Monday, April 18, 2011

The end of Fanonism

The question is not whether Ghaddafi and his criminal, kleptocratic gang will go, but when. This change will mark the end of an era, characterized by the pervasiveness of an illusion I term Fanonism.

Frantz Fanon (1926-1961) was a French psychiatrist and political thinker. A man of color (born in Martinique), Fanon is best known for his book the Wretched of the Earth (Les damnés de la terre, 1961), in which he preached the redemptive vitues of violence for people in the Third World who were seeking to free themselves from the shackles of colonialism.

Fanon has had an immense influence on anti-colonial and national liberation movements in many parts of the world. Some examples include Ali Shariati in Iran, Steve Biko in South Africa, Malcolm X in the United States, and Ernesto Che Guevara in Cuba. For Shariati and Biko the main interest in Fanon was "the new man" and "black consciousness" respectively. As these two examples show, Fanon's influence was both general and specific to the emergence of black consciousness. His work was a key influence on Brazilian educationist Paulo Freire, as well. Barack Obama references Fanon in his book, Dreams from My Father.

Of course Fanon enthusiasm developed in the larger context of the rise of new leaders like Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana and Julius Nyerere in Tanzania. At the outsets such leaders were idealistic seeking to guide their countries to a better future. However, they often viewed this in the light of Socialist ideals which they had imbibed in the London School of Economics and other Western educational institutions. All too often, these Socialist policies, accompanied by liberal doses of foreign aid, served only to impoverish the people they were ostensibly intended to help.

Before long these idealistic leaders were succeeded by others, whose sole aim was to enrich themselves and their families. In some cases, as in the so-called Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Egypt, they conducted their raids on the treasury with the complicity of the US. Others, however, sought to defy the US--as in North Korea, Syria, and Libya. In his last years, to be sure, Qaddafi sought to make nice with the US and other Western powers. It must be remembered, though, that the original basis of his regime was ostensibly Arab Socialism, in defiance of the "imperialist powers." But this supposed orientation turned out just to be a cloak for the empowerment and enrichment of his family. Like Fidel Castro and many others, Qaddafi had assumed the powers of an absolute monarch, though not the name. From his position of dominance, he sought to confirm his family in power for the indefinite future.

That dream is now ending. So too, it is to be hoped, the illusions of Fanonism and Third World Socialism.

UPDATE (May 4, 2011). It is usual to ascribe the violent behavior of the late Osama bin Laden simply to Islamic sources. Certainly there is plenty of precedent in the Qur'an and in the history of Muslim expansion. Could it be, though, that he was also influenced by Frantz Fanon? As far as I can tell, this topic has not been carefully investigated. It should be.



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