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.
- “ARAB WORLD: How Tunisia’s revolution transforms politics of Egypt and region” and related posts (latimesblogs.latimes.com)
- In Tunisia, ‘500 scenarios’ for political future (msnbc.msn.com)
- After Tunisia: Why Egypt Isn’t Ready to Have Its Own Revolution (time.com)