Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism

Ashis Nandy's "The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism" (1983) is a classic postcolonial text from the Asian experience. One note I found fascinating was that this author found inspiration in the writings of African revolutionaries, finding little from what he was reading from the region he lived within. Through this we see unexpected transportations of ideas. I am often asked by students about the impact of writing critical, theoretical, or philosophical works and these are reminders that while the impact of some works are immediate (and often limited to that immediate time and geography) others take time to permeate and sink in, with Nandy citing the works of Fanon and Cabral as inspirations, who wrote decades before the writing of this book. Some notes (from the 2021 Oxford reprint):

"Modern colonialism won its great victories not so much through its military and technological prowess as through its ability to create secular hierarchies incompatible with the traditional order. These hierarchies opened up new vistas for many, particularly for those exploited or cornered within the traditional order." (p. ix)

"It is now time to turn to the second form of colonization, the one which at least six generations of the Third World have learnt to view as a prerequisite for their liberation. This colonialism colonizes minds in addition to bodies and it releases forces within the colonized societies to alter their cultural priorities once for all. In the process, it helps generalize the concept of the modern West from a geographical and temporal entity to a psychological category. The West is now every where, within the West and outside; in structures and in minds. (p. xi)

"... in the eyes of the European civilization the colonizers were not a group of self-seeking, rapacious, ethnocentric vandals and self-chosen carriers of a cultural pathology, but ill-intentioned, flawed instruments of history, who unconsciously worked for the upliftment of the underprivileged of the world." (p. 14)

"I started with the proposition that colonialism is first of all a matter of consciousness and needs to be defeated ultimately in the minds of men." (p. 63)

"The word 'Hindu', T. N. Madan has again recently reminded us, was first used by the Muslims to describe all Indians who were not converted to Islam. Only in recent times have the Hindus begun to describe themselves as Hindus." (p. 103)

From the Postscript, written 25 years after its first publication:

"Do not trust authors when they talk about their books. They invariably impose a neater, intellectually more pleasing frame on their works retrospectively. I have had twenty-five years to do so in this instance. Do not also forget that a book partly writes itself and the author emerges from that experience changed - sometimes shaken." (p. 114)

"Fortunately I ran into six sensitive, brilliant intellectuals, all of whom had an African connection. While Franz Fanon and Octave Mannoni were psychiatrists, the other four - Aime Cesaire, Albert Memmi, Amilcar Cabral and Leopold Senghor - were writers and thinkers. Except probably for Fanon, who came to a small section of Indians via Jean-Paul Sartre, none of the rest were taken seriously by the aggressively English-positivist culture of the Indian academe. But they were like a breath of fresh air to me." (p. 116)

"Conformity need not be monitored, dissent has to be. In any hegemony, dissent defines the limits and the final shape of legitimacy of a system, not conformity. The colonial culture redesigns the entire educational system and the process of socialization to ensure the spread of definitions of sanity, rationality, adulthood and health that automatically stigmatize all unruly dissent as childish, irrational and retrogressive." (p. 118)

"The good English, we know from Oscar Wilde, went to Paris when they died. Well-educated, modern Indians and Chinese, if they have been good, expect to go to London or New York when they die. Colonialism has equipped them with not only a new vision of a good society, but also the wherewithal to enter the rat race of progress." (p. 119)

"The Atlantic slave trade and modern colonialism were two early attempts to globalize. The former touched four continents, the other five. If colonialism was an attempt to infantilize peoples and cultures, the slave trade was an attempt to commodify human beings themselves. The ornate prose that justified the trade, like the prose that justified child labour in Victorian England, saw in slavery redemptive features that we now consider obscene. Both abridged the meaning of the universal by claiming to be based on universal values and secular trends in history, politics and society. The demise of slavery and colonialism has given globalization, vending its own brand of universalism, a new reach and legitimacy. The battle against globalization could have been a battle to recover the universal from the clutches of the global. It has failed to beo so because the resistance to globalization has mostly remained captive to the colonial definition of the universal." (p. 123) 

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Shaykh Ahmadou Bamba

Shaykh Ahmadou Bamba lived from 1853 to 1927 in Senegal (excepting periods of exile), who was a religious leader and leader who opposed French colonization. His resistance took non-violent means and was a constant threat to the French. Kimball wrote a biography of Bamba, subtitled "A Peacemaker of Our Time" (2018). The book is not an academic work, for this post I highlight some of the notes on the colonial mindset in Senegal:

"The French believed that a vibrant Islam Would work against their "civilizing mission" [la mission civilisatrice} of spreading French culture in Senegal. Domination of the Senegalese people, therefore, became essential. Thus, a primary aim of Governor Faidherbe was to "pacify" Senegal and create "more enlightened and humane" institutions in the colony". (p. 43-44)

"... a major component of the French agenda was the assimilation of colonialized people via French language and culture through the creation of French schools. Other tenets of the agenda mandated the closing of pre-existing Muslim schools; undermining "primitive" cultures and dialects; controlling the land, the native manpower and political power; and alienating the local people culturally and linguistically." (p. 46)

"In trying to complete the French "civilizing work," Ponty, too, had, in 1908, made a directive to his lieutenant governors to prohibit further importation of Islamic chromo-lithographs. He was concerned with the spread of Islamic books and popular forms of artwork … Ponty thought that the publications and engravings might inspire maraboutic uprisings should be destroyed. He recognized the artwork as a "marvelous instrument of propaganda these thousands of rough engravings constitute here, [that are so] vivid in color and that present the defendants of the only true religion in the most favorable light." (p. 243-244)

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Culture and Imperialism

 Edward Said's Orientalism (1978) is a foundational text in critical studies, as of this writing was cited nearly 70,000 times. In 1993 Said wrote Culture and Imperialism, which broadens the view, broadens the literature, and engages more literature from the liberation activists and writers, but is cited less (at of this writing nearly 30,000; which still makes it an extremely well read and cited book). The book is longer than Orientalism, at 492 pages (in my Vintage print), which is expected given the wider scope. From a development studies perspective, the connection might appear limited, as the book focuses largely on literature. However, I think this is essential reading and it challenges how people are portrayed, critically analyzes language, justifications made for 'intervention', and offers great insight for anyone reading (or writing) reports (which are often plagued with horrendous orientalist and colonialist attitudes).

From the Introduction, contextualizing this book in relation to Orientalism:

"What I left out of Orientalism was that response to western dominance which culminated in the great movements of decolnization all across the Third World. Along with armed resistance in places as diverse as nineteenth century Algeria, Ireland, and Indonesia, there also went considerable efforts in cultural resistance almost everywhere, the assertions of nationalist identities, and, in the political realm, the creation of associations and parties whose common goal was self-determination and national independence. Never was it the case that imperial encounter pitted an active Western intruder against a supine or inert non-Western native; there was always some form of active resistance, and in the overwhelming majority of cases, the resistance finally won out." (p. xiv)

"Readers of this book will quickly discover that narrative is crucial to my argument here, my basic point being that stories are at the heart of what explorers and novelists say about strange regions of the world; they also become the method colonized people use to assert their own identity and the existence of their own history. The main battle in imperialism is over land, of course; but when it came to who owned the land, who had the right to settle and work on it, who kept it going, who won it back, and who now plans its future - these issues were reflected, contested, and even for a time decided in narrative." (p. xv)

From the text:

"As I shall be using the term, 'imperialism' means the practice, the theory, and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan centre ruling a distant territory; 'colonialism', which is almost always a consequence of imperialism, is the implanting of settlements on distant territory... In our time, direct colonialism has largely ended; imperialism, as we shall see, lingers where it has always been, in a kind of general cultural sphere as well as in specific political, ideological, economic, and social practices." (p. 8-9)

"The slow and often bitterly disputed recovery of geographical territory which is at the heart of decolonization is preceded – as empire had been - by the charting of cultural territory. After the period of 'primary resistance', literally fighting against outside intrusion, there comes the period of secondary, that is, ideological resistance, when efforts are made to reconstitute a 'shattered community, to save or restore the sense and fact of community against all the pressures of the colonial system', as Basil Davidson puts it. This in turn makes possible the establishment of new and independent states." (p. 268)

"One of the first tasks of the culture of resistance was to reclaim, rename and reinhabit the land. And with that came a whole set of further assertions, recoveries, identifications, all of them quite literally grounded in this poetically projected base. The search for authenticity, for a more congenial national origin than that provided by colonial history, for a new pantheon of heroes and (occasionally) heroines, myths, and religions - there too are made possible by a sense of the land reappropriated by its people." (p. 290)

"Fanon foresaw this turn of events. His notion was that unless national consciousness at its moment of success was somehow changed into a social consciousness, the future would hold not liberation but an extension of imperialism. His theory of violence is not meant to answer the appeals of a native chafing under the paternalistic surveillance of a European policeman and, in a sense, preferring the services of a native officer in his place: On the contrary, it first represents colonialism as a totalizing system nourished in the same way" (p. 343).

"In Fanon's world change can come about only when the native, like Lukacs's alienated worker, decides that colonization must end - in other words, there must be an epistemological revolution. Only then can there be movement. At this point enters violence, 'a cleansing force,' which pits colonizer against colonized directly" (p. 347)

"The most disheartening thing about the media — aside from their sheepishly following the government policy model, mobilizing for war right from the start — was their trafficking in 'expert' Middle East lore, supposedly well informed about Arabs. All roads lead to the bazaar; Arabs only understand force; brutality and violence are part of Arab civilization; Islam is an intolerant, segregationist, 'medieval', fanatic, cruel, anti-women religion." (p. 379-380)

"For two generations the United States has sided in the Middle East mostly with tyranny and injustice. No struggle for democracy, or women's rights, or secularism and the rights of minorities has the United States officially supported. Instead one administration after another has propped up compliant and unpopular clients, and turned away from the efforts of small peoples to liberate themselves from military occupation, while subsidizing their enemies. The United States has prompted unlimited militarism and (along with France, Britain, China, Germany, and others) engaged in vast arms sales everywhere in the region" (p. 386)

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Discourse on Colonialism

Aime Cesaire is one of the great voices of the anti-colonial struggle and was the teacher of Fanon (Black Skin, White Masks & The Wretched of the Earth). Cesaire's "Discourse on Colonialism" was originally published in French in 1950, the English version I am using was translated in 1972 and republished in 2000. For the quotes below, note that this version of "Discourse on Colonialism" has an opening work by Kelley and a closing interview with Rene Depestre, and as a result the page numbering may differ from other versions / publications of the book.

Cesaire opens: "A civilization that proves incapable of solving the problems it creates is a decadent civilization. A civilization that chooses to close its eyes to its most crucial problems is a stricken civilization. A civilization that uses its principles for trickery and deceit is a dying civilization." (p. 31)

"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 instilled into the veins of Europe and, slowly but surely, the continent proceeds toward savagery... and they hide the truth from themselves, that it is barbarism, but 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 of Western, Christian civilization in its reddened waters, it oozes, seeps, and trickles from every crack." (p. 35-36)

"What am I driving at? At this idea: that no one colonizes innocently, that no one colonizes with impunity either; that a nation which colonizes, that a civilization which justifies colonization - and therefore force - is already a sick civilization, a civilization that is morally diseased, that irresistibly, progressing from one consequence to another, one repudiation to another, calls for its Hitler, I mean its punishment." (p. 39)

"...colonial activity, colonial enterprise, colonial conquest, which is based on contempt for the native and justified by that contempt, inevitably tends to change him who undertakes it; that the colonizer, who in order to ease his conscience gets into the habit of seeing the other man as an animal, accustoms himself to treating him like an animal, and tends objectively to transform himself into an animal." (p. 41)

"Therefore, comrade, you will hold as enemies - loftily, lucidly, consistently - not only sadistic governors and greedy bankers, not only prefects who torture and colonists who flog, not only corrupt, check-licking politicians and subservient judges, but likewise and for the same reason, venomous journalists, goitrous academicians, wreathed in dollars and stupidity, ethnographers who go in for metaphysics, presumptuous Belgian theologians, chattering intellectuals born stinking out of the thigh of Nietzsche, the paternalists, the embracers, the corrupters, the back-slappers, the lovers of exoticism, the dividers, the agrarian sociologists, the hoodwinkers, the hoaxers, the hot-air artists, the humbugs, and in general, all those who, performing their functions in the sordid division of labor for the defense of Western bourgeois society, try in divers ways and by infamous diversions to split up the forces of Progress-even if it means denying the very possibility of Progress - all of them tools of capitalism, all of them, openly or secretly, supporters of plundering colonialism, all of them responsible, all hateful, all slave-traders, all henceforth answerable for the violence of revolutionary action." (p. 54-55)

"That the West invented science. That the West alone knows how to think; that at the borders of the Western world there begins the shadowy realm of primitive thinking, which, dominated by the notion of participation, incapable of logic, is the very model of faulty thinking." (p. 69)

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