Hind’s Hall to Mahmoud’s Hall: Western academia’s Gaza reckoning

Western universities have failed Mahmoud and all the students killed in Gaza, writes Randa Abdel-Fattah [photo credit: Lucie Wimetz/TNA/Getty Images/X]

In her book On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life, Sara Ahmed writes about “acts of naming” and how building names “can keep a certain history alive: in the surroundings, you are surrounded by who was there before. A history of whiteness can be a history of before.”

Last month, students at the University of Melbourne’s pro-Palestine encampment carried out their own “act of naming” that exposed how universities’ white supremacist “history of before” follows us into the present.

The students renamed one of the University of Melbourne’s main buildings, the Arts West Building, “Mahmoud’s Hall” in honour of Mahmoud Alnaouq, a 25-year-old student from Gaza who was awarded a scholarship to the University of Melbourne to do a Master’s in International Relations. 

On October 20 2023, an Israeli missile killed Mahmoud and twenty of his family members. No university in Australia, including the University of Melbourne, has condemned his killing. 

The Western academy values academics who write papers and books and convene conferences and seminars. They want an ivory tower where Acknowledgement of Country is solely recited and academics deconstruct genocide, settler colonialism, decolonisation and social movements on the condition that genocide is a subject that is to be studied, not resisted.

Genocide is abstracted to the past, not confronted in the present, unfolding, real-time reality. 

Gaza has exposed the moral bankruptcy of Western academia

Evidence of institutional complicity in genocide via investments and contracts is redacted in reports as students and researchers of genocide and colonialism are deployed as institutional metrics and spun into stories to covet a place in global rankings. 

But a student who is a victim of genocide, whose student number has been replaced with a death statistic, presents a problem.  A student like Mahmoud Alnaouq who exists in a fresh grave, not safely behind the pages of a book or brandished in scholarship rankings, exposes institutional pretence and bloodied hands. 

I encourage readers to look up Mahmoud Alnaouq’s Twitter/X account. Not because we should exceptionalise Mahmoud or claim his life mattered more than any of the other students Israel has murdered. Entire books have been written about metrics and genocide, about the failure of methodologies and enumeration to account for the scale of horror.

When we recite numbers there is, in that very process, something so grotesque and dehumanising about counting in a time of genocide. One wonders: who becomes counted and who becomes lost in the dehumanisation of approximation. Who becomes a mathematical remainder in a genocide? Israel’s bombs mean that whole bodies cannot be counted; an arm with a name written on it is pulled into one metric and an unidentified torso into another.

The Genocide Convention defines genocide as acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part. The individual parts that make up the monstrous, incomplete sum matter, especially because Zionists peddle the despicable claim that genocide has to be complete to qualify as genocide.   

Mahmoud Alnaouq, one student, matters. In his X timeline, you will find an anatomy of slow and frenzied genocide before and after October 7. 

In May 2023, Mahmoud tweeted about Israel’s large-scale attack on Gaza, sharing articles and tweets about Gaza’s “depleted hospitals” and how cancer patients have been blocked from travelling for urgent treatment. One such victim was Mahmoud’s own mother, whose exit permit requests to receive chemotherapy in the occupied West Bank were ignored by Israeli authorities, leaving her to die slowly in Gaza. 

Mahmoud’s timeline is therefore a living archive of Israel’s slow genocide in Gaza through its sadistic blockade: the impact on opportunities for women to work; freedom of movement; children killed in airstrikes; journalists banned or attacked and on and on it goes.

His real-time testimony was a frenzy of desperation to find the Western world’s red line. When the death toll was 400 children Mahmoud was beside himself. One wonders what he would say now.   

From 7 October, Mahmoud repeatedly used the hashtag “GazaUnderAttack”. But then, on October 13 he tweeted “#genocide” and later that day: “#GazaGenocide and the world is cheering it on!! End the madness!!” 

What is Mahmoud telling us from his grave? The International Court of Justice and our legal institutions serve a purpose, but they will always remain the floor — and not the ceiling — of justice and accountability. Mahmoud did not need an international legal body to name the facts on his ground.

Less than a week of atrocity and war crime after war crime, before submissions were filed and courts convened, Mahmoud concluded “#genocide” — a hashtag that contains every theory on race and the inherent white supremacist violence of the international legal system and rules-based order.  

From Hind’s Hall to Mahmoud’s Hall: Say their names

Mahmoud’s hashtag was contemporaneous, undoctored witness testimony. It was a brown body telling a white world I will name my reality, I will demand my measure of justice, I will tell you what is happening. A week later Mahmoud was killed. There is no witness protection program for Palestinians when Israel is granted impunity to kill its accusers.  

Universities, including the University of Melbourne, have failed Mahmoud and all the students killed in Gaza. What does it say when students conduct teach-ins in the quads and lawns of their universities because these lofty institutions remain silent and complicit?

What does it say when an unspoken but undeniable Palestine exception is built into university policies, procedures and mission statements and those who stand against genocide are marginalised and unsupported by colleagues who have built careers professing a commitment to social justice whilst opportunistically free-riding black and brown scholarship on decolonisation?

It bears repeating that this moment has lifted the mask on the academy and so-called ‘progressive’ academics and their hollow ideals and values. Their cowardice constitutes complicity in the conditions of erasure and violence against pro-Palestinian students and staff.

It is because of the moral failure of universities across the Western world to bear witness to and engage with the most profoundly significant, shattering moment of our time that students and youth of the world are doing what legal institutions, academic faculties, human rights bodies and governments have failed to do.  

Students did not wait for the University of Melbourne to honour Mahmoud or atone for his killing by ending its weapons contracts. 

Revolutions are contagious and this generation of students is showing us that they will reject every colonial vaccine and anaesthetic designed to numb us, distract us, render us immune to injustice.  

Mahmoud Alnaouq stopped tweeting on 16 October. Israel murdered him four days later. One of the last tweets he composed was a plea to “end the madness”.   

What is the madness Mahmoud was speaking about? It is the madness of a world where a US-funded, Western-backed military superpower can try to annihilate and wipe out a population every day for the last almost nine months and people who support this annihilation, who support a settler colonial, apartheid genocidal state, walking amongst us in our workplaces, universities, streets claim they are unsafe, they are the victims. It is the madness of a world that criminalises chants, not bombs and is triggered by scarves, not shrouds. 

End the madness, Mahmoud begged. One person. One soul. One young man who had dreams and ambitions despite a lifetime of trauma. When I first heard of Mahmoud’s death I searched for him on X and I saw something that made me weep for hours. Follow Back. 

He would have been in Gaza, excited about coming to Australia on a scholarship. I don’t know how he came across me or why he followed me, but that follow back bound me, Mahmoud, and every student in Gaza in a moral contract.

I will follow my commitment to never stop speaking and standing up for justice. I will never stop resisting the forces that seek to criminalise, demonise, silence and obstruct an Indigenous people’s liberation struggle.

The death toll keeps tolling in grotesque numbers, but it tolled at one person as he tweeted “#genocide”. One person is enough for us to persist in fighting to end the madness. And fight we will continue to do. Until the only hashtag left is Palestine is free. 

Randa Abdel-Fattah is a Future Fellow in the Department of Sociology at Macquarie University researching Arab/Muslim Australian radical social movements from the 1970s to date. She is also the award-winning author of over 12 novels. 

Follow her on Twitter: @RandaAFattah 

Have questions or comments? Email us at: editorial-english@newarab.com

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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