘multiversity’ or ‘pluralversity’.

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