Map of every explosion in Baghdad since 20o3. Photo via Aghsan Al Barghouti.
I was really looking forward to reading Andrew Hussey’s new book The French Intifada: The Long War Between France and its Arabs, and it didn’t dissapoint me, on the contrary – it held up to my expectations.
To fully understand both the social and political pressures wracking contemporary France – and all of Europe – as well as major events from the Arab Spring in the Middle East to the tensions in Mali, Andrew Hussey argues that we have to look beyond the confines of domestic horizons.
As much as unemployment, economic stagnation, and social deprivation exacerbate the ongoing turmoil in the banlieues (the urban hotspots for tension and bouts of rioting), Hussey describes how the root of the problem lies elsewhere: in the continuing fallout from Europe’s colonial era.
In banlieues in Paris, Hussey writes, there is a lot of anger, young men willing to turn themselves into Soldiers for God. The rioters, wreckers, even the killers of the banlieues are looking primarily for justice – their (hi)story has deep wounds all over it.
Hussey knows his subject well and it is evident in his writing. He identifies the current situation in France today, dissects it like a surgeon. Predominantly white, well maintained, metropolitan cities bordered by run down and poorly funded suburbs (banlieues) housing significant numbers of Arab and North African Muslim migrants.
“For all their modernity, these urban spaces are designed almost like vast prison camps. The banlieue is the most literal representation of otherness – the otherness of exclusion, of the repressed, of the fearful and despised – all kept physically and culturally away from the mainstream of French ‘civilization'”, Hussey writes.
The French Intifada is very readable, full of examples, little stories, interesting references – Hussey easily moves from Zinedine Zidane to Albert Camus and Frantz Fanon.
A large amount of anger and hatred amongst the French “immigrant” population stems from the French history in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Whilst none of the European power’s empires can claim to be truly benevolent, French conduct in all three nations was devastating, particularly in Algeria.
The great portion of the book is dedicated to Algeria and the conduct of the French colons there. That is understandable since Algeria really was (and still is) the country when it comes to French colonialism.
Hussey explains how the development of the ethnically French Pied-Noirs in Algeria over the years has also contributed much antagonism and anger, both among the French and the Algerians themselves.
Hussey does what’s necessary (and so often lacking in media representations and public dicussions) – he goes back through history, he offers context, he tries to understand why and how something happened, and not just what happened.
The French Intifada shows that the defining conflict of the twenty-first century will not be between Islam and the West (the so-called clash of the civilizations) but between two dramatically different experiences of the world – the colonizers and the colonized.
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Previous The Book To Read:
It seems way too early to pay respect to Leila Alaoui, talented French-Moroccan photographer, in MER’s Remembering sessions. After all, she entered 2016 full of power, only in her thirties.
Unfortunately, Alaoui succumbed to her injuries sustained in the Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) terrorist attacks, only couple of days ago. She was among those (at least) 56 wounded and now joined those more than 30 killed.
Alaoui was born in Paris in 1982 and studied photography at City University of New York (CUNY) before spending time in Morocco and Lebanon.
Her work had been exhibited internationally in recent years, including at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, and was featured in newspapers and magazines including The New York Times and Vogue. Last couple of years she lived between Marrakech and Beirut.
One of her most beautiful projects was The Moroccans. About it, she wrote: “Morocco has a specific position in this backstory of photographers using the culture – particularly elements from native costume and architecture – to construct their own fantasies of an exotic ‘other’ world.
Foreign photographers often depict Westerners in Morocco when they want convey glamour or elegance, while framing local people rustic or folkloric, reiterating the patronizing gaze of the Orientalist.
My intention was to counter this in these portraits by adopting similar studio techniques to photographers such as Richard Avedon in his series ‘In the American West’, who portrays his subjects as empowered and glamorous, drawing out the innate pride and entitlement of each individual person.”
Alaoui embarked on a road trip through rural Morocco to photograph women, men and children from diverse ethnic and tribal groups including Berbers and Arabs. This on-going project served as a visual archive of the Moroccan traditions and aesthetics now disappearing with globalization.
In one interview, Alaoui discussed the relationship many photographers have with Morocco: “A lot of negative experiences have given Morocco a very specific relationship to photographers, or people taking photos.
The Moroccans have the feeling their culture is being used – particularly when it comes to native clothing and architecture – and the photographers are trying to turn them into their own fantasy of an exotic ‘other’ world.
That’s one reason. But superstition and witchcraft also play a role here. For example, the collective consciousness still contains the idea that cameras rob people of their souls.”
Alaoui did her best to portray Moroccan people in a different way, allowing them a choice and taking her time to get to know them and their approach towards life and world.
It’s extremely sad that the world has lost Alaoui. I didn’t know her, but I knew her work. And through her work, it’s easy to see how she was one of those souls who always tried to bring people together, to raise awareness – make us look at each other and understand each other.
She participated in exhibitions aimed at raising money for those suffering in Syrian war, she was involved in the work of activists, journalists and human rights organisations working to improve the situation of migrants and refugees in Morocco (and other countries).
/Leila Alaoui, photo via Tamyras/
Alaoui was interested in dignity, in humanity. She gave herself to that struggle. I hope she will remembered for that – it’s the greatest legacy one can leave.
//all images © Leila Alaoui//
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Previous Remembering… sessions:
The following article was written by Demian Vokši and it makes me happy it is first published here on Middle East Revised.
In the heat of the race for the 2016 US presidential election primaries, Jeb Bush – brother of the former US president George W. Bush, admitted that he would have invaded Iraq in 2003 if he had been in his older brother’s shoes.  Faced with overwhelming outrage over such a confession, he tried to point out that Hillary Clinton would have done the same, and then tried to dump the blame for the Iraq catastrophe on Obama but damage was already done.
The upheaval over his statement was huge and the degree to which the sentiment is controversial is telling a lot: a US presidential candidate, even a republican one is esentially comitting professional suicide by admitting his support for the 2003 invasion. Such is the legacy of Iraq- an illegal war built on a foundation of lies, resulting in an estimated half a million civilian deaths, destabilizing a whole country and pushing it towards a civil war which resulted in the birth of the so called ‘Islamic State’.
But for all the outrage which is being made about Iraq, it seems that its older brother, the War in Afghanistan is getting none of it. The Afghanistan war, spearheaded by the United States and later led by NATO has been perceived legitimate by almost everyone who cared to comment about it, and has been supported by virtually all of the top players on the global political scene.
In the Afghanistan- Iraqi tandem, the Afghanistan war is seen as, how Tariq Ali had put it in his 2008 essay, the „Good War“ , a legitimate and legal older brother of the failure that is the War in Iraq. Such a reasoning is inherently flawed- it ignores the geopolitical context of the invasion, it downplays the histories of Afghanistan and the very important neighbouring Pakistan, and it creates space for making the same mistakes in Afghanistan which were made in Iraq- mistakes which are already in the process of repeating themselves.
To explain Afghanistan we would have to go back to in time. The initial reason for the invasion were the terrorist attacks of 9/11 after which the US commenced Operation Enduring Freedom by bombing Afghanistan extensively in order to eliminate terrorist training camps. In order to succesfully operate in Afghanistan the US had to secure the cooperation of Pakistan. On the surface it would seem that Pakistan, a long term US ally, would not object to the US operations in Afghanistan but the reality is that the Taliban were basically an extension of Pakistan in Afghanistan.
Pakistan, especially its secret service ISI, had been a major player in Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion. Although the horifically inept Afghan Communist Party had kickstarted the Mujahideen rebellion in Afghanistan by rash and not particularly thought out implementation of land and social reform (even Soviet officials suggested a more gradual implementation) thus pulling the Soviet Union into Afghanistan to protect the interests of its ally state, the US and Pakistan had exploited that chain of events to the best of their abilities.
The US has supplied Pakistan’s ISI with military equipment and money, and ISI has channeled those resources to fuel the Mujahideen rebellion in Afghanistan. The US logic behind this was obvious- to hurt the Soviet Union and give them its own Vietnam, and the Pakistani logic was that if Afghanistan fell in Soviet hands, the Soviet Union would be just a step away from its long time wish – a warm water port, possibly in Pakistan itself.
After the Soviet withdrawall, the US lost its interest for Afghanistan, and Pakistan was now unable to control the warring fractions of the Mujahideen which engaged in a civil war across the country. Therefore it turned to the new rising force, the Taliban. The Taliban were largely groomed in Pakistan’s Madrassas – Islamic seminaries.
The students in those Madrassas (and the word Taliban literally means students in Pashto) came from the Afghan refugee population and the local Pakistani population- poor families unable to support all of their children would often send their sons to Madrassas because the Madrassas would not only grant them education in a country with an underdeveloped educational infrastructure, but would also house and feed them during their stay thus relieving the family of that burden.
Thus, the rise of the Taliban in the 90’s (although they had already been active in the 80′) was navigated by Pakistan as a way to stabilize Afghanistan, to lead it out of the civil war phase and to ensure that the country is calm enough so Pakistan can go on with the new energy deals which would connect it with the rest of Central Asia, whose infrastructure would have to go through Afghanistan. The need for such energy deals has been a vital interest for Pakistan who to this very days still suffers from energy reductions.
Meanwhile the US mainly kept away from the issue of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. It even tried to dissuade Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Mujahideen leader of the opposition to the Taliban, from putting up a fight. He refused to surrender. Only after several Al Qaeda operations against US targets in the 90’s, had the US started to cooperate with Massoud and his Northern Alliance.
After the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan (one of the three states, together with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which has recognized the Taliban led Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) had to turn its back on its most succesful foreign policy, at least oficially, and had lent its help to the US, and the NATO operations in Afghanistan.
The US started a bombing campaign designed to rout the Al Qaeda forces from Afghanistan and to end the Taliban support for the terrorist organization. Interestingly, in October 2001, not long after the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, the Taliban had offered to hand Osama bin Laden to a third country under conditions that the US stop their bombardment and that they offer proof that bin Laden is guilty of the 9/11 attacks. Bush turned the offer down.  The invasion went underway, and was soon enough taken over by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) led by NATO forces with the goal of combating Taliban and Al Qaeda forces and rebuilding the country.
Almost 14 years later ISAF concluded Operation Enduring Freedom on December 28, 2014 with not much accomplished. After the initial show of force and establishing its presence in the whole of the country, NATO, led by US forces had been caught in a lenghty and tiring assymetric warfare with the Taliban forces. The number of the Taliban fell from the inital estimate of 40 000 fighters, only to rise again in recent years.
Their number in 2015 is estimated to be 60 000 in Afghanistan and there are more of them in Pakistan. Accordingly, although the number of Taliban attacks fell during the initial years of the NATO operations, they have risen again in 2013 and especially in 2014.  The reasons for the spike in attacks can be attributed to the fact that the Taliban were simply waiting for the foreign forces to leave and were starting to intensify their attacks when the US withdrawal was underway.
The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) consisting of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP) have proved time and time again to be not particularly cohesive , have been described as generally unprepared , are plagued by corruption (especially the police) and desertions. The number of ANA troops fell from 184 839 in February 2014 to 169 203 in November 2014 with the complete number of ANSF forces being 34 000 people short of the 325 000 projected goal for the end of 2014. 
An incompetent army, low on numbers and morale rings dangerously similar to the American project of disbanding the army and building it from scratch in Iraq, only to see that army being blasted away by the forces of the ‘Islamic State’ again and again. The danger is only amplified in Afghanistan which has an unpleasant tradition of being utterly unmanageable by any unprepared invading or even domestic force since Alexander the Great, and then through the British wars, the Communist period, the Soviet invasion, Mujahideen civil war and lastly the US/NATO invasion.
Although Operation Enduring Freedom has ended, NATO forces have mantained a presence in Afghanistan through the new Resolute Support Mission devised to advise ANSF. The US have also started Operation Freedom’s Sentinel devised to root out the remnants of Al Qaeda form Afghanistan  although Al Qaeda has not been a significant force in Afghanistan for years now and has since started a number of other branches including one in Iraq (which has evolved into the ‘Islamic State’), and in the Arabian Peninsula (which has, among plentiful other activities, managed to pull off an attack in January this year in Paris, targeting the magazine Charlie Hebdo). Such a lasting commitment in Afghanistan also goes against Obama’s promise of a full American withdrawal from Afghanistan by the ond of 2014, later prolonged to 2016.
With the US desperately chasing remaining irrelevant Al Qaeda members in Central Asia so it could somehow justify the immense civilian deaths, the 14 year long strain on the economy and the, if seen in the light of recent Taliban successes and gains, failed attempt to eradicate radicalism from Afghanistan, the game has transferred into other parts of the world.
Terrorism has gained a globally distributed network, and new centres from which it can operate. The US was not particularly opposed to negotiating with the Taliban when it has not had an interest in Afghanistan so why should it be difficult to negotiate now? After all, the Afghan government is already negotiating peace talks with Taliban leaders , and considering all of the US support for the most repugnant dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia, the Afghan government-Taliban cooperation is not really something that impossible to imagine being supported by the US.
In the end, the War in Afghanistan has proved to be a particularly gruesome child of the imperialistic Wolfowitz doctrine and the knee-jerk reaction to the 9/11 attacks which could have been handled much better. In fact, it could not have been handled worse. Its enduring legacy is 20 000 dead civilians , almost 2 000 000 refugees , and a country not much better than it was to begin with, with a dangerous tendency of turning to worse. Iraq’s older brother, the „Good War“ has proved itself not to be so good in the end.
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//all photos © Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos//
For more on Demian Vokši and his writing, contact him at email@example.com.
Albert Memmi is a French writer of Tunisian-Jewish origin. His great work The Colonizer and the Colonized was published in 1957, and is often compared with Frantz Franon’s The Wretched of the Earth. The following are some of Memmi’s thoughts on colonialism from the book.
/Albert Memmi, photo by Claude Dityvon/
“Conquest occurred through violence, and over-expolitation and oppression necessitate continued violence, so the army is present. There would be no contradiction in that, if terror reigned everywhere in the world, but the colonizer enjoys, in the mother country, democratic rights that the colonialist system refuses to the colonized native.
In fact, the colonialist system favors population growth to reduce the cost of labor, and it forbids assimilation of the natives, whose numerical superiority, if they had voting rights, would shatter the system. Colonialism denies human rights to human beings whom it has subdued by violence, and keeps them by force in a state of misery and ignorance that Marx would rightly call a subhuman condition.
Racism is ingrained in actions, institutions, and in the nature of the colonialist methods of production and exchange. Political and social regulations reinforce one another. Since the native is subhuman, the Declaration of Human Rights does not apply to him; inversely, since he has no rights, he is abandoned without protection to inhuman forces – brought in with the colonialist praxis, engendered every moment by the colonialist apparatus, and sustained by relations of production that define two sorts of individuals – one for whom privilege and humanity are one, who becomes a human being through exercising his rights; and the other, for whom a denial of rights sanctions misery, chronic hunger, ignorance, or, in general, ‘subhumanity.”
“Madness for destroying the colonized having originated with the needs of the colonizer, it is not surprising that it conforms so well to them, that it seems to confirm and justify the colonizer’s conduct. More surprising, more harmful perhaps, is the echo that it excites in the colonized himself.
Constantly confronted with this image of himself, set forth and imposed on all institutions and in every human contact, how could the colonized help reacting to his portrait? It cannot leave him indifferent and remain a veneer which, like an insult, blows with the wind. He ends up recognizing it as one would a detested nickname which has become a familiar description.
The accusation disturbs him and worries him even more because he admires and fears his powerful accuser. ‘Is he not partially right?’ he mutters. ‘Are we not all a little guilty after all? Lazy, because we have so many idlers? Timid, because we let ourselves be oppressed.’ Willfully created and spread by the colonizer, this mythical and degrading portrait ends up by being accepted and lived with to a certain extent by the colonized. It thus acquires a certain amount of reality and contributes to the true portrait of the colonized.”
“Take terrorism, one example among the methods used in that struggle. We know that leftist tradition condemns terrorism and political assassination. When the colonized uses them, the leftist colonizer becomes unbearably embarrassed. He makes an effort to separate them from the colonized’s voluntary action; to make an epiphenomenon out of his struggle.
They are spontaneous outbursts of masses too long oppressed, or better yet, acts by unstable, untrustworthy elements which the leader of the movement has difficulty in controlling. Even in Europe, very few people admitted that the oppression of the colonized was so great, the disproportion of forces so overwhelming, that they had reached the point, whether morally correct or not, of using violent means voluntarily. The leftist colonizer tried in vain to explain actions which seemed incomprehensible, shocking and politically absurd.
For example, the death of children and persons outside of the struggle, or even of colonized persons who, without being basically opposed, disapproved of some small aspect of the undertaking. At first he was so disconcerted that the best he could do was to deny such actions; for they would fit nowhere in his view of the problem. That it could be the cruelty of oppression which explained the blind fury of the reaction hardly seemed to be an argument to him; he can’t approve acts of the colonized which he condemns in the colonizers because these are exactly why he condemns colonization.
Then, after having suspected the information to be false, he says, as a last resort, that such deeds are errors, that is, they should not belong to the essence of the movement. He bravely asserts that the leaders certainly disapprove of them. A newspaper-man who always supported the cause of the colonized, weary of waiting for censure which was not forthcoming, finally called on certain leaders to take a public stand against the outrages, Of course, received no reply; he did not have the additional naïveté to insist.”
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For more – read The Colonizer and the Colonized by Albert Memmi.
Five For Friday is a new category on Middle East Revised. Two times a month, on Friday, there’ll be five things to pay attention to concerning MENA region – films, videos, interviews, testimonials, songs, lectures, debates, etc.
This Friday – it’s interviews and lectures – on Middle East and Islam (hot topics of everyday). These five are a must-see.
1. Eqbal Ahmad – Terrorism Ours vs. Theirs
Just months before his death, Eqbal Ahmad, great Pakistani political scientist and writer, gave this lecture in Colorado. He talked about who and what defines terrorism.
2. Edward Said – Last Interview
It’s not only that this is the last interview Edward Said gave, it’s that it lasts for more than three hours in which he discusses almost everything. Wonderful!
3. Robert Fisk – State of Denial: Western journalism and the Middle East
Robert Fisk has given many great lectures during the last couple of decades, but I chose this one for it focuses on the burning issues of the Western mainstream media.
4. Chris Hedges and Sam Harris: Debating Religion (Islam) & Politics (Middle East)
This one is basically – how Chris Hedges exposes the hollowness in the ‘know-it-all’ rethoric of Sam Harris.
5. Edward Said and Salman Rushdie – Ta(l)king The Box Away.
Rushdie and Said are talking about Said’s book After the last sky and the Palestinian experience (“unlike other colonial experiences – we weren’t exploited, we were excluded”, says Said). There’s also a fun story about Israeli broadcasters and Palestinian guerrilla – a cherry on top!
Last Friday, Democracy Now did a great show concerning Nigeria and Boko Haram. The guests were Adotei Akwei, managing director of government relations for Amnesty International USA, Rona Peligal, deputy director of Africa Division for Human Rights Watch, and Horace Campbell, professor of African American studies and political science at Syracuse University.
/Horace Campbell, photo via Miscellanynews/
Campbell is the one that stole the show, with his on-point answers and the big picture analysis. Speaking about the rise of insurgence groups, he said:
“And what we’re describing in northern Nigeria and the scale of what has taken place in Baga clearly could not be the work of some groups of militias. So we’re dealing with many different entities here. And in the specific case of Nigeria, we’re dealing with the political struggles for control of the state, so that in the case of Nigeria, we have Boko Haram, or the elements that are called Boko Haram, that are financed from inside the top levels of the state apparatus. And the intensification of the killings and destabilization of Nigeria at the moment is directly related to the upcoming and forthcoming elections on February the 14th.”
He asked three important questions about Boko Haram and Nigeria in general:
“What is the role of the United States government in the knowledge that they have about Boko Haram? That’s a first point I want to make.
A second point is, with John Kerry, what do they know about the role of Chad in Baga and the relationship between Chad and those who are providing missiles and resources to Boko Haram and the destabilization of Nigeria?
The last point I want to make is that when there was a vote at the United Nations about Palestine a month ago, John Kerry called the Nigerian government to change its vote about Palestine half an hour before the vote was made. He called Goodluck Jonathan. Clearly, they have information about the compromised leaders in the Nigerian state who are financing Boko Haram. Why do they not bring that information to the African Union, to the United Nations, so that there’s an exposure of all of the forces—in Chad, in France, in the Cameroon and in the Nigerian leadership—who are financing Boko Haram?”
Campbell continued to say that Nigeria is by far the most dynamic force in Africa, describing how: “what everyone fears at the moment is the mobilization of the Nigerian people, as the people mobilized in Egypt or the people mobilized in Burkina Faso, to remove corrupt elements. So, there is a merger of forces of exploitation in Nigeria. Militias are being used against the people. The humiliation, violation and exploitation of women has reached the most obscene levels. And the accumulation by the Nigerian political class—40 percent of the oil wealth from Nigeria is siphoned off by that political class. The Boko Haram struggle is a struggle about who will control the billions of dollars, 10,000 barrels of oil per day, that is siphoned out of Nigeria.
The United States government have the information about bunkering, about exportive capital, about financing Boko Haram. The United States government used that information selectively in order to get what they want from the Nigerian government. Note, 40 years ago, the president of Nigeria, Murtala Mohammed, was called by Henry Kissinger when the Nigerians supported the Angolans and the Cubans in Southern Africa. And the Nigerians were very important at that point to tell Henry Kissinger, ‘Go to hell.’ Murtala Mohammed, the president of Nigeria, was killed after that, because Nigeria was not going along with what the United States want. We need a movement here to expose the collusion between the United States, the oil companies and the political class, who use elements such as Nigeria and Boko Haram to destabilize Nigerian society.”
He also reflected on the role of Chad:
“What we must ask ourselves is: How is it that the former governor of Borno State becomes part of the delegation of the government of Chad, when we have this notion that Chad was going to be a mediator? And the government of Nigeria spent millions of dollars to organize bringing back the girls, only to find out that elements from within the Chadian government were supplying weapons and missiles to Boko Haram from Sudan.
So, there is a wide web that we need to penetrate and investigate that we’re not dealing simply with some armed, wild-eyed young people. There is a conspiracy against the Nigerian people so that Nigeria is not stable, peaceful, so that the people can have a good quality of life.”
Watch the full interview on Democracy Now.
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To end this post, here’s some great tunes from Nigeria. Salawa Abeni calling for equal rights.