Tag Archives: Fridays With Fanon

Fridays With Fanon, Sunday Special: Egypt, Tunisia, & Middle Class Revolutions

LEARNING FROM HISTORY, LETTING TRADITION SPEAK FOR US

In my last post, I gave an explanation for why theologians and biblical scholars do not normally discuss foreign policy issues.  Because I know so few of the details of the histories of Tunisia & Egypt, I think the best I could offer as a thinker, is tradition.  Because no one writes in a vacuum, much of the time, individuals rely on tradition and philosophy in order to explain the nature of things.  I believe the best person for understanding the nature of political upheaval is the work of Frantz Fanon, an Algerian psychiatrist who fought in World War II and who witnessed the Algerian the armed struggled versus the French. I believe that his book, The Wretched of The Earth, especially his suggestions about public policy, could be of some use for current and future revolutions.

1. If you listen closely to the words of journalists, you can almost feel their excitement.  The economic reforms that Tunisia and Egypt were undergoing in the past few years are seen as the prima causa for the mass call for political reform.  While there is the occasional mention of widespread poverty  in both countries, the focus end up being on the middle class with talks of political parties forming and hopes of a more “mainstream” or secular democratic structure forming.  Fanon noted that with all revolutions, there is a tendency to define national unity by first striving to develop legit political parties (WOTE, 67, 73, 83).  As a result, those citizens who live in the urban areas (the middle class), become empowered politically while those who are the poorest and live in rural areas, end up remaining on the margins.  National policy, for Fanon, meant first a foremost, a policy for the masses. National unity should be defined not by how the elites get their stomachs filled but how those who are ignored and who live outside cities and towns are treated.

2. Centralized governments are a bad idea.  Centralization leads to authoritarianism a lot of the time. Decentralization, including a rejection of one capitol city, is what Fanon suggests that those going through de-colonization need to do.

3. Lastly, the media has feigned concern over the violence of the situation, on both sides. As Fanon points out, the objectivity of journalists is a form of violence, for it is always aimed against the colonized (the victims) (37).  In other words, the media holds a false notion of what non-violence means, ignoring the violence that had been incurred by the victim in the name of “objectivity.”  James Cone was one of the first Christian theologians to depend upon Fanon for the construction of a political theology.  In Cone’s Black Theology And Black Power, he addressed the question of violence.   After discussing Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s notion of Christian ethics as invalidating concepts of right and wrong, Cone goes on, “To be Christian means that one is not concerned about good and evil in the abstract but about men who are lynched, beaten and denied the basic needs of life” (141).  The mainstream media, which addresses primarily white liberal middle class concerns I might add, only pursues what it sees as wrong or right, but does not look at the human beings in question, because only the story matters.  The problem of violence versus nonviolence  is not a decision for the believer to take up, for there are no absolute rules in which one can make moral choices.  So before one becomes judgmental against those who are violent, it is best to examine exactly whose violence we are talking about.

Also, please check out the conversation about the issue on Roland’s blog.

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Fridays With Fanon: Universalism

Or Universalism as Imperialist, Take Two

On a previous post, I labelled Christian universalism as essentially imperialist.  Quite a few persons will disagree with me and argue that universal is a tool to fight empire, such as the limiting of salvation to a select few individuals (and therefore, consequently, the control of the world).  If Christ is for everyone, then, some would say, that it can only mean that a political system open to everyone is preferable. However, this is not my beef with universalist views of salvation.

In eschatological as well as moral terms, the idea that the entire human population shares a common fate presupposes, on the part of those who generally agree, that all human beings will someday make the same religious, moral, and political choices, and thus denying the possibility of diverse outcomes in the future.  When giving an example of the political struggle between two separate African nations and the French colonists, Franz Fanon asserted, “There is no common destiny between the national cultures of Guinea and Senegal, but there is a common destiny between the nations of Guinea and Senegal dominated by the same French colonialism. […] they would not be absolutely identical since the people and the leaders operate at a different pace.”[1] In a theological context, I would argue that there is no common destiny for each religious culture because each religious community makes various decisions; therefore, the purpose of each missionary/religious devotee differs according to each context.  This position, in my opinion, leaves room for a diversity of experiences when the new creation brought about by God occurs.  The secret behind Christian universalism is a general moral determinism, and therefore limiting the wide options of possibilities that come with human being who are created in freedom.  For both Fanon and Spivak, the indeterminancy of human agency is vital to resisting colonizing and overdetermining discourses.[2] Hence, it is essential that Christians develop an eschatological vision where God’s reign is understood as both a heterochronic and heterotopic event (i.e., taking place at a range of times and places) while developing a missiology that takes both human freedom and plurality seriously.

I prefer the logic of  Baptist theologians E.Y. Mullins and Herschel Hobbs, who also advocated freedom in the New Creation :

“Indeed, our dignity of free choice reaches even beyond this life. If by one’s own choice he [sic] rejects Christ as Savior, he [sic] alone is responsible for being in hell for eternity.  But even there, the Bible teachers degrees of punishment (Luke 12:47-48).  Paul said that both Jew and Gentile (pagan) who reject Christ will be judged by the degree of opportunity  against which each sins (Romans 2:11-16).  It is proper to be concerned about the heathen who never hear the gospel.  But in light of degrees of punishment in hell, we should be even more concerned about the man [sic] in a community filled with churches who regularly hears the gospel and yet never chooses Christ as Savior.  Furthermore, the Bible teaches degrees of reward in heaven (Matthew 24:14-23; Luke 19: 12-19)”


[1] Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 169. (underline emphasis mine)

[2] Cf. Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” 302-305 as well as Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 7;18.  Gayatri Spivak takes aim at the discourse used by the British colonists to describe the “good Indian wife” as the one who burned herself after her husband’s death.  The British reductionist account excludes the other possible ethical options that Indian women could have chosen.  Frantz Fanon rejects determinist philosophies with my favorite quote found on page18: “The colonized subject also manages to lose sight of the colonist through religion. Fatalism relieves the oppressor of all responsibility since the cause of wrong-doing, poverty, and the inevitable can be attributed to God.  The individual thus accepts the devastation decreed by God, grovels in front of the colonist, bows to the hand of fate, and mentally readjusts to acquire the serenity of stone.”  The colonized subject, with all of her choices limited according to the ideology perpetuated by the status, acts according to the possibilities that she accepts.

Fridays with Fanon

Last week, I announced the start for Fridays With Fanon /Foucault.

This week, I will start with a quote from Frantz Fanon, in his Wretched of the Earth and my favorite quote from that work.

“The colonized subject also manages to lose sight of the colonist through religion. Fatalism relieves the oppressor of all responsibility since the cause of wrong-doing, poverty, and the inevitable can be attributed to God.  The individual thus accepts the devastation decreed by God, grovels in front of the colonist, bows to the hand of fate, and mentally readjusts to acquire the serenity of stone.”(WOTE, page 18)

When one gives a determinist god credit for all human circumstances, even the evil in the world, those that are suffering from oppression, once they believe the myth of fatalism, resort to despair and hopelessness. The almighty, by default, is on the side of the oppressor.

Truth and Peace,
Rod