colonialism past and present

there is always a different energy in the room when you teach an elective. i’m so happy to be teaching postcolonial literature this semester because the students who are in this class are there because they want to be there. it makes all the difference with respect to the energy in the room. i’m still getting to know my students names right now, but i have a few students with names who i will not be able to forget. ever. check this beautiful names out: intifada, watan, fairuz, and zakariyya (the last one is the name of a village in 1948 palestine where many people i love come from). tamara says that these sound like names that baha’a would name his kids. i’m loving teaching postcolonial literature right now, too, because i’m re-reading so many things that i haven’t read in many years. things that i should really re-read annually because they are so good, so powerful and one forgets when one moves on to the next text. this week i am teaching aimé césaire’s discourse on colonialism. i’m teaching the edition with a new forward by robin d.g. kelley, which is quite brilliant as well. césaire, who was from martinique (he died last year), wrote this essay in 1950, just a few years after world war ii. his arguments can universally apply to any colonial context, including the one in palestine. here is what he says:

First we must study how colonization works to decivilize the colonizer, to brutalize him in the true sense of the word, to degrade him, to awaken him to buried instincts, to covetousness, violence, race hatred, and moral relativism; and we must show that each time a head is cut off or an eye put out in Vietnam and in France they accept the fact, each time a little girl is raped and in France they accept the fact, each time a Madagascan is tortured and in France they accept the fact, civilization acquires another dead weight, a universal regression takes place, a gangrene sets in, a center of infection begins to spread; and that at the end of all these treaties that have been violated, all these lies that have been propagated, all these punitive expeditions that have been tolerated, all these prisoners who have been tied up and “interrogated,” all these patriots who have been tortured, at the end of all the racial pride that has been encouraged, all the boastfulness that has been displayed, a poison has been distilled into the veins of Europe and, slowly but surely, the continent proceeds toward savagery.

And then one fine day the bourgeoisie is awakened by a terrific boomerang effect: the gestapos are busy, the prisons fill up, the torturers standing around the racks invent, refine, discuss.

People are surprised, they become indignant. They say: “How strange! But never mind–it’s Nazism, it will pass!” And they wait, and they hope; and they hide the truth from themselves, that it is barbarism, the supreme barbarism, the crowning barbarism that sums up all the daily barbarisms; that it is Nazism, yes, but that before they were its victims, they were its accomplices; that they tolerated that Nazism before it was inflicted on them, that they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimized it, because, until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples; that they have cultivated that Nazism, that they are responsible for it, and that before engulfing the whole edifice of Western, Christian civilization in its reddened waters, it oozes, seeps, and trickles from every crack.

Yes, it would be worthwhile to study clinically, in detail, the steps taken by Hitler and Hitlerism and to reveal to the very distinguished, very humanistic, very Christian bourgeois of the twentieth century that without his being aware of it, he has a Hitler inside him, that Hitler inhabits him, that Hitler is his demon, that if he rails against him, he is being inconsistent and that, at bottom, what he cannot forgive Hitler for is not the crime in itself, the crime against man, it is not the humiliation of man as such, it is the crime against the white man, the humiliation of the white man, and the fact that he applied to Europe colonialist procedures which until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the “coolies” of India, and the “niggers” of Africa.

And that is the great thing I hold against pseudo-humanism: that for too long it has diminished the rights of man, that its concept of those rights has been–and still is–narrow and fragmentary, incomplete and biased and, all things considered, sordidly racist.

I have talked a good deal about Hitler. Because he deserves it: he makes it possible to see things on a large scale and to grasp the fact that capitalist society, at its present stage is incapable of establishing a concept of the rights of all men, just as it has proved incapable of establishing a system of individual ethics. Whether one likes it or not, at the end of the blind alley that is Europe, I mean the Europe of Adenauer, Schuman, Bidault, and a few others, there is Hitler. And at the end of capitalism, which is eager to outlive its day, there is Hitler. At the end of formal humanism and philosophic enunciation, there is Hitler. (35-37)

i could go on and on quoting relevant passages, but i encourage you to read or re-read this essay. it applies to so many colonial contexts of past and present. consider its application to australia, for instance, as in this recent article by john pilger:

With its banks secured in the warmth of the southern spring, Australia is not news. It ought to be. An epic scandal of racism, injustice and brutality is being covered up in the manner of apartheid South Africa. Many Australians conspire in this silence, wishing never to reflect upon the truth about their society’s untermenschen, the Aboriginal people.

The facts are not in dispute. Thousands of black Australians never reach the age of 40. An entirely preventable disease, trachoma, blinds black children as epidemics of rheumatic fever ravage their communities. Suicide among the despairing young is common. No other developed country has such a record. A pervasive white myth, that Aborigines leach off the state, serves to conceal the disgrace that money the federal government says it spends on indigenous affairs actually goes towards opposing native land rights. In 2006, some A$3billion was underspent “or the result of creative accounting,” reported the Sydney Morning Herald. Like the children of apartheid, the Aboriginal children of Thamarrurr in the Northern Territory receive less than half the educational resources allotted to white children.

In 2005, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination described the racism of the Australian state, AGAIN a distinction afforded no other developed country. This was during the decade-long rule of the conservative coalition of John Howard, whose coterie of white supremacist academics and journalists assaulted the truth of recorded genocide in Australia, especially the horrific separations of Aboriginal children from their families. They deployed arguments not dissimilar to those used by David Irving to promote Holocaust denial.

and, of course, think about these words in relation to the 61 year long colonialism palestinians have lived under. think of it in relation to gaza. but the savagery and the support for that savagery is not merely just about the 94% of israeli terrorists who support their terrorist army’s aggression against gaza. it is also about those who support the israel lobby in the united states. just take a look at recent statistics from the anti-defamation league showing jewish american support for this barbarism:

• 94% expressed sympathy for Israel over Hamas; only 1% for Hamas (graph). By denomination breakdown: Orthodox – 98% expressed sympathy for Israel; Conservative – 96%; Reform – 91%.

• 81% expressed the belief that Hamas was responsible for the escalation of the violence; only 14% held Israel responsible (graph). By denomination breakdown: Orthodox – 84% held Hamas responsible, Conservative – 88%, Reform – 77%; non-practicing 77%.

• Asked whether Israel’s response to Hamas rockets was appropriate or excessive, probably the major theme that has appeared in international critiques of Israel, 79% said it was appropriate, 17% excessive (graph). By denomination breakdown: Orthodox – 88%, appropriate, Conservative – 80%, Reform – 80% and non-practicing – 71%

what were they supporting? they were supporting things like the breakup of palestinian families as mike kirsch reports on al jazeera:

or the bombing of the islamic university of gaza. watch as these students show you the damage done to their university:

i think about these students every day as i go to my university to teach. i think about the fact that they have to put their exams on hold, their degrees on hold, their futures on hold, their dreams on hold. i think about the fact that my students are lucky every day when they can just make it to class, across the checkpoints.

and i think about the lack of food in gaza. not so much the lack of food with respect to its unavailability. caoimhe told me the other day that there is food, but that most people do not have access to it because they cannot afford it. and then what to do once you get the food? my friend akram tonight told me that he has not had any gas for his stove in 4 months. they are forced to use a small kerosene contraption to cook. and then there is the farmland. farms that not only produce food, but that also comprise the livelihood of so many palestinians in gaza:

Gaza’s 1.5 million people are facing a food crisis as a result of the destruction of great areas of farmland during the Israeli invasion.

According to the World Food Programme, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and Palestinian officials, between 35% and 60% of the agriculture industry has been wrecked by the three-week Israeli attack, which followed two years of economic siege.

Christine van Nieuwenhuyse, the World Food Programme’s country director, said: “We are hearing that 60% of the land in the north – where the farming was most intensive – may not be exploitable again. It looks to me like a disaster. It is not just farmland, but poultry as well.

“When we have given a food ration in Gaza, it was never a full ration but to complement the diet. Now it is going to be almost impossible for Gaza to produce the food it needs for the next six to eight months, assuming that the agriculture can be rehabilitated. We will give people a full ration.”

The FAO estimates that 13,000 families who depend directly on herding, farming and fishing have suffered significant damage. “Before the blockade and the attack,” said Ahmad Sourani, director of the Agricultural Development Association of Gaza, which runs programmes with charities such as Britain’s Christian Aid, “Gaza produced half of its own food. Now that has declined by 25%. In addition, a quarter of the population depends on agriculture for income. What we have seen in large areas of farmland is the destruction of all means of life.

“We have seen a creeping process of farmers being forced out of the buffer zone around Gaza’s border. Before 2000 we could approach and farm within 50m of the fence. After Israel’s evacuation of the settlements in 2005, the Israeli army imposed a buffer of 300m. Although it is elastic, now there are areas, depending on the situation, where farmers cannot reach their farms in safety within an area of over a kilometre. It is indirect confiscation by fear. My fear is that, if it remains, it will become de facto. Bear in mind that 30% of Gaza’s most productive land is within that buffer zone.”

The wholesale destruction of farms, greenhouses, dairy parlours, livestock, chicken coops and orchards has damaged food production, which was already hit by the blockade.

i think about those palestinians who must resort to picking through piles of rubble and rubbish in order to survive:

Father of five Jallal Madi earns at most two dollars a day digging with his bare hands and a pickaxe through tonnes of stinking garbage in the Gaza Strip.His face is dirty, his hands are black and he says he’s fighting just to survive.”Everyone has forgotten us,” the 30-year-old Palestinian spits.

i think about the member of p.r. (palestinian rapperz) whose house was bombed by israeli terrorists with 4 american-made rockets and whose house was destroyed, whose father was murdered.

i think about the palestinian who is the sole representative for the american consulate in gaza whose house was bombed by american-made missiles by israeli terrorists and the fact that i cannot find one news report about it online. i think about this silence.

i think about mona samouni who lost 48 members of her family when they were massacred by israeli terrorists in zeitoun.

i think about the obscene language used to describe israeli terrorism–the debate over whether it is “proportionate” or “disproportionate” and how irrelevant it is in relation to the bigger picture, the war crimes committed in gaza and all over palestine every day for 61 years. the ludicrous nature of this debate is in the pages of ynet today:

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert clarified at the start of the weekly cabinet that Israel would respond forcibly to Sunday morning’s rocket fire.

“The cabinet’s position from the first moment was that if the south’s residents are fired on, our response will naturally be disproportionate,” he said.

–a “disproportionate” attack that has just happened as i type–

Former IDF chief: Respond to Hamas proportionally

Amnon Lipkin-Shahak tells Ynet, ‘If Hamas is behind recent rocket fire, I would go for sweeping operation very painful to Hamas. If Hamas tried to prevent shooting, I would first strike responsible organization.’ Maj.-Gen. (Res.) Amidror: No choice but to occupy Gaza

this is the kind of barbarism and savagery that césaire wrote about. this is the kind of savagery that americans pay for. that americans are complicit in. that this is precisely why i left the u.s. so i would not have to pay for this any more. that hillary clinton’s choice for her deputy secretary of state is deeply embedded and complicit in aiding this terrorist aggression against palestinians:

The two men selected to serve as Hillary Clinton’s deputy secretaries of state, Jacob Lew and James Steinberg, also filed financial disclosure forms.

Lew, a former Clinton administration official who recently headed Citigroup’s Alternative Investments unit, reported 2008 salary income of just over $1 million along with numerous investments, including between $50,000 and $100,000 in State of Israel bonds.

british taxpayers are paying for it too, apparently:

The horrific torture of hundreds of people by Palestinian security forces in the West Bank is being funded by British taxpayers.

An investigation by The Mail on Sunday has found that the forces responsible get £20million a year from the UK.

The victims – some left maimed – are rounded up for alleged involvement with the militant Islamic group Hamas, yet many have nothing to do with it.

at the same time there is resistance in its many forms. today i heard some very shocking news about al quds university, where i used to teach. the university president, sari nusseibeh, is famous for his normalization with israelis in general, but his faculty overwhelmingly support the academic boycott. the news from al quds university is that normalization will cease (though current normalization projects in progress will run out their course through this semester):

Al-Quds University will cease all forms of academic cooperation with Israeli academic institutions soon, the school’s board determined on Sunday.

“In cooperation with all sides and under an accepted timetable,” the university will phase out programs and cooperation, the university board said in a statement.

It added that, “If the two-state solution is as far away today as it was ten years ago, there is no justification for continued academic cooperation based on reaching that solution.”

“And there is no justification for continued official and non-official cooperation in other fields, foremost security coordination between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel,” the board noted.

“Ending academic cooperation is aimed at, first of all, pressuring Israel to abide by a solution that ends the occupation, a solution that has been needed for far too long and that the international community has stopped demanding,” the board said.

It also noted that the decision came “in response to the prior Israeli onslaught [on Gaza]; the acts and policies of Israeli governments over the past ten years, including settlement construction in East Jerusalem, the tightening of the siege on the occupied territories and thwarting any negotiated peace process that will lead to an independent Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel.”

It also affirmed the necessity for all those involved, including government organizations, civil society groups, domestic and international, to focus on a just and prompt solution for the Palestinian cause. The statement insisted that all parties involved press for a solution according to “international legitimacy and Arab and international efforts.”

The board called for the international community to pressure the Israeli government to comply with international legitimacy and call for taking legal and political action for Israel’s “dangerous crimes and violations in Gaza,” as well as Israel’s “illegal acts in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”

Finally, the university board expressed disappointment over the absence of serious protest from Israeli academia, in particular, and civil society organizations, in general, as well as the failure of these organizations to “understand the injustice that Palestinians are suffering from,” calling on local, international and regional academics to support the university’s stance by halting academic cooperation with Israeli institutions.

and while it is not a boycott, and a rather weak statement given its lack of political work, and disappointing in that it doesn’t give names, georgetown university faculty have written a statement on behalf of gaza:

We, the Georgetown University Faculty for Gaza, hereby pledge to educate our students and the American public at large about the right to education and the egregious violations of Palestinians’ rights by the government of Israel. Our campaign aims to raise awareness of the plight of the Palestinians among US academics and journalists, and to pressure US governmental bodies to:

1) Do everything in their power to obtain the implementation of an immediate cease-fire in Gaza;

2) Begin deliveries of critical humanitarian aid to its population and require that Israel allow those supplies to be delivered; and,

3) Call for investigations into the reported cases of Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity in Gaza by the appropriate international authorities.

i’m not saying that the above shouldn’t be done. but a ceasefire isn’t the issue: justice for palestinians is the larger issue without which we can expect the status quo or worse. too, the islamic university of gaza, for instance, needs serious help–and not only aid to rebuild their school. they also need political help: they need to be off whatever boycott list they are on in the u.s. so that they can receive aid from americans without those americans getting charged with funding “terrorism.”

what we need more of is military export bans and sanctions so that israeli terrorists are cut off from the ability to murder more palestinians for one thing. belgium did this today:

Belgium’s government has agreed to ban the export to Israel of weapons that “strengthen it militarily,” a Belgian minister said on Thursday. A Brussels-based research group accused Israel of enlisting child soldiers.

The Belgian daily De Morgen quotes Minister Patricia Ceysens from the Flemish regional government as saying: “There’s a consensus [among ministers] not to approve exports that would strengthen Israel’s military capacity.”

a group of 300 irish pepole signed a statement urging its government to:

We, the signatories, call for the following:

* The Irish Government to cease its purchase of Israeli military products and services and call publicly for an arms embargo against Israel.

* The Irish Government to demand publicly that Israel reverse its settlement construction, illegal occupation and annexation of land in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions and to use its influence in international fora to bring this about.

* The Irish Government to demand publicly that the Euro-Med Agreement under which Israel has privileged access to the EU market be suspended until Israel complies with International Law.

* The Irish Government to veto any proposed upgrade in EU relations with Israel.

* The Irish people to boycott all Israeli goods and services until Israel abides by International Law.

related to these european efforts is a new petition directed at the european union which you can sign by clicking this link.

we need to force israelis to pay for the murders and massacres they commit every day. and not just to foreigners as they are now having to do with james miller’s family:

Israel has reached a huge financial settlement with the family of James Miller, a British cameraman killed by Israeli troops in 2003, an official confirmed Sunday.

Israel reportely agreed to pay James Miller’s family $2.2 million, a figure that Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said was “more or less” correct.

A statement from Miller’s family spokesman confirmed that a settlement has been reached, adding that “this is the nearest they are likely to get to an admission of guilt by the Israeli government.”

In May, 2003, Miller, 34, was in the Gaza-Egypt border town of Rafah shooting footage for a documentary about the impact of violence on children in the region, when he was shot and killed by Israeli gunfire.

and finally one who resists the barbarism of israeli terror, murder, and theft is in the form of a letter to the israeli terrorist ambassador to greece:

Dear Mr. Ambassador,

Thank you for the three bottles of wine that you sent me as a holiday gift. I wish you, your family, and everybody in the embassy a happy new year. Good health and progress to all of you.

Unfortunately, I have noticed that the wine you sent me was made in the Golan Heights. Since my childhood, I have been taught to neither steal nor accept the proceeds of theft. Therefore, I cannot possibly accept this gift and must return it to you.

As you know, your country illegally occupies the Golan Heights, which belongs to Syria according to international law and numerous decisions of the international community.

I wish to take this occasion to express my hope that Israel will achieve security within its internationally recognized borders and terrorist activities against Israeli territory by Hamas or anybody else will be contained and cease permanently, but I also hope that your government will stop practicing the policy of collective punishment, which was applied on a massive scale by Hitler and his army.

Such acts as those of the Israel military in Gaza these days remind us of the holocausts of Greeks in Kalavrita or Doxato or Distomo and certainly also that of the Warsaw ghetto.

With these thoughts, allow me to express my best wishes to you, the Israeli people, and all peoples of our region of the world.

Theodoros Pangalos of PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement) is a Member of Parliament in Greece.

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2 thoughts on “colonialism past and present

  1. Marcy,
    Another brilliant post.
    I especially liked the excerpt from:
    Aimé Césaire’s discourse on colonialism. I had never read it before, but recognized in her a kindred spirit.

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