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The ideology of hatred

By Neve Gordon - posted Friday, 16 November 2012

After 9/11, hate began colonizing new spheres, operating as a social and political force that manipulates and mobilizes entire publics in very specific ways. In order to understand the recent events in Gaza you should read Niza Yanay's new book The Ideology of Hatred: The Psychic Power of Discourse which may very well change the way we think about hatred and its role in politics. A few days before the war on Gaza I interviewed her in New York City in an effort to better understand her arguments.

NG: When thinking of hatred, we usually think of a very strong personal feeling or emotion. What do you mean by the ideology of hatred? Can hatred be an ideology?

NY: Let's begin with the concept hatred. Before 9/11, the words hate and hatred were mostly used to describe an emotional reaction or by-product of racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia and the like. One would say that white supremacists, for example, hate blacks, or alternatively if someone hates blacks, we would say he was a white supremacist. After 9/11, the word hate began colonizing new spheres, operating as a social and political force that can both manipulate and mobilize entire publics in very specific ways.


People began using the word hatred in the context of terrorism, particularly referring to Islamic groups who had expressed anger and criticism towards the West and the ravages of capitalism. The word hatred was thus transformed, becoming a signifier for danger, mostly the danger of Islam. In President Bush's rhetoric, the world was schematically divided between Muslims who hate on the one hand, and the West which had become the target of irrational hate on the other hand. I found it interesting that the West does not hate.

This distinction between hatred as an experience and hatred as ideology underscored the need to ask new questions about the relation between politics and hatred. And these new questions, I believe, need to focus on power relations between different groups, such as colonizer and colonized, ruler and subject, and not so much on the personal experience of specific individuals who experience hatred (though such questions are still important too).

NG: Can you give me a concrete example of this ideology at work?

NY: Most people consider "suicide bombings" as motivated by hate, while very few people consider air strikes on populated areas to be hate crimes. The media often describes the suicide attack as a hate crime, but I have never come across a report describing the US drone attacks in Pakistan -- that have killed over 3,500 people -- as hate crimes. This suggests that hatred as ideology is at work. And this ideology helps determine who is blamed for being the initiators of hate, who becomes the target of hatred, and, in fact, when hatred counts as hatred at all.

NG: I see the a-symmetrical relationship and the fact that hatred as a causal factor has become associated with certain groups and not others, but what exactly is this ideology of hatred?

NY: Let me give you an example to help clarify my claim. Think about a young adolescent Jewish girl in Israel who leads a comfortable life and has never interacted face-to-face with Palestinians. This is a very reasonable assumption, since Israel is a totally segregated society. Why, it is interesting to ask, would a girl who has never met a Palestinian speak with such vehemence and personal hatred against Palestinians and Arabs in general? Why do so many Jewish citizens of Israel, who have never been hurt by Palestinians, openly admit to intense hatred? This articulates a national ideology of hatred and not merely a personal hatred.


Of course, you can immediately claim that there is a real danger. Many Israeli Jews know someone who has been injured by terrorism. You might also say that since the Palestinians hate us, therefore we hate them.

All of these automatic answers demonstrate the effectiveness and the power of state ideologies of hatred. In the book, I try to go beyond these kinds of normative responses by paying attention to the difference between hatred as a response to power and hatred as the operation of power.

It is not surprising that people react with hatred toward those who humiliate them, control their movement, or deny their rights. There is nothing theoretically interesting in the individual or collective experience of anger and hate as a reaction to power that imposes helplessness on us or denies our very being. This is hatred as a response to power.

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This article was first published by Al Jazeera.

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About the Author

Neve Gordon is the co-author (with Nicola Perugini) of the newly released The Human Right to Dominate.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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