Friday, 30 November 2007


Belgium’s ‘Arab Malcolm X’ on trial

By Sukant Chandan

The deaths of two youths in a Paris suburb this week whose
vehicle collided with that of a police vehicle sparked
riots that once again demonstrate the volatility of the
relationship between youth of immigrant communities and the
authorities in Europe. These young people are resentful
against society against which they have a sense of
injustice which leaves them marginalised and in poverty.
Belgium, which hosts the capital of the European Union, is
no exception. What Belgium lacks in size, it seems to make
up for in its hatred for immigrant communities. Like many
young working class Muslims across the West, Belgian
Muslims, many of whom are of Moroccan descent, live in an
atmosphere of prejudice and exclusion from white society
compounded by the Belgian state’s disdain for a community
confident of its own identity and one which demands equal
rights with that of white Belgians. The two main national
components of Belgium, the French-speaking Wallonians of
the south and Dutch speaking Flemish of the north can
hardly get along themselves, with the country witnessing a
rising demand of the better-off Flemish to separate from
the French speakers. So unsurprisingly in the early 2000s
Belgium was hardly ready for the Arab European League and
its articulate and charismatic leader Dyab Abou Jahjah who
led Arab youth from the ghettoes of Belgium in a struggle
for self-respect and solidarity with Palestinians and
Iraqis, inspired and informed by an Arab Nationalist and
radical yet democratic Islamist discourse.

Belgium is perhaps better known internationally as a small
country of quaint pubs, beers, and chocolates, and as a
liberal country due to its foreign policy which is seen as
non-compliant with that of the US’s. However, race
relations in Belgium remain some of the worst in Europe
between whites and Muslims, and more generally between
Belgian whites and the African, Arab and Muslim
communities. While Belgium had known civil disturbances and
controversy in the past following the shooting of youth
from immigrant communities by police, the emergence of the
AEL became a cause for mass xenophobic hysteria across the
white population whipped up by the media and political

So what was the AEL? Who was this supposed firebrand from
Lebanon - Dyab Abou Jahjah? The Belgian media spun stories
such as Jahjah was a Wahhabi supported by the Saudis,
others claimed he was a crypto-Maoist, others that he was
an agent of Hizbullah intent on bringing down the Belgian
state through the stockpiling of weapons and the creation
of a private militia. None of these stories were true of
course, although the nature of the state crackdown of the
AEL showed that state institutions and large sections of
the public outside of the immigrant communities believed
these slurs to be true.

In reality Jahjah and the AEL were very possibly the first
contemporary mass grass-roots political movement of Arab
youth in the West that demanded an end to discrimination of
Muslims and Arabs, and stood in solidarity with those in
the Middle East. Those who bothered to talk to and listen
to Jahjah, putting aside the media hype for a moment, would
find a person who is at one with Arab youth from the
ghettoes of Brussels and Antwerp, and on the other hand can
also engage with good humour and firmness with Belgium’s
political class in national TV debates. Jahjah was not
well-informed of the Black radical Black Panther Party and
Malcolm X / Malik El Hajj Shabazz until the media dubbed
him Belgium’s ‘Arab Malcolm X’ and the AEL the ‘Arab
Panthers’. Subsequently Jahjah came to know more of the
struggles of the Black Panthers and Malcolm X, and
immediately saw the parallels with the struggle of
oppressed Blacks in the US and Arabs in Europe. Jahjah was
the leader of a movement that gave Belgium a real
opportunity to confront and resolve the challenges of
race-relations in this small country. The opportunity was
missed in an Islamophobic frenzy that was of the media and
political class’s own making.

Belgium’s second city Antwerp is a stronghold of the
far-right fascist party the Vlaams Blok, now Vlaams Belang,
who has successfully invested much effort in marketing
themselves to white Flemish Belgians as ‘respectable’
politicians. The ever-growing and powerful Vlaams Blok has
many members and supporters in Antwerp’s police force. In
late 2002 Vlaams Blok leaked documents from the police to
the media which exposed ethnic profiling in the Antwerp’s
police force, this document was entitled ‘Integrated plan:
Moroccans’. In response the AEL decided to launch civil
patrols which monitored the police in immigrant areas, a
campaign that started on the same day as the plan was due
to come into effect, November 15th. These patrols were
attacked by the establishment as militias aimed at setting
up no-go zones in immigrant areas. While it was later
proved in court that the AEL were doing no wrong, but were
actually exercising their democratic right to monitor a
public institution, this didn’t stop the press and
government representatives accusing the AEL of attempting
to create a militia, although the patrols were often
conducted by young Moroccan women armed with nothing more
than notebooks, cameras and leaflets explaining to members
of their community their rights vis-à-vis the police.

It was in this atmosphere of state intimidation of the AEL
and Arab and Muslim community that on November 26th in
Borgerhout, a poor area of Belgium’s second city of
Antwerp, Constant Van Linden, a man known for his racist
views shot dead 27 year old religious teacher Mohamed
Achrak while shouting ‘Taliban!’. Achrak also
coincidentally happened to be the younger brother of
Jahjah’s close friend Satif Achrak. Spontaneous small scale
rioting by Moroccan youth in the city followed the killing.
The only reason the rioting was not more widespread and
devastating was that the AEL and particularly Jahjah
managed to calm the clamours of the youth for vengeance in
order to avoid further blood letting. The police reacted by
pepper spraying Jahjah and other members of the community
in Borgerhout while well-known activists of the Vlaams Blok
stood behind police lines goading the local Arab population
at this time of grief and anger.

The Belgian state and media went into anti-AEL overdrive
and ransacked Jahjah’s home spreading false reports that
weapons were found. Jahjah handed himself in, and was
arrested by police snipers and helicopters. He was jailed,
but eventually found innocent of inciting to riot. The
tense social situation in Belgium and the Moroccan youth’s
fast diminishing patience that could have put the whole
country upside down in a show of uncontrolled anger may
have contributed to Jahjah being released relatively
quickly from prison.

In a recent phone interview with Jahjah in Brussels he
stated that police allegations against him and the AEL were
‘rigged and manipulated’ and that Antwerp city police chief
“Luc Lamine himself admitted in press interviews that my
role that evening [of Achrak’s killing] was constructive
and reasonable. We even know that he insisted to be present
during the search of my apartment because he was suspecting
other colleagues of planting evidence in order to convict

Now Jahjah along with former AEL leader Ahmed Azzuz and
Youssef Rahimi are being put on trial accused of blocking
police investigations into the disturbances following
Achrak’s killing which starts this Friday, 30th November in
Belgium. Perhaps the prosecution are hoping that after five
years from the time that AEL rocked the status quo in
Belgium, that the AEL will now be criminalised for their
political stance that they took and scores will be settled.
Jahjah is calling this a straight-forward political trial,
a trial he says that “puts in the dock the whole liberation
movement of oppressed communities in the Europe” and is
appealing for progressive and democratic forces to come to
the support of the defendants. Jahjah explained later in
the interview that there are “many things that were
revealed in the last couple of years about that period
showing un-constitutional maneuvers by the government and
also breaches of our rights committed by the police force
and media manipulation that took place in the public

Jahjah believes that there is no case against Rahimi, Azzuz
and himself, and hopes that the judge will see the
prosecution “for what it is, unfounded and ridiculous”, but
he is also familiar with Belgian politics which makes him
doubtful of the impartiality of the political atmosphere
which will inevitably accompany the trial. This trial will
show what kind of message the Belgian authorities would
like to send out to Muslim and Arab people the world over
as to how Europe treats those who stand up for their
democratic rights.

Sukant Chandan is a London-based freelance journalist,
researcher and political analyst. He runs two websites:
OURAIM and Sons of Malcolm and can be contacted at

Thursday, 29 November 2007


Home-Grown, Externally-Inspired Intifada
International Terrorism Monitor
Paper No. 315
By B. Raman

Certain areas in the suburbs of Paris, with a large
immigrant Muslim community from North Africa, have been
going through a wave of violence by sections of Muslim
youth acting collectively against the Police since November
25, 2007. The Muslim youth rioting in the streets are not
acting in the name of any organisation. They are acting in
the name of and on behalf of their community.

2. The current street violence, which resembles that of
October,2005, has been---- as in the case of the violence
of 2005--spontaneous to start with, but orchestrated in its
continuation. While the geographical spread has not yet
been as wide as in October, 2005, the intensity of the
violence has been as high as in 2005. There are two new
factors in the current violence, which one did not notice
in 2005. The 2005 violence was the work of mainly young
Muslims born and brought up in the ill-developed suburbs.
There was little involvement of elders, who had migrated
from North Africa. This time one has been seeing a mix of
home-grown Muslim youth and their elders, who had migrated
to France, acting in unison. The second new factor is the
readiness of the rioters to use firearms against the
police. The fire-arms used so far have not been of a very
lethal type and hence have not caused fatalities among the
police, but a large number of policemen has reportedly been
injured. Whereas the 2005 incidents were largely acts of
vandalism focussing on destruction of property, this time
the attacks have been on property as well as individuals.

3. The current violence started spontaneously after the
death of two Muslim youth in a street of Villiers-le-Bel, a
blue-collar town in Paris' northern suburbs. The Police
were blamed for their death. The allegation of the local
Muslim community was that the Police deliberately caused
the death of the two Muslim boys, who were on a motor-bike,
by ramming their patrol car against them and going away
without stopping as the two Muslim boys lay dying on the
road. The October 2005 violence erupted after the death due
to electrocution of two Muslim boys, who were running away
from a police party, which was checking the identity papers
of passers-by.

4. There are increasing pockets of anger in the immigrant
Muslim communities of West Europe----particularly in the
UK, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Denmark and France.
But, the phenomenon of Muslim anger in France differs
significantly from the phenomenon in the other countries.
France did not support the US invasion and occupation of
Iraq. But, as a member of the NATO, it has been involved in
a limited way in the NATO's operations in Afghanistan.
There is so far no evidence to show that its external
policies have in any significant measure contributed to the
anger of sections of its Muslim community.

5. The causes for the anger in France are more
domestic----unemployment, poverty, lack of respect for
Islamic traditions and practices through measures such as
banning the use of a head-cover by Muslim girls in
Government-funded schools, alleged excesses of the police
against the Muslim migrants etc. The anger in France tends
to be collectively expressed through co-ordinated street
violence by individual Muslims not known to be belonging to
any known jihadi terrorist organisation. What one has been
seeing in France is jihadi Intifada and not jihadi
terrorism. At least, not yet.

6. In the other countries, the anger has been more due to
external causes such as the support of the local
Governments for the US in Iraq, involvement of their troops
in the operations against Al Qaeda and the Neo Taliban in
Afghanistan etc. In those countries, the expression of
anger has not been collective, but individual through the
Jundullah phenomenon. This phenomenon refers to angry and
self-motivated individual Muslim youth, who perceive
themselves as Jundullah or Soldiers of Allah, taking to
sporadic acts of suicide terrorism to give vent to their
anger. Examples: the Madrid blasts of March, 2004, the
London blasts of July, 2005, and the attempted blasts in
London and Glasgow in June this year. Although conventional
causes of anger such as poverty, unemployment, the
perceived anti-Muslim attitude of the Police etc are
prevalent in those countries too, these have not so far
resulted in Intifada-like street violence.

7. While one does not see for now, the conscious influence
of any organisation --- despite past suspicions of the
involvement of the Hizbut Tehrir, which advocates AGITPROP
methods and not terrorism---the new outbreak of violence in
France has come in the wake of Al Qaeda'as decision of last
year to adopt a mix of strategies to achieve its objective
of a global Islamic Caliphate. The mix consists of
terrorism and Intifada.

8. Since last year, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No.2 to Osama
bin Laden in Al Qaeda, has been appealing to the Muslims of
the world to emulate the Intifada in Gaza in giving
expression to their anger against their Governments.
Zawahiri projects Intifada as a kind of struggle in which
the role of motivated individual Muslims will become more
important than that of organisations so that the weakening
or collapse of an organisation does not result in a
collapse of the Intifada. He wants the Intifada to acquire
a momentum of its own as a result of the sacrifices of
individual Muslims. He said in his message of January 22,
2007: "Every Muslim today is directly responsible for
defending Islam, Islam's homeland and the Islamic Ummah.
"The importance of a central command and control in keeping
the Intifada going is down-played. The motivation of
individual Muslims is more important than any centralised
command and control. He also projects the Intifada as a mix
of military and non-military struggles. He said in his
message of December 20, 2006: "We must bear arms. And if we
are unable to bear them, then we must support those who
carry them. This support comes in many forms and guises, so
we must exploit all Da'wah, student and union activities to
back the Jihadi resistance....... The Muslim Ummah must
exploit all methods of popular protest, like
demonstrations, sit-ins, strikes, refusing to pay taxes,
preventing cooperation with the security forces, refusing
to provide the Crusaders with fuel, hitting traders who
supply the Crusader forces, boycotting Crusader and Jewish
products, and other ways of popular protest."

9. One has been seeing this mix in operation in West
Europe---Intifada in France and jihadi terrorism in other
countries. Al Qaeda looks upon Algeria, Morocco, Spain,
Portugal and France as constituting the Western garrison of
the Ummah and Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan as
the Southern garrison. Both the garrisons are encouraged to
act in unison, with the Muslim communities in each country
using methods appropriate to local conditions.


Wednesday, 28 November 2007


In French Suburbs, Same Rage, but New Tactics

November 28, 2007
NY Times

PARIS, Nov. 27 -- Two years after France's immigrant
suburbs exploded in rage, the rituals and acts of
resentment have reappeared with an eerie sameness: roving
gangs clashing with riot police forces, the government
appealing for calm, residents complaining that they are

And while the scale of the unrest of the past few days does
not yet compare with the three-week convulsion in hundreds
of suburbs and towns in 2005, a chilling new factor makes
it, in some sense, more menacing. The onetime rock throwers
and car burners have taken up hunting shotguns and turned
them on the police.

More than 100 officers have been wounded, several of them
seriously, according to the police. Thirty were hit with
buckshot and pellets from shotguns, and one of the wounded
was hit with a type of bullet used to kill large game,
Patrice Ribeiro, a police spokesman, said in a telephone
interview. One of the officers lost an eye; another's
shoulder was shattered by gunfire.

It is legal to own a shotgun in France -- as long as the
owner has a license -- and police circles were swirling
with rumors that the bands of youths were procuring more

"This is a real guerrilla war," Mr. Ribeiro told RTL radio,
warning that the police, who have struggled to avoid
excessive force, will not be fired upon indefinitely
without responding.

The police have made more than 30 arrests but have been
restrained in controlling the violence, using tear gas to
disperse the bands of young people and firing paint balls
to identify people for possible arrests later.

The prefecture of the police in the Val d'Oise area, where
most of the violence has occurred, said Tuesday night that
there were no reported injuries among civilians that could
be linked to the police.

The events of the past three days, set off by the deaths of
two teenagers whose minibike collided with a police vehicle
on Sunday, make clear that the underlying causes of
frustration and anger --particularly among unemployed,
undereducated youths, mostly the offspring of Arab and
African immigrants -- remain the same.

"We have heard promise after promise, but nothing has been
done in the suburbs since the last riots, nothing," said
François Pupponi, the Socialist mayor of Sarcelles, which
has been struck by the violence, in an interview. "The
suburbs are like tinderboxes. You have people in terrible
social circumstances, plus all the rage, plus all the hate,
plus all the rumors, and all you need is one spark to set
them on fire."

On Tuesday, there were the first signs of the violence
spreading beyond the Paris region when a dozen cars were
set afire in the southern city of Toulouse.

In the wake of the unrest in 2005, the government of
then-President Jacques Chirac (with Nicolas Sarkozy, now
the president, as the tough, law-and-order interior
minister) announced measures to improve life in the
suburbs, including extra money for housing, schools and
neighborhood associations, as well as counseling and job
training for unemployed youths. None has gone very far.

At that time, Mr. Sarkozy alienated large numbers of
inhabitants in the troubled ethnic pockets of France, but
afterward reverted to a low-key approach, which he has
maintained ever since. During his presidential campaign, he
stayed away from the troubled suburbs, aware that his
presence could inflame public opinion against him.

In his six months as president, he has largely focused on
injecting new life into France's flaccid economy through
creating jobs and lowering taxes and consumer prices.

His most notable initiative in dealing with youth crime has
been punitive: the passage of a law last July that required
a minimum sentence for repeat offenders and in many cases
allowed minors between 16 and 18 years old to be tried and
sentenced as adults.

Since September, Fadela Amara, his outspoken junior
minister charged with drawing up a policy for the suburbs,
has been holding town hall meetings throughout France in
preparation for what is to be a "Marshall Plan" for the
suburbs. Her proposals are scheduled to be made public in

"We've been talking about a Marshall Plan for the suburbs
since the early 1990s," said Adil Jazouli, a sociologist
who focuses on the suburbs. "We don't need poetry. We don't
need reflection. We need money."

After he returns from China on Wednesday morning, Mr.
Sarkozy plans to visit a seriously wounded senior policeman
at a hospital near the northern Paris suburb of

It was in Villiers-le-Bel on Sunday afternoon that the
deaths of two teenagers identified as Moushin, 15, and
Larimi, 16, occurred, the event that set off the latest
unrest. The teenagers were riding without helmets on a
minibike that collided with a police car; rumors that the
police had caused the accident elicited calls for revenge.

The crash was reminiscent of the electrocution deaths in
another Paris suburb in October 2005 of two teenagers, who,
according to some accounts, were running away from police.
That event set off the worst civil unrest in France in four
decades, plunging the country into what Mr. Chirac called
"a profound malaise."

But Mr. Sarkozy, still reeling from huge transit strikes
and student protests throughout France this month, is
unlikely to use the current unrest as a vehicle to turn
introspective or vent his rage too loudly at those he once
called "scum."

In 2005, he vowed to clean out young troublemakers from one
Paris suburb with a Kärcher, the brand name of a
high-powered hose used to wash off graffiti; when he
pledged in another suburb that year to rid poor suburban
neighborhoods of their "scum," he was pelted with bottles
and rocks.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister François Fillon told Parliament
that the clashes were "unacceptable, intolerable,
incomprehensible," and he pledged punishment for the
offenders in the affected suburbs.

"Those who shoot at policemen, those who beat a police
officer almost to death, are criminals and must be treated
as such," he said, adding, "We will do everything so that
tonight there is a maximum security presence."

Under heavy security on Tuesday night, Mr. Fillon visited
Villiers-le-Bel, where the two youths had died, in what he
called a show of support for the police and firefighters.
About 1,000 police officers were deployed there.

Critics of the Sarkozy government complain that many areas
in the suburbs are without a police presence, and that the
only time there is a show of security is after violence

"Sarkozy promised to send more police to the suburbs, but
in so many places there are fewer police than there were
two years ago," said Mohamed Hamidi, the French founder of
Bondy Blog, a popular political blog created in the Paris
suburb of Bondy after the outbreak of violence in 2005. "He
didn't keep his word. Who suffers from all the violence and
the burning cars? The people who live in these

In Villiers-le-Bel on Tuesday night, the atmosphere was
tense, with white police trucks and antiriot police
officers on the streets. Earlier in the day, about 300
people, including children, marched silently in memory of
the two dead teenagers.

At a bakery on a small plaza in town, Habib Friaa, the
baker, mourned their deaths, especially that of Larimi, who
had started an apprenticeship with him two months ago.

"Baking was his passion," Mr. Friaa said. "He was a
courageous young man, someone who had hope."

Ariane Bernard contributed reporting from Paris,
and Basil Katz from


'Urban guerrillas' join unrest

Associated Press

Youths rampaged for a third night in the tough suburbs
north of Paris and violence spread to a southern city late
Tuesday as police struggled to contain rioters who have
burned cars and buildings and — in an ominous turn — shot
at officers.

A senior police union official warned that "urban
guerrillas" had joined the unrest, saying the violence was
worse than during three weeks of rioting that raged around
French cities in 2005, when firearms were rarely used.

Bands of young people set more cars on fire in and around
Villiers-le-Bel, the Paris suburb where the latest trouble
first erupted, and 22 youths were taken into custody, the
regional government said. In the southern city of Toulouse,
20 cars were set ablaze, and fires at two libraries were
quickly brought under control, police said.

Despite the renewed violence, France's prime minister said
the situation was calmer than the two previous nights.
About 1,000 officers patrolled trouble spots in and around
Villiers-le-Bel on Tuesday, he said.

The government was striving to keep violence from spreading
in what was shaping up as a stern test for new President
Nicolas Sarkozy. The unrest showed anger still smolders in
France's poor neighborhoods, where many Arabs, blacks and
other minorities live largely isolated from the rest of

The trigger was the deaths Sunday of two minority teens
when their motorscooter collided with a police car in
Villiers-le-Bel, a blue-collar town on Paris' northern

Residents claimed the officers left without helping the
teens. Prosecutor Marie-Therese de Givry denied that,
saying police stayed on the scene until firefighters

Rioting and arson quickly erupted after the crash. The
violence worsened Monday night as it spread from
Villiers-le-Bel to other impoverished suburbs north of the
French capital. Rioters burned a library, a nursery school
and a car dealership and tried to set some buildings on
fire by crashing burning cars into them.

Officials have pledged tough punishments for rioters: Eight
people were convicted Tuesday in fast-track trials and
sentenced to 3-10 months in prison, the regional government

Police reinforcements were moved into trouble spots north
of Paris on Tuesday. Helicopters flew overhead, shining
powerful spotlights into apartment buildings to keep people
from leaving their homes.

"The situation is under control," said Denis Joubert,
director of public safety for the region surrounding

Prime Minister Francois Fillon, who was briefed by police
in Villiers-le-Bel, said things were "much calmer than the
previous two nights, but we feel that things are still
fragile, and we need a large preventative force on the
ground so that what happened last night does not happen

Patrice Ribeiro of the Synergie police union said rioters
this time included "genuine urban guerrillas," saying the
use of firearms — hunting shotguns so far — had added a
dangerous dimension.

Police said 82 officers were injured Monday night, 10 of
them by buckshot and pellets. Four were seriously wounded,
the force said. Police unions said 30 officers were struck
by buckshot.

One rioter with a shotgun "was firing off two shots,
reloading in a stairwell, coming back out — boom, boom —
and firing again," said Gilles Wiart, No. 2 official in the
SGP-FO police union.

Youths, many of them Arab and black children of immigrants,
again appeared to be lashing out at police and other
targets seen to represent a French establishment they feel
has left them behind.

"I don't think it's an ethnic problem," Wiart said. "Most
of all it is youths who reject all state authority. They
attack firefighters, everything that represents the state."

Suspicion of the police runs high among people in the drab
housing project where the two teenagers died in the crash.
The boys were identified in French media only by their
first names, Lakhami, 16, and Mouhsin, 15.

There have long been tensions between France's largely
white police force and the ethnic minorities trapped in
poor neighborhoods.

Despite decades of problems and heavy state investments to
improve housing and create jobs, the depressed projects
that ring Paris are a world apart from the tourist
attractions of the capital. Police speak of no-go zones
where they and firefighters fear to patrol.

"The problem of bad relations between the police and
minorities is underestimated," said criminologist Sebastian

Sarkozy, speaking from China, appealed for calm and called
a security meeting with his Cabinet ministers for Wednesday
on his return home.

Sarkozy was interior minister, in charge of police, during
the riots of 2005 and took a hard line against the
violence. He angered many in housing projects when he
called delinquents there "scum."

The rioting youths "want Sarkozy — they want him to come
and explain" what happened to the two teenage boys, said
Linda Beddar, a 40-year-old mother of three in
Villiers-le-Bel. Beddar woke Tuesday to find the library
across from her house a burned-out shell.

The violence two years ago also started in the suburbs of
northern Paris, when two teens were electrocuted in a power
substation while hiding from police. The government is keen
to keep the new violence from spreading.

In Villiers-le-Bel late Monday, arsonists set fire to the
municipal library and burned books littered its floor
Tuesday. Shops and businesses were also attacked, and more
than 70 vehicles were torched, authorities said.

Rioters even rammed burning cars into buildings, trying to
set the structures on fire, authorities said. Police
reported six arrests.

Several hundred youths organized in small groups led the
rioting in Villiers-le-Bel, and incidents were also
reported in five other towns north of Paris, the regional
government reported.

It refused to give specific figures on injuries among the
police, rioters or other civilians, or the numbers of cars
and buildings set on fire, saying it feared that doing so
would encourage youths to try to wound more officers and
destroy more property.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007


77 police officers hurt in Paris riots

Associated Press

Rampaging youths rioted overnight in Paris' suburbs,
hurling Molotov cocktails and setting fire to dozens of
cars. At least 77 officers were injured and officers were
fired at, a senior police union official said Tuesday.

The violence was more intense than during three weeks of
rioting in 2005, said the official, Patrice Ribeiro. Police
were shot at and are facing "genuine urban guerillas with
conventional weapons and hunting weapons," Ribeiro said.

Some officers were hit by shotgun pellets, Interior
Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said. She said there were six
serious injuries, "people who notably were struck in the
face and close to the eyes."

The riots were triggered by the deaths of two teens killed
in a crash with a police patrol car on Sunday in
Villiers-le-Bel, a town of public housing blocks home to a
mix of Arab, black and white residents in Paris' northern

Residents claimed that officers left the crash scene
without helping the teens, whose motorbike collided with
the car. Officials cast doubt on the claim, but the
internal police oversight agency was investigating.

Youths first rioted Sunday and again overnight Monday to
Tuesday, when the violence apparently got worse.

Police barricades were set on fire and youths threw stones
and Molotov cocktails at officers, who retaliated with tear
gas and rubber bullets. In Villiers-le-Bel and surrounding
areas, youths set fire to 36 vehicles, the area's
prefecture said.

Youths were seen firing buckshot at police and reporters. A
police union official said a round from a hunting rifle
pierced the body armor of one officer who suffered a
serious shoulder wound.

Among the buildings targeted by the youths was a library,
which was set afire.

In Sunday's violence, eight people were arrested and 20
police officers were injured — including the town's police
chief, who was attacked in the face when he tried to
negotiate with the rioters, police said. One firefighter
also was injured.

Residents drew parallels to the 2005 riots, which were
prompted by the deaths of two teens electrocuted in a power
substation while hiding from police in a suburb northeast
of Paris.

A recent study by the state auditor's office indicated that
money poured into poor French suburbs in recent decades had
done little to solve problems vividly exposed by the 2005
riots, including discrimination, unemployment and
alienation from mainstream society.

Monday, 26 November 2007


An African Cultural Modernity:
Achebe, Fanon, Cabral, and the Philosophy of Decolonization

Author: Biodun Jeyifo
Socialism and Democracy,
Volume 21, Issue 3 November 2007 ,
pages 125 - 141

Some recurrent themes on the challenges of an
African cultural

I start with the contention that if we are to derive much-needed
illumination from the literature and critical thought of Africa of
the last half a century with regard to the profound crises
engendered by arrested decolonization in the postindependence
period, three recurrent, closely related themes on the problem of
modernization and modernity in the continent ought to engage our
serious attention. I wish to frame my reflections here around a
synoptic review of these three themes.

The first theme involves a deep sense of perplexity with regard to
all available cognitive or explanatory models and paradigms,
precolonial, colonial and postcolonial. Indeed, this perplexity is
so deep, so profound that it amounts to nothing less than an
epistemic impasse. Sometimes, this theme is rendered in literary
criticism of the conventional kind in the simplistic and distortive
framework of a culture clash between Africa and the West, tradition
and modernity, the old and the new, the indigenous and the alien.
Soyinka, among others, has confronted this critical reductionism
with one of its most devastating rebuttals.1 A much more resonant
articulation of this theme of epistemic impasse is suggested by both
the title and the narrative of Achebe's classic novel, Things Fall
Apart, especially in its exploration in depth of the forcible
transition of Umuofia, standing metonymically for all of precolonial
Africa, into a historical space which seems to make invalid all pre-
existing cognitive systems, all paradigms for making confounding or
traumatic experiences comprehensible or negotiable.

This theme is often apprehended in the larger imaginative topography
of anomie, spiritual or psychological. However, what I am
emphasizing here are the specifically epistemic dimensions of the
theme. Thus the narration of the collapse of all the identity-
forming and socially cementing institutions of Umuofia in Things
Fall Apart is underscored by the simultaneous telescoping and
fragmenting of vast temporalities and synchronicities of precolonial
experience. It is this particular form of the disintegration of the
institutional matrices which organise and shape cognition which is
conveyed by the Yeatsian/Achebean image of the center which can no
longer hold. In other words, beside the collapse of ordered
practices and values of kinship, identity and community, it is the
terror of losing one's cognitive moorings and having little to shape
the fashioning of new and viable markers or paradigms to make
experience meaningful that leads to the deep historical melancholia
at the end of the novel.

Of the many texts in the corpus of modern African writing which have
given a compelling, mature exploration of this theme of epistemic
impasse or terminus, we may point to the exemplary cases of
Soyinka's A Dance of the Forests, Armah's The Beautiful Ones Are Not
Yet Born and Fragments, Cheikh Hamidou Kane's Ambiguous Adventure,
Bessie Head's A Question of Power, and Dambudzo Marechera's House of
Hunger and Black Sunlight. In these texts we encounter protagonists,
characters and imaginative lifeworlds in which "old," hitherto
stable meanings, codes, inscriptions and significations no longer
suffice to make experience easily or reassuringly cognizable, at the
same time that "new" syntheses can only very dimly be perceived if
at all.

It is important, I believe, to draw attention to one often ignored
but crucial aspect of this theme of epistemic, cognitive crisis and
its corresponding historical melancholia: its initial articulation
literally preceded the attainment of formal independence, indeed
coincided with the inception of the movement toward decolonization.
Moreover, in many notable cases, the imaginative landscape of the
literary expression of this theme involves a retrospective
projection into both precolonial, precapitalist African social
formations and the forcibly imposed disarticulations of colonial
capitalism. I believe it is important to recall this point if only
to underscore the fact that this theme of epistemic impasse did not
emerge, as many critics seem to think, with "postcolonial

The second theme - which I designate radical alterity and hegemony -
is perhaps more overtly political; it entails two distinct but
closely interlocking ideas. On one side is the idea that in the
modern world and more specifically the global order of late
capitalism, very powerful, almost insuperable external forces and
interests are ranged against Africa and African peoples and
societies; on the other side is the idea that these mostly Western
foreign interests and forces are so alien to our cultures and
societies as to constitute, compositely, a difference that is
radically incommensurable to Africa. It is on the basis of the
convergence of these two ideas that we should look for a deeper
resonance of this theme of radical alterity and hegemony beyond its
normative inscription in our critical discourse as economic and
political imperialism against Africa. In the deeper articulations of
this theme in African literature and critical discourse, the
putative difference between the cultural and civilizational
ensembles of Africa and the West are reified in the form of
difference made so incommensurable as to be endlessly inimical and

Among the literary works which have explored this theme at some
length and with imaginative force are Achebe's Arrow of God,
Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman, Ayi Kwei Armah's Two
Thousad Seasons, and Yambo Ouloguem's Bound to Violence. It might be
useful to remark here that Negritude was, in its classical phase,
indeed initially an ideological, perhaps doctrinal codification of
this theme of the radically incommensurable alterity of the West to
Africa.3 Furthermore, most of the varieties of the vigorously
revisionary "nativism" of recent critical discourse, as in the
notable cases of Chinweizu and Armah, correspond to a sort of post-
Negritude consolidation of this theme.4 I would thus argue that this
theme, conceived as a set of dispersed tropes or "idiologemes" in
contemporary African critical discourse, occupies a deep structure
of the political unconscious of the modern African nationalist or
Pan-Africanist literary-cultural imagination.5

The third theme of our review of contemporary African thought
derives dialectically from the second and is indeed a refinement or
sublation of it.6 This theme I identify as that of culturalism. It
essentially entails the view that given the vastly unequal
technological, military and economic dimensions of the encounter of
colonized Africa with the colonizing West - indeed, on account of
this very factor of a massively disproportionate distribution of
power and advantage - "culture" constitutes the only real bulwark,
the last redoubt, the kernel of both effective resistance to the
West and neutralization of Africa's enormous disadvantage. In all
the varied formulations of this view, "culture" is recognized as
being the target of a massive Western onslaught; however, "culture"
is at the same time seen not only as the most resistant "front" but
as the very ground of resistance on all other "fronts," economic,
political, military, ideological. Thus, if this theme, as we have
noted, is a dialectical response to the reification of the presumed
incommensurable and inimical alterity of the West to Africa, it is a
response by way of a counter-reification: African "culture" is saved
by the very fact of its presumed absolute difference from the West.
In varying formalistic and thematic expressions, with their
divergent ideological inflections, this idea animates such diverse
literary texts as Kobina Sekyi's The Blinkards, Hampate Ba's The
Fortunes of Wangrin, Ebrahim Hussein's Kinjeketile, Okot p'Bitek's
Song of Lawino, Armah's The Healers and, again, Soyinka's Death and
the King's Horseman.

A changed historical ground

It is important to recall these central themes of the literary-
critical discourse on cultural modernity and African societies
because, since the 1980s at least, a changed historical ground has
given them a new pertinence, a fresh lease of discursive life. In
other words, these themes are being discursively reinscribed, albeit
in greatly altered forms. We shall engage some of these at the end
of this essay, but first, a word on the changed historical ground.
Since the terms which define this have been extensively delineated
and analysed, only its barest outline will be given here, not in any
particular order, but as a composite profile.7

Perhaps the most important feature of this altered historical
terrain is the polarization of the global economic order into two
warring camps of "creditor nations" and "debtor nations." Expressed
differently, the old polarization between colonizers and colonized,
between empire and colony, has been transmuted into the far more
rarified and finessed antagonism between, as some now put it,
nations that "restructure" and those that "adjust." Africa is
solidly and almostly completely mired among

Effective control and initiative for the present and future
direction of the continent now lie with the creditor nations, acting
through institutional proxies like the IMF and the World Bank. This
spells virtual recolonization of the continent;
As most of the African states enter a kind of collective debt
peonage in which a laissez-faire market economy is imposed on them,
there is a much-touted view that both socialism and capitalism, as
paradigms of mobilization for economic and social progress, have
failed in the continent;
Given these factors which have reduced Africa's growth rate to
virtual nullity, or even stagnation and real decline, Africa is
effectively excluded from the current explosion of knowledge by the
technologization and computerization of information data and new
knowledges and techniques;
Given the massive reduction of social expenditure on the public
sectors of the African economies, there is now a virtual collapse of
higher education and high-level manpower training, with a
corresponding demoralization of educational personnel and other
professional groups;
With the enormous shrinkage of credit and investment capital which
accompany these interlocking developments, there is a monumental
reduction of the cost of reproduction of labor power and general
productive capacities; consequently there is every possibility that
competencies and capacities of the present generation, already
almost fatally depressed, will further deteriorate in the next
The greatest human cost is imposed: the immiseration and
pauperization of virtually all urban and rural producers and
toilers, especially women and children;
There occurs a perceivable weakening, or even implosion, of the
postcolonial state, given the disappearance of the extractable
surplus on which its apparatus, as well as its legitimacy, rests;
consequently, there seems to be an intensification of more
primordial bases of community, allegiance and sociality.

Given the fact that these patterns and developments are to be found
in virtually all the African states, with perhaps only South Africa
as a historic exception, the total import lies not in particular,
differentiated expressions in each African country, but rather in
the way in which these developments combine to homogenize, objectify
and reify the continent, the "race," as a weak, stagnating,
dependent and tragic zone of humanity. Given this factor, racial or
continental awareness becomes a sort of community of consciousness
of unassuageable suffering desperately in search of, in Walter
Benjamin's famous construct, messianic time.8

This condition is a fertile ground for a special kind of
reification, a special kind of hypostasis which generates and
naturalizes "racial explanations" in place of scrupulous attention
to the historically contingent crystallization and intensification
of unequal relationships between and within nations and peoples. In
its most extreme negative expression, this reification of "race" as
the ground of all explanatory or analytical paradigms indeed
engenders what I would describe as the mythicization and annulment
of history. Thus again today we confront the increasing
racialization of thought and culture about which Fanon had given
insightful warnings. In the cloudy light of this re-racialization of
thought, historical experience and social phenomena assume the
extremely mystifying appearance of new phantasms of the "white man"
or the "Black race."9

In such conditions, a truly radical African critical discourse calls
for intellectual vigilance, for sustained, unyielding and rigorous
acts of theoretical demythologization. Our reflections on Achebe,
Fanon and Cabral and the philosophy of decolonization thus hope to
establish a line of departure from the tendency toward the
reification and obfuscation which the current historical melancholia
all too easily engenders. What links these three writers, indeed, is
their efforts to demystify reification, not by ignoring it, but by
engaging it directly in both lucid and complex ways. In this regard,
it becomes important to uncover how, on the one hand, each of the
writers engages our three central themes and, on the other, how we
might read each of these engagements - Achebe's, Fanon's and
Cabral's - against one another, and against the more generalized
philosophy of decolonization which we deem a fundamental aspect of
contemporary intellectual culture.

Achebe: telos, progressivism, and de-mythologization

To read Achebe's ideas on the genealogy and evolution of an African
cultural modernity, on the one hand, in his imaginative works and,
on the other, in his non-fictional essays, is to become acutely
conscious of the need for very discriminating, hermeneutically
flexible and open reading strategies. For scattered throughout
Achebe's fictional and non-fictional prose works are ideas which, at
one level might seem inconsistent and contradictory, but at another
level reveal deep structural, dialectical regularities and unities
(if it is remembered that the "unity" of the dialectic not only
admits, but consists of contradiction and tension).10 This calls for
careful elaboration.

Even a cursory reading of many of Achebe's fictional and non-
fictional prose works shows immediately that the themes of a radical
incommensurability of "Africa" and "Europe" and of the great
disproportion in power and historic advantage between them, are
explored extensively by him, and in quite unique representational
terms. Consider the sort of inscription of these themes that we find
in Achebe's novelistic masterpiece, Arrow of God,11 in the account
given by Winterbottom (the colonial District Officer) of a
particular episode in the military "pacification" of Umuaro:

I think I can say with all modesty that this change came after I had
gathered and publicly destroyed all firearms, except of course, this
collection here. You will be going there frequently on tour. If you
hear anyone talking about Otiji-Egbe, you know that they are talking
about me. Otiji-Egbe means "Breaker of Guns." I am even told that
all children born in that year belong to a new age-grade of the
Breaking of the Guns. (36-7)

The triumphalism of this account, which savours and re-enacts the
psychic violence it narrates, is all the more interesting in that it
seems to find complicity in the way in which the colonized have
ritualized and encoded the event in collective memory. Clearly,
Winterbottom intends a ritualization of the colonizer's military
superiority or invincibility in the ceremonial, public enactment of
the event. As some scholars have noted, this reveals the European
colonizers' consumate love of spectacle - of ceremonial display of
power and majesty - that played a crucual role in the consolidation
and stabilization of colonial rule in Africa and Asia.12 Thus, if
this is a recognizable part of the culture of colonialism, what is
extraordinary in Achebe's depiction is the seeming complicity, even
acquiescence, of the colonized in the ritualization of the
colonizer's military superiority. This seems to be even more pointed
in the following account of Ezeulu's ruminations on "book" and
writing as indices of a vast chasm in cultural achievement and
advantage between the "white man" and the "black man":

The messenger pointed in his direction and the other man followed
with his eye and saw Ezeulu. But he only nodded and continued to
write in his big book. When he finished what he was writing he
opened a connecting door and disappeared into another room. He did
not stay long there; when he came out again be beckoned at Ezeulu,
and showed him into the white man's presence. He too was writing,
but with his left hand. The first thought that came to Ezeulu on
seeing him was to wonder whether any black man ould ever achieve the
same mastery over book as to write it with the left hand. (173)

Since this is Ezeulu the proud priest who refuses to be the "white
man's warrant chief," it behoves us not to read this pasage in
isolation from other kinds, or orders, of narrative and
representation in the novel. For Ezeulu is not like the benighted
fireman on the riverboat in Conrad's Heart of Darkness who, thanks
to Conrad's totalizing and totalitarian exclusion of "native"
versions of "reality" other than his own narcissistic "European"
point of view,13 cannot have any conception of the riverboat's
engine-room boiler or furnace other than as a malevolent, fiery
spirit who must be constantly and endlessly appeased. Thus, even
though Ezeulu, from the conditioned gaze of an analphabetic, non-
literate culture, mystifies "book" and writing, in many other
respects, especially on the level of ethical and spiritual
reflectiveness and acceptance of moral responsibilitity, Ezeulu
considers himself, and aspects of his culture, superior to the
culture and vlues of the "white man." This is definitely the spirit
of his testimony against his own community of Umuaro in the "white
man's" court in which he makes a deposition against what he sees as
a "war of blame" by his own people against Okperi, a neighboring
community. In making that deposition, Ezeulu stands completely
alone, distanced as much from the land-grabbing, aggressive
opportunism of his own community as from the manipulative, divide-
and-dominate politicking of the white colonial administration. But
significantly, Ezeulu invokes ethical imperatives from his culture
in maintaining his lonely unpopular stand.

This line of interpretation allows us to see that the structure of
Achebe's representations and narratives on the historic encounter of
Europe and Africa is intricately dialectical and is shaped by
ambiguity and irony. At the very least, I identify three levels of
narratological, representational or ideological matrices, all deeply
interconnected. Here, I will attempt only a brief unravelling of
these matrices.

At one level, the superb realist logic of Achebe's narrative art
shows a deep intuitive grasp of objective, impersonal mediations and
determinations on the encounter of the colonizer and the colonized.
Moreover, this is matched by a rigorous fidelity to the exploration
of these processes and determinations in their own right and at that
level at which they are not only ultimately beyond the control of
either side, but cannot even be adequately perceived, let alone
understood and mastered. The most widely discussed of these is the
case of Oduche, Ezeulu's son who, at his father's behest, goes to
the "white man's" church and school in order to be his
father's "eyes and ears"; however, Oduche disappoints his father and
culture by the way that his formation as a newly colonized subject,
an unintended "évolué," exceeds his father's plans. This is the
level of the external, objective operation of the dialectic of
history and subjectivity, and Achebe's realist art is superbly
attentive to it.

At another level, that of interiority and personal volition, Achebe
does not cede individuals, their passions, anxieties,
eccentricities, strengths and weaknesses to total control and
determination by abstract, impersonal forces and processes. This is
perhaps a product both of his version of realism and his deep strain
of humanist sympathies. Thus, it should be remarked that Achebe
extends his understanding, and his solicitude and compassion, to
both the colonizer and the colonized, both the victims and the
perpetrators of reification. One instantiation of this is the total
portrait of Winterbottom, "the Breaker of Guns": even at the very
moment of glorying in his triumph as "Otiji-Ogbe," Breaker of Guns,
the vulnerable, wasting man behind the mythic lionization is deftly
shown to be succumbing to that classic of the wages or nemesis of
colonial "sin" - tropical fever - and the relentless human vitiation
lodged within the natural cycle of aging.

The most intricate, daunting level of these matrices of Achebe's
representations of historical experience concerns his infusion into
his characteristic realist detachment and irony passionate espousals
of particular causes and somewhat more limited communal, national
and even "racial" interests. Some of these are: the human worth and
fundamental dignity of the African precolonial past, with all its
imperfections and limitations;14 the cause of women and all
marginalized groups and classes;15 the vocation of writing in
particular and art in general in an increasingly philistine,
vulgarly materialistic African postcoloniality;16 the cause of
Biafra during the Nigerian civil war and of the Igbo people in the
skewed, explosively antagonistic "peace" of post-civil war
Nigeria;17 and the Pan-Africanist internationalism of an African
humanity which embraces the continent and the diaspora.18 This is
perhaps the greatest challenge to interpretation posed by Achebe's
fictional and non-fictional works: the intersection and convergence
in these works of realist detachment and objectivity, intuitive
grasp of the inner movement of complex mediations and
determinations, a broad, catholic humanist sympathy, and the
espousal of particularist causes.

It is against this complex tapestry of Achebe's narrative art, broad
moral and philosophical temper, and passionate political and
ideological enthusiams that one must, I believe, read what comes
across in his writings as the most recurrent, the most insistent,
and the most problematic theme on modernity and modernization: a
much too linear and teleological view of historical change, a much
too schematic division between "backwardness" and "progressiveness,"
between cultural immobilism and dynamism. I would like to examine
this issue briefly by juxtaposing three passages from different
fictional and non-fictional works of the Nigerian author.

The first passage, the earliest of our three examples, comes from
some fragmentary, non-fictional notes titled "Tourist Sketches"
published in 1962 which bore the subtitle "being part of an
unwritten travel book":

The Wachagga who inhabit the slopes of Kilimanjaro are today a very
progressive people. They are comparatively wealthy because they grow
coffee on the most modern cooperative lines. I am told that the
Wachagga used not to be very popular with the British
administration, especially with one particular Governor who did not
fancy natives in lounge suits.

The Masai their neighbours took one look at Western civilization and
turned their back on it; the Wachagga plunged in without taking a
look. They are always trying out new things. In the fifties they
decided to unite their 300,000 people under a paramount chief, and
chose as their first ruler Tom Marealle who was educated at the
London School of Economics. In 1960 they found him too ambitious and
replaced him with an elected President, Solomon Eliufo who had been
educated at Makerere and the United States and was one of Mr.
Nyerere's brightest ministers

Personally I think New Africa belongs to those who, like the
Wachagga, are ready to take in new ideas. Like all those with open
minds they will take in a lot of rubbish. They will certainly not be
a tourist attraction. But in the end life will favour those who come
to terms with it and not those who run away.19

Our second passage takes us back to Arrow of God in Winterbottom's
speech on the "breaking of guns." The echoes of the earlier text
on "Massais" and "Wachaggas" are unmistakable:

Those guns have a long and interesting history. The people of Okperi
and their neighbours Umuaro are great enemies. Or they were before I
came into the story. A big savage war had broken out between them
over a piece of land. This feud was made worse by the fact that
Okperi welcomed missionaries and government while Umuaro, on the
other hand, has remained backward. It was only in the last four or
five years that any kind of impression has been made there. (36)

Finally, a passage from Achebe's book of trenchant social criticism,
The Trouble with Nigeria, published in 1983. The quote is from an
essay titled "The Igbo Problem":

The origin of the national resentment of the Igbo is as old as
Nigeria and quite as complicated. But it can be summarized thus: The
Igbo culture being receptive to change, individualistic and highly
competitive, gave the Igbo man an unquestioned advantage over his
compatriots in securing credentials for advancement in Nigerian
colonial society. Unlike the Hausa/Fulani he was unhindered by a
wary religion and unlike the Yoruba unhampered by traditional
hierarchies. This kind of creature, fearing nor God nor man, was
custom-made to grasp the opportunities, such as they were, of the
white man's dispensation. And the Igbo did so with both hands.
Although the Yoruba had a huge historical and geographical head-
start the Igbo wiped out their handicap in one fantastic burst of
energy in the twenty years between 1930 and 1950.20

The implicit teleological, progressivist, quasi-Darwinian view in
these quotes on the topic of modernization and modernity is, as is
now very well known, a major aspect of the hegemonist ideology of
empire-building Europe in its global reach over the course of four
hundred years.21 It achieves one of its most "scientific"
expressions in W.W. Rostow's famous key text of 1960s bourgeois
sociology of development, Stages of Economic Growth.22 And as Byran
Turner has demonstrated in his important book, Marx and the End of
Orientalism, when applied to the so-called developing world, this
teleological, progressivist view of modernity fastens almost
exclusively on "internalist" or "culturalist" obstacles to
modernization and development.23 Thus this teleological
progressivism marks a point of theoretical and ideological weakness
in Achebe's ideas on culture and development, even though, as we
have seen, his works constitute a powerful critique of reification
and abstraction of "culture" from historical processes and the
competitive struggles between social groups, nations, peoples.
Alongside Achebe's teleological formulations, there has thus always
been something of an internal critique of them in his writings, and
some of his recent essays and fictional works have indeed deepened
and expanded on the more muted articulation of this critique in his
earlier writings.24 This is particularly true of the novel Anthills
of the Savannah25 and the collection of essays, Hopes and
Impediments. In these works we encounter a much more complex view
of "culture" as the kernel of resistance to both local and foreign
domination and as a germ of renewal and transformation. In other
words, we find a transcendence of the schematic, binary division of
history and experience in the teleological, progressivist
formulation of a radical separation and antagonism
between "stronger" and "weaker" peoples and social groups,
more "dynamic" and "static" cultures, the precolonial, precapitalist
past and the varied capitalisms of the present. In Anthills of the
Savannah, this exemplary transcendence of cultural or experiential
binarisms is symbolized by the novel's extraordinary closing
narrative and representational tropes: Elewa's new baby girl is
given a boy's name and during this emblematic enactment the men, as
traditional embodiments of "strength," initiative and decisiveness,
are noticeably in the background. And consider the radical critique
of, even the break with, teleological thought in the following
passage from the eloquent essay on culture and development, "What
Has Literature Got to Do with It":

In one sense [there is] a travelling away from [an] old self towards
a cosmopolitan, modern identity, while in another sense [there is a]
journeying back to regain a threatened past and selfhood. To
comprehend the dimensions of this gigantic paradox and coax from it
such unparalleled inventiveness requires not mere technical flair
but the archaic energy, the perspective, the temperament of creation
myths and symbolism. It is in the very nature of creativity, in its
prodigious complexity and richness, that it will accommodate
paradoxes and ambiguities. But this, it seems, will always elude and
pose a problem for the uncreative, literal mind. The literal mind is
the one-track mind, the simplistic mind, the mind that cannot
comprehend that where one thing stands, another will stand beside
it - the mind (finally and alas!) which appears to dominate our
current thinking on Nigeria's need for technology.26

Fanon and Cabral: materialist hermeneutics and cultural theory

In approaching the immensely crucial works of Fanon and Cabral, it
is perhaps useful to recall the extraordinary idea that we
extrapolated above from Achebe's essay, "What Has Literature Got to
Do With It?," which states that the problematic of modernization and
modernity for non-Western societies involves a Janus-faced embrace
of the past and the future: a moving outward and forward toward
technological mastery and cosmopolitan identity as well as a moving
inward and backward in time to repossess an archaic cultural energy
and creativity lodged in residual sediments derived from the
preindustrial, precapitalist and precolonial cultures. This notion
flies in the face of the dominant discourses on development and
modernity in African and Third World societies, which are all mostly
based on teleologically progressivist and evolutionist theories.
Sometimes, as in the case of a W.W. Rostow, these theories are quite
explicit in affirming that there are definite, sequential stages to
necessarily and progressively pass through in the forward march to
modernization, affirming in effect that one cannot skip intermediate
stages with impunity in order to arrive at real modernity. Mostly,
however, these theoretical suppositions on stagist evolutionism are
muted, implicit; nonetheless they run deep.

Most theorists and popularizing pundits of this school, Africans and
non-Africans alike, locate Africa at the earlier phases of this
teleological-evolutionist schema, thereby implying that the problems
and challenges of modernization and modernity in Africa are almost
insuperable on account of the presumed cultural provenance of
backwardness. If Achebe's formulation of the engine of modernity
facing forward and looking back at the same time is a powerful
metaphoric rebuttal of this telos, the writings of Fanon and Cabral
constitute important theoretical validation of this rebuttal.

Since most of Fanon's mature writings on cultural theory are in his
last three books, The Wretched of the Earth, A Dying Colonialism and
Toward The African Revolution, it may be useful to raise the
question of how his first book, Black Skins, White Masks, a more
youthful, passionate, tortured self-analysis, relates to the later
works. The title is pertinent here: masks and phantoms of a black
subjectivity overdetermined by deep complexes of alienation and self-
hatred. In other words, the book was a courageous, unflinching,
brilliant look at the sources which generate, and the forms/shades
which express the "black man" as the absolute Other, the incarnation
of negativity and inferiority. Beyond this, the book also explored
how this phantasm became internalized, lived and acted out in
elaborate forms of schizophrenia (e.g. linguistic and psychosexual)
and how it could and should be terminated. What Fanon was thus later
able to do in his mature works came by way of deepening and
generalizing these insights of Black Skins, White Masks to wider
historical, political and ideological contexts implied, for
instance, in the title The Wretched of the Earth.

Indeed one can, I believe, plot a sort of movement in Fanon's
thought in general, and on cultural theory in particular, in the
ideas and achievements of these four titles: from the most concrete,
personal and confessional descent into subjetivity in Black Skins,
White Masks, through a more muted form of the searing, poetic prose
of the earlier book as he articulates a sort of manifesto and primer
of revolt (in the context of historic decolonization) in A Dying
Colonialism and The Wretched of the Earth, to the essays of Toward
the African Revolution which, in a visionary, proleptic register,
look ahead beyond formal decolonization to the consolidation of the
momentum of emancipation. Thus, in Fanon's work we find an internal
dynamic which is rare not only in intellectual history in general
but also among revolutionary intellectuals: a trajectory which
progresses from the most intimate, personal, concrete and particular
expression of suffering and thwarted desire, to its generalization
and universalisation to encompass the truths of collective class,
national and racial oppressions of the most marginalized of a world
order under colonial and imperial domination. This is perhaps what
has, in the decades since his death, turned Fanon into the leading
theorist of national liberation as vehicle of revolutionary
transcendence of many forms of oppression in the developing world:
psycho-social and psyco-sexual alienation; economic and political
domination and marginalization; the usurpation of the right to self-

From the perspective of our own present reflections, perhaps the
most important lesson of Fanon's life and work is that, starting
from the most personal experience of racial negation, he made so
thorough a theoretical investigation of it as to link it with
virtually every other form and site of negation and oppression. And
he turned his searing demystification both on the oppressor and the
oppressed, both on arrogant, triumphalist Europe in its imperial
project and on Africa beaten down, exploited, inferiorized,
condemned to backwardness. By totally absorbing the insights of the
major Western intellectual currents of his day - structuralism,
phenomenology, psychoanalysis, linguistics and revolutionary
socialist theory - and by engaging thinkers like Hegel, Marx,
Sorrel, Adler and Lacan, he was extraordinarily penetrating on the
contradictions and hypocrisies at the heart of Europe's finest ideas
and institutions - humanism, democracy, the secular, rationalist
legacy of the Enlightenment. Conversely, while he was deeply
sympathetic to the racialized, nationalist or culturalist turning
way from Europe, he was penetrating in his account of its dangers,
pitfalls, delusions and, ultimately, self-reification. In this
particular respect, the penetrating reach of his critique of
Negritude is perhaps still to be matched.

Above all else, Fanon demonstrated that successful, emancipatory
resistance is possible for oppressed "races," peoples, nations and
classes at whatever level of economic, psychological and historic
disadvantage and devastation by cultural imperialism; but he
insisted that this was possible only on the basis of avoiding the
reification both of the "racial" or "nationalist" self as
incarnation of virtue, and of the colonizing Other as the embodiment
of evil. This was the crux of Fanon's exposé on the dangers of
freezing the initial manicheanism of the culture of colonialism into
a permanent binarism; regrettably, this insight has been widely
ignored or misunderstood. Finally, Fanon cautioned the middle-class
African intellectual or writer to be aware of seductions and
inducements to moral vaccilations and ideological compromises which
are inherent in his or her being part of the colonized elite, part
of the pseudo-bourgeoisie whose role, according to Fanon, would in
all probability, be to betray the promise of independence, to arrest
or set back the forward motion of historical decolonization.

With the possible exception of the descent into a personal,
intensely subjective experience of racial alienation and its
theoretical generalization into a collective psychohistory of racial
disalienation, most of these themes of Fanon's mature writings are
present in Cabral's work. The important differences between the two
revolutionary thinkers pertain to points of emphasis and contexts of
theoretical reflections. Thus, in general, Cabral's writings are
less personal, less "confessional" than Fanon's; they are more
grounded in close, extensive and exacting analyses of African
societies and cultures in the context of what was perhaps the best
organized, most ideologically developed anti-colonial, anti-
imperialist national liberation struggle in Africa, namely that of
the former Portuguese colonies. And since Cabral was arguably the
greatest theoretician of that extraordinary anti-colonial, anti-
imperialist movement, what we have in his work by way of the
philosophy of decolonization, especially in the domain of cultural
theory, marks perhaps the highest point of theoretical elaboration
prior to the consolidation of recolonization in its present stage.

Given the many points of convergence between Fanon and Cabral, we
can only in the present context indicate, in summary fashion, the
main ideas of Cabral. Three closely connected ideas seem to be of
exceptional significance.

First, there is the notion that whatever the level of economic
development, whatever the material conditions of a particular
society, it is a bearer and creator of culture and thus capable of
self-regeneration and self-renewal, capable of mastery of techniques
and processes necessary for survival and social reproduction
relative to that society's level of development. We can see that
this point directly addresses the themes of the radical
incommensurability between Africa and the West and the great
disproportion in initiative, power and advantage between them.
Secondly, there is Cabral's thesis that, "without underestimating
the importance of positive contributions from the oppressor's
culture and other cultures," emancipation, progress, transformation
will come to Africa and other Third World societies only if they
return to the upward paths of the liberation of their productive
capacities, distorted or paralysed by colonialism's devaluation of
the culture of the colonized. Without the liberation of these
productive capacities, Cabral insists that no progress is possible.
Finally, there is Cabral's thesis on the multiform, complex,
asymetrical and contradictory nature of culture, especially in
Africa with regard to the historical heterogeneity of its peoples
and societies, and their violent disaggregation by colonial
capitalism. Indeed, it is perhaps best to bring our observations and
reflections in this essay to a close by quoting directly from Cabral
on this point:

In the specific conditions of our country - and we should say of
Africa - the horizontal and vertical distribution of levels of
culture is somewhat complex. In fact, from the villages to the
towns, from one ethnic group to another, from the peasant to the
artisan or to the more or less assimilated indigenous intellectual,
from one social class to another, and even as we have said from
individual to individual within the same social category, there are
significant variations in the quantitative and qualitative levels of
culture For culture to play the important role which falls to it in
the framework of development of the liberation movement, the
movement must be able to conserve the positive cultural values of
every well-defined social group, of every category, and to achieve
the confluence of these values into the stream of struggle, giving
them a new dimension - the national dimension.27


1. This is contained in Soyinka's prefatory note to his play, Death
and the King's Horseman, London: Methuen, 1975. I should add that in
the context of this essay I will be using the terms "modernization"
and "modernity" interchangeably, even though they mean quite
different things and historical, cultural processes; "modernity,"
for instance, indicates a more complex, contradictory and elusive
concept than "modernization."

2. See Timothy Brennan, Salman Rushdie and the Third World, London:
Macmillan, 1989.

3. I define as "classical" Negritude most of Senghor's definitions
and elaborations on the subject up to the end of the 1950s. In this
phase, Negritude is defined primarily in its particularity, in its
difference and opposition to Europe. In the 1960s, and after formal
independence and the institutionalization of Negritude as a sort of
official ideology or cultural doctrine, we have what I call
a "revisionist" Negritude, which underplays particularism as Senghor
increasingly talks of the contribution of Negritude to
the "civilisation of the universal." See my "Negritude and Its
Discontents," forthcoming.

4. There are important differences between the "nativisms" of these
two writers. Armah tends to be far more erudite, more
philosophically grounded, while Chinweizu is more the polemicist and
gadfly to Eurocentrism. See Armah, "Masks and Marx: The Marxist
Ethos vis-à-vis African Revolutionary Theory and Praxis," Présence
Africaine, 3rd Quarter, 1984, and Chinweizu, the introduction
titled "Redrawing the Map of African Literature" to his Voices from
20th Century Africa, London: Faber & Faber, 1988.

5. See, for the full-scale theoretical exposition of "idiologeme,"
Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially
Symbolic Act, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981.

6. Sublation is the act of canceling but also preserving in an
elevated and transformed manner as a moment in a dialectical process.

7. See, among other numerous titles on this subject, Ben Turok,
Africa: What Can Be Done? London: Zed Press, 1987; Kofi Buenor
Hadjor, Africa in an Era of Crisis, Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press,
1990; and Samir Amin, Delinking: Towards a Polycentric World,
London: Zed Press, 1985.

8. Walter Benjamin, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, New York:
Schocken Books, 1968, especially the chapter, "Theses on the
Philosophy of History."

9. The phrase "racialization of thought" was initially coined by
Frantz Fanon, in the chapter "The Pitfalls of National
Consciousness," in The Wretched of the Earth, New York: Grove Press,

10. On the concept of "contradiction" see, among others, Roy
Bhaskar, Dialectic, Materialism and Human Emancipation, London: New
Left Books, 1983, and Lucio Colletti, "Marxism and the Dialectic,"
New Left Review, No. 93, 1975.

11. Chinua Achebe, Arrow of God, New York: Doubleday, 1969. All page
references are to this edition and are indicated in parentheses in
the text of the essay.

12. See Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, eds, The Invention of
Tradition, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

13. For a brilliant discussion of this point, see Edward
Said, "Intellectuals in the Postcolonial World," Salmagundi, No. 70-
71, Spring-Summer 1986.

14. See Chinua Achebe, "The Novelist as Teacher," in Morning Yet on
Creation Day, London: Heinemann, 1975.

15. I have explored this theme in Achebe's writings in two different
essays: "For Chinua Achebe: The Resilience and the Predicament of
Obierika," in Kunapipi, Special Issue in Celebration of Chinua
Achebe, Vol. 12, No. 2, 1990, and "Okonkwo and his Mother: Things
Fall Apart and Issues of Gender in the Constitution of African
Postcolonial Discourse," in Callaloo, A Journal of Afro-American and
African Arts and Letters, Vol. 16, No. 4, 1993.

16. See Chinua Achebe, "The Truth of Fiction" in Hopes and
Impediments: Selected Essays, 1965-1987, London: Heinemann, 1987.

17. See, among other statements and writings of Achebe on this
subject, "The African Writer and the Biafran Cause," in Morning Yet
on Creation Day (note 14), and "The Igbo Problem," in The Trouble
with Nigeria, Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1983.

18. On this subject, perhaps the most eloquent illustrations are
Achebe's famous encounters with James Baldwin, and his founding of
the journal African Commentary whose coverage encompassed both the
continent and the African diaspora.

19. Chinua Achebe, "Tourist Sketches," in Frances Ademola, ed.,
Reflections: Nigerian Prose and Verse, Lagos: African Universities
Press, 1962.

20. The Trouble with Nigeria (note 17), 46.

21. See Samir Amin, Eurocentrism, New York: Monthly Review Press,

22. W.W. Rostow, Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist
Manifesto, London: Cambridge University Press, 1960.

23. Bryan S. Turner, Marx and the End of Orientalism, London: George
Allen & Unwin, 1978.

24. I have explored this in an essay, "Things Fall Apart: One
Marxist Exegesis," in Bernth Lindfors, ed., Approaches to Teaching
Things Fall Apart, MLA [Modern Languages Association], 1991.

25. Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah, London: Heinemann, 1988.

26. Hopes and Impediments (note 16), 110.

27. Amilcar Cabral, Unity and Struggle, London: Heinemann, 1980, 144-


Saturday, 24 November 2007


How Roma children lose out on education Segregation is rife in schools in eastern Slovakia, says a report by Amnesty

Ian Traynor, Europe
Friday November 16, 2007
The Guardian

Downstairs at the village school there is one class for
"whites", upstairs a separate class for "blacks". The two
never mingle, the apartheid is entrenched. The parents or
the buses collecting the infants from school are instructed
to come at different times to solidify the racial

The scene is not from the American deep south of 40 years
ago or from South Africa 20 years ago, but from
contemporary Europe, from an EU member state where racism,
segregation and discrimination are outlawed but practised
systematically nonetheless.

The "blacks" are the Roma children from Europe's biggest
and most persecuted minority, the place is eastern
Slovakia, home to one of the densest concentrations of Roma
or Gypsy communities in Europe. The educational plight of
the Roma children in Slovakia and across central Europe is
little short of disastrous.

"If I open a Roma class, I will lose all the white
children. They are not clean enough, nor do I have space
for them," a headteacher told Amnesty International in a
report on the persistence of schooling apartheid issued
yesterday. "I don't think you would let your child go to a
Roma class if you lived here as your child would have
everything stolen."

In a landmark ruling this week, the European court of human
rights in Strasbourg found the Czech Republic guilty of
racism and discrimination against the Roma minority for
dumping the children in "special schools" for those with
learning difficulties, and segregating classes between Roma
and Czechs.

It was the first time an EU member state had been found in
breach of the European convention on human rights because
of educational discrimination against the Roma. The ruling
is being closely watched for its impact across central and
south-eastern Europe, where the vast majority of Europe's
estimated 8 million Roma live.

But studies from Amnesty International and the
philanthropist George Soros's Open Society Institute (OSI)
confirm that similar discrimination is rampant in Slovakia.
"Segregation happens in two ways," said Amnesty. "Huge
numbers of Roma continue to be segregated into Roma-only
schools and classes. Many are also inappropriately placed
in 'special schools' for children with physical and mental
disabilities ... As many as 80% of children placed in
special schools in Slovakia are Roma."

The OSI study found that Roma children in Slovakia are 28
times more likely to be put in special schools than
non-Roma pupils, and in the Czech Republic 27 times more

Slovakia is reckoned to have a Roma population of around
half a million or 10%, most of them settled in ghettoes and
shanties in the east where in some regions, according to a
Slovak school inspector, all schools are segregated.

The Roma are broadly seen as the big losers from the
collapse of communism across central Europe 18 years ago.
Parents now have the right to choose which schools their
children go to and they exploit that right to shift their
children from co-education with Roma. The government in
Bratislava is doing little to stop them, according to

"The residents of the village, the whites, wanted their
children to move out of this school to the other school,"
said a headteacher. "They went through the municipality and
regional offices up to the ministry. Everybody agreed and
the white children were moved."

At a primary school near Trebisov in eastern Slovakia two
years ago, Roma parents protested about segregation. The
school refused to integrate the pupils and the parents
appealed. Last year the education ministry ordered the
school to yield. "The school inspectorate ordered the
school to refrain from placing the children in classes
according to their skin colour or ethnicity." The school
continues to segregate the children, Amnesty found.

In addition, the Roma are penalised by a lack of preschool
places, the lack of special teachers and language
difficulties. The Council of Europe's human rights
commissioner reported last year that 80% of pupils in
"special schools" in parts of Slovakia were Roma, while
only 3% of Roma children made it to secondary education.

"Children here are mentally retarded," the headteacher of a
"special school", almost all of whose pupils are Roma, told
Amnesty. "There is a tendency to integrate Roma children in
primary schools, but pupils with mental and social
retardation stay the same."

Friday, 23 November 2007


A Universe of Black Film
Published: November 23, 2007

NY Times

The African Diaspora Film Festival has grown each year
since its genesis in a kitchen-table conversation between a
couple of film fanatics frustrated by the shallow pool of
black films in New York. Starting today the 15th edition of
the festival will offer something for just about anyone
interested in the global black experience: 102 films from
43 countries in a 17-day feast of documentaries, comedies,
musicals, dramas and romances.

Reinaldo Barroso-Spech and Diarah N’Daw-Spech, the married
couple behind the mom-and-pop venture, had also been
casting about for “something important” they could do
together, Ms. N’Daw-Spech recalled recently. After coming
to New York from Paris in the 1980s and “not being able to
see the same breadth and depth of films we saw in Paris, we
figured there was a niche, a need,” she said. The couple,
who are Columbia University graduates, chatted with a
reporter in a lounge at Teachers College in between
last-minute festival preparations.

“The festival has been our kid,” added Ms. N’Daw-Spech,
whose day job is as a financial director at a Teachers
College center. “The kid is an adolescent now. When we
started out, we had no experience, no connections. We knew
nobody. We got some film festival catalogs and started
calling people.”

That first festival in 1993 featured 24 films at the Cinema
Village in Greenwich Village and attracted about 1,500
people over one week. This year the couple (who also
distribute some of the festival films on DVD and video)
expect some 7,000 people from tonight through Dec. 9 at six
locations throughout the city. The films come from
countries including the United States, Jamaica, Haiti,
Portugal, Angola, Germany and Britain.

Forty-five films will receive some sort of premiere at the
festival: 23 are being shown for the first time in New York
and 22 for the first time in this country. Along with the
screenings are panel discussions on themes like “African
leaders” and “slavery in cinema,” question-and-answer
sessions with the filmmakers and even some parties.

The New York premieres include John Sayles’s new film,
“Honeydripper,” the tale of a rural Alabama lounge owner’s
efforts to save his business, starring Danny Glover,
Charles S. Dutton, Stacy Keach and Mary Steenburgen. “El
Cimarrón” by the Puerto Rican director Iván Dariel Ortiz
tells a story of love and slavery in Puerto Rico in the
19th century. “Youssou N’Dour: Return to Goree,” directed
by Pierre Yves-Borgeaud, is a documentary about a jazz
concert on the island of Goree in Senegal featuring Mr.
N’Dour, the renowned Senegalese singer, to commemorate all
the Africans stolen from there and brought to the New World
as slaves.

The opening night features the United States premiere of “A
Winter Tale,” directed by Frances-Anne Solomon (a
Trinidadian working in Canada), a drama about a group of
six black men in Toronto who form a support group in the
aftermath of the accidental shooting of a 10-year-old boy.

Like many of the filmmakers Dr. Barroso-Spech and Ms.
N’Daw-Spech come from places where different cultures
flowed together.

Dr. Barroso-Spech was born in Cuba of Haitian and Jamaican
descent and received his doctorate from Columbia, where he
teaches a course on using film in language education. His
mother began taking him to films when he was a child in
Havana, he recalled. “With the Castro revolution many
Africans came to Cuba and with the Africans, film,” he
said. “Those films were very important in my formative
years. It created in me an understanding of the value of
art and culture as a way to uplift me — and not just me,
but a whole population.”

Ms. N’Daw-Spech is of French and Malian heritage. Together,
the two now comb film festivals around the world for black
images that speak about both common human experiences and
the particulars of race.

They would not disclose the festival’s budget, but they get
support from sources that include the New York State
Council on the Arts and Teachers College. Ms. N’Daw-Spech,
who earned her M.B.A. from Columbia, does the
administrative work; her husband does the programming. They
have one assistant and hire temporary help for the
festival. For the last several years highlights from the
festival have been shown at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
They also take some of the films to Chicago, Jersey City,
Washington and Curaçao for smaller versions of the

Warrington Hudlin, president of the Black Filmmaker
Foundation, estimated that there are more than 20 black
film festivals in the United States, exposing audiences of
all backgrounds to films they would otherwise miss. The
African Diaspora Film Festival, he said, is one of the most
important and is distinctive in including so many films
from outside this country.

“Cinema of color is still marginalized,” Mr. Hudlin said.
“These films are our refuge. They have a critical
importance in our community as reliable venues for access
to the artistic evolution in black cinema.”

As the number of small art houses continues to shrink, it
has become even harder to find independent, smaller black
films, Ms. N’Daw-Spech said.

“We want to keep doing everything we’re doing, but at a
larger scale,” she said. “The best part is that we know
that audiences share what we feel.”