Identity is the qualities, beliefs, or overall characteristics or condition which make an individual or individuals different from others and by which they choose to identify themselves. It may be ethnic, religious, cultural, sexual, or a combination of these or others. Collective identity, in particular, is a social construct, which may or may not be aligned with the reality of how those who make up said identity identify themselves. The politicization of identity is the political choice, made by said individuals or groups, by other individuals or groups, by socio-political movements, or by states, to factor identity in when making political choices and decisions. The politicization of identity necessarily results in, or even equals, discrimination, since choosing not to discriminate on the basis of identity means factoring identity out of politics, i.e. depoliticizing identity. Examples of politicizing identity would include political ideologies, political movements or states:
The politicization of identity has particularly been at the heart of humankind’s politics and history since the 15th century, when the identitarian “nation-state” model took shape in Europe and was exported to the “uncivilized” world via colonialism: Whereas immigrants and refugees integrate indigenous polities, settlers such as these supplant indigenous polities with polities exclusive to “them”. The result of this politicizing of identity has been centuries of legal, political, economic and cultural segregation, apartheid, slavery, mass displacement, ethnic cleansing, genocide, and other horrors.
Adopting a “human rights” or otherwise legalistic or moralistic approach to such crimes is insufficient, as it may treat the symptom rather than the disease, by judging the crimes or their perpetrators without judging the political project that caused, justified and/or enabled said crimes. Indeed, the nationalist-colonialist model that politicizes identity can only be harmful, for the following reasons:
The above, of course, applies to the state of Israel, whichbetween Jewish non-citizens and non-Jewish non-citizens, Jewish residents and non-Jewish residents, and Jewish citizens and non-Jewish citizens. A political approach that focuses on guaranteeing the rights of the Palestinian people, or on Israel’s or Israeli leaders’ crimes, without judging Zionism’s politicization of identity, is lacking. Furthermore, Zionism is not the only project in the region to politicize identity, Maronism, Arabism and Islamism being examples of the same. In putting forward a political program for the depoliticization of identity, namely, the transition to a secular, democratic, non-identitarian state in Palestine, the “One Democratic State” Initiative proposes a political model that is the fundamental antithesis, not only to Zionism, but to the colonial nation-state model and its ideological foundations, beyond the borders of Palestine.
— Mahmood Mamdani
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