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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Worldmaking After Empire

Building on a PhD project, Adom Getachew's "Worldmaking After Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination" (2019) explores the ways some leaders and struggles for freedom and dignity were engaged beyond nation-building (of what would become the independent country) but also worldmaking as they engaged with international systems (economic, legal, political). A few notes:

"The nationalist movement and postcolonial state would combat the economic, political, and moral-psychological forms of colonial dependence through an expansion politics of postcolonial citizenship. The nation-building project, however, was insufficient in a context where dependence also characterized the new nation's condition in the international order. The hoisting of national flags and signing of national anthems - the mere transfer of power - left intact the economic and political position of new states. Decolonization understood as a revolutionary project thus required remaking the international order that sustained relations of dependence and domination. Nation-building was to be situated and realized through worldmaking." (p. 17)

"Ethiopia's membership in 1923 thus provides a clear picture of what. I have described as unequal integration. Rather than denying Ethiopia membership for having failed to meet the standards of statehood, inclusion within international society overcame the earlier problem of league jurisdiction and enlisted consent to inaugurate a program of international oversight. The system of oversight was designed to discipline and civilize Ethiopia so that it could raise itself to the ranks of other member states. Membership thus became mandation by other means. The result was an unequal and burdened form of membership. In this way, the expansion of international society and the entrenchment of international hierarchy went hand in hand." (p. 58)

"Part of the task of this book has been to show that even instances that appeared as moments of closure—first the decline of interwar internationalisms and the consolidation of a system of nation-­states, and later the political and economic limits of the postcolonial state—­were occasion for reformulating the contours of an anti-­imperial future and enacting new strategies to realize this vision. On this view, the fall of self-­determination marks not only a dead end but also a staging ground for reimaging that future. In the Black Atlantic world, from which the worldmakers of this book emerged, intimations of a new language are afoot in the Movement for Black Lives, the Caribbean demand for reparations for slavery and genocide, and South African calls for a social and economic decolonization. Like the worldmakers of decolonization, these political formations have returned to the task of rethinking our imperial past and present in the service of imagining an anti-­imperial future." (p. 181) 

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Native Colonialism

The people of Ethiopia defeated European attempts to colonize it. However, Dr Yirga argues that in embracing western education and erasing local history and tradition, the institutions and laws put in place colonizing processes, what he calls 'native colonialism'. This is one of the most interesting books I have read of recent, highly recommended to anyone interested in what (de)colonization means, and specifically for readers looking for critical works on education and Ethiopian history. Native Colonialism: Education and the Economy of Violence Against Traditions in Ethiopia (2017) by Yirga Gelaw Woldeyes (Res Sea Press) is a unique book and offers (what many will see as) a provocative take on education in Ethiopia. In so doing, Dr Yirga also offers rich insight into the traditional education system, particularly of his home Lalibela. This is recommended reading. The Introduction and Conclusion appear onlineA few quotes:

"This book attempts to show that beneath the good name of education, there is a constant violence against local traditions that perpetuates the degradation of the lives of the majority whose survival depend on those traditions. The belief in the redemptive power of western education is informed by a colonialist worldview that local traditions and people are primitive. It is also an indictment that privileges westernized elites to speak and act for the rural majority without the latter's consent." (p. 2-3)

"Ethiopia has never been colonized by an alien political power, but a political system similar to colonialism has been institutionalized in the country by native colonizers. The western political ideology of the lite class has become the source of economic, political and social policy. Political parties determine development processes, and modernization is seen as a government-sponsored project rather than an evolutionary process that emerges from people's local experiences. Education has played a central role for the emergence and expansion of native colonialism. It promotes a worldview and culture that produces colonial consciousness. This book critically articulates the historical emergence, ideology and effect of native colonialism." (p. 3)

"The best way to show the violence of this empire is not to reason based on its own rationalities. This is what most commentators did when they criticize the quality or relevance of the education system. They often start from the education system, not from the meaning of education." (p. 4)

"Imitation, not interpretation, was the principal mechanism by which the new laws were adopted. Following the constitution of 1955, six codes were issued. These include a civil code, a penal code, a commercial code, a maritime code, a civil procedure code, and a criminal procedure code. "These codes were all either drafted by foreign lawyers or inspired by foreign sources" (Vanderlinden, 1966-1967, p. 255)." (p. 107)

"The adoption of western laws had the effect of creating institutions that are violent to tradition. The most significant manifestation of this violence is the silencing of local histories, knowledges and experiences, while reinventing the state as a sole source of authority using instruments of power that are alien to the people." (p. 109)

"...the combined effect of the two senses of alienation creates centeredlessness. First, the education system isolates students from their traditional roots. It declares tradition backward and barbaric; it initiates a sense of mission and a promise of power to students. Alienated from their place of tradition, students make efforts to seize the promises of western knowledge through the formal channels of the state. Although knowledge is presented as a stepping stone or a promise of power, Elitdom has strong barriers that make it difficult for many students to succeed. Consequently, students fall into the condition of powerlessness and meaninglessness." (p. 190)

"...the majority of the rural people are served by young graduates or school leavers who are indoctrinated by the superiority of science and western knowledge over Ethiopian tradition and history. This denies the possibility of developing local wisdom and experience into policy making." (p. 200) 

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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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