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Article written

  • on 15.01.2015
  • at 04:26 PM
  • by Kevin

Exploding enclosures in Africa and Europe (on Charlie Hebdo and Boko Haram) 0

This is the first of two essays on the theme of Islam in Europe and Africa. The second will appear after the Nigerian elections of 14 February and assess their possible impact on the war against Boko Haram.

Paris was the city where Frantz Fanon found his intellectual vocation. The political vocation had already been found as a young doctor amongst the Algerian diaspora in Marseilles. But it was Paris that shaped the expression of his thought and, in some ways, hijacked it. It was Jean-Paul Sartre’s preface to Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth that introduced the image of the coiled native waiting to explode outwards with his bomb – explode indiscriminately because of years of very precise discrimination against his skin, his African-ness, his tropical blackness. Whether Fanon meant to be the purveyor of the image of the suicide bomber is another question.

His book is, for the most part, a series of psychoanalytic case studies of trauma induced by colonial persecution. Like his earlier book, Black Skin, White Masks, it was half medical text and half political condemnation and exhortation. But, in Black Skin, White Masks, he had made a call for equality, for an end to the master-slave dichotomy, and for black persons to take their places alongside Hegel and Tchaikovsky in terms of globally-recognised intellect and creativity.

Fanon did not want a better ghetto. He wanted the same penthouse in the metropole that, hitherto, only the colonial masters inhabited. His now forgotten essays on French politics and political figures showed how closely he followed and understood the French situation. There was almost nothing generalised about his critique of France. It was work from close and specific observation.

Like the work of his fellow expatriates in Paris, exiles but invited into the circles of Sartre and Breton, what Fanon, Shari’ati from Iran and Senghor from Senegal accomplished was the idea of a future based on equality and a fusion of all that was best, on equal terms, of seemingly disparate cultures. The difference between them and modern European multiculturalists was the insistence that it was the ‘Other’ that chose the terms of fusion – not polite and middle-class well-meaningness in the 5th and 6th arrondissements.

Shari’ati made a fusion of existential thought, Rumi-esque transcendence, and modes of European church organisation for his Iranian platform for change. Senghor seemed in his doctrine of negritude to fetishise precisely the circumscriptions of the black person by white observers – they can dance and sing very well – but, along the way, demonstrated how complex was the grammar of African rhetoric and poetry – of African speech, of ‘parole’ as well as ‘langue’; but, subversively, he used European grammatical terms to demonstrate how the European denigration of the African had to fall on its own sword. The origins of global dissent in Paris were precise and sophisticated.

Continue reading on African Arguments

By Stephen Chan

Photo Credit: Edward Muslak/ Flickr

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