Nation-building, Democracy, Free Markets: A Note to the Occupiers

Thanks to another anthro blog for a link to the new (2004) translation of Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (published in 1961 as Les damnés de la terre). The first chapter of the 1963 translation was posted here on this blog. In the new translation by Richard Philcox, we also find a foreword by renowned post-colonialist Homi K. Bhabha, whose words I quote below. His words struck me as especially germane and astute when considering the U.S. occupation in Iraq and the U.S./NATO occupation in Afghanistan, recasting democracy as counterinsurgency, free markets as a new slavery, and civilization as conquest. It also helps me to reflect further on Hugh Gusterson’s piece, noted yesterday, “Empire of Bases,” and Chalmers Johnson’s sharp reinterpretation of U.S. military bases as the new colonies of the current global order. Not just military bases of course, but all vaguely constructed “American interests in X region or Y nation,” interests that must per force be new colonial implants since as soon as they are threatened, they are not evacuated or withdrawn, rather the U.S. rushes in to bomb and capture. Those are not “interests” — those are claims on another territory and the destiny of another people. It makes one think about who really are the wretched of the earth.

Although times have changed, and history never appears twice in the emperor’s new clothes, mais plus ça change….New global empires rise to enforce their own civilizing missions in the name of democracy and free markets where once progress and development were seen as the shibboleths of a modern, westernized salvation. As if such civic, public goods were exportable commodities; as if these ‘other’ countries and cultures were innocent of the leavening spirit of freedom; as if the deplorable tyrannies and dictatorships of our day, which must be destroyed, were not themselves part of the intricate negotiations, and internecine histories, of world powers and their political interests; as if any civilizing mission, despite its avowed aims, had ever been free of psychological terror, cultural arrogance, and even physical torture (Bhabha 2004, x-xi).

Quoting Jean-Paul Sartre from his Colonialism and Neocolonialism, trans. Haddour, Brewer, and McWilliams (London: Routledge, 2001), 45, Bhabha provides us with this strikingly pertinent explanation that could have been used in conjunction with the most commonly stated American comment on the death of Paula Loyd, allegedly at the hands of an Afghan attacker, Abdul Salam, used by many as an icon of Afghan men as animals (see here, as just one example):

One of the functions of racism is to compensate the latent universalism of bourgeois liberalism: since all human beings have the same rights, the Algerian will be made a subhuman (Sartre quoted in Bhahbha, 2004, xxiv).

In the same vein…

…settler vigilante groups called their wanton killings of Muslim Algerians ‘rat-hunts’ (Bhabha, 2004, xxv).

If one can find much in both Bhabha’s foreword and Fanon’s text that speaks to the coloniality of the current global order, it is not surprising that some subaltern groups found much in the text, and related “texts,” to inspire them. One example being the Black Panthers:

Gillo Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers became a cult film among the Bay Area Panthers because it was ‘Fanon-linked,’ and young revolutionaries attentively watched its depiction of terrorist acts and the organization of covert cells. ‘They found satisfaction in the flick. The natives won.’ (Bhabha, 2004, xxix).

Fanon-linked, this takes us to Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers (1966), the full version shown below:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “The Battle of Algiers (Full Version) …“, posted with vodpod

Note the following about The Battle of Algiers as noted on Wikipedia’s entry for the film:

2003 Pentagon Screening of The Battle for Algiers:
In 2003, the film again made the news after the Directorate for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict at The Pentagon offered a screening of the film on August 27, regarding it as a useful illustration of the problems faced in Iraq. A flyer for the screening read:

“How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film.”

According to the Defense Department official (Directorate for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict) in charge of the screening, “Showing the film offers historical insight into the conduct of French operations in Algeria, and was intended to prompt informative discussion of the challenges faced by the French.”

The 2003 screening lent new currency to the film, coming only months after U.S. President George W. Bush’s May 1, 2003 “Mission Accomplished” speech proclaiming the end of “major hostilities” in Iraq. Opponents of President Bush cited the Pentagon screening as proof of a growing concern within the Defense Department about the growth of an Iraqi insurgency belying Bush’s triumphalism.

Homi Bhabha’s quotes are found in:

The Wretched of the Earth
Trans. Richard Philcox (2004)
Foreword by Homi K. Bhabha (2004)
Preface by Jean-Paul Sartre (1961)
Grove Press, New York, 2004

5 thoughts on “Nation-building, Democracy, Free Markets: A Note to the Occupiers

  1. Ben

    Where’d you get that “Get The Fuck Out” poster? It’s beautiful. I wanna steal it.

  2. Maximilian Forte

    My friend and former student, who posts here under the name “MadAxe,” has made some of the art work for this site. I am certain he would say that you should feel free to “steal” it, that is really his way of operating, to create and share without restriction and to circulate widely. If you click on the image it takes you to the link on his photobucket site.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Sparx, please feel free, I know that he makes everything to be freely shared and circulated, that is his modus operandi. I think he would be flattered if you made use of it.

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