Jan
24

Stokely Speaks

Stokely Carmichael, better known as Kwame Ture, gave a number speeches and penned articles and letters, which were gathered in "Stokely Speaks: From Black Power to Pan-Africanism" (1965), with multiple prints and new Forwards added with each new print. A few quotes:

"I wouldn't be the first to point out the American capacity for self-delusion. One of the main reasons for the criticism of American society by the Students for a Democratic Society, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and other groups is that our society is exclusive while maintaining that it is inclusive." (p. 9)

"I maintain that every civil rights bill in this country was passed for white people, not for black people. For example, I am black. I know that. I also know that while I am black I am a human being. Therefore I have the right to go into any public place. White people didn't know that. Every time I tried to go into a public place they stopped me. So some boys had to write a bill to tell that white man, "He's a human being; don't stop him." That bill was for the white man, not for me. I knew I could vote all the time and that it wasn't a privilege but my right. Every time I tried I was shot, killed or jailed, beaten or economically deprived. So somebody had to write a bill to tell white people, "When a black man comes to vote, don't bother him." That bill was for white people." (p. 46)

"White Western society has been able to define, and that's why she has been the master. The white youth of my generation in the West today starts off with subconscious racism because he accepts the writings of the West, which have either destroyed, distorted, lied about history. He starts off with a basic assumption of superiority that he doesn't even recognize." (p. 80)

"Now we stand clear – self-defense will only maintain the status quo. If Egypt, Syria, and Jordan took a position of self-defense today, they would come out losing because the Israelis still occupy the land. If they want the land back, they must move aggressively against the occupying forces. And as they move aggressively, we have to move aggressively. There is no need to talk about peaceful coexistence; anyone who calls for peaceful co-existence is calling for the status quo to remain the way it is. The only solution is armed revolution! Those who say that we can exist with the imperialist forces are saying that we can exist with things the way they are, we never have to change them. But if we are suffering, we need change; and we must decide how that change is going to come about." (p. 139)

"There are basically two levels on which a colonized people move when they begin to move for their liberation: one is called, for lack of a better term, entertainment, and the second is called education. Both of them are necessary. The entertainment stage is very necessary. The entertainment is what's happening when black people say, "We're going to burn this city down. We can get Whitey. He ain't that bad." It's a sort of entertainment - we're entertaining ourselves because, for the first time, we are publicly saying what we always privately felt but were afraid to say. And while we're saying it - even though we're not powerful enough to do what we say - it's a sort of catharsis, a necessity, because, until we get to the entertainment stage, we are psychologically unequal to our oppressor. After that stage, after we begin to feel psychologically equal to the oppressor, then comes the stage of strategic planning, working out a correct ideology for a cohesive force, and moving on to victory." (p. 146-147) 

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Dec
06

Against Decolonization

In 2022, Olufemi Taiwo published "Against Decolonization: Taking African Agency Seriously" in the African Arguments series by Hurst. The book is provocative and makes some valuable contributions. I also find that the book has some faulty arguments of the straw man and red herring types. For example, in defining decolonization the way he does (see notes below), it provides useful clarity of terms but also seems to disregard a lot of the nuance that the critiqued scholars have expressed. For example, the advocates of decolonization are said to argue that in "short, self-determination should inflect life in ways that are exactly contradictory to those of colonisation" (p. 34), which seems an over-simplification, at best. Another critique of the framing within the decolonization scholarship is the supposed absence of agency (writing about "the post-independence period as if native agency matters little, it at all, is a remarkable failing of the decolonisation discourse" (p. 38)), which seems an inaccurate portrayal of the scholars he quotes, such as Ngugi and Sabelo. Despite some critiques I have of the book, this is worth a read.

The book: "seeks to (1) identify blind spots in current scholarship and direct our attention to how they might be redressed; and (2) show how and why those alternative paths may actually lead to more insights than the existing, dominant orientations. In doing so, I call attention to the themes, thinkers, ideas, movements, programs and writings which are hardly ever referenced in discussions on decolonization. My hope is that expanding our horizons in this way may lead to more robust and, importantly, more accurate explanations of the challenges facing contemporary Africa." (p. xvi)

The terms and definitions: "We should not use the same terms to describe decolonisation1 (the struggle for independence and/or self-determination, the journey from colony to sovereign polity) as we do for decolonisation2 (the continuing dominance in the contemporary world of ideational structures, patterns of thought, etc. ascribed to colonialism)." (p. 40)

Seeming naïveté: "How good can scholarship be if it is blind to the experiences of a significant portion of humanity on account of their 'difference'? Can the 'best' scholarship really be produced if it conveniently ignores the ideas of a particular people and the products of their intellectual engagements with questions that have inspired other peoples to create philosophical models? ... Why not just insist that people write better histories of philosophy without reducing the problem to one of the machinations of colonialism?" (p. 57)

Language: "What is more, in much of West Africa, as part of modernity, English came with Christianity, and the embrace of this language by Africans was not a product of colonial imposition." (p. 125)

Framing: "I suggest that the preoccupation of many Africans with decolonizing is inseparable from our placing colonialism as the defining framework within which to understand and narrate African life and thought. Our past - designated 'precolonial' - is understood in terms determined by colonialism, and our future – postcolonial - is tied to our obsession with leaving it behind. How can we expect to do the latter while privileging colonialism in our own understanding of our history and letting it characterize our discourses beats me." (p. 151-152) 

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Jun
03

Ali Shariati and the Future of Social Theory

Ali Shariati was an Iranian scholar and philosopher (1933-1977), argued to be one of the foremost intellectuals influencing the Iranian Revolution. Ali Shariati and the Future of Social Theory: Religion, Revolution, and the Role of the Intellectual (2017), edited by Byrd and Miri, revisits the ideas of Ali Shariati for contemporary and future of social sciences. The book is an edited collection (15 chapters), with contributions from a wide range of geographies and perspectives. Some notes:

"Shariati instead championed an enlightened and thus reinvigorated Islam that could govern itself, wherein Islam was the guide of the people and not their manager. This of course "radicalized" Islam, but not in the same way that is discussed when speaking of al-Qaʾeda, isis (daesh) and other terrorist groups – the false prophets of Islamism. Shariati radicalized Islam by a future oriented-return to its most radical roots, best exemplified by the sunnah (way) of Muhammad and his family, reacquainting the Muslim ummah with its original zeitgeist: a theologically oriented demand and revolt for social justice. In this way, Islam represented the universal longing for human emancipation, human flourishing and human solidarity, and rejected the particularity of the interests of the ruling elites" (p. 3)

"For Shariati, the exploitative sociology of Europe had realized that in order to be able to rob the East, to ride on her back, and to deceive her, it was imperative to strip her from her personality. Once this was accomplished, the East would proudly follow the West and, with unspeakable lunacy and thirst, would consume western goods. The exploiter, in this case the West, wanted to see his machines work all of the time. Furthermore, it wanted to see all originality, religion, tastes, and various talents destroyed, so that all races could be changed to become consumers of his products. In order to achieve this purpose, the exploiter searched for ways to deprive a nation of its personality, which was defined as the unique aspects of a culture that differentiates it from another. Therefore, a generation, like a tree, had to be severed from its roots so that it could be used and manipulated any way the exploiter wished." (p. 31-32)

"Shariati's epistemology posits that all knowledge is inherently value-laden relative to the universal ethics of Good and Evil which join existence in preceding essence. All knowledge must therefore be situated within the historical struggle between the religions of legitimation and revolution. Shariati thus advances an axiological epistemology that collapses Cartesian dualism without affirming a subjectivist, "anything-goes" ethical relativism. Methodologically, and consistent with the axiological anti-dualism of his epistemology, Shariati prescribes a methodology of critical hermeneutics. Because only God has universal knowledge of cause and effect, any attempts at unearthing an absolute semiotics is futile and impossible. Instead, Shariati argues that the only appropriate model for advancing human knowledge is the continuous interpretation of facts relative to their social construction and religious politics. Broken down into its constituent parts, Shariati's hermeneutical method involves 'objection, criticism, and the inner choice or selection of the individual.'" (p. 55)

"Shariati's ideas on religion and Islamic culture become clear in his correspondence with Franz Fanon. In his letter, Shariati expresses his disapproval and disagreement with Fanon over the essentiality of leaving religion in order for a nation to progress and conquer imperialism. He, instead, believes that a society must retain and regain its cultural and religious heritage as they can achieve the same ends. To him, religion, or more specifically the Islamic tradition, is the most powerful element for uniting the peoples and guiding them towards progressive objectives. Shariati cogently argues for the essentiality of a rediscovery of the national psyche before fighting the West. It is only with a domestic and an inherent ideology rooted in its own political culture that Iran can gain its respect by resisting imperialism." (p. 76)

"What Syed Hussein Alatas said of the mental captivity of intellectuals more than four decades ago still holds true, as the captive mind is real and ­pervasive in our society today. Trained almost entirely in the western sciences, the captive mind enjoys reading the western authors, and is educated primarily by western teachers, either in the West or through their available works in local institutions of education. Many of our intellectuals and university/college teachers read the works of western authors and teach them, yet they are not aware of this academic dependency, and those who are conscious of it do not bother to make an effort to change it. Our teachers use textbooks that are developed in countries very different than ours. They appear to have been total victims of the captive mind. Thus, Alatas' concept of captive mind resonates perfectly with the notions of mimicry and repetition that have been considered as one of the most effective strategies of colonial power and knowledge." (p. 79)

"In terms of educational methods, Shariati puts forward this pair of contrasting words: cultivation vs. instruction. According to him, the Islamic view puts cultivation at the center of education, whereas the western view takes instruction as the main vehicle for education. This is in parallel to the ­above-mentioned centrality of values in the curriculum adopted by Islamic education, and the centrality of knowledge in western education. According to Islamic education, in order to provide pupils with values, instruction is not enough, but living with pupils and dealing with their daily issues and giving them a role model is required." (p. 218) 

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Mar
09

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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