Talk About Torture : Colonialism, Humanity and African Revolution
Dr Renee Levant
Part One: Talk About Torture: Fanon, Torture and White Opportunism
Despite the pervasiveness and non stop talk about torture in the wake of the release of memo’s and information during the past few weeks documenting US government complicity with torture at the very highest levels there is little in the way of a serious analysis.
Instead, politicians of all stripes, white leftists, intellectuals and media pundits are all quick to point to the documented lack of effectiveness of torture in extracting reliable and useful intelligence. Some, disgusted with the graphic details revealed in reports, memos and pictures , and video criticize this focus on efficacy suggesting that whether torture “works” is besides the point. They suggest that the efficacy question is irrelevant and assert that to torture is to act against their law based democracy and against their humanitarian values and ideals they pride themselves upon as American and/or European Nations.
Torture from this standpoint is a horrifying aberration. It is an attack on the American or European soul. Indeed, we hear many comparisons of Dick Cheney to Darth Vader; despite the more revolutionary potential of this analogy it is used merely to make a point about the exceptionally evil personality of Dick Cheney. Along similar lines the liberal media is replete with talk about scandals speculation and conspiracies involving who knew what about which torture polices, when they were told, and by whom. At stake in this “he said, she said” debate about who will be labeled as having acted outside our “American values”
When put alongside discussions of torture by the African Revolutionary Franz Fanon, Algerian psychologist, philosopher and revolutionary these discussions seem shallow, self serving and decadent.
Fanon : African Philosopher, Psychologist and Revolutionary
Frantz Fanon was born in Martinique one of the Caribbean Islands colonized by France. He studied with Aime Cesaire whose influence on his life and thought was profound. He left the Island in the course of serving in the French Army against Nazi forces. Later he became a psychiatrist in Algeria. Here he witnessed the brutality of the French colonial regime against the Algerian people and in 1954 joined the revolutionary Algerian FLN, the Front de Liberation Nationale. He wrote his reflections on this and on the war in his book “The Wretched of the Earth”. The book was banned in France. His view of this was intimate and unusual in that as a doctor in the context of this colonial war his patients included both Algerian victims of torture and also the French who tortured. His writing and reflections on this clients experiences resulted in being expelled from Algeria and in his unit of the hospital being disbanded. Fanon was part of the editorial collective of El Moudjahid in which he wrote numerous reflections of torture, colonialism and African revolution.
Fanon Addresses the “Tiredness” of European opposition to Torture
Indeed, Frantz Fanon Addresses a very similar situation to our present one among the French during the occupation of Algiers . He suggests that “the Frenchmen who cry out against torture or deplore its extension” are best described by the title “tired intellectuals” by this he means that they are too tired to take responsibility for what the truth would require of them.
He wrote about French intellectuals in essays published and articles many of which are reprinted in “Toward the African Revolution” which resonate strongly with Chairman Omali Yeshetala’s discussion of opportunism of the white Left.
When the French intellectuals, long with M. Mattei,repeat in chorus “that there is at the present time a vast campaign of dehumanization of French youth,” or deplore the fact that the French recruits “are learning fascism,” one cannot fail to note that only the moral consequences of these crimes on the soul of the French are of concern to these humanists. The gravity of the tortures, the horror of the rape of little Algerian girls, are perceived because their existence threatens a certain idea of French honor.
“On the dawn of the fourth year of the war of national liberation, … the French Left was more and more conspicuous by its absence. Some took refuge in silence; others chose certain themes, which reappear periodically. The Algerian war must end for it is too costly (the Algerian war is again becoming unpopular, simply because it costs 1200 billion francs) it isolates France or makes possible her replacement… In France it is becoming less and less clear why the Algerian war must end. People forget more and more that France, in Algeria, is trampling popular sovereignty underfoot, flouting the right of peoples to self-determination, murdering thousands of men and women” (Frantz Fanon, Toward the African Revolution (London, 1970),70)
This laziness which places one own immediate self-interest before that of the oppressed peoples is seen in the responses to torture among the colonialized people in Iraq, in the Palestine Liberation struggle and the struggles of colonized Africans in North America and around the world. Only such tiredness can explain how we can focus on torture in Iraq as if the torture has ended with Barack Obama’s declaration when in fact reports show that the torture and abuse of prisoners in Iraqi jails and detainment have increased since he took office. What North Americans and Europeans fail to understand is parallel to what the French failed to understand. In Fanon’s words:
“One cannot both be in favor of the maintenance of ….domination … and opposed to the means that this maintenance requires. Torture in Algeria is not an accident ,or an error, or a fault. Colonialism cannot be understood without the possibility of torturing, of violating or of massacring Torture is an expression and a means of the occupant-occupier relationship ( Fanon,1970,66)”
Therefore, Fanon continues “One of the first duties of intellectuals and democratic elements is unreservedly to support the national aspirations of colonized peoples “(Fanon 1970, 86 )
It is much more comfortable and much easier for those living and benefiting from imperialist plunder of African and oppressed peoples to ignore the reality that torture works exactly as it is intended to work. It’s effect is not to extract useful intelligence but to act as a deterrent to the growth of resistance to Imperialist culture, parasitic control and theft of resources of African and oppressed people in the US and around the world. If we are to create a society in which torture does not exist it will take reflection at a deeper level than the conversation at present. And too, it will take a lot more than prosecuting those who tortured–this time.
As a start it will require understanding what Dick Cheney and Franz Fanon both knew… That torture is an effective method of attacking any sort of popular resistance to occupation, colonialism and war. That the aim of torture is not merely to harm the immediate victim but to victimize an entire people as Fanon states it is “a fundamental necessity of the colonial world.” ( Fanon, 1970, 66) Torture is necessary in Iraq because the US has yet to collect all the resources of oil, labor and military advantage it can from the Iraqi people; it is necessary in Palestine to continue to maintain the life style of Zionist White Settler’s built on the wealth of Palestinians and used to maintain US military objectives in dominating oppressed peoples in the Middle East, Africa and throughout the world, And it is necessary among Africans in the United states because the US needs to continue to exploit the African and indigenous communities and extract all available wealth for the continuation of its tottering empire.
Part Two: Torture and Resistance Iraq, Palestine & African People in Occupied America
Torture, Colonialism and The Occupation of Iraq
Like the French colonialists most in the United States have long forgotten the war in Iraq. Yes, President Obama is talking about withdrawing most troops over the next 19 months, leaving a residual force of 35-50,000 and withdrawing all troops by about 2011. But there is a big difference between withdrawing troops and ending an occupation. Again the conversation includes concerns which obscure the real issue. There has been concern raised by leftists and pundits about the number of troops President Obama plans to leave in Iraq. There has also been concern raised by some about the fact that the plan does not withdraw troops steadily each month over the next 19 months. The plan instead starts serious withdrawal only after 11 months. How many more Iraqi’s will be killed in US air strikes during this “withdrawal period”? These are indeed real questions and warrant investigation. But they may not be the most important questions in ending the war. This war is not simply an incursion of US troops that is over when these troops leave. It is a illegal and continuing occupation of a nation. An occupation which can only be maintained against the forces of resistance through torture and violence.
But understanding that ending the war requires ending the US occupation raises questions on which the main stream media and many leftists and progressives have been silent.
Will Iraq’s assets such as its oil resources be given back fully to Iraqi control?
Will contractors who we have paid to so abused the people of Iraq also leave? Will the funds we continue to pour into Blackwater and for profit militias and other contractor companies cease, will they leave Iraq and will these funds be instead provide to the Iraqi people to rebuild the nation we destroyed?
What about the refugees, their internationally agreed right to return and the US responsibility to aid in that process?
And do we really intend to fully honor the territorial integrity of Iraq as a sovereign nation? Specifically, will we stay out of Iraqi air space and refrain from any sense of entitlement we might feel to use Iraqi lands for US posts and objectives in the Middle East?
This difference between troops leaving and ending the occupation is felt keenly on the ground in Iraq each day. Torture and Violence did not end with Obama’s decree against torture when he took office. According to many torture has increased and the monthly toll of civilian deaths continues to rise sharply under Obama. A recent series of articles by investigative journalist and author Jeremy Schall reveal the continuing use of special squads who torture and terrorize prisons outside the interrogation rooms at Guantanamo prison.
“..While much of the “torture debate” has emphasized the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” defined by the twisted legal framework of the Office of Legal Council memos, IRF teams in effect operate at Guantanamo as an extrajudicial terror squad that has regularly brutalized prisoners outside of the interrogation room, gang beating them, forcing their heads into toilets, breaking bones, gouging their eyes, squeezing their testicles, urinating on a prisoner’s head, banging their heads on concrete floors and hog-tying them — sometimes leaving prisoners tied in excruciating positions for hours on end. “
What is lost in current discussions is the reality that the specific abuses of Abu Ghriab and Guantanamo Bay and which continue on streets and in mosques throughout Iraq are a necessary consequence of the occupation of Iraq. Therefore it should come as no surprise that thuggish IRF torture teams continue without censor under the eyes of neo-colonialist President Obama’s administration
Torture and Colonialism in Occupied Palestine and Occupied America
But such torture is not unique to US actions in Iraq. It is standard fare in occupied Palestine where 88 % of Palestinians in US sponsored Israeli jails are being held indefinitely without trial. Over 70% of those in Israeli jails are Palestinians and 95% of these prisoners are subjected to torture or other humiliating treatment according to independent Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. This treatment is not is not confined to adults. In as children age 14 and up are housed with adults and treated in the same fashion as adults and are subject to the same treatment as those held at Guantanamo and in Iraq. (http: //www.btselem.org/Hebrew/Administrative_Detention/Statistics.asp)
The May 18th transcripts from the joint press conference between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyanu made clear that the basis of unity between the US and Israel is precisely a the colonial exploitation of the peoples of Palestine and the defeat of forces of the Palestinian resistance.
“I want to make it clear that we don’t want to govern the Palestinians. We want to live in peace with them. We want them to govern themselves, absent a handful of powers that could endanger the state of Israel….”
That handful of powers is precisely the Palestinian Resistance movement. And already the US and Israel have been hard at work fermenting divisions between US Supported Abbas and forces and democratically elected government Hamas to the detriment of self-determination and true independence of Palestinian in choosing their leadership
He continues: “ If we resume negotiations, as we plan to do, then I think that the Palestinians will have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state; will have to also enable Israel to have the means to defend itself. And if those conditions are met, Israel’s security conditions are met, and there’s recognition of Israel’s legitimacy, its permanent legitimacy, then I think we can envision an arrangement where Palestinians and Israelis live side by side in dignity, in security, and in peace. “ (http://www.cqpolitics.com/wmspage.cfm?docID=news-000003119827
In other words negotiations for a state in the occupied territories must be premised on the acceptance of permanent occupation of Palestinian land and resources and the ability of Israel to decide who governs the Palestine, to control the flow of goods, control the airspace and limit the Palestinian States ability to arm and protect itself. And those forces critical of this plan specifically Hamas, PFLP and Palestinian who oppose this US/Israeli intervention attempt to create a “unity government” must be eliminated.
Obama praised Netanyahu assuring him that Israel continues to be “a source of admiration and inspiration for the American people. I have said from the outset that when it comes to my policies towards Israel and the Middle East, that Israel’s security is paramount, and I repeated that to Prime Minister Netanyahu.
It is in U.S. national security interests to assure that Israel’s security as a independent Jewish state is maintained.”
This mutual admiration and inspiration based on maintenance of the colonialism is also reflected in the torture of African people in US prisons. From 1973 till 1993 more than 60 cases of torture by a police team under the direction of Commander John Burge have been well documented. On this torture too Obama as an Illinois senator and resident of the city of Chicago remained silent . Despite massive outcry and irrefutable evidence not a single officer was prosecuted . Burge himself was only fired in 1993 after serious and sustained public protests . And as in Palestine some of the African victims were children, one only 13 years old. Amnesty International,along with many and other human rights organizations have long reported on torture of African people throughout US Prisons. In fact, two of the soldiers under arrested in the Abu Ghirab scandal had been guards at US Prisons in Pennsylvania and Maryland. In occupied America as In Iraq and Palestine torture is not an aberration but a standard way to repress the resistance movements of colonized people, to profit and to maintain control over their resources through maintaining the colonial relationship
Part Three: Torture, African Revolution and A New Humanity
A World Without Torture Requires African Revolution
For his experience dealing with victims of torture convinced him that only such a revolutionary African movement could create new possibilities for humanity as a whole. The new humanity for which he yearned could not be the distorted humanity of either the colonized or the colonizer; yet it could only be created by the colonized engaging in a process of struggle which “put Africa in motion to cooperate in its organization its regrouping behind revolutionary principles.”
This is because, Fanon insisted , only an African revolution had the potential to overturn the Manichean divide of colonialism which is the highest stage of capitalism. For Fanon there are two central requirements for creating the sort of world in which torture will have no place and humanity can flourish. The requirement is an African Revolution where the colonized African people overturn the colonialism and therefore the relationship of continuing exploitation on which the colonization of Africans and the oppression of all peoples rest. This alone, he explains, would not open the space for truly just and human society. In addition there must be a revolutionary leadership which deeply embeds itself among the people, promoting revolutionary consciousness through developing institutions not dependent upon colonialism and which create the space for a truly “new man” and woman to emerge at the same time as promoting revolutionary principles.
A New Humanity Can Only Emerge From The Unity of the African Working Class and Peasants under revolutionary leadership
“Fanon’s awareness of what sort of revolutionary principles were required were strongly influenced by his encounters with Patrice Lumumba and the revolution in the Congo. The revolution in the Congo beared out his essential principles– that the African revolutionary struggle must include more than just the battle against imperialism and colonialism. For after victory Lumumba was attacked not only by the colonialist enemy but by some who had fought side by side with him but now wished to take for themselves the repressive apparatus and power of the colonialist state. In a letter to Simone de Beauvoir just before his death he wrote:” I have two deaths on my conscience which I will not forgive myself for: that of Abane and that of Lumumba” Abane Ramdane and Fanon were close friends and comrades in the Algerian Struggle through the FLN. Abande wad murdered by members of their organization. Similarly Patrice Lumumba was murdered after winning the revolution in the Congo. In both cases these revolutionary leaders were killed by “comrades” who were so attracted to the wealth and power of the colonists that they would turn on the revolution for the benefits offered to them by enemy state. These events led to a flurry of writing by Fanon all geared to educate the FLN and the African revolutionaries on how to avoid the loss of revolutionaries and the gains of the revolution to internal reactionary forces.
In his essay “The Pitfalls of National Consciousness” Frantz Fanon discussed this problem which resonates as much today as it did in his day He argues for the centrality of programs which that meet the material needs of indigenous Africans and peasants, create self-reliant alternative forms of social organization and social life and empower them in the process of building an African Revolutionary movement. Otherwise, Fanon claimed it would be too easy to forget that the resources gained in the revolutionary struggle were to be placed back into the hands of the most oppressed and those from whom the resources were originally stolen by the colonialists; without creating these alternative institutions the fight against colonialism can all too often lead to a neo-colonial regime who imitates and wittingly or unwittingly supports the practices of capitalism in its colonialist manifestation. Fanon was determined to learn from and to correct the lack of such organization during the struggle in the Congo and in Algeria. He latter lamented the fact that , despite friendship and admiration between the two men he never brought these concerns to them. Many attribute his final flurry of writing to this realization. Patrice Lumumba, Malcom X and Frantz Fanon would all die in 1961; the first two through imperialist assassinations and Fanon at the age of 38, having survived an earlier assassination attempt will succumb to cancer that same year.
The African People’s Socialist Party
Fanon’s call for a revolutionary party may well have been answered beyond his expectations with the formation of The African People’s Socialist Party and the African Socialist International.
“The political unity necessary to develop Africa and usher in a new era of prosperity that will lift our people out of the quagmire of poverty, ignorance and violence we have inherited from various colonialism can only be acquired through the creation of a revolutionary African Socialist International. Only such an organization would have the ability to bring about the liberation and unification of Africa under the leadership of the African working class and indigenous people as its central aim.”
The APSP provides the only current option for building this revolution in a way that avoids the pitfalls pointed out by Frantz Fanon and which through its clear revolutionary strategy which includes , building alternative and competing institutions of self reliance in the African community in the US and Abroad, a clear analysis of the parasitic way in which contemporary capitalism not only gained its impetus from the theft and destruction of the resources of indigenous and African people but that its very existence requires the ever deepening extraction of African and indigenous wealth and resources and a strong position against the “Pitfalls of National consciousness”.
Indeed , the of the main resolution of the fourth African Socialist International states:
“The African Socialist International will have the responsibility of fusing revolutionary consciousness …with the struggles and movements of African workers and poor peasants. It will have the responsibility of forging an African Internationalist consciousness onto the workers and peasant movements, which will make it difficult for the neo-colonialists and imperialists to divide us according to region, religion or ethnicity. “
Indeed, African Internationalism addresses the potential and the shortfalls of previous revolutionary theories taking the very best of the work and theory Garvey Movement and Kwame Nkrumah and infusing it with a clear revolutionary strategy and the leadership of the African working class.
History as shown that only such a party can create the conditions for a world without torture and colonialism; a truly just and humane world in which African people, indigenous people and all people can flourish!
Build The African Socialist International!