Neoliberalism in Palestine and Kashmir: The Nakedness of Colonial Pretexts in the 21st Century — by Abdulla Moaswes
May 15, 2020
On this Nakba Day, Palestinian researcher and educator Abdulla Moaswes presents this article to draw parallels between India’s treatment of Kashmir (after the abrogation of Article 370) and Israel’s treatment of Palestine (after the Trump-Netanyahu “Deal of the Century” was announced). According to Moaswes, both events and their aftermath unabashedly reflect the “nakedness of colonial dehumanisation.” The writer explores “the relationship between capitalism, colonialism and dehumanisation” interplayed with nation-state driven “racism and securitisation” in the context of Palestine and Kashmir as occupied territories. The writer also addresses the manner in which “neoliberal economic logic is used by the colonial powers to justify the dehumanisation of Palestinians and Kashmiris” in the 21st century. This article is featured in our Academia section.

On August 5th, 2019, the Indian Government revoked Article 370 of the Indian constitution and imposed a still-ongoing lockdown on what was then known as the State of Jammu and Kashmir. This revocation, which entailed the abolition of the special state-subject laws that governed domicile and land ownership in Kashmir, has opened the territory up to Indian settler-colonial advances. Almost six months later, on the 28th of January, US President Donald Trump stood alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to unveil his so-called peace plan — the latest effort in a long-line of American attempts to further abet and enable Israeli settler-colonial ambitions in Palestine.

Both events are connected to one another in two crucial ways: firstly, by an increasingly interdependent Indian-Israeli-American colonial alliance of mechanisms of land expropriation and military technology, and secondly, by the pretexts used to justify them both, which are founded on the dehumanisation of the indigenous Kashmiri and Palestinian populations for the benefit of neoliberal economic rationality. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi labelled Article 370 as “a hurdle for the development of Kashmir”[1] while Senor Advisor Jared Kushner suggested that his father-in-law’s plan was the best opportunity for Palestinians to have a “better life” while in the same breath stating that Palestinians have “screwed up every other opportunity that they’ve ever had in their existence”.[2] This demonstrates the nakedness of colonial pretexts in today’s world, since although older logics such as racism and security still exist and are still very much in use, the undressed language of free market capitalism is also now powerful enough to hold its own as a means of negating the agency and right to self-determination of an indigenous people.  

Capitalism and Colonialism

The economist Samir Amin argues that “capitalism has been colonial, more precisely imperialist, during all the most notable periods of its development”.[3] In his view, this was because capitalism itself was the logic that necessitated European colonial expansion into the Americas and other parts of the world through the need for unequal exchange. He explains that unequal exchange is “the exchange of manufactured products, sold very expensively in the colonies by commercial monopolies supported by the State, for the purchase of products or primary products at very low prices, since they were based on labour that was almost without cost – provided by the peasants and workers located at the periphery”. It is this kind of asymmetry in the production of wealth that made (and in many cases continues to make) supporting colonial expansion so appealing to the capitalists of the time.

The asymmetric economic relationship that developed as a result of colonialism was one of the primary mechanisms that led to today’s global economic and political ordering of power. According to J.M. Blaut, the existence of such a relationship was rationalised by a set of assumptions that were used by European elites to convince “European populations that this exploitation is right, rational, and historically natural, and so persuade them to support the policies, pay the bills, and willingly endure the blood sacrifices”[4] necessary to sustain colonialism and, by extension, free market capitalism. These assumptions were as follows:

“(1) Europe naturally progresses and modernizes. (2) Non-Europe naturally remains stagnant, traditional, unchanging. (3) The essential reason for progressive cultural evolution in Europe is some force or factor which is ultimately intellectual or spiritual. (4) Progress comes to non-Europe only through the diffusion of European ideas, institutions, and people – that is, through colonialism. In this doctrine non-Europeans have of course nothing to do with the rise of Europe and of capitalism”[5]

These assumptions, when coupled with capitalism’s already-inherent process of dehumanising labour,[6] lead not only to alienation and the erasure of the agency and intellectual autonomy of colonised people’s, but to the erasure of their very status as human beings. It is from the starting point of dehumanisation that more duplicitous pretexts emerged.

Dehumanising Logics in Colonialism

To ensure that the resources are fully divorced from the indigenous people in the eyes of European populations, it is crucial to dehumanise said indigenous peoples. Frantz Fanon notes in The Wretched of the Earth that “the terms the settler uses when he mentions the native are zoological terms”, in a way that always paints the indigenous person as beastly, threatening, and irrational.[7] Fanon describes these terms collectively as “the colonial vocabulary”.[8] The importance of developing such a vocabulary that claims the legitimacy to represent and dehumanise in the name of creating a hierarchy of humanity is described by Edward Said, who argues that literature and culture are not “politically, even historically innocent”.[9] It is this need for dehumanisation that gave rise to the three most significant pretexts to this point: religion, racism, and security.

Ramon Grosfoguel argues that Christianity was used as the first means of delineating the boundary between human and non-human by colonists in the 16th century.[10] In his view, one of the first processes in creating a colonial logic was the creation of “a spiritual hierarchy that privileges Christians over non-Christian/non-Western spiritualities”[11] and casts those without such privileges as “savages and barbarians”.[12] Malory Nye, speaking in the context of the British colonisation of Australia, further explains that the use of religion to lay out the difference between “the political, the material, and the politics of the material out of the context of those subject to colonial settler power” was one of the mechanisms that further solidified narratives of irrationality and of indigenous nations.[13]

The European Enlightenment, which supposedly privileged science over religion, led to an increased use of racism as a pretext to ensure that colonised peoples remained dehumanised in secular sense. Examples of this can be seen in writings ranging from Edward Long in the 17th century to Winston Churchill in the 20th, for example. David Olusoga asserts that the result of this discourse was “the notion that tyranny, war and chaos are the natural condition of the continent”, with Long playing his part in asserting “that Africa was so barbaric and chaotic that Africans were better off as slaves, since slavery saved them from the worse fates that, he claimed, would otherwise have consumed them in their homelands”.[14]

The 20 century saw the emergence of security as a new dehumanising pretext. Of course, it is relevant to state that discourses of securitisation are themselves often informed by religious discrimination and racism, meaning that previous logics have only transformed and not disappeared. Over recent decades, the logic of security and securitisation has been used to justify colonial practices in East Turkistan and Tibet by China, in Iraq and Afghanistan by the United States, and most crucially in the context of this article, in Palestine by Israel and in Kashmir by India. The creation of an “extremist enemy” in the latter three contexts has led to the emergence of “a geopolitical triad […] between the United States, India, and Israel based in a shared vision of threat and security”.[15]

Colonialism and Neoliberalism in Kashmir

Although Kashmiris have been represented in different ways by the Indian media since the start of the occupation in 1947, these representations have often demonstrated many of the colonial pretexts mentioned above. It is also true that, for the most part, paralleling other examples of colonisation – and particularly the colonisation of Palestine – the Indian imagination was interested in the land of Kashmir rather than in its people. Haris Zargar, in his analysis of Bollywood in the 1960s and 70s states that films “focused on the scenic surroundings of Kashmir [while] the people of the valley were largely missing from the canvas with the focus firmly on green hills and lush meadows”.[16] Later on, the pretexts for Indian colonisation of Kashmir focused on  “Pakistan’s proxy war, or reducing it to the erroneous stereotype of “Islamic terrorism” and relegating it to a domestic law-and-order situation”.[17]

On August 5th, however, the Indian state was eager to assert that alongside the “deteriorating security situation in the Valley”, the main reason it sought the revocation of Article 370 was the “hampered pace of development in the state”.[18] Basharat Shameem notes that even with regard to the first of the two pretexts, the Centre’s previous use of an approach entirely focused on security “yielded nothing”.[19] Prime Minister Modi stated in his first address after the revocation that “J&K and Ladakh have the potential to become the biggest tourist destination in the world” and urged film producers to shoot even more films in Kashmir.[20] He also stated that he was interested in marketing Kashmiri herbal and organic products to “greatly benefit the people and farmers of these regions”.[21] Additionally, the Indian Home Minister Amit Shah stated that Kashmir is now “peacefully on its path to development” because “the removal of (Articles) 370 and 35 (A) has paved the way for [this]”.[22]

Of course, this rhetoric is not backed up by the facts. The lockdown and communications blackout that accompanied the revocation of Article 370 had already severely harmed the economic prospects of many Kashmiris, the pre-existing effects of military occupation notwithstanding. A Concerned Citizens Group (CCG) report from December 2019 quotes a representative of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry who estimated the total loss at the time to be around Rs.12,000 crore (around $16.8 billion).[23] The same member also noted that the correct figure is likely even larger, since the communications blackout has made it impossible to gather data from certain parts of the territory. These losses were felt all across Kashmir’s economic sectors, “from tourism, handicrafts, Information Technology, industry and horticulture at a time which is normally their peak time”.[24]

The same report points out that three of the strategies for the development of Kashmir represent in themselves mechanisms of settler-colonial land expropriation. These strategies are “reconstruction and renovation of temples, setting up of a Medical City, and planning of settlements for Kashmiri Pandits and ex-servicemen”. With regards to the first strategy, although the Indian Government has pledged to renovate 50,000 temples in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, the most liberal estimates place the actual number of extant temples at around 4,000. As for the remaining two, it is feared that although both are likely mechanisms to promote demographic change, they will be difficult to oppose “because they will be packaged as development projects”. In a video that has since gone viral, the Indian Consul-General in New York City, Sandeep Chakravorty, has cited the “Israeli model” of achieving the third strategy mentioned in the CCG report.[25]

Colonialism and Neoliberalism in Palestine

As with India in Kashmir, the pretexts used by Israel to justify their colonisation of Palestine for the most part have been predicated on their erasure and securitisation. The refrain of “a land without a people for a people without a land” echoes the Indian desire for a Kashmir without Kashmiris, while much of the discourse on Palestinians later portrayed them (and continues to portray them) as terrorists to be managed and contained. More recently, Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century leverages the further theft of Palestinian land and human rights against a $50 billion economic windfall.

It is relevant to note that the “peace plan” website discusses the economic framework of the Trump Deal in far more detail than it does the political.[26] Furthermore, this discussion is couched within neoliberal language about “opening” markets and promoting private sector growth, while the section on “Enhancing Palestinian Governance” focuses on doing so by helping “the Palestinian public sector Transform the Business Environment” through a series of neoliberal mechanisms. The stated objective of using these mechanisms is to create “economic growth, private-sector job creation, and increased exports and foreign direct investment” that follows the Japanese, South Korean, and Singaporean models of “developing human capital, igniting innovation, creating and growing small and medium businesses, and attracting international companies that will invest in the future of the West Bank and Gaza”.

Nowhere in this plan was any mention of the already-existing economic restraints created by Israeli colonial processes, nor does it mention the granting of fundamental rights Palestinians have been demanding for decades. Jared Kushner, speaking on the topic of the economic workshop held in Bahrain in the summer of 2019, suggested that a “defined, locked-and-loaded economic plan” would “provide comfort” for those seeking to negotiate a political settlement,[27] despite the fact that the negotiations for the political side only involved Israel and only benefited Israel in practical terms.

Prior to the announcement of the Trump plan, the United States had already supported neoliberal urban development projects through the Palestinian Authority, such the building of Rawabi. According to Sami Tayeb, this is a form of colonisation that only performatively projects “an assertion of Palestinian “state-building” and local agency—and even as part of a broader path towards “peace” with Israel” while doing “nothing to challenge Israel’s spatial regime of settler-colonial occupation and are instead compliant and subordinate to it”.[28] This method of only supporting certain, small minority elements within the Palestinian business community while the majority of Palestinians “are left concerned with how to repay their financial obligations in order to maintain a certain lifestyle based on debt or how to merely hold on to what they already have” further entrenches neoliberal logic as a means of justifying Israeli settler-colonialism in Palestine.


The discourse that has largely been used to attempt to justify the revocation of Article 370 in Kashmir and Trump’s “Deal of the Century” in Palestine attempts to strip the indigenous peoples of their land and humanity in the name of neoliberal economic rationality. Following centuries of shifting paradigms when it comes to justifying colonial expansion, the use of the language of free market capitalism to justify the colonial process of free market capitalism finally shows the nakedness of the endeavour. The effects of centuries of other logics are still felt in force, since they are very much still in use, but the transparency with which states can carry out colonialism for the sake of the free market in the current century represents the full extent to which the populations of colonial powers have consented to neoliberal hegemony – thus rendering those who have accepted the dehumanisation of others on this basis members of what British comedian John Oliver calls “a f*****g death cult”.[29]






[4] J.M. Blaut, ‘Colonialism and the Rise of Capitalism’, Science & Society, vol. 52, no. 3, 1989, p.261.

[5] Ibid, p.260.

[6] D.G. Aydin, ‘Questioning the Individual under Capitalism: Alienation and the Iron Cage’, Review of Public Administration, vol. 43, no. 2, 2010, p.18.

[7] F. Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. C. Farrington, New York, Grove Press, 1963, p.42.

[8] Ibid.

[9] E. Said, Orientalism, Penguin, London, 1978, p.28.

[10] R. Grosfoguel, ‘Decolonising Post-Colonial Studies and Paradigms of Political-Economy: Transmodernity, Decolonial Thinking, and Global Coloniality’, Transmodernity: Journal of Peripheral Cultural Production of the Luso-Hispanic World, vol. 1, no. 1, 2011, p.25

[11] Ibid, p.9.

[12] Ibid, p.25.



[15] R. Oza, ‘Contrapuntal Geographies of Threat and Security: The United States, India, and Israel’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 2007, p.9.




[19] Ibid.


[21] Ibid.



[24] Ibid.






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About the Contributor

<a href="" target="_self">Abdulla Moaswes</a>

Abdulla Moaswes

Abdulla Moaswes is a writer, researcher, translator, and educator. His current academic explorations focus on the globalization of settler colonial logics. He has previously written about the politics of food, with special reference to chai karak, and the socio-political role of internet memes in South and West Asia. In addition to this, Abdulla also writes poetry and speculative fiction.