A distinction must be made between colonialism, which for us moderns is wrong in principle, like fascism and communism, and colonization, which was diverse and complex, both harmful and beneficent, the story of which emerges from the painstaking work of historians who respect facts and nuances. Colonization did not in all cases prevent the establishment of ties or the maintenance of relations of mutual esteem and friendship a half-century after independence. “Colonialism,” by contrast, is a bit like the draft effect of a cloud after a storm: It never ends; like God, it is invisible but omnipresent.
Many intellectuals born in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, and the Middle East and now living in France or the United Kingdom endlessly accuse Westerners of racism and neocolonialism. The paradox of these thinkers is as follows, it seems to me: By putting Europe in the dock, they are restoring it to the center. First, they are forgetting that of the 27 countries of the European Union, only eight were colonizers, less than a third, whereas the rest were colonized—by Arabs, the Russian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the USSR—and kept in servitude, some until the end of the 19th century, others until 1989. By seeking to marginalize Europe, or more precisely to “provincialize” it (Dipesh Chakrabarty), we keep it as the absolute point of reference. With the result that 60 years after eight countries of Western Europe ceased all colonization, they are as blameworthy as ever.
If Europe is detestable for so many reasons, as doubtless it is, if it combines racism, oppression, and beastliness, why pull out all the stops to come live here? Why do so many brilliant minds seek to teach and publish here? Those minds are driven by the determination to be recognized in the countries whose politics and policies they denounce so vehemently. The philosophers, writers, and celebrated novelists among them are rewarded, invited to speak, and awarded various prizes, yet they persist in vituperation. That strategy might be called seduction by insult: Let me in, so that I may curse you.
It’s a comfortable position, the pleasure of manipulating “white” guilt. And some Europeans delight in being ridiculed this way. Anglo-Ghanaian writer Kwame Anthony Appiah ironically summed up the situation as follows: “Postcoloniality is the condition of what we might ungenerously call a comprador intelligentsia: a relatively small group of western-style and western-trained writers and thinkers who trade in cultural products of world capitalism at the periphery.”
The status of “victim” intellectual exploring the recesses of the Western guilty conscience can be an excellent niche. The relationship of the two roles is invariable: the inquisitor who attacks, and the accused who self-flagellates.
These injections of shame are based on a postulate: Europe (and now the United States) has an inexpungable debt to the rest of the world. No amount of financial damages can compensate for the world’s incalculable loss. So goes the thinking of the “decolonial” intellectuals who have appointed themselves as the moral tax collectors of the planet—and who collect dividends from their compassion. In their eyes, Europe was made possible by the Third World (as we said in the 1960s), and its wealth rightfully belongs to its former colonies. That proposition is eminently contestable—colonialism may have cost the European countries more than it brought in and neither pillage nor theft have ever made for a solid economy, as Spain in its golden age, overwhelmed with its gold fever, attests.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor