Dec
30

Imagining Afghanistan

Quite a number of books have followed in the tradition of Edward Said, critiquing and contesting the manufacturing of narratives. Nivi Manchanda's "Imagining Afghanistan" The History and Politics of Imperial Knowledge" (2020) provides a deep dive into those narratives of Afghanistan. Chapters of the book explore the use of "tribe" and "tribalism", the colonial construction of narratives, the American military deployment of narratives, the portrayal of "warlords" and women in Afghan society, as well as masculinity and sexuality. For anyone interest in this topic, this is a rich book of details. In the specific, readers familiar with this tradition of writing will find a similar meta-narrative. A few notes:

The book: "partakes in the effervescent conversation about social science's implication in empire, both past and present, and brings to the table a rather peculiar example of this implication. This is the story of imperialism in Afghanistan, a story which is perhaps best designated as that which is the 'same but different'. It is the 'same' in that it displays, even exemplifies, a steady, if not quite consistent, lineage of colonial thinking about the Other." (p. 5-6)

As reported elsewhere, but in more detail here: "What the exhibition and its curators fail to mention is how these textbooks came into being. During the mid 1980s, a project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) printed millions of textbooks in Peshawar that were distributed to schoolchildren across Afghanistan. The textbooks were designed to indoctrinate Afghans against the evils of the Soviet Union and made for immensely powerful propaganda. Specialists from the Afghanistan Center at the University of Nebraska Omaha received $51 million to develop a curriculum, which glorified jihad, celebrated martyrdom and dehumanised foreign invaders. Published in Dari and Pashto, these schoolbooks taught the alphabet through Kalashnikovs and counting through guns and bullets, and had elaborate mathematical questions which drew on conflict scenarios, deploying various firearms in inventive ways, for more advanced pupils. One example read: 'A Kalashnikov bullet travels at 800 meters per second. A mujahid has the forehead of a Russian in his sights 3,200 meters away. How many seconds will it take the bullet to hit the Russian's forehead?' Although USAID funding for the project stopped in 1994, multiple copies of the texts remained in circulation in the 1990s and into the 2000s." (p 2-3)

Continues later: "… Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, founded in 1972, is still the world's only permanent research and training centre devoted solely to the study of Afghanistan.24 Set up to counterbalance the Soviets, following a lull in the 1990s, it found a renewed sense of purpose after 9/11. The centre has since provided 'training on Afghan history, culture, and language to U.S. Army Human Terrain System teams that were departing for Afghanistan'. It has trained over 600 military and civilian personnel to prepare them for service in Afghanistan. It also helped 'professionalize' members of the Afghan National Army between 2008 and 2010.25 Similarly, Indiana University recently inaugurated a National Resource Center for creating Pashto-language materials, focusing on providing 'key training for U.S. forces in Afghanistan'. Gene Coyle, a retired CIA officer, who has never worked in Afghanistan, serves as director…" (p. 9) 

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Sep
07

Colonial Effects

Emerging out of a PhD study, Joseph A. Massad published "Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan" (2001). This is a fascinating book, which should be more widely read. Although it focuses on Jordan, there are insights for research on nationality, nationalism, colonialism, decolonization, and identity, in additional to Middle Eastern studies. Some notes:

"… the production of national identity and national culture within Jordan as both a typical and atypical post-colonial nation-state… More specifically, I examine whether two key state institutions, law and the military, assist in the production of the nation. Recent studies of nationalism describe the nation as "invented" or "imagined," by intellectuals and/or political elites who are producers of, or produced by, the political discourse of nationalism. In this study, I am more interested in whether institutions play a role in the production of colonial and postcolonial national identity and culture… Law and the military were central institutions set up by the colonial powers in the colonies. They replaced existing juridical and military structures, or introduced them to societies that did not have them before. Both law and the military retain their colonial markings as European institutions established to serve the colonial state. As Frantz Fanon has shown, however, once national independence is achieved, the new nation-state elites replace their colonial masters in administering the same institutions that were used to control them." (p. 1)

"The establishment of paternity as the source of nationhood has been enshrined in British nationality laws since the nineteenth century. In the exemplary case of Britain, as Francesca Klug demonstrates, "women were only allowed to reproduce the British nation on behalf of their husbands. They could not pass their nationality to their children in their own right." In fact, British women who married outside the nation lost their British nationality, as did their children. On the other hand, the children of British men and non-British wives would be automatically British, as would the non-British wives. Some of these laws were changed in 1981 and 1985, when British women won the right to transfer their citizenship to their own children born abroad.51 It is the former British model that was transported to the colonies." (p. 35)

"The school system became instrumental in the production of the British imagined "Transjordanian." It is in those schools, or what Althusser calls the ideological state apparatus, that a gendered Transjordanian nationalist agency was first conceived. The responsibility of the military school system was to teach the boys a new ideology, nay a new epistemology, through which they were to apprehend their identity as well as the function it was to have: "The need for the production of Arab officers cadets, apprentice tradesmen and future NCO's from Arab Legion schools was to become more pressing as time went on. The government schools were saturated with politics, and many school-teachers were Communists. In Arab Legion schools, every effort was made to teach the boys a straightforward open creed—service to king and country, duty, sacrifice and religion [emphasis added]. Glubb reduces this formulaic creed to its bare essentials. In the "military preface" to Abdullah's memoirs, written for the benefit of the troops in a special edition released to them, he says, "All that we soldiers have to do is to do our duty to God, the King and the nation [emphasis added]."" (p. 150)

"Through the disciplinary mechanisms of surveillance and education, Glubb's policies not only repressed and erased much in the Bedouins' way of life that conflicted with imperial interests but also produced much that was new and combined it with what was "inoffensive" and "beneficial" in their "tradition" in a new amalgam of what was packaged as real Bedouin culture. The new Bedouin culture in fact sublated much of pre-imperial Bedouin culture foreclosing certain venues while opening a myriad others, erasing practices while preserving and transforming others." (p. 159)

"After the end of formal colonialism, national identities and cultures in the postcolonies are not only modes of resistance to colonial power, they are also the proof of colonialism's perpetual victory over the colonized. The irony of this is in having us believe that this colonial subjection and subjectivation is anticolonial agency." (p. 278) 

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Aug
28

The New Age of Empire

Kehinde Andrews' 2021 book "The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World" was celebrated by many (Kimberle Crenshaw, Russel Brand, Ibram X Kendi, and a host of book reviewers) and critiqued by a few (book reviewers). The author is the first professor of Black Studies in the UK. I assume this book was not written for academics, but for a mass market. The book introduces readers to a lost list of centuries of Euro-Western genocide and plunder. Much of the book is summative. The author describes the aim as: "A central thesis of this book is that White supremacy, and therefore anti-Blackness, is the fundamental basis of the political and economic system and therefore infects all interactions, institutions and ideas. My aim is to trace how White supremacy has been maintained and plays out in the various updates to Western empire" (p. xxi).

A glimpse into the book: "Racial science arose as a discipline to explore the superiority of the White race, and it is telling that basically all the key Enlightenment thinkers were architects of its intellectual framework. Voltaire (in France) believe that "None but the blind can doubt that the Whites, the Negroes, the Albinos [sic], the Hottentots, the Laplanders, the Chinese, and the Americans, are races entirely different." Hegel (in Germany) thought that "Negroes are to be regarded as a race of children who remain immersed in their state of naivete. They are sold and let themselves be sold without any reflection on the rights and wrongs of the matter." John Locke (in seventeenth-century England) believed that 'Negroes' were the product of African women sleeping with apes and therefore that we were subhuman. David Hume (in Scotland) was 'apt to suspect the negroes and in general all the other species of men (for there are four of five different kinds) to be naturally interior to the Whites.' One of the architects of the Greatest Democracy on EarthTM, Thomas Jefferson (in the United States) believed that Black people 'whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the Whites in the endowments of both mind and body.' All agreed that race was real and defined in biology that determined the extent to which a people could claim full humanity." (p. 7-8)

The author concludes that the "glimmer of hope for true transformation in the West is that if the system is left to collapse under its own weight it may well end human existence as we know it" (p. 207) and therefore maybe "it is in this moment, standing on the cliff-edge of annihilation, staring into the abyss caused by Western so-called civilization, that the depth of the problem and scale of the solutions can be grasped." (p. 207) The book details the former but provides none of the latter (beyond "create an entirely new framework for the world's political and economic system", p. 207). It also seems to discount any kind of transitional steps or processes of transformation (as per many Marxist-inspired thinkers, awaiting the revolution, or in this case a Western-based scholar awaiting the fall of the Euro-Western system or revolution that takes it down). 

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May
12

Samora Machel

Ohio University Press has a series of "Short Histories of Africa". I recently decided to pick up most of the collection for potential use as reading materials for classes. This post covers "Mozambique's Samora Machel: A Life Cut Short" (2020), by Allen Isaacman and Barbara Isaacman. Like the books on Nkrumah and Cabral, this one is relatively longer than the average in the series. This book is enjoyable and well written, for a class on Mozambique or revolutionary leaders, I would recommend this book (particularly for more introductory courses). A few notes:

[from the Foreward] "Discussing relations with countries like Zambia and Tanzania, he would observe that there were people in neighbouring countries who thought they were superior because they had been colonized by the British and not the Portuguese. Or he might ask, why was it that in colonial times our waiters would serve the Portuguese soldiers with courtesy and respect, but now would be rude to their own people? The answer was that the enemy was camping in our heads - we still had the mentality of underdevelopment." (p. 12-13)

"Lisbon also made the colony profitable by renting African workers to labour-starved South African gold mines and, to a much lesser extent, to white farmers and industrialists in neighbouring Southern Rhodesia. Beginning in 1897, the Rand National Labour Association, subsequently renamed the Witwatersrand National Labour Association, paid the government a fee for each Mozambican worker. It also set up a deferred payment system under which workers received half of their wages when they returned home and Lisbon was paid an equivalent amount in gold. By 1910, approximately eighty thousand Mozambicans - representing from 30 to 50 percent of the able bodied male population in some districts of southern Mozambique - were working in the gold mines." (p. 40)

"The principle that citizenship was not contingent on origin or skin colour was enshrined in Mozambique's new constitution, which outlawed all acts creating divisions or privileged positions based on race, gender, ethnic origin, or class position. Immediately after independence Frelimo initiated campaigns against ethnic regionalism, racism, and sexism. Broadcasts, newspaper articles, comic strips, bulletin boards, murals, and graffiti stressed the message that "from the Rovuma to the Maputo, we are all Mozambicans." (p. 121)

"Samora's government also rejected widescale use of incarceration to punish those who violated societal norms. Instead, reeducation centres or established shortly after independence. Samora's faith in revolutionary pedagogy and restorative justice shaped his thinking about the reeducation process, which dated back to the armed struggle. Moral and political education and the development of a work ethic would serve as the basis for rehabilitation. Samora articulated this vision in the following terms: "the reeducation centre should be a school where professional knowledge should be passed on and made use of. It is the fundamental task of officials in charge of reeducation centres to know the history of each one of the people being re-educated - his life history and his origin - in order to understand why he committed his crimes." (p. 128-129)

"As a young man, Samora was heavily influenced by Frantz Fanon's contention that "colonizing the mind" was the most insidious legacy of colonialism. In his 1977 acceptance speech upon receiving an honorary doctor of law degree from Nigeria's Ahmadu Bello University, Samora emphasized that "the ultimate effort [of colonialism was] to make out of each Mozambican and assimilado, a little Portuguese with black skin" and defined colonialism as a cultural act of rape. He believed that democratization of knowledge would free Mozambicans from the shackles of illiteracy, the tyranny of superstition, and the cultural arrogance of missionary education." (p. 132-137)

"In the last years of his life Samora and the entire Frelimo leadership had been forced to compromise their radical agenda. Mozambique's next president Joaquim Chissano, who served from 1986 two 2005, went even further totally abandoning the socialist project in favor of neoliberalism and market capitalism... The 1987 IMF agreement was the death knell of Mozambican socialism. The preamble of the new constitution enacted in 1990, while celebrating the struggle that led to independence, omitted any reference to free health care and education as rights of citizenship." (p. 198-199)

Enablers of Colonization and those in Solidarity:

"The West's support of Portuguese colonialism had driven Mondlane and many of those around him to adopt a more radical anti-imperialist stance, to the consternation of some of his more nationalist followers. This first group was backed by their host president Nyerere of Tanzania, who facilitated Mondlane's meeting with the Organization of African unity and the socialist countries." (p. 76)

"Samora's belief that the Nkomati Accord would provide opportunity for Mozambique to rebuild turned out to be illusory, since Pretoria never ended its military assistance to RENAMO. The South African Defence Force continued to air-drop arms and ammunition, use submarines operating off Mozambique's coast to resupply guerrilla units, and allow large numbers of RENAMO insurgents to cross into Mozambique from their camps in the Transvaal. Documents captured in 1985 at RENAMO headquarters in Gorongosa revealed the extent of the charade. South African security forces also kept resupplying RENAMO forces based in Malawi, adjacent to the Mozambican border." (p. 184)

"More than thirty years later, only incomplete evidence has been released about the cause of the crash. Those who planned and carried out the plot to kill Samora remain unidentified despite investigations by the Margo Commission, established by white-ruled South Africa in 1987; postapartheid South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which heard testimony on the crash in 1998; and a joint Mozambican-South African Commission established in 2010." (p. 192-193) 

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