By Kristyna Brozova
The Netflix show, Mo, is the intimate interplay in which memories of homeland carried by the steadfast Palestinian mother open possibilities for an alternative politics of decolonial resistance through the intergenerational connection to the self. The semi-autobiographical story, which maps the struggle of an undocumented refugee as he navigates the neoliberal system, has been praised for giving Palestine a human face and bringing its cause to the mainstream audience. Behind the unsettlingly enjoyable bitter comedy one can miss a deeper story of how modern/colonial power produces gendered and racialised subjectivities and manifests itself in intergenerational and inter-racial relations of everyday. Those are the processes embedded through the continuity between colonial and neoliberal states which transcendent the immediate boundaries of the modern state, serving to maintain the colonial power across space and time. Hence, Mo sheds light onto the ongoing colonial erasure which defies the boundaries of Israel, but through which the power of both Israel and the US as the neoliberal/modern/colonial states standing on settler colonial violence, is facilitated. In light of this ongoing epistemic annihilation of Palestine, Mo is a story about resistance and the fight for one’s identity.
Drawing on a postcolonial analysis, this piece reads Mo as a decolonial undertaking. Aiming to position the role of maternal martial politics in the intergenerational Palestinian resistance, the blog examines how the neoliberal state is deployed in the show as the mechanism maintaining the colonial ordering standing on the sovereign power of white masculinity. Looking at the figure of Mo’s mother, the piece then analyses the Palestinian mothering as a decolonial practice which opens a site of intergenerational colonial resisting. In the final part, the politics of olive oil are introduced to conceptualise the acts of anti-colonial and anti-patriarchal defiance through which Mo’s mother fights for freedom and identity.
As the viewer enters the spatially delimited space of a diverse community of a Texas town, the issues of gender, class, race and religion are seemingly collapsed under the liberal multicultural paradise promising freedom and peaceful coexistence to those who adhere to the doctrine of neoliberal state. Yet, this mirage of equality is broken when the individual characters dare to step outside of this community of racialised bodies and are faced with the normative power which gives rise to the modern/colonial hierarchy of humanity. In the fear that a black man feels when he comes to face the police force, or in Mo’s emotional reaction when he sees the police dog holds the passport he has been denied, one is presented with the everyday dehumanisation of the racialised bodies which has become constitutive of the social fabric of modern/colonial state.
Through this careful narration, the martial politics embedded in the neoliberal structure come to light, as the spectator and Mo encounter “the US as a site of ongoing settler colonialism” – “the global space” where any spatial and temporal boundaries between the binary understandings of war and peace are broken down and the martial regime is enacted in the everyday survival of the gendered and racialised bodies. As his mother tells of fleeing the war and settler colonial violence, those are not the memories of suffering far away but rather resonate with the presence in which Mo and his family find no peace. Rather, Mo encounters the same system of the colonial state as the structures of modern capitalist neoliberal power in which the systems of law enforcement and justice become the key mechanisms protecting the sovereign hegemony of the white men.
Subjugated under this dehumanising system, it is Mo’s mother who embodies the struggle over the meaning of Palestinian identity through the ontology of her maternal practice. She remains nameless, but her grounding presence tied with the safety of home captures the strength of Palestinian womanhood as a practice of steadfastness and colonial resisting. In a powerful moment, she formulates the Palestinian consciousness by recalling the shared past: “Do you think me and dad sat out there feeling sorry for ourselves because Saddam took everything we had? You think your grandmother cried because the Zionists seized her land? Our land? We carry on. That’s what we do, us Palestinians, we carry on.” By recounting the history of their struggle, she demonstrates how Palestinian identity is marked by the inescapability of “liv[ing] with war”. Mo’s mother shows how martial politics become embedded in the everyday life of Palestinians through the centuries of war and dispossession they have faced, and how under this power their subaltern bodies are always already racialised, and othered. By stressing the role of the woman, she further reveals the gendered aspects of this oppression of the Palestinian bodies and identities exposing how this militarised subjectivity has become an “inseparable part of Palestinian identity”.
Hence, the martial politics necessitated by the continuity of the hegemonic power of white settlers, narrowed the epistemic possibility of Palestinian identity which becomes hunted by the legacy of colonial oppression, surviving only through the persistent resistance which, just as the power of the colonial state, transcendent the boundaries of time and space. This defiance is an emotional labour which has been disproportionally shouldered by the Palestinian mothers, who have steadfastly transmitted anticolonial disobedience across generations. In the nation that has faced elimination and ethnic erasure, the act of mothering has been elevated into a form of colonial defiance, awarding relative power and respect to the maternal body in Palestinian society. Under the nationalist paradigm, mothers “transmit(ing) the national and religious discourse” of being a Palestinian to the new generations, ensuring the continuity of the Palestinian struggle.
Yet, Mo’s mother moves the anti-colonial resistance of being a Palestinian outside of the martial politics which had subjectified Palestinians to the figures of war. She develops a new way of maternal practice through the reformulation of the ontology of Palestinian mothering. Her judgements and values come to reaffirm her maternal thinking, constructing a decolonial paradigm she passes onto her sons. She refuses the suffering and antagonism by which Palestinian identity has been fenced by the neo-liberal/colonial settler state and opens the meaning of being a Palestinian. Her anti-colonial resistance is one defined by caring, love, joy and the alternative meaning of freedom. By creating what I conceptualise as the politics of olive oil, Mo’s mother elevates the symbol of olive ‘‘to strategic importance”, using olive oil as a signifier of the nation and its steadfastness. The olives, which the spectator sees to play so prominent role in the lives of Palestinians, represent the identity, family, home, and the lands of Palestine, forming a “direct link with the land”.
The olive oil comes to “codify the nation’s loss” and preserve the identity that is being violently wiped out both from the Palestinian lands and from the Palestinians themselves. Mo’s mother uses the politics of olive oil to transform the usurped, militarised meanings of Palestinian identity which had locked Palestinians in the antagonistic state of being at war. Through the upbringing of her sons as both Americans and Palestinians, she breaks this ever-militarised subjectification which transformed Palestinians into objects of colonial suffering. In a world which says he can have either freedom or identity; she wants Mo to be a free (and) Palestinian. She “mend(s) the broken voice inside [Palestinians]” who have their identity fully colonised and appropriated by the subjugation and objectification under the power of martial politics.
Hence, olive oil also presents resistance to the subjugation which had reduced the gendered and racialised bodies of Palestinians into the militarised figures of martial politics. This “continuity of suffering [and] resistance” materialises in what Mo’s mother does and says but also refuses to talk about. She does not provide emotional accounts of her life and stays silent about the torture and war. She refuses to show fear and to be reduced to the victim. Instead, she resists by “mentally adapting to an external threat” and passing on this adaptation to the next generation. By doing so, Mo’s mother complicates the martial politics of colonial dispossession and intimidation that fed into this abstraction of victimised Palestinian women. Instead, she marks herself as a “powerful political agent empowered through [her] performance of [Palestinian] motherhood”. Hence, the private expression of grief is replaced with the unspoken preservation of loss which comes to partially constitute a Palestinian identity that is being passed over to the next generation.
Mo’s mother offers an alternative meaning of Palestinian identity to the one offered by the neo-liberal/settler colonial state – one which carries the memory of suffering but also sees the prospect of freedom. She formulates a new ontology of being a Palestinian as being free from the hatred and antagonism produced by and productive of martial politics. Faced with the subjectification under this militarised power of violent neoliberalism, colonisation, war and oppression, Mo’s mother resists through her engagement in critical evaluation of the self. By deconstructing these militant and divisive discourses, she defies the martial politics of antagonism and decolonises the Palestinian identity. Her mothering is therefore an active practice of decolonial feminism, as she is passing on the identity bound with the connection to the homeland and a sense of belonging, which is nevertheless free of hostility and resentment.
Kristyna Brozova currently works at the Center for Global Development. Her research is influenced by Post-Colonial Theories, Feminism and Post-Structuralism. In her work, she focuses on questions surrounding alternative politics of human rights, epistemic violence as a feature of coloniality, discourse formation and possibilities of discursive resistance – especially in the context of settler colonialism. She holds an MSc in Gender Peace and Security and a BA in International Relations and Diplomacy.