Apr
13

Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969), a pseudonym meaning 'he who enlightens', was the leader of the independence struggle in Vietnam and served as the President of North Vietnam (1945-1969). He was a leader of the anti-colonial struggle in Asia, advocating for revolutionary action long before the establishment of the Community Party in 1930. A short book, "The Selected Works of Ho Chi Minh" (2011), presents a chronological ordering of short works (written between 1922 and 1960). Another book, by Walden Bello, put the work in context (to be covered in a future post). Interestingly, Ho worked on a French ship during the 1910s, taking him to ports in Africa and America. He lived in London and then France, and the first contributions in this book were penned while he was in France (until 1923). The next selection of works were penned in Moscow (until 1924), Guangzhou (until 1927), then Brussels, Paris, Thailand, Hong Kong. After 1930, he led the Indochinese Communist Party. The book offers a glimpse into the thoughts, perspectives and ideas of Ho Chi Minh. A few notes:

1922: "The mutual ignorance of the two proletariats gives rise to prejudices. The French workers look upon the native as an inferior and negligible human being, incapable of understanding and still less of taking action. The natives regard all the French as wicked exploiters. Imperialism and capitalism do not fail to take advantage of this mutual suspicion and this artificial racial hierarchy to frustrate propaganda and divide forces which ought to unite." (p. 10)

1922: "While the life of an Annamese is not worth a cent, for a scratch on the arm, M. Inspector General Reinhardt receives 120,000 francs compensation. Equality! Beloved equality!" (p. 26)

1923: "We have racked our yellow brains in vain, yet we cannot succeed in discovering the reason which led the men and women of France to found the remarkable institution called the 'Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals'. First, the reason escapes us because we see that there are still so many unfortunate human beings who appeal without result for a little care." (p. 43)

1924: "The same system of pillage, extermination and destruction prevails in the African regions under Italian, Spanish, British or Portuguese rule. In the Belgian Congo, the population in 1891 was 25 million, but it had fallen to eight and a half million by 1911. The Hereros and Cama tribes in the former German colonies in Africa were completely exterminated. 80,000 were killed under German rule and 15,000 were killed during the 'pacification' period in 1914. The population of the French Congo was 20,000 in 1894. It was only 9,700 in 1911. In one province there were 10,000 inhabitants in 1910. Eight years later there remained only 1,080. In another province with 40,000 black inhabitants, in only two years, 20,000 people were killed, and in the following six- months 6,000 more were killed or disabled." (p. 78)

1945: "All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." This immortal statement was made in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. In a broader sense, this means: All the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and free. The Declaration of the French Revolution made in 1791 on the Rights of Man and the Citizen also states: "All men are born free and with equal rights, and must always remain free and have equal rights." Those are undeniable truths. Nevertheless, for more than eighty years, the French imperialists, abusing the standard of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, have violated our Fatherland and oppressed our fellow-citizens. They have acted contrary to the ideals of humanity and justice. In the field of politics, they have deprived our people of every democratic liberty. They have enforced inhuman laws; they have set up three distinct political regimes in the North, the Center and the South of Vietnam in order to wreck our national unity and prevent our people from being united. They have built more prisons than schools. They have mercilessly slain our patriots; they have drowned our uprisings in rivers of blood. They have fettered public opinion; they have practiced obscurantism against our people. To weaken our race they have forced us to use opium and alcohol. In the field of economics, they have fleeced us to the backbone, impoverished our people, and devastated our land. They have robbed us of our rice fields, our mines, our forests, and our raw materials. They have monopolized the issuing of bank-notes and the export trade. They have invented numerous unjustifiable taxes and reduced our people, especially our peasantry, to a state of extreme poverty. They have hampered the prospering of our national bourgeoisie; they have mercilessly exploited our workers." (p. 85)

1956: "We should not stand in one place and wish for another one" (p. 129)

1956: "We are clearly aware that our common enemy's clamours only betray their fear in face of new forces and new victories. Faced with the ever more perfidious schemes of the imperialist reactionary influence, now more than ever, we must strengthen and develop ideological unity, solidarity among communist and workers' parties, and tirelessly struggle to defend the purity of Marxism-Leninism, which is our common treasury; study and apply correctly the theoretical principles of Marxism-Leninism to the realities of each country. We are confident that under the banner of Marxism-Leninism, victory will certainly be ours." (p. 139)

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Apr
10

Teach for Arabia

After some politically-oriented books on Qatar, I was pleased to find Neha Vora's "Teach for Arabia: American Universities, Liberalism, and Transnational Qatar" (2019). The book takes a quasi ethnographic approach to Education City (individual interviews and personal experience) and the author is reflexive about a wide range of topics and experiences. "Field" research was conducted while the author was working and teaching in Education City, between 2010 and 2014, and the writing was finished in 2016 (which shows you how slow book publishing is, as this comes out in 2019). One limitation of the book is that much is assumed about life and ideas outside of the people and place of Education City - the author did not interview anyone at Qatar University, at least for some perspective. Nonetheless, this is an interesting book, and most enjoyably, it is (self) critical - which is quite rare amongst the other volumes, many being rooted in orientalist perspectives and perpetuating colonialist attitudes (one book uncritically notes Education City as a colonization project, even celebrates it as such). Interesting in this book is the journey of the author, which she takes us along; not arriving as a scholar critical of content or assumptions, but rather was pushed to contest, challenge and critique at the demands of students (example below). A few notes:

Journeys of learning: "The class - who were about half Qatari citizens and half foreign residents who had grown up in Doha - arrived the morning after reading the chapter uniformly offended; they had clearly had a group conversation prior to our meeting. They told me the reading did not speak to them and also presented them or their classmates as exotic. Overall, they were fed up with the textbook... The students then moved on to tell me how their other classes - STEM classes - contained similar moments of tension, sometimes in the curriculum and sometimes due to their professors' presumptions about what Qataris, Arabs, and/or Muslims were like." (p. 2)

Centering and marginalizing: "Faculty and staff teach and speak what they know, and what they knew was usually refracted through the United States. In addition, the texts themselves, written in English, most often published in the United States and reflecting Euro-American disciplinary conventions, were usually geared toward American audiences with unconscious familiarity in American cultural norms. As one student told me, "of course they do bring a lot of current events into the classroom but a lot of the materials in the textbooks are so US-centered." (p. 55-56)

Upending assumptions: "Whenever I design a course now, I am reminded of that class in Doha and how much it pushed me outside of my comfort zone. It challenged me to question who I center and who I marginalize through my choice of readings and assignments, the language I use in delivering my lectures, how I assign group work, and my overall interactions with students. Today, I am a tenured faculty member at an elite liberal arts institution in the United States that markets itself as invested in critical thinking, undergraduate research experiences, diversity, and global citizenship training. The students at this institution will rarely get to experience these learning outcomes to the extent that I have witnessed students experience them at the American branch campuses in Doha, due to the diversity of students, quality of resources, and number of hand-on learning opportunities available there." (p. 3)

Liberal piety: "The categorization of places, ideas, regimes, and cultures in liberal and illiberal is fundamentally a project based on faith rather than fact, one that constantly needs to elide imperial histories, encounters with difference, and discursive and material inconsistencies in order to maintain what I call liberal piety, producing subjects who believe themselves to be liberal, cosmopolitan, and inclusive rather than parochial and complicit in ongoing forms of imperialism, Orientalism, exclusion, and American exceptionalism." (p. 9)

Contradictions: "The American university was foundationally colonial and white supremacist. The earliest universities in North America, which would become the Ivy League, were Christian missionary projects built in the name of manifest destiny and civilizing the inferior Indian. They were funded by profits accrued by white slaving elites, as well as built in part by slave labor." (p. 11)

Education system: "RAND's projects included helping to set up the Qatar National Research Fund guidelines, writing the Qatar National Research Strategy, working with Qatar Foundation on multiple projects, and assessing the national Qatar University. But their main project was focused on how to improve and develop public K-12 education. In 2007, RAND produced a report, Education for a New Era, which suggested three options for reforming what it felt was a system that had failed because of Qatari resistance to change and a lack of critical thinking in schools. All three suggested reform options were neoliberal approaches that reduced centralization and focused on parental choice..." (p. 41-42)

Priorities: "American branch campuses saw coeducation as integral to the liberal project in Doha. Branch campuses perpetuated the idea that students could not attain liberal academic progress without being in mixed classrooms, and they they could not attain full citizenship without heterosocial participation in activities outside the classroom. These understandings stemmed from the mainstreaming of liberal feminism into the US academy, and from the yoking of gender and sexuality to civilization metrics for branch campus success." (p. 81)

The voiceless: "I came to see how coeducation and other measures of liberal feminist success in Education City presumed a baseline voiceless Qatari female subject on which to inscribe liberation, not a woman who entered the university with her own forms of personal power and agency." (p. 83) 

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Apr
03

Confronting Empire

Eqbal Ahmad (1933-1999) is a fascinating activist academic; not the least because he came into his own in the 1960s in North Africa, largely in Algeria, where he worked with Frantz Fanon in the struggle for liberation. He was also quite close with Edward Said. He was born in India, studied in Pakistan, then the US, and spent most of his career in American universities. But, also also connected with global activism, including the Palestinian struggle. Here is a lecture he gave in 1975 at a teach-in, which seems to have kept its relevance in 2021: 



Eqbal did not (as far as I know) write any books, but one book presents interviews he had with David Barsamian (covered in this post) and another brings together his writings (to be covered in a future post). The former book, Eqbal Ahmad: Confronting Empire (2000, with a 2016 reprint) is not a polished written book, and as per its interview style, jumps topics and is often drawn into conversations specific to the weeks and months around which the interviews took place. A few notes:

"we all inherited a colonial system of higher education. These post-colonial governments had no will or desire to introduce an alternative system of education. The rhetoric and the structure they announced was that of independence. The reality was that of higher education based on colonial premises and systems. The educational system in this new setting of post-colonial statehood became increasingly dysfunctional because it came under opposing, contradictory pressures. Third, the functions of colonial education were different. As Lord Macaulav put it, "We want to train in schools of higher learning Indians who would be good at mediating between the Raj and the population, the large majority of Her Majesty's subjects."8 So, this education was supposed to produce not governors or citizens or educators or administrators of an independent state. It was all meant to produce servants of the empire. This we have continued to do to this day." (p. 16-17)

On Fanon: "If you take Black Skin, White Masks and read A Dying Colonialism or The Wretched of the Earth, or for that matter the editorials that lie wrote in El Moadjahid, which have been published as Toward the African Revolution 13 you see the passage of Fanon from race to class, from violence to reconstruction of society, from a distant resistance to reconstruction, from reaction to creativity." (p. 20)

Lessons from Chomsky: "truth has to be repeated. It doesn't become stale just because it has been told once. So keep repeating it." (p. 23)

Lessons for students: "I think that my life and my teachings all point to two morals: think critically and take risks." (p. 55)

"the absence of revolutionary ideology has been central to the spread of terror in our time. One of the points in the big debate between Marxism and anarchism in the nineteenth century was the use of terror. The Marxists argued that the true revolutionary does not assassinate. You do not solve social problems by individual acts of violence. Social problems require social and political mobilization, and thus wars of liberation are to be distinguished from terrorist organizations. The revolutionaries didn't reject violence, but they rejected terror as a viable tactic of revolution. That revolutionary ideology has gone out at the moment. In the 1980s and 1990s, revolutionary ideology receded, giving in to the globalized individual." (p. 83)

"The colonial state was not about being of service to the colonized. It was about exploitation and extraction of resources. The post-colonial state is exactly the same. This intelligentsia, this bourgeoisie - the propertied class of the third world - is as heartless in its lack of concern for the poor, in some ways even more so, as the colonial state. There has been a near breakdown of the institutions of higher learning." (p. 95) 

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Mar
30

Warriors in a Time of Sacrifice

Ambassador of Panama to the State of Qatar, Oreste Del Rio Sandoval, prepared a paper for a presentation made at Camilo Jose Cela University, Spain, on his experience in Qatar. The work turned into a book, titled 'Warriors in a Time of Sacrifice' (2019), published by Lusail. The title draws from a line in the national anthem of Qatar.

The book is relatively brief, 135 pages with large font and spaced lines. Kamrava (who also a book on Qatar), authored the Forward. The book is a primer to Qatar (history, economy, politics, society, region) and offers reflections on the period of the blockade (2017-2021). For readers looking for a more detailed political book, Kamrava's book (although now somewhat dated) is quite useful. This presents some updates, but is much briefer.

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