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Libyan Writer Ghoma

Sunday, 8 January, 2006

COLONIALISM'S POSITIVE CONTRIBUTIONS...!

By: Ghoma

        Colonialism impacted large swathes of earth and touched good part of humanity. One can argue if colonialism had any positive impact on anybody at all, it was not on areas that bore its brunt but rather on the countries that carried its actions, managed them, and indeed reaped whatever fruits they'd yielded. Notwithstanding the sugarcoated slogans under which the looting campaigns were undertaken -awhile back were the brassy civilizing missions, nowadays have been upgraded to the less pretentious yet still glamorous jingle: democratization; the thrust of those "missions" was to subject entire countries and their peoples by any means including exterminations, for the purposes of blatant and crude pillaging of their resources. Any benefits accrued on the receiving side? Not much, according to what can be seen in these lands! If it's true such traumatic jogs did wake the somnolent populations but they're also bound to leave their injuries, that's their lasting effects, for generations and generations to come. In addition to the visible devastations, the worst effects are the ones lurking down below the surface, the lacerated psyches and the humiliated. Any impact, if not all, were -still are- traumatic and negative. These a societies are still suffering the equivalent of what individuals who went through truly painful experiences are known to have: PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The nightmares are kept recurring despite recent bogus expiations of their perpetrators -done more to comfort the guilty-consciences than to correct the wicked deeds!- by the continuous forays, reprisals, middlings, and threats since the colonizers had officially withdrawn. These certainly have offset whatever benefits that may have occurred.

        To those who may think that such an argument is mere piper's dream, with no factual and scholarly research for support, let them be reminded to contemplate the facts on the ground , and not to forget of the research conducted in the second half of the last century. Back in the '70's, there sprang a school of political economy known by the "Dependency School", the most well- known exponents of which were Amin, Gunder, Frank, et. al. These economists and social scientists had produced some fascinating data on Latin America and Africa which showed, among other things, how the infrastructures built by the colonials were mainly geared toward extracting and exporting to the mother country, rather than serving the local populations or their local markets; and, of course, profits followed the goods. For example roads, railroads, communications, etc., run between mines, forests, or agricultural lands and the ports and nodal connections on the rivers, seas, and oceans.... They also put forth some statistics, I forget the exact numbers but were extremely high up on the order of 90%, on where the surpluses, that's, profits ended up.

        The ruckus going on these days between France and its former colonies, in particular with Algeria, is timely yet a bit twisted and much contorted by the whims of certain factions who're still hang-up on the glories of not very pleasant past. We're talking about the legacy of colonialism. This legacy is here, there, and everywhere; it's stubborn and refuses to slope off towards the sunset. If this legacy still lurks unimpeded today it's because its accounts have never been dealt with appropriately and settled once and for all. Colonialism's many lives pose a real challenge, in matters not only of how it's seen and taken stock of, but also in matters of who got hurt from it and who got benefitted from it. Though the facts on the ground are loud and clear not many are willing to look them in the eye. And though history corroborates the contention, that's, almost all empires past and present rose only when there were enough surpluses to start the accumulation of capital -not to say to spare also a relatively large group of people from the burdens of physical work so they can pursue the whims of civilization- the colonialists are inclined to attribute the high returns to the myths of daring, adventure , and discovery's risks. But a quick look to Western European and North American cities and villages tells another story. More than the enrichment of few individuals was the vigorous and systematic enterprise of exploitations which made the accumulation of wealth -not only that of the free labor and raw materials but above all of what of most of humanity consumed- possible! It's inconceivable to think of all these visible and invisible testimonials to the progress achieved -the monuments, libraries, museums, observatories, universities, et. and indeed the whole infrastructures, without thinking of all those slaves, in chains or without them, who toiled day and night so the "masters" can enjoy the fruits of their sweats. Indeed, think of the Greeks, Romans, or even of the Founders of the American Republic, say of Hercules, Solon, or Alexander the Great; Caesar and Augustus, or people like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Madison, Adam, etc. without a bunch of slaves working hard day and night free of charge to make life, if not opulent, at least a bit easier for those estimable and venerable guys to relax, enjoy a drink, and think; and, thus be able to accomplish what history has attributed to their names.

        No! there's no deliberate confusion here, in equating slavery with colonialism. Well, think about them. The bottom line is subjecting another human being to work for free for someone else! As we all know, wealth nowadays is produced in many ways, but historically there were not a hell of a lot of ways other than the old fashioned way: obtained through what nature and humans give without charging a price for. From under the ground or above it, and with the sweat of millions upon millions, wealth was produced and some of it, the access of consumption, the surpluses, were invested in various enterprises, some of these are still standing as a testimony, others are less visible nonetheless are there, the lubricating agents of the wheels of industry and international business. The facts of history support such a view. A bit of digression will give some insights into what had taken place. Concomitant with the Renaissance and the Age of Explorations -15th through the 19th centuries- there were in Western Europe a tremendous population explosions. The rate of economic growth, in the best estimates, would not have had matched that of population growth. In the best scenarios, without the New Lands and the expatriation of large part of the growth in population to them; or the importations and exportations which accompanied the military campaigns Western Europe would have been able barely to feed the always increasing and hungry old and new mouths. If that's the case then where all that accumulated wealth, in all its manifestations -from know-how, to cities, and trophies- came from? And the answer, does take a rocket scientist! to be figured out. Contrary to Max Weber's and most of those who came after and before him rationalizations, neither the "Protestant ethic' and the self-denial that goes with it, nor the much hyped technological break-throughs, would have accounted for the sudden enrichment and the subsequent successes, of a relatively small part of humanity. For all those much touted scientific and technological achievements presupposed and would have needed the material prosperity for them to be thought of, not to say, sprouted and bloomed! Without the tons of silver and gold of the New World; the same if not more tons of gold and diamonds, rubber, etc., of Africa, the Pacific, etc.; the products of mines and agriculture of the rest of the world, which all ended up in the coffers of Paris, London, Amsterdam, or New York and San Francisco, it would have been impossible for the history as unfolded to have taken the course that ended where it's today.

        Hark! Hark! If France's inflated ego is still full of hot air, the reasons are more to do with the failures of the victims to lick their wounds and start the march, than the successes of the colonialists! Its unnerving chest beatings, unbridled boastings, and self-congratulatory riffs about its positive contributions are out of place in the wake of its devastated former colonies' utter failures to gather their broken limbs to stand up. These emotional outbursts, coming from mature and well-seasoned country, are shameless exhibitions, not supported, so far, by the cool facts of the world we live in. Africa, Indo-china and the rest of them are still among the worst hit and dysfunctional societies on the globe. Indeed, if there was any positive contribution, it's to be looked at where it did fall and accumulated: must be where the French live under their eyes and noses! That's in France itself; and, all the other beneficiaries of human and otherwise free labor and sweat. If France is still a great power, thanks in no small part to all those hundreds of millions and their lands's resources who chipped in, though nilly-willy, all they'd got to make France and England, etc., what today are. So let's place credit oh France, in its rightful place and not be hypocritical about ourselves in claiming what is due to others as our own!

        As if Algeria doesn't have enough going on, on its plate, it added another whimper to its already loud groanings! The uproar rising these days up and down the social-political structure: from the president down to the street is verging on hysteria and must be adduced as being a cover for something else. Otherwise what the disillusioned and pompous French did recently is no more than another stain added to an already discolored rag! What's the scream about ? It's about the pent-up pain and misery camouflaged as a complaint against -apparently becoming an eternal straw man- their former bane and present boon: France! The civilized French, Socialists and Conservatives included, have passed last February, under intense lobbying pressure from their veterans and former colonists, a law recognizing the great job these groups and others had done especially in North Africa! The Law included a passage which stated: "The positive role of the French presence abroad, particularly in North Africa, should be recognized."

        It's tempting for one to vent his/her frustrations with a bunch of spitting-sputtering condescending haughty French. Not to forget to note also that the hifalutin Frenchy snobs still think they are living in the age of the empire! Though their history is a mixed bag of shameful acts of genocide and pillaging in lockstep with some successful civilizational contributions, the French have always swept under the rug what they didn't want to see or honor of their often verbose philosophical meanderings. After all the hoopla they'd made with the slogans of their Revolution "Liberte', Egualite', Fraternite,'" when they realized the need for resources they didn't have, and when their factories started to outproduce their local consumption, they threw those noble slogans aside; and they went out, and literally invented a commercial slogan, to coat their otherwise cunning and insolent scheme, with high sounding goal: La Mission Civilitrice! And, oh gush, they did go! They went on rampaging and looting what became later known as the Third World and its peoples and resources with vengeance; from the Carribean to Indo-China and from North Africa to the South Pacific. For more than three centuries France was in a race with the other rapacious powers of its neighborhood in not only further humiliating and impoverishing their unlucky victims but in also in dehumanizing themselves. The results, a humongous devastation in places where they'd been - for instance Haiti, Vietnam, Algeria- which only history books can contain; and a diminished and shaken- self at home. Millions upon millions of humans had lost their lives, other millions were tortured and traumatized, and the rest who have survived are still edging on the borders of insanity. Not to talk about resources. A quick walk into any European -French included- museums can tell how much looting and pillaging had taken place and unfortunately still going on! As for the French people themselves apparently they haven't come to their senses yet, or else acting only the ostrich! to realize the world, if not has changed already, is on the way of changing, and a little reflection on their part of their role in it, both historically and presently, is perhaps due!

        Just to give one small example of how the delusions of power and greed had not only guided the French but had blinded them, even in their worst moment, in their seedy low, they refused to draw the lesson and to reckon the consequences of their actions. Even at the moment of defeat, supine on their knees, they never reflected on their oppressive methods or empathized with the victims of their actions! At the end of France's shameful capitulation to the invading Nazi forces -within 24 hours!- and when it just had yanked the yoke of occupation, with the help of the Allied Forces, on 8 May 1945, the Algerians organized a series of marches, demonstrations, and protests to demand independence. What the French did? They crushed the uprisings. They'd reacted with such ferocity, like rabid dogs, in suppressing the protests, killing in access of 45,000 Algerians! These, in the overall scheme of things, were only a small fraction, a drop in the bucket, so to speak, in the long campaigns of genocides and mass murderings France and its settlers had conducted in its long occupation of Algeria, 1830-1962. In the War of Liberation which had lasted eight long years, 954-1962, an estimated 1.5 to 2 million lives were sacrificed on the altar of the French civilized's God.

        One may ask how a country that has produced such an illustrious parade of philosophers, scientists and artists, starting with Moliere, Rousseau, Descartes, Voltaire, Hugo, Sartre, Foucault, et al., and has contributed so much to the world and made it what it's today could also have produced such murderous lot who went out of their way sometimes just for the heck of killing and maiming? It's one of those questions which defy logic and remain as conundrums! Perhaps, after all is said and done, states are no different and cannot escape the fates which befall some individuals who get carried away by the inebriations that are usually part of the real or perceived success a la Woody Allen, or a la M.. Jackson, for example! The so-called collective consciousness or otherwise known as wisdom! Seems not to be always present and be counted on but comes and goes as the Libyans would say. In the crazy game of competition, created by the capitalist system, countries often had forgone, or forgot, their own rules governing human moral conduct and went literally for the gold! Faustian pact? Maybe. However puzzling such a behavior from normal flesh and blood may be, there were also some Prophets who threw the Book away, when the occasions arose to further their causes. Some may even say that's part of human nature. But what's human nature if not an evanescent mirage, the closer to the touch the less likely to the grasping! Is human nature out of our control? If so then we're doomed: intelligence with no self control mechanisms!

        As anything human, colonialism and its aftermath, is not a clear cut issue. The issues of victims and victimizers wouldn't end by condemning the first and consoling the second. For while the colonizer is guilty as sin, the victim is no angel either! There're no innocent bystanders in this game. Just as the aggressor must be held accountable for his/her actions, the victim must be held for his/her victimhood. Why these peoples and countries let themselves be a prey in the path of the predators to be preyed upon? Where they think they're living? Arabs in particular, were no innocents in annals of history! They'd done the same things to others, no matter under what banner or with what pretenses, when the occasions arose. Under the cry of war: "the sea -or the desert- behind you and the enemy in front," they sieged their targeted populations and gave them only the choice of surrender without conditions or else. If that's the case, they knew, or at least they should have known, what's coming their way, once their victimized populations got the upper hand and threw them out of their lands. In most of the cases the newly energized population kept the momentum going and followed the defeated into their own lands. And that's what happened. First the Spaniards and then the French and soon the rest of them followed one after the other to teach the Arabs the lesson of all lessons: never let your guards down!

        While colonialism was a real mess, hell from start to finish, it's also true that countries, just as individuals, don't free themselves with words alone, let alone get respect and all the jazz which goes with them. Algeria, as many of the rest of them, is an example of disappointing expectations. All the empty bubble, or just a hoopla, created after the "Independence" of the fast recovery, it appears to have relapsed back into quasi coma by the '90's of the last century. The behavior is reminiscent of some slaves' behaviors, after being freed, couldn't cope with life's demands on their own, if they've left, they would come back to the compounds of the masters; the same seems to be occurring with a lot of states, Algeria included, that have never broken the dependency chains and all the obsequiousness that goes with it. After half a century of costly won "independence" Algeria is still in the grip of its former and otherwise masters. Foreign troops are trickling back to the land of the one-million-plus martyrs - what all those people paid their lives for!- and the country is only a shell of an entity, a body without soul, bankrupted in all what counts: money and ideas!

        It's neither by wailing nor by blaming countries and their peoples are going to gain a seat at the table. It's only by a well-directed and goal-oriented hard work. Countries which have embraced the project of modernity wholeheartedly, re-arranged their cultures, and aligned their priorities are seeing some signs of recovery, for example China, Korea, India, etc. the others, as Arab states in particular, are still vacillating with few wishy-washy and badly scattered efforts that at the end, don't add up to anything at all. Only by embracing head-on modernity and all its requirements: secularization of culture, rationalization of social processes, democratization of politics, compartmentalization of life's routines, and raising of Reason and Law as the supreme arbiters on dialogue and the main parameters defining social and otherwise truths, can be a start!

Ghoma
Ghoma47@hotmail.com

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