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Letter to the Editor: The gross manufacturing of narrative

A sign hanging from a tree that reads "FREE FREE PALESTINE" partially covers an ivy covered building in the background.
Calvin Grover / The Daily Princetonian

The following is a guest contribution and reflects the author’s views alone. For information on how to submit a piece to the Opinion section, click here.

Princeton is, generally speaking, a uniquely challenging context to organize in. It is a campus rife with complacency and complicity. It is isolated and insular, with an inexplicable pride in being an “orange bubble.” But the past week has had people saying, “even Princeton.” 


We have defied complacency. Thirteen people risked their degrees and livelihoods simply to sit in administrators’ offices to compel the University to speak with them. Dozens linked arms outside to protect each other. The entire community has been galvanized and activated in a remarkable manner. The Gaza Solidarity Encampment, a space we have created together, is an unwavering testament to community and care in the face of apathy, keeping each other safe by growing large, impenetrable, and powerful. And we have done so in spite of a larger apparatus working against students: administrators decrying student protesters and turning a blind eye to hunger strikers and institutions that platform these voices or are guilty of the same propaganda. It is on us to question that apparatus.

“Abusive,” “dangerous,” “threatened,” and “mob activity.” These are the words President Christopher Eisgruber ’83, Vice President W. Rochelle Calhoun, and Vice Provost Cole Crittenden used in recent statements to the wider community to describe the demonstrably and indisputably peaceful nature of the Clio Hall sit-in, which is rooted in a robust historical tradition of civil disobedience. The language Princeton administrators deploy is not new: it reinforces and calls upon the same racist, antiquated stereotypes we have seen throughout history with the labeling of people of color as angry, violent, and dangerous. 

These terms are only ever used to single out particular groups of students over others; had a group of students affiliated with the James Madison Program, Princeton Tory, or Tigers for Israel taken over a building, it is unlikely that this same language would be deployed to characterize their actions. And in this way, this administration flaunts its true colors yet again — racist and violent, as it calls in the police and chooses to arrest students rather than engaging in the dialogue students, faculty, and alumni are demanding, and divesting from the same state that is carpet bombing Rafah, where 1.7 million displaced Palestinians are trapped, with nowhere left to go. 

Noam Chomsky coined the term “manufactured consent” in 1988 to describe the phenomenon in which mass media — and governments and other institutions — create and coalesce around a simplified, if not incorrect, reality, and it becomes the accepted, unquestioned truth. Even when esteemed professors speak out unequivocally against this manufactured narrative with eyewitness testimony, when more than 150 members of faculty and staff sign on to a letter denouncing this manufactured narrative, and when the participating students correct this manufactured narrative, the onus to repeatedly defend one’s integrity in the face of wholly manufactured consent lies squarely on one group over another. The University administration has worked hard to manufacture the validity of a grossly false narrative that is now being weaponized and socialized against in ways that were inconceivable to me prior, given past precedent of activism around South African apartheid and anti-Black racism on this campus. 

But we must also consider: To whom do we extend the permission to narrate? Palestinian writer Edward Said raised this concept in a 1984 essay on Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, pointing out how Palestinians have been robbed of the agency to narrate their own history. This campus purports we hold the right and the “indispensable” freedom of expression — which is inextricably tied to the freedom to speak for ourselves. But in line with the current and historical repression of pro-Palestine speech, the University — often propped up by campus media — has, yet again, taken and co-opted the permission to narrate.

We cannot continue platforming the voices that historically have had the permission and platform to be loud, due to some fixation with “two sides” in discourse. Eisgruber reinforces this “two-sides” rhetoric in his recent statement, conceding there may be “too much protest,” which is a remarkably tone-deaf statement considering that students continue to put their bodies on the line while Israel’s air strikes on Rafah leave children buried under the rubble. He erases the sheer gravity of the situation by noting “passionate agreements” — as though advocacy against material support for a genocide is a mere hobby.


Further, no matter how peaceful a protest or “encampment” may be, it may inevitably be portrayed as “demonizing” or “hateful,” which we see argued across campus media; protesters must worry about being branded as “extremist” or advocates of violence, as many of us have been obliged to defend against. We will be asked — no, demanded — to reconsider first our tactics, then our lexicon, then our politics. We are asked to remain “wary of our rhetoric and its impact,” while being castigated for any chant that simply justifies Palestinians’ resistance in the case of violent and systemic oppression and calls for a Palestine free from military occupation. Be it convenient misinterpretations of the Arabic language “intifada” or “min al mayeh lil mayeh” (or “from the river to the sea”), Palestinian solidarity protesters will never be able to be in the right; rightful indignation will be conflated as “endorsing … the murder of innocent lives,” when it is the Israeli state and its funders, not us, who have mercilessly and deliberately killed more than 35,000 Palestinians (a gross undercount given the number of people who remain beneath the rubble). 

I encourage us to reckon with linguistic, cultural, and political histories — to realize “intifada” means “revolution” or “shaking off” in the face of a 76-year-long occupation, and that tactics deployed during an intifada are rooted in histories of resistance and critically are a response to the violence, militarization, and racism thrown upon them. Palestinian and Arab activists invoke this history to label this global movement as a “student intifada” as students fight militarization and support the right of resistance. 

Even students participating in a hunger strike, who are putting their bodies on the line to demand a conversation on Palestine, have to be wary of being framed within popular discourse as the transgressors in the face of inconsistent and arbitrary applications of Rights, Rules, and Responsibilities (RRR) — not the University who is compelling them to stay under tarps in the rain by inexplicably and arbitrarily disallowing any sort of structure for their to seek reprieve whatsoever. 

If Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, Black, and brown students truly had the freedom to narrate, such flagrant policing of language and narrative would not occur. This represents an extension of the ongoing denial of the freedom to narrate, the freedom of Palestinians to live with equality and dignity, and the freedom to protest any institution or entity that denies them that. 

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I write this as part of a collective effort for us to expose the cracks in such consent, and reject and rewrite this manufactured narrative — which we will do, just as Palestine will be free within our lifetime.

Sarah Sakha ’18 is the former Editor-in-Chief of the ‘Prince’ and former co-president of the Princeton Committee on Palestine (now Students for Justice in Palestine). She can be reached at ssakha[at]