Nicolas Sarkozy’s cabinet approves bill banning veil & Frantz Fanon’s ‘Algeria Unveiled’

Yesterday Sarkozy, the right-wing pig President, embarassed and angered much of the French population, as well as much of the Western world, by approving a bill to ban wearing of the full islamic veil in France.

At such a moment it might be worth looking back to Frantz Fanon’s comments on colonial France’s attempts to enforce control on the Algerian people via similar means. To this end, I’ve uploaded my first pdf: Frantz Fanon’s article ‘Algeria Unveiled’, from A Dying Colonism (1959, trans. eng. 1965). The version here is from Carl Oglesby’s New Left Reader (1969):

Frantz Fanon – Algeria Unveiled

Fanon talks of the colonial administration (a still useful term for describing the French Government’s treatment of its minorities?) coming up with a “precise political doctrine” for the subjugation of the Algerian people:

“If we want to destroy the structure of Algerian society, its capacity for resistance, we must first of all conquer the women; we must go and find them behind the veil where they hide themselves and in the houses where the men keep them out of sight.” (pp.163-4)

To what extent may we suggest that Sarkozy is still fighting this same colonial battle, but now transformed and expanded into a battle between Western neoliberalism and Eastern Islam, and now not in colonial Algeria, but in “postcolonial” France? I would suggest that the comparison is exact. The comparison is made more sickeningly exact by Sarkozy’s insistence that this is a measure to protect muslim women from the ‘degrading’ practice of the veil. Likewise, as Fanon notes, the French colonial adminstration attempted to pass off their attack on as politically progressive, working under the simple formula: “Let’s win over the women and the rest will follow” (p.163).

Further relevant and acute observations come from a Harold Rosenberg article ‘What’s Happening in America” (1967 – yes, it’s all been said before, but politicians are stupid and illiterate). Talking of Black Americans, he says:

“That integration became a popular idea had nothing to do with Blacks. Integration is a passion of our atomized society in which everybody feels segregated in one way or another. The nuts on the Right oppose Black integration because through this opposition they can integrate themselves with other right-wing nuts. The Blacks, held together by their color, are in the minds of the whites the last cohesive entity (today, it’s harder to say that “Jews stick together”). The white Liberal problem is how to integrate this Black entity into the general social disintegration. It can be done only by disregarding its color. Treat each Black as a separate individual. Make the Black into a social atom like the whites, each in his own sac. Since the civil rights movement cannot of itself overcome the cultural breakdown that has been a feature of American life since the beginning of the Eisenhower administration, Blacks must be, and will continue to be, of two minds about integration, and so will whites.” (Discovering the Present, p.314).

Written against the backdrop of Black power, Rosenberg shows his sensitivity to the totality of the “Black Problem”. Namely, by bringing Marxist analysis to bear upon it, and observing that the cost of “integration” is the break up of the strong and vibrant solidarity that existed at that time between Black people in America. Are you a minority when your brothers and sisters are at your back? Perhaps, but perhaps not so much as when you suddenly find yourself alone in the “general social disintegration”. How does this bear upon the “Islamic problem”? Obviously there are close parallels. Islamic society is traditional, insular (to some extent), bound by its own rules (to some extent) and thus resistant to neoliberalism (to some extent). Whether we agree with those rules or not is not the question here. The question is the way that neoliberalism attempts through every means available to crush its opposition, to melt it down into the general disintegration. If this is not possible through the usual incentives (the economic, mass consumption, education, “colonial” rhetoric, racist stereotyping, intimidation, etc.) then, as Sarkozy is demonstrating, the State will intervene with coercion: at the level of legislature, in this case, but also through surveillance, harassment, false imprisonment and, ultimately, violence.

This is the “Islamic problem”: that the treatment of Islam by the Western Governments (at every scale; from immigrants to the Iraq war) reveals not only the intolerance, but the essentially coercive nature of neoliberal hegemony. We on the Left watch in disgust, as histroy continues to repeat itself over and over in the form of strategies of violence. Or do we? The Left too seems to have a complex relation to Islam, a faint but ubiquitous repugnance. We need to get a grip, move beyond our prejudices, and offer up worthwhile analysis as well as active solidarity. We have already begun, of course, but only begun.

Anyway, read the Fanon article yourself, or simply the Guardian’s article from yesterday or the Huffington Post’s comment piece, which is more rounded than you might expect (though not to be read without scrutiny).


~ by Wit on May 21, 2010.

3 Responses to “Nicolas Sarkozy’s cabinet approves bill banning veil & Frantz Fanon’s ‘Algeria Unveiled’”

  1. Very Interesting!
    Thank You

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  3. Reblogged this on Red Sociology.

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