Reading Response: Nish, Duus, and Mitter on why Japan invaded China

Image by U.S. Army – United States Military Academy, West Point, Public Domain, Wikipedia


Ian Nish, “An overview of Relations Between China and Japan, 1895-1945,” The China Quarterly 124 (1990): 601-623.

Peter Duus, “Introduction, Japan’s Wartime Empire: Problems and Issues,” in The Japanese Wartime Empire, 1931-1945 (1996): xi-xlvii.

Rana Mitter, China’s War with Japan, 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival (2013), 1-118.


All three authors are presenting arguments about what led up to Japan’s invasion of China. Like LaFeber, Duus focuses primarily on the economic aspect of Japan’s invasion.

Nish promotes the idea that Japan’s expansion into China was strategic and was intended to create a buffer between Japan and the USSR. This point also comes up in Mitter’s work and is interesting because it paints the situation in the Pacific as a sort of preamble to later Cold War politics between the US and the USSR, which would also impact China and Japan by reversing their positions vis-à-vis Western powers. According to Mitter, the US’s preeminence in the region through Japan after the Pacific War would create lasting resentment in China.

Mitter examines the details of internal Chinese politics in an attempt to show that China was more than just a passive victim of Japanese aggression. LaFeber barely touched on China’s role in the war. Nish and Duus both present China as being weak and fragmented, consistently encouraging outside intervention into the conflict. Mitter clearly shows that Chinese nationalists took an active role in shaping China’s future, but internal conflict coupled with external aggression or indifference crippled the country. According to Mitter, China did not become truly unified until active hostilities with Japan broke out. Was the conflict with Japan really the creation of a new national identity based, or simply a convergence of interests among disparate parties? And does a national body have to be unified to be legitimate?

Duus brings up the point that the myth that GEACPS was legitimately for the good of Asia lives on in Japan because people are trying to reestablish a national identity. Guilt is shifted away from Japan onto external forces that supposedly made Japan’s actions necessary. How much of a role did Western colonialism and expansionism play in China’s weaknesses as a country and Japan’s drive to become economically self-reliant? Were there other options available to Japan and what factors prevented those paths from being explored?

Walter LaFeber, The Clash: A History of U.S. – Japan Relations (1997): xvii-xxii, 3-159.

LaFeber The Clash Book Cover

Reading Response:

LaFeber’s main argument in the sections covered in the reading is that America and the Japanese generally saw each other as partners in East Asia, but that there has been an ongoing series of clashes that led to war between the countries during World War II. LaFeber boils this difference down to a conflict of economic interests in China. He states that there is something uniquely different about Japanese and American forms of capitalism that led to different approaches over China.

LaFeber states that the topic he is covering has been covered before, but hasn’t been viewed from a long perspective. He intends to cover the entire post-1850s relationship between the US and Japan to show that the conflict was inevitable (xxii). Essentially, that from the moment Perry forced open Japan, the two countries were set on paths to conflict. He does this by showing that both the US and Japan were heavily reliant on China for exports and that there was a crucial difference in methods. Japan wanted to create a closed market system that would protect its domestic market while the US wanted to maintain Chinese territorial integrity and include the country in a global economic system.

LaFeber’s methodology is interesting in that it shows a lot of the background and details of the relationship between the U.S. and Japan that eventually led to conflict. The title of the book and the way LaFeber framed his argument in his preface seems to imply that a clash was inevitable from the beginning. His argument feels a little fatalistic, and maybe makes sense in hindsight, but was everything that happened from 1850 onward definitely leading to war? Or is LaFeber placing too much emphasis on that one aspect?

Becoming Ottomans: Sephardi Jews and Imperial Citizenship in the Modern Era, by Julia Phillips Cohen – Reaction Essay

Becoming Ottomans: Sephardi Jews and Imperial Citizenship in the Modern Era Book Cover

In Becoming Ottomans: Sephardi Jews and Imperial Citizenship in the Modern Era, Julia Phillips Cohen examines the ways in which the Jewish community in the Ottoman Empire engaged in image management and identity construction through media, philanthropy and by engaging in patriotic behaviors. Cohen’s goal is to use the Ottoman Jewish example to show that the concept of imperial citizenship emerged earlier than what had been suggested by earlier works. Using newspapers, letters, consular reports, photographs, and postcards, Cohen creates a narrative that shows how the Jewish community conceptualized their place in the Ottoman Empire and how that self-image changed over time.

Cohen argues that prior to her work on the Jewish community’s relationship with the Ottoman state, previous scholarship had created a distorted narrative by relying on a narrow group of Jewish chroniclers who were sympathetic to the Ottoman state. Throughout her work, she gives examples of how the trope of a special relationship existing between the empire and the Jewish community was used to create and maintain an image of loyalty and patriotism, but shouldn’t be taken at face-value, because it oversimplifies a complex and constantly changing dynamic that reflected contemporary issues and needs.

Becoming Ottomans has a narrow focus on the Jewish community, but the narrative Cohen has produced can be used as a basic model for understanding how minority communities and their relationship to the state apparatus changed over time. Initially, Cohen states that the Jewish community was not even included in the imperial government’s considerations, but that oversight does not seem to have been malicious. There were simply too few total Jews and too few in positions of power for the government to have given them any consideration. It is also probably the Jews did not figure into imperial decisions very often because the Ottomans’ primary problem was Christian Europe.

With effort, the Jews were able to make their presence felt and gain recognition for their patriotism and loyalty to the state. Jewish attempts to appear patriotic was initially a response to a fear of being considered “inside outsiders”, a potential threat to the empire. This is an important concept that touches on the tension between Muslims and non-Muslims in the empire and shows that despite official rhetoric about equality, there was always a sense of the empire belonging to Muslims. Cohen did an excellent job of exploring this idea by showing how Jews attempted to adopt the language and symbols of Islam in an effort to fit in. By the end of Cohen’s narrative, Ottoman Jews in other countries identified with the empire, so the constant efforts of the community’s elite to mold Jews into citizens with a sense of loyalty to the empire were successful.

The final chapter of Cohen’s book, dealing with “Contest and Conflict,” was confusing and spent too much time describing competition between Jewish clubs, almost obscuring the more important conflict between pro and anti-Zionists, which has greater implications for later Middle Eastern history. I also felt like Cohen should have spent more time discussing the impact of the Sephardic cooption of the Ottoman Jewish narrative on the Mizrahi, but that may have taken her too far outside the scope of her intended argument. I also received the impression that she intended this book to be consumed by scholars familiar with Jewish history, since she failed to explain issues she brought up that would not be readily comprehended by someone unfamiliar with Judaism. A good example is the problem of the Turkish ice cream seller and eating meat. If one did not understand kosher dietary laws, the entire conflict would make no sense.

The Tradition of the African National Congress: Maintaining Relevance

In 1990, Nelson Mandela ended an almost forty-year prison term on Robben Island where he had essentially been internally exiled along with other African National Congress (ANC) and Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) leaders by the apartheid government in an attempt to neutralize his political influence on the black South African population. Even after almost four decades of imprisonment, what Mandela represented, as a symbol of a movement to rid the country of minority rule, still resonated with anti-apartheid activists in South Africa. Because of Mandela’s influence and the ANC in exile’s international political maneuvering, the apartheid government was able to use Mandela as a bridge between South African whites and blacks to initiate democratic elections and majority rule. A few short years later in 1994, Mandela, along with the African National Congress, were voted into office as a result of the first universal democratic elections held in South Africa. This was certainly a victory for anti-apartheid activists. For the first time, the government was truly democratic and representative.

However, the rise of the ANC after the end of apartheid raises questions about how the movement maintained its legitimacy in the eyes of both South Africans (apartheid government and anti-apartheid activists) and the international community during exile. This paper will focus on how scholars have addressed the effectiveness of the ANC as a resistance movement and potential governing institution in the 1950s and during the exile period. Based on the available material, the ANC often lacked direction and ideological coherence and was unable to reach or appeal to a large portion of the black South African population. Other movements, like Black Consciousness and the Communist Party, were essential in pushing forward the anti-apartheid movement both within and outside the country. Moreover, this paper will examine debates about the organization’s relationship with other nationalist movements, including Black Consciousness, the PAC, and African Congress members.

During the years between 1992 and 2009, there is a relative lull in accessible sources written from a historical perspective that address the role of the ANC in anti-apartheid activities. This lull corresponds to the unbanning of the ANC and SACP in 1990 and the democratic elections held in 1994 that brought the ANC to power in South Africa. Some of the authors noted that after 1994 the ANC allowed all of its records from the exile period to be made available for study.[1] It is reasonable to assume that transporting and organizing these records required time, and then researching that archive took additional time. With the exception of Hugh Macmillan’s work, the early 1990s generally separates two types of scholarship that this paper addresses: pre-1992 literature like that written by Gail Gerhart (1979) and Robert Fatton (1986) that is mostly first-hand accounts or that relies on interviews and eyewitness testimony; and post-1992 literature that relies more heavily on archival research and documentary evidence, like Sean Morrow’s 1998 article on the Dakawa education camp.[2]

This paper will first look at the debates presented by scholars writing about the African National Congress in the 1950s and its relationship with other movements during that time period. Gail Gerhart (1979) and Robert Fatton (1986) argue that the organization lacked ideological coherence and that it failed to deliver on its promises. The failures of the ANC, along with its offshoot, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), led to a public backlash during the 1960s that caused people to avoid becoming involved in political movements that could draw the attention of the white apartheid authorities. Stephen Ellis & Tsepo Sechaba (a pseudonym used by Oyama Mabandla, 1992) and Daniel Magaziner (2010) argue that this fear created an opportunity for another movement, Black Consciousness, to come to the forefront. By presenting itself as a sort of self-help movement that was at first interpreted as non-threatening to the establishment, Black Consciousness was easily disseminated and kept the idea and possibility of African self-rule alive during the 1960s when the ANC and PAC were banned.

This paper will then look at the debates surrounding the ANC in exile. In 1992, Stephen Ellis and Tsepo Sechaba argue that the SACP took control of the ANC in exile, occupying key posts, manipulating votes and re-orienting the ANC along Party lines of armed revolution. In 2009, Arianna Lissoni presents an overview of the ANC in exile in the 1960s, arguing that the organization suffered an identity crisis in terms of its “image” as an African organization, creating stresses that led to the 1969 Morogoro conference. Sean Morrow (1998), Rachel Sandwell (2015), and to some extent Colin Bundy (2012) present scholarship focused on the day-to-day life of the ANC’s camps. They generally argue that the ANC was inefficient and moribund, essentially struggling to maintain itself rather than working towards the goal of anti-apartheid. In 2013, Hugh Macmillan presents a history of the ANC in exile in Lusaka, in an attempt to counter modern accusations that weaknesses in the South African ANC government is a result of the exile experience.

Other scholars, like Janet Cherry (2012) and Steve Davis (2012), focus more heavily on the dissolution of the connection between the ANC and black South Africans within South Africa itself. Janet Cherry’s analysis of violent versus non-violent tactics is highly theoretical but also includes analysis that shows that the ANC had become marginal in the armed struggle against apartheid due to a lack of communications with actors inside South Africa. To show how the ANC attempted to overcome this barrier, Steve Davis looks at the role and use of radio by ANC personnel, arguing that the system was poorly planned and had limited effect.

In Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology (1979), Gail Gerhart shows how policies of accommodation cyclically fell out of favor for a more African-centered political ideology. Gerhart’s work is a political history and presents an overview of the development of black national ideology rather than a particular critique or exploration of any one group or organization. She covers a broad time period, from the founding of the ANC in 1912 to the banning of the South African Student Organization and Black People’s Congress in 1973. This presents particular difficulties in finding coherent arguments about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the organizations she is analyzing. The author indicates in her conclusion that she is hesitant in forming arguments or conclusions about the ANC, since she is writing about an ongoing conflict and does not have the benefit of hindsight.

Gerhart is generally critical of the ANC as an organization. Throughout her text she refers to the ANC as having no sound or consistent ideology to present to the public at large.[3] She is not alone in this assessment. In Black Consciousness in South Africa: the Dialectics of Ideological Resistance to White Supremacy (1986), Robert Fatton also argues that the ANC lacked ideological coherence, though he presents his analysis through the lens of Marxism and class struggle.  He attributes the failure of the early ANC to properly mobilize and actively engage in revolutionary activities to their attachment to entrenched “white” ideas of class membership. Fatton sees the “old guard” of the pre-1948 ANC leadership as being too infatuated with their status as members of the petty bourgeoisie to be capable of conceiving of an alternative ideological framework, and consequently a new system.[4] As a result, the organization was unable to achieve their goals.[5]

Both Gerhart and Fatton demonstrate that the ANC changed and shifted direction constantly. This can be viewed as an organization being realistic and pragmatic, but it also shows a clear lack of vision and a lack of any clear plan for reaching self-government or what that self-government might look like and who might be included. In addition to not having a clear ideological position, Gerhart argues that the lack of a clear goal turned the ANC into a “tradition”, rather than something one believed in. She compares membership in the ANC to membership in the local church: casual, traditional, and mostly composed of women, children and the elderly. This is a damning criticism of the ANC and shows that it had no connection with the public at large. Gerhart writes that:

Few in the ANC were prepared to admit to any ideological shortcomings, but it was evident by the late 1950s that the ANC was taking a line which no longer adequately reflected the mood of the urban African, or in particular the impatience of the urban youth. … as an organization it had now begun to lag behind the times, a captive of its traditions, its allies, and of the world view of its prestigious older leaders.[6]

The ANC then, as a movement, did not speak to the people. Other organizations and streams of thought stepped in to fill this gap, though Gerhart argues that they too had their failings.

Organizations like the Pan Africanist Congress, South African Student Organization, Black People’s Congress and early thinkers like Anton Lembede and even the early ANC Youth Leaugers, all adhered to the “rebel” stream of thought in African nationalist politics, which promoted an African centered theory of government, to one degree or another. In Black Power, Gerhart explains that in most cases, these early adherents of “Africa for Africans” ideology generally “mellowed” and became realists, attempting to work within the existing white apartheid framework of government.[7] The ANC was primarily representative of this racially inclusive stream of thought. However, together with other groups like the PAC, Steve Biko’s SASO and the Black People’s Congress, which promoted more militant ideologies, the ANC was banned and exiled by the apartheid government because it threatened the existing order. Gerhart argues that all of these organizations generally lacked proper planning, clear structure or goals. For example, she argues that the PAC failed to gain traction because it did not do enough grassroots organizing.[8]

Gerhart’s narrative essentially shows that all black political movements were ineffective during the period she writes about. Cycling between ideologies of ethnic solidarity, racial inclusiveness, and African-centered or African-only political ideologies, there was no cohesiveness to African political expression. Of course, expecting there to be one theory of proper politics from any group is unrealistic, but Gerhart clearly shows that the resistance movement as a whole was fragmented and disorganized. Additionally, these movements were restricted to small, educated and typically urban circles and had little impact on rural black Africans. Gerhart argues that the only movement to make any progress in that field was Black Consciousness, which appealed not only to students, but also to African clergy in independent churches. She also notes that Black Consciousness made inroads with the average black African because it included symbols and nonverbal language, like the raised first, that uneducated and illiterate people could understand and identify with. Black Consciousness, Gerhart writes, was not just a philosophy, but a “mood” with which all Africans could identify.[9]

Gerhart shows that Black Consciousness was more effective in reaching the people and reflecting the attitudes of average Africans than the ANC, but she questions whether or not Black Consciousness will remain relevant, describing it as a transitional philosophy that will outlive its usefulness.[10] In that respect, she is arguing that the ANC has something that Black Consciousness does not: lasting power.[11] She consistently shows that the ANC has established itself as a hallmark of African life and, while not particularly effective, has been able to stay active in one form or another, a feat no other anti-apartheid organization had managed to duplicate. This in itself, Gerhart agues, was its own form of currency. Gerhart only passingly mentions the ANC’s ban and the group’s subsequent ineffectiveness in the country, but her emphasis on the popular appeal of Black Consciousness further undermines the idea that the ANC was consistently the driving force in African political thought during the apartheid period.[12] At best, it was a symbol of a legacy of resistance to apartheid.

In Black Consciousness in South Africa: the Dialectics of Ideological Resistance to White Supremacy (1986), Robert Fatton builds on Gerhart’s analysis of Black Consciousness by analyzing its development and progress through the lens of Marxism and revolution. He argues that prior to 1948 the anti-apartheid movement failed as a revolutionary ideology and primarily focuses his attention on the rise of Black Consciousness, the ideology and movement attributed to Steve Biko.[13] Fatton’s interpretation of events is an attempt to marry Marxist class struggles with Black Consciousness, which promoted an independent system of values that would essentially place black men on their own, equivalent scale, separate and apart from white conceptions of civilization, values, and achievement. Black Consciousness was the idea that Africans were just as inherently valuable and worthwhile as whites, and that their culture and ideas were just as valuable, on their own, and did not have to be held in relation to white values and culture, or placed on some sliding scale of achievement created by white intellectuals.

Fatton analyses the history of ideologies that gave birth to the Black Consciousness Movement as well as other groups’ reactions to it. Most notably, he mentions the ANC’s view of the movement as a transitional stage that the ANC had already passed through, which was likely an attempt to delegitimize Black Consciousness and maintain supremacy as the sole legitimate representatives of the anti-apartheid movement and black Africans in South Africa.[14] This is important in understanding how little relevance the ANC actually had. The organization felt the need to “get in front of” a new movement and delegitimize it. This tactic indicates the ANC was reacting from a position of weakness and attempting to remain relevant in the face of a fresh and growing movement, rather than speaking from a position of strength. As an organization that had been relegated to a “tradition”, with a membership of mainly the elderly and children, the ANC had lost the initiative.

In addition, when Black Consciousness was gaining in popularity, Gerhart notes that the ANC was mostly dormant in South Africa because of the banning orders, internal imprisonment, and external exile of the organization in the 1960s.[15] Writing much later, in 1992, Stephen Ellis and Tsepo Sechaba would reach the same conclusion, as would Arianna Lissoni, writing in 2009. Ellis and Sechaba write that the arrests at Liliesleaf Farm in 1963 of the leadership of the ANC and Imkhonto we Sizwe (MK) rendered the ANC and SACP inactive in South Africa. Steve Biko, the Black Consciousness movement’s founder, had no connection with or interest in either the ANC or the SACP because neither one had any remaining power or influence in the country. Steve Biko had only just begun to think in terms of creating a political framework when he was assassinated in prison. Ellis and Sechaba argue that Black Consciousness was able to spread because the apartheid government hoped that the ideology would help to legitimate and promote the idea of separate African homelands (Bantustans). In some cases this did work, leading former ANC and PAC leaders to give up the struggle and head “home”.[16] The movement did, however, lay the foundation for continued resistance to apartheid, as well as widen the rift between the ANC and black South Africans.

Gerhart notes that the rise of Black Consciousness psychologically prepared urban black youth for confrontation with whites and was accepted to such a degree among Africans that it created a shift away from accommodation in politics. One could no longer operate within the white-defined political system and be seen as legitimately representing black South African interests.[17] This is significant in terms of the ANC’s effectiveness as a representative of South Africans during this period and after unbanning, since the organization promoted a non-racial, inclusive and democratic government for South Africa along existing institutional lines. Despite this inconsistency, Black Consciousness and its effects were indispensable to the anti-apartheid movement during the years when the ANC could not effectively communicate with or organize people inside South Africa. In The Law and The Prophets: Black Consciousness in South Africa, 1968-1977 (2010), Daniel Magaziner writes that “Black Consciousness filled the gap between the 1950s and early 1960s and the younger generation of activists who emerged in the wake of the Soweto protests of 1976.”[18]

Magaziner analyzes the Black Consciousness Movement from a perspective that is almost the exact opposite of that taken by Fatton. Where Fatton tries to fit the movement into a paradigm of class struggle with a teleological conclusion, Magaziner is attempting to avoid grand political narratives. Rather he wants to analyze process, positioning his work as intellectual history, something that he says is not popular in South African history because it is not popular or democratic, referring to popular literature that attempts to paint a rosy picture of the anti-apartheid movements.[19]

Magaziner looks at the period in the mid- to late-1960s and early 1970s as a time when ideas were fermenting and solidifying into an ideology that came to be termed Black Consciousness. Magaziner defines Black Consciousness as “multiple and contingent, subject to debate and change,” but also “an ethic, a way of life, a being for change that was supposed to saturate and fundamentally alter an entire society.”[20] Magaziner sees the Black Consciousness movement as having sold out on its original principles when it aligned itself politically, but that does not take away from the effectiveness of the organization in promoting the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa when the ANC and other groups were unable to do so.[21]

In relation to the ANC and PAC, Magaziner shows that Black Consciousness was consistently thought of as a “baby organization,” because of the movement’s early emphasis on philosophy and deference to older organizations in terms of political action. However, the South African Student Organization (SASO), of which Black Consciousness was a part, soon took an active role in promoting anti-apartheid activities. Magaziner describes the movement as having grassroots support and being at the cutting edge of black opinion in South Africa.[22] In other words, Magaziner agrees that the ANC had lost relevance in South Africa, especially among the younger generation, and Black Consciousness stepped in to fill the ideological gap.

The exile period was a time of internal disintegration for the ANC. Writing in 1992 in Comrades Against Apartheid: The ANC & the South African Communist Party in Exile, Stephen Ellis and Tsepo Sechaba argue that the organization had given up its ideological stance of multi-racialism and inclusiveness and had adopted an African first policy in order to appeal to African nations that they came to rely on for help and sanctuary. Arianna Lissoni focuses on this transformation in a 2009 article titled “Transformations in the ANC External Mission and Umkhonto we Sizwe, c. 1960-1969.” She provides an overview of the nature of the Congress Alliance in the 1950s and then argues that the idea of multi-racialism was undermined by pragmatic concerns when the organization attempted to restructure itself in exile. She notes that after Nelson Mandela returned from a mission in Africa to find support for the ANC, he expressed concern about promoting “the image” of the ANC as being authentically Africa in order to appeal to other African nations that the ANC relied on for sanctuary and support. This became an important point of discussion at meetings and a vote was taken that situated the ANC as the first among equals in order to create the right “image.”[23]

Ellis and Sechaba’s work is an outlier in terms of its position on the South African Communist Party (SACP) and Soviet Communist influence on the ANC as an organization. They argue that the ANC had essentially disappeared in all but name, with key posts being taken over by SACP members and votes being manipulated to conform to Party lines.[24] According to the introduction of Comrades Against Apartheid, Sechaba, Oyama Mabandla writing under a pen name, was an ANC and SACP member in the exile community and is writing from a position of insider knowledge. The claim that the ANC in exile was “[dancing] to the tune of the Communists” was not new when Comrades was written, however.[25] According to Lissoni that had been a common accusation beginning as early as the 1950s.[26]

Lissoni seems dismissive of the idea, as does Hugh Macmillan, who directly criticizes Ellis and Sechaba’s work in his introduction to The Lusaka Years, 1963 to 1994: The ANC in Exile in Zambia in 2013. He applauds Comrades Against Apartheid for revealing some of the excesses of the ANC’s security department in Angola and the mutinies that took place there, which Lissoni mentions had been covered up by the ANC, but goes on to call their work “marred by a conspiratorial view of history and profound anti-communism.”[27] Macmillan goes on to criticize Ellis’s solo reworking of the same book as equally poor for including the same thesis of the SACP hijacking the ANC and for overemphasizing the influence of Moscow in the organization.[28]

Given Ellis and Sechaba’s analysis, the claim that the ANC was run by Communists was likely due to the ANC’s policy of inclusiveness in contrast to the rest of Africa’s Pan-Africanist mentality. Ellis and Sechaba also argue that the SACP had a long-term plan in place to take over the ANC and redirect its fight for liberation into a revolutionary “People’s War” that would establish a socialist order. Macmillan probably disagrees with this as well, but weighing one scholar against another is difficult without a larger understanding of the issue involved.

For the purposes of this paper, it is enough to note that Macmillan is presenting and promoting a point of view that limits Communist and Soviet influence on the ANC in exile, while other scholars are promoting the view that the SACP and Moscow had some degree of influence. Considering the investment that Moscow made into the liberation movement, it seems reasonable to believe that the Soviets would have expected something in return for their help. Not only does that mesh with the overall atmosphere and terminology used in the ANC (commissar, comrade, etc.), it fits into the reality of Cold War politics in the “third world,” which in general expected a commitment to one side or the other in exchange for economic aid.

Lissoni notes that the issue of participation and inclusion in the ANC was constantly brought up by both former ANC members and members of other groups formerly in the Congress Alliance. She also notes, interestingly, that after a meeting in Morogoro in 1966, a non-public sub-committee of non-African organization members was established to facilitate coordination, including with the Communist Party, finally allowing them to have some degree of influence.[29] Ellis and Sechaba would argue that the Communist party already had all of the influence it needed. If Ellis and Sechaba are correct, the reasons for not opening membership were likely unchanged from the previously noted pragmatism towards maintaining support from African countries for the armed struggle against South Africa.

Ellis and Sechaba argue that the ANC had so completely been subsumed by Communist Party ideology that its very nature had changed. It was no longer an umbrella organization, but rather had become a socialist movement with commissars, education programs meant to instill Soviet-socialist ideology and a heavy emphasis on military revolution. The authors also note the disproportionate amount of energy and time put into military training and preparations for an armed struggle that failed, since it never arrived.[30]

According to the authors of Comrades against Apartheid the influence of the Communist party negatively impacted the ANC by misdirecting the majority of supplies and resources into armed struggle to conform to an imported Communist ideology. The atmosphere of the ANC was altered and became heavily socialist, paranoid and involved internal checks to enforce adherence to Communist ideology. [31] One could argue that this was a justified move in order to maintain the support of a super power (the USSR), but in the process the ANC as an organization disappeared in all but name and failed to accomplish its mission. The international solidarity that led the way to ending apartheid was triggered by the Sharpeville Massacre, which was associated with the PAC. Also, Arianna Lissoni writes that later efforts to mobilize international support for the isolation of South Africa and the end of apartheid was largely organized by those people who had been denied official ANC membership because of skin color.[32]

Ellis and Sechaba also note that the end of the cold war played a major role in ending apartheid. A situation was created that simultaneously denied the ANC its international military support while also diluting the Marxist influence in South Africa’s neighbors. Combined with the financial incentives of ending international isolation and normalization with her neighbor countries, Ellis and Sechaba argue that this gave the South African government the justification it needed to unban the ANC and SACP, which was the first step in ending apartheid.[33] Considering the major implications the end of the Cold War had for the world in general and the authors’ temporal proximity to the event, it is possible that this influence is overstated. If the ANC lost its military backer, that would be more of a reason for the South African government to continue apartheid. It is more likely that international isolation in general and the opportunity for financial growth played larger roles in the decision making process.

Of the articles on the ANC in exile explored in this paper, many are narrow in focus. They use particular situations or places as lenses through which to understand life as an ANC exile. For example, in an article titled “Dakawa Development Centre: An African National Congress Settlement in Tanzania, 1982-1992” (1998), Sean Morrow analyses the role of education in the ANC’s external mission, demonstrating a change in the organization’s focus from short-term exile to long-term self-sustainment with a diverse population.[34] Also, in “’Love I Cannot Begin to Explain’: The Politics of Reproduction in the ANC in Exile, 1976-1990,” Rachel Sandwell addresses changing perceptions of the ANC’s mission over time through the lens of women’s roles as mothers and revolutionary fighters. Both authors are critical of the ANC. Morrow shows that attempts were made to gain international support for education programs at Dakawa, near Morogoro in Tanzania, but through mismanagement of services and personnel, the program became a site of exploitation and punishment. Sandwell similarly shows that there was a consistent effort to use the Charlottes as a positive place to support and free women from the responsibilities of motherhood in order to engage in revolutionary work, but through administrative mismanagement the institution became a site of punishment.

Sandwell shows that initially the Charlottes were meant to be a place that freed women from the responsibilities of motherhood in order to engage in the struggle against apartheid. She then argues that in the ANC, women’s attitudes towards motherhood and family changed over time as it became obvious that there would not be a quick victory and return to South Africa. The ANC was ineffective in engaging with apartheid in a meaningful way, leading to apathy and the feeling of needing to settle down among ANC members. In Sandwell’s study, this was reflected in the way that women changed their minds about having their children stay with them in their current location.[35] ANC exiles were scattered all over Africa, Europe and Russia, but the ANC only set up one maternity center in Tanzania at Morogoro. The houses were not well built and were not constructed specifically to serve as maternity centers. The approach the ANC took was piecemeal, which would lead one to think the organization did not originally see maternity as a priority.

Later, as time passed and it became obvious that there would be no quick return, attitudes towards unattached, single mothers changed. Pregnancy came to be viewed as a lack of dedication to the cause and women were punished by sending them to the Charlottes, with their “sentences” reduced in exchange for breastfeeding their own children.[36] Money was often requested to build a real maternity ward according to the original intent of the Charlottes as a place to free mothers for ANC work, but that money was never provided.

Janet Cherry’s article, “The Intersection of Violent and Non-Violent Strategies in the South African Liberation Struggle” (2012), complements the work done by Morrow and Sandwell. Cherry analyzes the use of violence in securing the transition to a democratic, fully representative government in South Africa. In her article, Cherry presents evidence and analysis by security police analysts and underground ANC members that acknowledge that MK did not have the strength necessary to overthrow the apartheid regime. She also presents an assessment by a military intelligence colonel named Lourens du Plessis who believed mass action and international pressure, rather than armed struggle, were key to ending apartheid. In other words, mass action inside South Africa and international pressure from other countries was more important than anything the ANC in exile necessarily accomplished. The ANC had put a lot of effort and resources into providing military training for its personnel, but the organization lacked the requisite skill and equipment to actually take on the South African defense forces, leading to changing perspectives on the nature of living in exile, as noted above.

One of the more interesting concepts raised by scholars like Morrow, Sandwell, Lissoni and Cherry is the way that the desires of ANC members to actively do something to further the fight against the apartheid government was blocked, leaving them with pent up frustrations that had no available outlet. Lissoni’s article also notes the disaffection in the MK with the ANC’s leadership, but Hugh Macmillan really develops this idea in The Lusaka Years, 1963 to 1994: The ANC in Exile in Zambia (2013). Macmillan’s writing seems less academic in style. The text reads like popular history, especially since he uses endnotes rather than footnotes. He uses a considerable amount of archival research, oral testimony, personal experiences, secondary sources and even unpublished dissertations in his work, however, so that is less a criticism and more an observation on style. More unusual is the fact that his writing seems apologetic and glorifying in tone. It lacks the same critical tone common in other writing on the ANC.

Regardless, in Macmillan’s work on the ANC in Lusaka, the issue of diminishing morale stands out. He seems to indicate that this became a problem with the failed Sipolilo and Wankie raids.[37] He notes Chris Hani’s observations of a lack of morale and direction and then details the effects of the Hani Memorandum on the leadership of the ANC, which the authors of the 3000 word document accused of becoming career, salaried, globe-trotting bureaucrats that had turned the ANC into an end unto itself.[38] The document was not well received.

Macmillan also attempts to put the ANC in Lusaka in context with other movements, the most similar being the Palestine Liberation Organization’s establishment of extensive camp networks in Southern Lebanon. He shows that the ANC and Zambian leadership were not unaware of the similarities and that Kenneth Kaunda, the first president of Zambia, feared that Lusaka might become the target of reprisals, as was the case with Beirut.[39] By the 1970s, Macmillan notes that the MK in Lusaka had been disarmed. The men lived in the towns with Zambian civilians and the trained fighting men being kept busy with vegetable gardening. Oliver Tambo thought these men should be sent for education or training, but many lacked educational qualifications, something noted by Sean Morrow in his analysis of Dakawa in Tanzania.[40]

It was almost as if, for lack of forward momentum, the ANC external mission began to turn in on itself, becoming trapped in a spiral of self-accusation and self-destruction. Lissoni’s article ends on a hopeful note, with the argument that the Morogoro conference of 1969 showed a willingness to work together and create something better, but Morrow, Sandwell, Ellis and Sechaba all demonstrate that issues of poor leadership and the inability of MK to be effective continued through the end of apartheid.

For example, Dakawa, a facility near Morogoro that was originally conceived of as an adult education center, became a site of punishment and exploitation, with training programs set up that gave people just the bare essentials in terms of knowledge so that they could engage in ANC work programs, but not necessarily have marketable skills. Dakawa was in operation until the end of apartheid. Apathy was reflected in the use of dagga (marijuana), alcohol, and an unwillingness to engage in physical labor.

Both Morrow and Sandwell show that ANC officials, cadres, paramilitary members and other exiled South Africans were acculturating to a life external to their country, with towns and welfare systems developing around self-support and maintenance.[41] This mirrors Macmillan’s argument that the MK rank and file became disaffected with a leadership that had committed to being “career bureaucrats” with large paychecks in exile, rather than revolutionaries. The ANC had stopped being a revolutionary movement and had instead set itself in a holding pattern.

In Colin Bundy’s article, “National Liberation and International Solidarity: Anatomy of a Special Relationship” (2012), the author examines the working relationship between the African National Congress and the British Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM). An interesting idea introduced in Bundy’s article centers on ideas of community and identity formation, which is relevant in relation to the articles written by Sandwell and Morrow. Bundy relates feelings of disconnectedness among people and families that were exiled from South Africa and shows how the AAM and ANC stepped into the gap, becoming cultural anchors that maintained community cohesiveness and solidarity.[42] The fact that exiles recognized and felt at home in ANC/AAM exile institutions shows that there was some degree of continuity between what was happening inside South Africa and in exile culturally. However, Bundy’s article also raises the question of the legitimacy of the ANC as a government in exile.

If the ANC had become a disconnected government in exile, with only other exiles as constituents, how well did the organization represent the actual will of black South Africans within South Africa? And, if the ANC and AAM were jointly creating a national identity among exiles, complete with education institutions and the management of sexual ethics, how did that identity compare to the national identity being formed within South Africa? Bundy reveals that there was a political and cultural disconnection between the “outside” and “inside” anti-apartheid movements and a parallel development of identities. Ellis and Sechaba also note that returning ANC leaders experienced culture shock. They noted that there were layers of removal from the South African reality, including those who had been interned at Robben Island, those in exile, and those who had lived in South Africa for the duration of the struggle.[43]

Janet Cherry’s analysis of violent versus non-violent strategies reveals that the external ANC leadership was unable to adequately communicate with the underground network inside the country, leaving the internal leaders to take the initiative while waiting for some “grand strategy to unfold.”[44] In other words, there was a distinct lack of a coherent plan of action or any means of implementing plans for anti-apartheid activities within the country. In an article by Steve Davis on the use of radio, addressed more fully below, Davis elaborates on this lack of a coherent strategy on the ground by pointing out that during the first two years of MK’s operations (1961-1963) there was only a vague notion among regional commanders in South Africa that they had to put pressure on the government. They supposed that if they could destabilize the economy, the “masses” would rise up and MK could lead them to victory.[45] There was no consideration of the logistics of arming these masses, just a notion of spontaneous action and victory. This is very similar to the idea presented by Ellis and Sechaba that the SACP wanted to initiate a “People’s War” through the ANC at some indeterminate point in the future.

Like Bundy, Janet Cherry also dismisses the role of the ANC in the liberation struggle as marginal. She describes Imkhonto we Sizwe members as being heroes after-the-fact and presents the ANC as being ideologically symbolic rather than practically effective, and certainly not as an organization at the forefront of the struggle.[46] If the ANC had largely become an “outside” organization and was ineffective in organizing or supplying internal anti-apartheid actions, militant or otherwise, then how did it maintain popularity and public support? Was it simply the best of bad choices? Or was it the organization’s legacy status, mentioned in 1979 by Gail Gerhart as a tradition, similar to belonging to and attending church? In his article, “The ANC: From Freedom Radio to Radio Freedom” (2012), Steve Davis explains one method the ANC attempted to use to maintain its status among the South African population.

Davis analyzes radio usage by the ANC as a lens through which to explore the ANC’s relationship with the anti-apartheid movement within South Africa. The physical proximity of friendly countries allowed the ANC’s exile leadership to attempt to remain relevant within South Africa by broadcasting messages over radio from neighboring countries. Unfortunately, the ANC never presented a clear plan of action and seemed to be more interested in fighting to stay relevant at home than fighting to actually free South Africa. As Janet Cherry noted, Imkhonto we Sizwe lacked the ability to actually engage with South Africa militarily, so the radio messages were merely rhetoric. Davis notes that the first broadcast did not appear to be planned or well thought out, but rather an act that signaled the desperation of the MK leadership to maintain momentum and legitimacy.[47]

However unplanned and potentially ineffective the use of radio was, it was the best option available to MK and the ANC and, if nothing else, reflects the adaptability of the organization.  Davis notes that the failure to “incorporate radio into a coherent plan for political mobilization within South Africa from the late 1960s into the early 1970s” was the result of “ongoing internecine conflicts within the ANC/SACP [(South African Communist Party)] alliance” that was formed in exile.[48] Ellis and Sechaba mention this infighting, noting that the organization’s military effectiveness was likely affected by the attempt to “neutralize” military and political leaders of opposing factions. They do not make clearly articulate whether or not they think this would have made a real operational difference.

After surveying these books and articles, it becomes apparent that the ANC had only a limited role in the actual popular uprisings and protests within South Africa after their banning. Existing scholarship is fairly consistent in its evaluation of the ANC as reactionary and generally ineffective, overly preoccupied with internal rivalries and gaining financial welfare. A major debate seems to be the amount of influence the USSR and the South African Communist Party exerted over the ANC in exile.

Even before the banning, the ANC is described as being reactionary at best and was unable to develop or maintain a coherent strategy. Existing scholarship seems fairly consistent in its presentation of the ANC as a type of heritage or legacy organization that had symbolic currency with the average South African. The ANC earned early recognition as leaders against apartheid, but its real strength was simply the organization’s ability to survive long enough to emerge at the end of the struggle mostly intact. Defiance of apartheid alone was socially significant.

Many of the leaders in the ANC were educated and education in South Africa was generally limited to those who came from upper-class backgrounds. It would be interesting to see research done on how black South African ideas of proper social customs affected their loyalties to the ANC and other political organizations. In other words, how much of their loyalty was based on ideas of traditional leadership being autocratic. How much influence did tribalism have in dictating loyalties among those who were generally uneducated? And, in terms of the modern conclusion to the anti-apartheid struggle, how does the legacy of being unrepresentative of actual South Africans affect the ability of the ANC to effectively rule South Africa?


[1] For example: Arianna Lissoni, “Transformations in the ANC External Mission and Umkhonto we Sizwe, c. 1960-1969,” Journal of Southern African Studies 35.2 (June, 2009): 287-288.

[2] For some early histories of the ANC that are not addressed in this paper, see: Peter Walshe, The Rise of African Nationalism in South Africa, The African National Congress 1912-1952 (Christopher Hurst, London, 1970); John Pampallis, Foundations of the New South Africa (Zed Books, London, 1991); Mary Benson, The African Patriots (London: Faber & Faber, 1963); Heidi Hollander, The Struggle: A History of the African National Congress (New York: George Braziller, 1990); Stephen Davis, Apartheid’s Rebels: Inside South Africa’s Hidden War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987). For primary documents of the early history of the ANC, see: Thomas Karis and Gwendolen M. Carter (eds), From Protest to Challenge, a Documentary History of African Politics in South Africa 1882-1964 4 vols., (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1972-77).

[3] For example: Gail M. Gerhart, Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology (Perspectives on Southern Africa, 19) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 88.

[4] Robert Fatton, Jr., Black Consciousness in South Africa (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986), 7.

[5] In Black Power (1979), Gerhart also addresses the issue of relative standards of achievement and the importance of understanding self-worth outside of a European framework (p.6, 111). She emphasizes the role of external black influence in guiding black South African thinking, especially in terms of ideology imported from other African countries and the American South, for example W.E.B. Du Bois (pp. 273-277). Additionally, she shows that the ANC had become ineffective, leading to the rise of organizations like the ANC Youth League and PAC (p. 49).

[6] Gail M. Gerhart, Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology (Perspectives on Southern Africa, 19) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 215.

[7] Ibid., 292.

[8] Gail M. Gerhart, Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology (Perspectives on Southern Africa, 19) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 226.

[9] Ibid., 294-295.

[10] Ibid., 311.

[11] Ibid., 214.

[12] Ibid., 249.

[13] Robert Fatton, Jr., Black Consciousness in South Africa (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986), 3.

[14] Ibid., 135.

[15] Gail M. Gerhart, Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology (Perspectives on Southern Africa, 19) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 249-251, 315.

[16]  Stephen Ellis and Tsepo Sechaba, Comrades Against Apartheid: The ANC & the South African Communist Party in Exile (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 69-71.

[17] Gail M. Gerhart, Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology (Perspectives on Southern Africa, 19) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 296, 315.

[18] Daniel R. Magaziner, The Law and the Prophets: Black Consciousness in South Africa, 1968-1977 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2010), 3.

[19] Ibid., 5.

[20] Ibid., 5, 187.

[21] Ibid., 181.

[22] Ibid., 141-150.

[23] Arianna Lissoni, “Transformations in the ANC External Mission and Umkhonto we Sizwe, c. 1960-1969,” Journal of Southern African Studies 35.2 (June, 2009): 292-293.

[24] Stephen Ellis and Tsepo Sechaba, Comrades Against Apartheid: The ANC & the South African Communist Party in Exile (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 6, 41, 52-60. For an example of this type of political maneuvering within the ANC by SACP members, see South African Communists Speak. Documents from the History of South African Communist Party 1915-1980 (London: Inkululeko Publications, 1981), 408-17. Also: Tom Lodge, Black Politics in South Africa Since 1945 (London: Longman Group United Kingdom, 1983), 302-303.

[25] Arianna Lissoni, “Transformations in the ANC External Mission and Umkhonto we Sizwe, c. 1960-1969,” Journal of Southern African Studies 35.2 (June, 2009): 291.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Hugh Macmillan, The Lusaka Years, 1963 t0 1994: The ANC in Exile in Zambia (Auckland Park, South Africa: Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd, 2013), 10.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Arianna Lissoni, “Transformations in the ANC External Mission and Umkhonto we Sizwe, c. 1960-1969,” Journal of Southern African Studies 35.2 (June, 2009): 293-297.

[30] Stephen Ellis and Tsepo Sechaba, Comrades Against Apartheid: The ANC & the South African Communist Party in Exile (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 200-201.

[31]Ibid., 125, 200-201.

[32] Arianna Lissoni, “Transformations in the ANC External Mission and Umkhonto we Sizwe, c. 1960-1969,” Journal of Southern African Studies 35.2 (June, 2009): 293.

[33] Ibid., 203.

[34] Sean Morrow, “Dakawa Development Centre: An African National Congress Settlement in Tanzania, 1982-1992,” African Affairs 97 (1998): 497, 504. Morrow’s article relies on primary research of African National Congress records from the exile period that had just been deposited in the Liberation Archives at Fort Hare and opened to the public, as well as interviews.

[35] Rachel Sandwell, “’Love I Cannot Begin to Explain’: The Politics of Reproduction in the ANC in Exile, 1976-1990,” Journal of Southern African Studies 41:1 (2015): 81.

[36] Ibid.: 78-79.

[37] Hugh Macmillan, The Lusaka Years, 1963 t0 1994: The ANC in Exile in Zambia (Auckland Park, South Africa: Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd, 2013), 71.

[38] Ibid., 71-74.

[39] Ibid., 64.

[40] Ibid., 101.

[41] Sean Morrow, “Dakawa Development Centre: An African National Congress Settlement in Tanzania, 1982-1992,” African Affairs 97 (1998): 501-502.

[42] Colin Bundy, “National Liberation and International Solidarity: Anatomy of a Special Relationship,” in Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional and Global Perspectives, ed. by Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, (Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2012), 218-220. For more information on families in exile see: Tom Lodge, “State of exile: the African National Congress of South Africa, 1976-86,” Third World Quarterly 9.1 (1987): 1-27; the chapter titled “Family in exile” in Luli Callinicos’s biography of Oliver Tambo; Hilda Bernstein, The Rift: The Exile Experience of South Africans (London: Johnathan Cape, 1994).

[43] Stephen Ellis and Tsepo Sechaba, Comrades Against Apartheid: The ANC & the South African Communist Party in Exile (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 205.

[44] Janet Cherry, “The Intersection of Violent and Non-Violent Strategies in the South African Liberation Struggle,” in Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional and Global Perspectives, ed. by Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, (Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2012), 144.

[45] Steve Davis, “The ANC: From Freedom Radio to Radio Freedom,” in Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional and Global Perspectives, ed. by Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, (Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2012), 118.

[46] Janet Cherry, “The Intersection of Violent and Non-Violent Strategies in the South African Liberation Struggle,” in Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional and Global Perspectives, ed. by Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, (Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2012), 148.

[47] Steve Davis, “The ANC: From Freedom Radio to Radio Freedom,” in Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional and Global Perspectives, ed. by Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, (Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2012), 119.

[48] Ibid., 126.




Cherry, Janet. 2012. “The Intersection of Violent and Non-Violent Strategies in the South African Liberation Struggle.” In Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional and Global Perspectives, edited by Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, 142-161. Cape Town: University if Cape Town Press.

Colin, Bundy. 2012. “National Liberation and International Solidarity: Anatomy of a Special Relationship.” In Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional and Global Perspectives, edited by Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, 212-228. Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press.

Davis, Steve. 2012. “The ANC: From Freedom Radio to Radio Freedom.” In Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional, and Global Perspectives, edited by Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, 117-141. Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press.

Ellis, Stephen, and Tsepo Sechaba. 1992. Comrades Against Apartheid: The ANC & the South African Communist Party in Exile. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Fatton, Jr., Robert. 1986. Black Consciousness in South Africa: the Dialectics of Ideological Resistance to White Supremacy. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Gerhart, Gail M. 1979. Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology. Berkely: University of California Press.

Lissoni, Arianna. 2009. “Transformations in the ANC External Mission and Umkhonto we Sizwe, c. 1960–1969.” Journal of Southern African Studies, June: 287-301.

Macmillan, Hugh. 2013. The Lusaka Years (1963-1994): The ANC in Exile in Zambia. Johannesburg: Jacana.

Magaziner, Daniel R. 2010. The Law and The Prophets: Black Consciousness in South Africa, 1968-1977. Athens: Ohio University Press.

Morrow, Sean. 1998. “Dakawa Development Centre: An African National Congress Settlement in Tanzania, 1982-1992.” African Affairs, 497-521.

Sandwell, Rachel. 2015. “‘Love I Cannot Begin to Explain’: The Politics of Reproduction in the ANC in Exile, 1976-1990.” Journal of Southern African Studies, January 9: 63-81.

Kenya and the Mau Mau – Article Reaction Essay

Hazelton Detention Camp

David Anderson’s article, “Mau Mau in the High Court and the ‘Lost’ British Empire Archive,” uses a potential lawsuit against the British government by survivors of the detention camps in Kenya to analyze the difficulty that historians face in gaining access to historical documents. He details the struggle that the prosecution went through to obtain access to documents that were removed from Kenya during the decolonization process, which ultimately raises questions about the British Empire’s supposed “civilizing mission” in the colonized world. If the British were the standard of moral and just behavior, what did they need to hide?

Not all of the documents removed from Kenya related specifically to the detention camps, but many did. These documents were removed because they might “embarrass” the British government, implying that the people in charge knew that what they were doing was outside the bounds of acceptable behavior. Anderson mentions many documents where individuals specifically raised concerns about practices in the detention camps. Anderson also points out that Governor Baring was aware of the activities going on in the prisons, so why was nothing done to stop it? The implication is that this was state-sanctioned violence rather than aberrant individual behavior. The removal of the files and their subsequently being “lost” also speak volumes about the British government’s need to hide what had happened there.

John Lonsdale’s “Mau Maus of the Mind: Making Mau Mau and Remaking Kenya,” is a very abstract and theoretical examination of what Mau Mau meant to different people. He opens his article by asking why Mau Mau as a resistance movement has come to be seen as somehow peculiarly evil or unnatural in comparison to other similar movements. He shows that the myth surrounding the reality of the movement grew because of how Mau Mau was used to justify and reinforce existing borders. For example, he looks at the political divide between conservatives and liberals and shows how conservatives used the Mau Mau movement and sporadic acts of violence to reinforce an image of white civilization at war with black savagery. The liberals, on the other hand, looked at Mau Mau as the embodiment of childishness and immaturity, and believed they could “fix” the problem by assimilating the locals into Western culture.

One of the more interesting aspects of Mau Mau that Lonsdale analyzes is the way it was perceived by locals. If it was a resistance movement, why were all Kikuyu not onboard with the ideology? Why was it seen as evil by locals as well? Lonsdale shows how, rather than being representative of Kikuyu culture, the way that Mau Mau operated undermined traditional boundaries and norms. In her article, “The Mau Mau Rebellion, Kikuyu Women, and Social Change,” Cora Ann Presley builds on this idea of Mau Mau not representing local culture by showing how people were forced to provide support or face physical abuse and possibly death. Presley is specifically analyzing the role that women played in the Mau Mau movement, to show that women were not passive actors and had an active role in the movement. She uses survivor testimony to build her argument and complicate an oversimplified narrative. She shows that some women were active and eager participants, while others were threatened into providing support.

One issue that could use more explanation is the significance of oaths in Mau Mau culture, and perhaps in British culture during the time period examined. Why were oaths so powerful? Lonsdale approaches Mau Mau oaths in a psychological and sociological way, but provides no background on the types of oaths normally taken or used in Kikuyu society. Also absent from these narratives is what the oaths were. One of Presley’s interviewees refused to speak about it. What was the text of the oath? Why is the act of taking the oath in the first place given more weight than what they were being asked or made to swear to?

The Wretched of the Earth and Journal 1955~1962: Reflections on the French-Algerian War – Comparative Reaction Essay

The Wretched of the Earth Book Cover

In the selection from The Wretched of the Earth, by Franz Fanon, the author argues that violence is a necessary part of decolonization. At first glance, this seems like a difficult argument to make, but Fanon frames violence in a way that emphasizes its use as a tool and a reaction more than something to be enjoyed and promoted. According to Fanon, violence is necessary because colonialism itself is violence that will not be stopped by other means. Violence is a trigger and point of departure that creates the impetus for decolonization by making the situation untenable for the colonizer and, further, acts as a unifying factor.

Compared to Mouloud Feraoun’s Journal, which is personal and conveys a sense of what it was like to live through the Algerian revolution, Fanon’s work is much more abstract. He was not writing from within an anti-colonial environment, but was rather making observations about colonialism in general. Fanon’s work heavily emphasizes dichotomies, both between capitalism and socialism and the colonizer and the colonized, which is to be expected given the author’s context of the Cold War and how that conflict impacted national struggles around the world.

Is violence a necessary part of the decolonization process? Fanon addresses the voluntary decolonization of some areas as a reaction to violence in other areas. In other words, voluntary decolonization was really forced, because it was done to avoid further violence. When considering this, I thought of Mahatma Gandhi’s movement of non-violence, when he was attempting to free India from British colonial control. Gandhi’s movement was successful (though not entirely because of his movement alone) in pushing out the British, but how does it fit into Fanon’s theory?

Fanon makes the point that violence acts as a vehicle for driving otherwise separate peoples in one direction (73). This sounds like he is arguing that by unifying people, violence constitutes the nation through experiencing a common hardship, which serves as a unifying memory for future generations. The Revolutionary War of the United States against Britain is an example of violence creating a common enemy, but it did not result in a unified nation. The failure of the new country’s economy was the driving force behind greater unification of the former colonies under a stronger central government, which turned those former fighters into a more unified people, or American nation.

India also does not fit neatly into this rubric. Gandhi’s movement called explicitly for non-violence. There was common suffering among those who took part in the movement, but Fanon’s theory seems to suggest that this common suffering must escalate into a violent movement before independence can be attained, or a sense of nationhood can be developed. Does this only work in areas where people did not have a unified sense of culture beforehand? Modern India is composed of a multitude of groups that loosely fit into the same cultural category through religious affiliation, but which were historically multiple kingdoms and other political units. Is non-violence just as strong a unifying factor, or was the violence inflicted on India what caused them to become unified? In other words, does mutual suffering create nationhood rather than mutual violence against another group?

Fanon’s obsession with and aggrandizement of violence reads like intellectualized grand-standing to call attention to his position on socialism as the better option for people in general. He mentions that individualism is a position that must be abandoned. He places capitalist countries firmly on the ‘bad’ side of the dichotomy of good and evil, in terms of colonizers and colonists, and concludes the selection provided with a call for restitution framed in terms of reparations for war damages. It is an interesting argument. How much of what Europe has today is the result of wealth accumulated from exploited countries? How much should be returned? How should it be returned and to whom? To governments? What about regions that are still politically unstable? And is there not an argument that the technological, medical, and social developments invented or refined in the West and disseminated throughout the world are not in and of themselves a form of restitution, in that they better all of humanity?

Journal 1955~1962: Reflections on the French-Algerian War, by Mouloud Feraoun – Reaction Essay

Journal, 1955-1962: Reflections on the French-Algerian War Book Cover

Journal 1955~1962: Reflections on the French-Algerian War (2000), contains the collected and translated notes of Mouloud Feraoun, an Algerian Kabyle who lived through most of the French-Algerian war and was ultimately assassinated by the OAS, an extremist group composed of French residents of Algeria that were attempting to prevent Algerian independence. Feraoun was born during the colonial period, educated in the French system and worked as an educator himself. He was intelligent, complex, and saw the conflict in a nuanced way that he feared would make him a target as the forces arrayed against each other in the country began to view the world as wholly divided between good and evil. He was especially conflicted about the education strike, because he believed that not everything inherited from the French was inherently evil, a position that was at odds with the FLN’s idolization of Islam as the native answer to French cultural domination.

The most prominent part of Feraoun’s recollections is the constant violence that he reports. The deaths become routine and he records them in a way that becomes standardized, because the killing had become standardized. Violence gripped the entire country and became a tool used both by the French and the FLN. Some violence is to be expected, but the level of violence escalated to a point that defied logic. Feraoun accuses the FLN of creating an atmosphere that will make people long for French rule, and as his memoir nears its end, that very thing begins to happen. Summary executions, rapes, round-ups, identity checks and oppressive home searches became the norm for people on both sides of the fight. Those caught in the middle tried to live their lives as best they could, but they were forced into a position where they were bound to be killed by one side or the other because there was no ideological room left to be neutral.

The French military’s use of violent tactics is more questionable than those of the “rebel” groups, not simply because one expects a rebel group to use terrorism and guerilla tactics, but because of France’s claim that Algeria is France. If Algeria is France, why were these “French” Algerians in “France” subjected to violence that a nation normally reserved for enemy nations? Feraoun compares French tactics in the villages and outlying areas to those used by Russia against Hungary. Even in a situation of martial law, would those actions be permitted in Paris? This shows that there was a distinct disconnect between rhetoric and actual policy that made clear Algeria’s place not as an integral part of France, but rather as a colony under another name, full of dangerous locals, none of whom were above suspicion. As Feraoun mentioned when trying to return to his village on the occasion of his father’s death, without the telegram from the French military official, he was a rebel commander and his cousin was a fighter as well. There was a presumption of guilt that placed all natives outside of the French nation and, as a result, outside of the state and the state’s protection.

The Assassination of Lumumba, by Ludo De Witte – Reaction Essay

The Assassination of Lumumba, Ludo De Witte Book Cover

In The Assassination of Lumumba, Ludo De Witte analyzes the events and motivations surrounding the death of Patrice Lumumba, the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the Congo after the country’s supposed decolonization by Belgium. De Witte was arguing against popular historiography and sentiment and attempted to provide readers with a more complete understanding of the circumstances that led to Lumumba’s assassination. De Witte analyzes documents he is given access to by the UN and the Belgian government, as well as a dissertation thesis written by Jacques Brassinne and Jean Kestergat in 1991, which he regards with suspicion since Brassinne collaborated with the Katangan government, which could have had a serious impact on the interviews Brassinne conducted. De Witte’s work opens up many questions about the decolonization process, including the influence of the Cold War, the usefulness of the United Nations as an institution, and the value of humanitarian ideals relative to strategic interests in the eyes of the international community.

De Witte’s argument for outside involvement in Lumumba’s assassination rests on three pillars: UN complicity, Belgian initiative, and the involvement of the CIA in an aborted assassination attempt. The influence attributed to the United States by De Witte in Lumumba’s eventual death is weak. De Witte clearly shows that the United States’ government’s obsession with the Cold War and the possibility of the Congo aligning itself with the USSR was seriously discussed and resulted in the CIA developing assassination plans. Had this plan been carried out, the United States would certainly bear responsibility. However, the assassination was called off when Belgium and the United Nations managed to arrange Lumumba’s death. Morally, the US incurred guilt through planning the action and intending to commit the action, but in the purest legal sense, intent without action is not a crime.

De Witte’s accusations against the United Nations are in some cases circumstantial. For example, he places blame on the institution as a result of the actions, or inactions, of individuals. It is very significant that Dag Hammerskjold willfully influenced events in a way that ensured the collapse of the legally elected and legitimate government that Lumumba was a part of, and validated the illegal government set up by Tshombe in Katanga. It makes one questions whether or not there was some unrealized link between Hammerskjold and the Belgian government that gave him an incentive to undermine Lumumba. Or, perhaps, Hammerskjold was merely representative of a neo-colonialist element within the United Nations that worked for goals contrary to those officially stated by the United Nations.

In his introduction, De Witte notes that many have understood his book to be primarily laying blame at the feet of the Belgian government. He attempts to deflect by saying that he thinks blame lies with more than one party and while that is certainly true, it is obvious that the primary motivation for removing Lumumba was to restore Belgium’s control of the Congo by using a weak parliament as a façade. The media was expertly manipulated to reiterate racist rhetoric that reduced Lumumba to a reactionary, animalistic figure without any clear plan other than to kill Europeans, reminiscent of anti-Mau Mau rhetoric in Kenya. The presence of Belgians at all stages of Lumumba’s detention, transfer and murder, as well as Belgian initiation and reinforcement of the secession of Katanga, and the intentional attempt to stamp out popular political sentiment clearly put the majority of the blame and responsibility at the feet of the Belgian government, regardless of later revelations by the 2002 Belgian parliamentary commission’s findings of active conspiracy by the royal court to assassinate Lumumba.

What is the actual purpose and value of the United Nations? How often has the organization actually effected positive change? Are humanitarian values and decolonial rhetoric smokescreens meant to place a positive veneer on continued Western control of other countries? Belgium’s actions in the Congo are reminiscent of the CIA and MI6 overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran after he nationalized the oil company formerly controlled by Britain. Lumumba was written off as being unique or unusual but he had the support of the people and his ideas, to truly decolonize his country, were part of a larger stream of thought in much of the world at that time. Unfortunately, the West still held a disproportionate amount of international power and, despite the public outcry and later support for the Stanleyville government primarily by Communist bloc countries, the Congo was allowed to remain under Belgian control.

The Other Within: Can Muslims Be French?

Is the Hijab French?

Whether or not Muslims can be accepted into European countries as more than just itinerant travelers, whether that is possible or even desirable, is a question that has been addressed by scholars, “talking heads,” politicians, and average citizens the world over. The situation of Muslims in European countries is difficult to generalize, because each country has its own specific set of circumstances that led to the addition of immigrant populations. However, this paper will analyze how Muslims have been presented in Europe generally and then focus more narrowly on the specific context of France, which has Europe’s largest Muslim population. This paper will cover Europeans’ conception of what Europe is, what an authentic European is, and the role that Islam plays in creating that image.

Additionally, I will argue that Muslims in Europe, and specifically in France, have been subjected to a type of criticism that implies that Muslims are a homogenous and mutually responsible group that is inherently violent, with Muslims in France being held to a standard that is unachievable in terms of becoming truly French. I will argue that Muslims in France are already French, addressing their issues from a position of wanting their rights to be observed, rather than requesting rights in the sense of the American Civil Rights movement. Additionally, I will argue that France’s particular system of government and conception of laïcité (a type of secularism) precludes the successful integration of minorities.

In a book section titled “Muslims and European Identity: Can Europe Represent Islam?” written in 2002, Talal Asad analyzes the way that Europeans have traditionally understood Europe and what it means to be European in order to understand whether or not minorities can be successfully integrated. Asad belives that the modern discourse on European identity is concerned with exclusions and anxieties about non-Europeans and contains an implicit demand that the rest of the world recognize Europe based on its self-proclaimed identity.[1] In a sense, Europe is creating propaganda in order to shape world opinion about Europe’s role in world society. Asad begins his analysis by tracing the historical development of the concept of Europe to the Middle Ages, where Europe and Christendom were synonymous terms, often used in contradistinction to the Ottoman Empire, which was Islamic.

The idea of what Europe was, and is, inherently tied to religion and remains that way today, regardless of the new ascribed secular nature of states.[2] Asad develops this idea by noting that Balkan states who have populations that are indistinguishable from other white Europeans, that have secular political institutions and are geographically within Europe are still somehow not European. They can be in Europe, but not of Europe.[3]

Asad also introduces the idea of European civilization, which is based on the idea of a shared history that includes the Roman Empire, Christianity (as noted above), the Enlightenment, and industrialization.[4] The fact that Muslim immigrants have not shared in these experiences are what Asad believes creates a sense of Muslims not belonging in European society. This also disconnects the idea of Europe from a geographic space, explaining how it is possible to be in Europe but not to be of Europe. In other words, there is something essential to being European, but becoming fully European would require one to shed his or her own essential identity and replace it with a European one. If something is essential to one’s self, it is a defining factor in one’s identity. Can it be removed?

Asad builds on this understanding of essential qualities to argue that because assimilation requires the forfeiture of one’s self and the assumption of European identity, there is no place for minorities in Europe. An interesting quote found in Constructing Muslims in France: Discourse, Public Identity, and the Politics of Citizenship greatly illuminates this problem of secularism and personal identity. In her discussion on Muslim identity in France, the author, Jennifer Fredette, argues that “Karl Marx would tell us that pretending it is possible to separate the public from the private so neatly is secularism’s greatest conceit.”[5] Fredette is placing Muslim identity in Europe in perspective by first exploring the underpinnings of the modern conception of citizenship. She argues that it is impossible to separate the personal from the public, which agrees with Asad’s assessment of essential characteristics of people.[6]

What we are meant to understand from this is that one’s private beliefs and private nature influence our public behavior and the way we are perceived by others. In a secular state, there will still be some influence from privately held beliefs. This becomes important when one tries to understand why Muslims are considered unassimilable into European, and specifically French, societies. Secular, modern conceptions of citizenship in France are predicated on possessing a French passport and having some cultural attachment to the country, such as speaking French. The majority of Muslims in France, at this point, have never lived in another country. They were born in France, speak French as a first or only language, and have to search generations back into their ancestry to find a connection to immigration.[7] Some Muslims are converts and have no link to immigration, yet there is something about them nonetheless that causes them to be outside of the scope of French society. The qualifier has shifted from secular understandings of citizenship to personal beliefs, creating the idea of deserving and undeserving citizens.

Fredette situates her argument not in terms of whether Muslims can become French, but instead looks at why this question is being asked, how it affects Muslims in France and how they respond.[8] Fredette finds that most Muslims in France are, in their own understanding of themselves, integrated into French society. They identify as French and are capable of using the French political system, speaking French, and navigating French society. French Muslims’ complaints are not about receiving rights, in the sense of African Americans during the Civil Rights campaign, but rather are about having their rights respected. This is a nuanced but important difference. Muslims are demanding neutrality in law, in the sense of not having Islam be the focusing issue of political debates involving immigrants and descendants of immigrants. Muslims also demand recognition of the social abuses they suffer.[9]

Social abuses can elevate to an accepted discourse that becomes prevalent in society and creates a feeling of second-class citizenship. For example, a Muslim woman’s employer refers to all Muslim women as Fatima. Or, a Muslim woman helps an ethnically French woman lift her pram onto a bus and the bus driver closes the door on her, almost crushing the baby in the process, in order to slight her.[10] Fredette is drawing a distinction between integration and assimilation, as well as between political and social integration. She argues that it is possible to be integrated into a country politically and theoretically have equal protection under the law, but to be socially excluded based on personal beliefs in such a way that it undermines the conception of citizenship, leading to the previously mentioned discourse on deserving and undeserving citizens.[11] Fredette’s understanding of assimilation without integration builds on that presented by Sharif Gemie in French Muslims: New Voices in Contemporary France, where she defines integration as comprehending the manner in which society works, or the acquisition of that competence. She argues that this understanding avoids the ideological fog of ambiguous ideas revolving around values like “fair play,” “toleration,” “motherhood,” and “apple pie.”[12]

Understanding the way that discourse is produced and shaped in France is essential to understanding why Muslims feel socially marginalized. Fredette identifies three major groups as being responsible for producing and maintaining popular discourse in France: politicians, the media, and intellectuals, which she collectively refers to as the French elite. She argues that discourse production in France is unusually unified in that these groups of people are all from the same social strata, attend the same schools and share ideas with one another, creating a unified bloc of information producers.[13] The media are arguably the most important of these discourse producers, given their role in shaping and transmitting the messages of the other two groups to the public.

According to Fredette, today’s modern, elite conception of what it means to be a deserving French citizen involves the possession of five unique traits: complete liberality in sexual relations, refraining from references to religion in public and social affairs, an aversion to cultural pluralism (implying being strictly French in the full sense with no hyphenated identity), adhering to a theory of abstract individualism, and having an ancestral origin that is within the accepted boundaries of Europe.[14] This understanding of Frenchness is antithetical to minorities in general and Muslims in particular. There is no room for difference in this definition of being French. Because Catholicism is so ingrained in French culture, adherence to Islam in any shape or form is seen as cultural pluralism. Religiosity usually involves sexual restraint, which also infringes on the popular elite perception of fraternity, which has become inseparable from a notion of mixing of the sexes.[15]

Understanding the elite discourse on Muslims is important in understanding why they are thought to be unassimilable. In line with Talal Asad’s presentation of Muslims as existing outside of European civilization, the media has traditionally depicted Muslims as others, following a general pattern over time that shifted from a sensual, sexualized depiction of Muslims to one of Muslim fanaticism. In an article titled, “Comparative Analysis of Mainstream Discourses, Media Narratives and Representations of Islam in Britain and France Prior to 9/11,” Malcom Brown shows that while there was an academically accepted paradigm shift centered on the events of September 11, 2001, there has always been a wide variety of media presentations of Muslims.[16] Tellingly, however, these media presentations have always shown Muslims as “others”, outside of French society.

Brown notes that despite France’s close proximity to Muslim societies, which would lead one to expect a degree of familiarity that would prevent Muslims from being portrayed as exotic, media representations tended to follow this stereotype well into the 1970s. This was presented in two ways: a portrayed exoticism of the senses and a need to explain the “strangeness” of Muslim culture.[17] During the 1970s and into the 1980s, the common discourse on Muslims in French media highlighted ethnicity and nationality, rather than religion, though Brown notes that a shift towards depictions of fanaticism was underway as a result of the 1973 Oil Crisis.[18]

Brown notes that there is a tendency towards reactionary reporting in the French media. When crimes occur that involve Muslims (and presumably other minorities), the articles produced by the media not only report the event, but take on airs of superiority that place these minorities on a lower run of the civilizational order, or in other words, outside of French society. An example is when a girl was made to swallow several litres of salt water as a supposed Islamic home remedy for epilepsy, causing her death. The event was reported as “causing death by torture and barbaric acts.”[19] The event might have been interpreted and reported very differently if it had been a death caused by a French home remedy. The perpetrators were also accused of multiculturalism, calling into question their Frenchness.

By 1989, media depictions of Muslims in France had shifted and began to associate Muslims with fanaticism. An example is a Le Nouvel Observateur article that juxtaposed an image of Khomeini’s funeral in Iran with the establishment of “Islamist” groups in France.[20] The formation of Islamic groups in France was questioned because they received support from foreign countries, again calling into question the national loyalties and Frenchness of the Muslims who benefited from these institutions. By the early 1990s, French media was emphasizing problems of “integration” of Muslims, linking these problems with “fanaticism” and “fundamentalism.” Muslims began to complain that they were represented in French media by an “Islamalgame” of “terrorist, Islamist, Muslim, North African, Arab and immigrant.”[21] Brown does not fully explain the reasoning behind why this shift occurred, but according to John Bowen, there was a spillover of violence from the civil war in Algeria during this time period.[22] As a result, Muslims’ Frenchness was again called into question.

Another issue that Muslims had to deal with was their status as residents of the banlieues, neighborhoods constructed in isolation by the French government. These neighborhoods were filled with immigrant, mostly Muslim and Arab residents, who had poor employment opportunities because of unequal access to education. Combined with a universal slump in the French economy after the boom years following World War II, they became centers of poverty, drugs, crime and violence. This situation was used to attribute blanket accusations that associated all Muslims with violence, drug dealing, racism, gender violence, and delinquency (unemployment), despite the fact that similar situations, especially of gender violence, were prevalent in other parts of France.[23] It is interesting to note that these accusations are extremely similar to current media debates about the status of African American neighborhoods in the United States, meaning that the problems presented by these neighborhoods are not inherent qualities of the residents. However, French media began to present these problems as universal. Journalists were sent out to gather sensationalist stories that exacerbated the negative image of Muslims in the media.[24]

The exceptional poverty that exists in these neighborhoods, combined with the social exclusion of Muslims mentioned by Fredette, created barriers to successful integration in French society. Moreover, the situation intensified feelings of isolation and oppression that led to riots in October and November of 2005. Rather than the media and, by extension, the rest of the French insular elite recognizing and acknowledging the real problems faced by Muslims in these neighborhoods, references were made to Muslims’ failure to integrate into society, as if the socioeconomic positions they were born into was wholly their fault. Instead, Nicolas Sarkozy, then Minister of the Interior and later president, commented that he would wipe use a high-pressure hose to wipe the scum off the streets, causing even greater rioting and violence.[25]

Another significant way that Muslims have been depicted in the media which is related to the violence in the banlieues is as a security threat. One example of this viewpoint is that of Robert S. Leiken, which he presents in his article, “Europe’s Angry Muslims.” Using a wider interpretive lens like Talal Asad, Leiken analyzes the presence of Muslims in all European countries from the perspective of international security. Specifically, he is thinking of the border security of the United States and how allowing Muslims to live in Europe creates security risks because of the laxity of travel restrictions both within the European Union and between the European Union and the United States.

A look at Leiken’s analysis in detail is useful, in terms of helping one to understand the way that Muslims are thought of in relation to their status as residents of Europe. Additionally, this places the prevailing French media narrative in a larger context. According to Leiken, the laxity of some member states’ asylum laws allow Islamic radicals to enter the European Union, providing the catalyst for radicalization. Leiken’s argument portrays Muslims in a specific way, as a security threat that must be contained. His writing contains distortions and stretches meant to make the threat seem more plausible and imminent, playing to a discourse on Muslims that has become mainstream and widely accepted. His writing portrays Muslims as an intrinsic security threat who by their very nature cannot be part of the European community or Western “civilization.”

Another problem with Leiken’s analysis is his use of a Mecca vs. Medina analogy which, while illustrative, is historically incorrect and misrepresents the foundational period of Islamic history, which is significant in terms of his topic. In his analogy, he states that Mohammed “pronounced an anathema on [Mecca’s] leaders and took his followers to Medina … [where] he built an army that conquered Mecca in AD 630…”[26] Mohammed fled Mecca in the face of persecution and by all accounts was among the last to leave, having first sent a group of followers to Ethiopia and then having sent the remainder to Medina ahead of himself. In Medina, he did not “[build] and army”, he built a community and engaged in the common raiding practices of the Arabian Peninsula.[27] He also built political alliances which were useful when hostilities did break out.

Leiken’s misrepresentation of the situation and glossing over of the long hostilities, political treaties and eventual surrender of Mecca to Mohammed’s men oversimplifies a complicated process in a way that depicts Muslims as naturally violent from the beginning of their history, leading to the teleological conclusion that they must be dealt with in some way to make Europe and the United States safe from their supposed barbarism. This supposed innate violence is evident in the willingness of media to use blanket accusations against Muslims, as evidenced by the earlier complaint of being represented in the French media by an “Islamalgame”, and by the way that social issues in the banleiues are addressed. Leiken’s inability or unwillingness to approach the situation of Muslim minorities in Europe from a realistic position that sees Muslims as people, rather than as potential threats, is not unusual. It fits into a larger trend of using rhetoric rather complicated narratives to explain the situation of Muslims in France.

This trend is oddly not restricted to ethnic French people. There are cases where Muslims have built their careers around rejecting and denouncing Islam in the French media. One example is that of Chahdortt Djavann, a naturalized French citizen from Iran. She is very vocal about her hatred of Islam and writes extensively on her feelings of alienation, betrayal, and feelings of sexual repression based on veiling. For Djavann, there is no possibility of multiculturalism; one must either be French or Muslim.[28] Sharif Gemie refers to her polemics as simplistic, especially in comparison to the French literary giants that Djavann idolizes, and essentially accuses her of selling out to live the life she dreamed of: one of freedom and wealth. Gemie says that Djavann plays her part well, telling “nationalist-minded neo-republicans exactly what they want to hear. She tells them that France is right, and that it is morally and politically better than other countries.”[29]

One thing that Djavann’s choice should make clear, however, is that acceptance into French society as being truly French is absolutely predicated on a complete rejection of Islam, being Muslim, and being culturally and sexually different from the mainstream. French secularism is not about freedom of choice, at least not for Muslims. It is instead about conformity. Talal Asad, though addressing Europe as a whole in terms of democracies and Muslim minorities, would likely agree, because it fits the same model. Where Asad observed that there is no place for a minority voice in a democracy, there is no place for a minority group to find a voice within French society. To be French one must become an abstract part of the whole, subsuming oneself into another identity. Personally, this emphasis on creating a society full of identical abstract people comes across as incredibly dangerous to the mental health of a population. It subsumes individuality into a collective whole, and attempts to render the “self” meaningless.

The issue of Muslims in France and whether or not they can integrate is, like Fredette stated, the wrong way to approach the situation. Muslims in France are French Muslims. Their situations are not uniquely religious or unique to their social groups. They are issues that affect all Muslims in France, but because of their status as immigrants, they are seen as unique in all things. They are uniquely different, uniquely other, uniquely in need of being “civilized” and assimilated. The issues that are inherent to the Muslim condition in France are exacerbated by the media’s portrayal of them as being inherently violent and foreign. Their assessment as a security threat only serves to further isolate them. The elite discourse that demands that all French people be exactly the same is unproductive and unrealistic, and creates unachievable expectations for Muslims in French society, especially considering that there are many accepted French people who do not meet the five signifiers of being French. As the French republic currently exists, as the current definition of laïcité stands, it is not possible for Muslims to become part of France because there would be no such thing as a French Muslim. One would have to stop being Muslim to be French.



[1] Talal Asad, “”Muslims and European Identity: Can Europe Represent Islam?” in Idea of Europe: From Antiquity to the European Union, edited by Anthony Pagden (West Nyack: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 211.

[2] Ibid., 212-213.

[3] Ibid., 213.

[4] Ibid., 214.

[5] Jennifer Fredette, Constructing Muslims in France: Discourse, Public Identity, and the Politics of Citizenship (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2014), 53.

[6] Ibid., 52-53.

[7] Ibid., 39-40.

[8] Ibid., 21.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 21, 23 & Sharif Gemie, French Muslims: New Voices in Contemporary France (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2010), 73.

[11] Jennifer Fredette, Constructing Muslims in France: Discourse, Public Identity, and the Politics of Citizenship (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2014), 21.

[12] Sharif Gemie, French Muslims: New Voices in Contemporary France (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2010), 44.

[13] Ibid., 32-33.

[14] Ibid., 54.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Malcolm D. Brown, “Comparative Analysis of Mainstream Discourses, Media Narratives and Representations of Islam in Britain and France Prior to 9/11,” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 26.3 (December, 2006): 297-298.

[17] Ibid., 299.

[18] Ibid., 300.

[19] Ibid., 301.

[20] Ibid., 303.

[21] Ibid., 304.

[22] John R. Bowen, “Recognizing Islam in France after 9/11,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 35.3 (March, 2009): 439.

[23] Ibid., & Sharif Gemie, French Muslims: New Voices in Contemporary France (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2010),78-79.

[24] Sharif Gemie, French Muslims: New Voices in Contemporary France (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2010), 70.

[25] Sharif Gemie, French Muslims: New Voices in Contemporary France (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2010), 74.

[26] Robert S. Leiken, “Europe’s Angry Muslims,” Foreign Affairs 84.4 (July-August, 2005): 127.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Sharif Gemie, French Muslims: New Voices in Contemporary France (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2010), 49.

[29] Ibid., 62.




Asad, Talal. 2002. “Muslims and European Identity: Can Europe Reprsent Islam?” Chap. 10 in Idea of Europe: From Antiquity to the European Union, edited by Anthony Pagden, 209-227. West Nyack, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Bowen, John R. 2009. “Recognising Islam in France after 9/11.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, March: 439-452.

Brown, Malcolm D. 2006. “Comparative Analysis of Mainstream Discourses, Media Narratives and Representations of Islam in Britain and France Prior to 9/11.” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, December: 297-312.

Fredette, Jennifer. 2014. Constructing Muslims in France: Discourse, Public Identity, and the Politics of Citizenship. Philadelphia: Temple University.

Gemie, Sharif. 2010. French Muslims: New Voices in Contemporary France. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

Leiken, Robert S. 2005. “Europe’s Angry Muslims.” Foreign Affairs, Jul-Aug: 120-135.



The Butcher’s Tale: Murder and Anti-Semitism in a German Town (2014), by Helmut Walser Smith – Reaction Essay

The Butcher’s Tale: Murder and Anti-Semitism in a German Town Book Cover

In The Butcher’s Tale: Murder and Anti-Semitism in a German Town (2014), Helmut Walser Smith uses the murder of Ernst Winter in Konitz in 1900 as a lens through which to examine the historical place of the Jews in German and Christian society. The narrative is constructed like a murder-mystery novel that contains analysis both of the event itself and historical anti-Semitism. Smith does an excellent job of interjecting his analysis into the narrative in a way that maintains the pace and “action” of the story, with the exception of Chapter 5, “Performing Ritual Murder,” which is necessarily more abstract, but feels out of place, as if it just happened to find itself in the middle of an otherwise fluid narrative.

Through his examination of Winter’s murder and the reaction of the people of Konitz, Smith touches on the idea of nations, nationalism and state formation. Who gets to be German? What are the criteria? In a period of crisis, clear lines were drawn between “us” and “them,” with the Jews being clearly placed outside of German society. Based on Smith’s work, the majority of the Jews in Konitz led what might be called average lives. Many did not see themselves as very different from their neighbors. Some rejected Judaism and Jewishness altogether, like the boy that incriminated his father in an 1882 trial regarding a ritual murder charge in Tisza-Eszlar in Hungary (Kindle location 1801). Reform Judaism was on the rise. Most Jews clearly wanted to separate themselves from their past and become German, to one degree or another. What stopped them was latent anti-Semitism that continued to come to the fore during times of crisis.

Another important force that buttressed anti-Semitism during the early 1900s was the press. Because of Germany’s high literacy rates and the apparent freedom to publish uncensored material, “journalists” like Bruhn were able to cater to a demographic that craved news that satisfied their existing world view that supposed Jews really did commit ritual murders. Bruhn, and others like him, leapt on every opportunity to publish sensational stories, much like modern tabloids, invariably making the situation for Jews worse. It makes one question how free the press should be allowed to be. Why does the free press work in the modern US, but so obviously failed in Germany in 1900? One possibility is that the people were not so far removed from natural, learned behaviors imparted to them by their religious affiliation and past.

Smith attempts to explain this by looking at the history of ritual murder accusations and their relationship to the idea of host desecration. The idea that Jews might desecrate the “host” through desecrating a cracker perpetuated the image of Jews as Christ-killers, as people beyond the pale of civilization. Ritual murders were supposedly re-enactments of the murder of Christ. In a period of secularization, where highly educated people were denouncing ritual murder as a myth from an age of barbarism, average people were still by-and-large defining themselves based on religious affiliation. It is interesting that when it came to Jews, Christians in general united in hatred against them, regardless of their personal denominational affiliation.

One of the weak points of Smith’s work is the failure to more clearly link the events that happened in Konitz with Hitler, whom he discusses in the opening of the book as representing the fringe, rather than the mainstream of German society (Kindle location 152). In fact, Smith’s narrative, which shows a nearly united Christian front, ready to accept and lie to support ritual murder charges, seems to contradict that statement. Like the ritual murder charge, anti-Semitism in general did not die out, but rested “in repose,” both among Catholics and Protestants and served as the unifying factor that excluded Jews from belonging to the nation, which in turn constituted the imagined state (Kindle location 1552).