The Wretched of the Earth by Franz Fanon

Part of an American’s Library for Making Sense of the Palestine Israel Mess Part I: This section is five books from outside the conflict that explain the conflict: Book 2:

The Wretched of the Earth by Franz Fanon 1961 (2004 edition. Grove Press. 251 pp.) The ‘wretched of the earth’ is Fannon’s term for colonized populations. His book has been read and internalized by pretty much every revolutionary movement since the book first appeared in the early 1960’s. Castro and Che, the IRA, the Black Panthers, the African National Congress under the Apartheid regime…all of them read Franz Fannon. A black psychiatrist who supported the Algerian revolution against France in the 1950’s, his penetrating analysis of what makes both the colonized and the colonist tick is applicable to any colonizing occupation and anyone paying attention cannot help but see the parallels with Israel and Palestine.

Fannon explains what the opposing groups are thinking about each other and about themselves. He describes the synergy and progression of tactics colonists use to maintain power over, and keep power away from, the colonized, through violence, religion, pitting colonized people against each other, dehumanizing the colonized, portraying them animals that are immoral, ‘quintessential evil’. He describes the psyche behind colonized groups’ internecine feuds and how, when the colonists feel their power slipping, they will recruit ‘moderates’ from the intellectual class to speak for the masses. These intellectuals have been inculcated with colonial ideology. He points out that the colonists do not want peace, they do not want to integrate, they do not want democracy, and that most of them will leave the country rather than live in an integrated society.

Fannon is a great believer in violence as the means of throwing off a colonial yoke. ‘On Violence’ is the first and longest chapter in the book. “Violence among the colonized will spread in proportion to the violence exerted by the colonial regime.” Even after liberation the colonist wants to see the newly liberated country fail and works towards that end by trying to cripple the country economically. This results in the citizens having to redouble their efforts in work and sacrifice after liberation to keep the nation viable and it causes bitterness between the new government and the people.

Being a psychiatrist, Fannon presents a chapter in case studies of mental disorders among both colonized and colonists that were caused by colonial war. He provides insight into the mindset of a French colonist whose job was torturing Algerians. The man had become dangerously abusive to his own wife and children and wanted to be cured. He didn’t want to stop torturing Algerians. He just didn’t want that to carry over into his home life. This man described the rivalry among interrogators at his police station. They would torture sometimes for ten hours, always thinking the victim was about to talk, and they would not want to pass the victim over to another interrogator, letting them get credit when the victim talked. So they would continue torturing the victim themselves becoming increasingly frustrated and bitter towards the victims. In another case a young woman could not get over hearing screams from Algerians her father, a French official, had ordered to be tortured in the basement of his home while she was in the house.

Fannon breaks down different psychosis in Algerians that were caused by different methods of torture. He finds apathy, depression, phobias (for example people tortured with electricity might be afraid to touch a light switch), fear of noise/yelling, insomnia, sadistic tendencies. In one example he interviewed two Algerian teenagers who murdered their friend, a French teenager. Why? Because they couldn’t get at other French colonists. There are special tortures for intellectuals which are designed to make the victim lose confidence in his ability to remember if he collaborated or not. The victim may not know if he believes in the struggle or not. As an aside, it’s hard to miss the comparison between French brainwashing Algerian intellectuals and Israeli propaganda we see in our own newspapers. From the book Algerian intellectuals are forced to:

Give talks on the value of French accomplishments and the merits of colonization…
Take the arguments for the Algerian Revolution and eliminate them one by one.
Algeria is not a nation, has never been a nation, and never will be.
There is no such thing as the “Algerian people.”
Algerian patriotism is devoid of meaning.

‘Not a nation. Never was. Never will be. Not a people. Switch Algerian with Palestinian and these lines are regular fare by Israel supporters in the comments section of pro-Palestinian articles.

French philosopher, polymath, Nobel Laureate, Jean Paul Sartre wrote the book’s preface, including these words, “… it only needs the newly born to fear living a little more than dying, and for the torrent of violence to sweep away all the barriers.”

In the late 1950’s when Frantz Fannon formed his revolutionary manifesto his assertion that “The truth is that no colonialist country today is capable of mounting the only form of repression which would have a chance of succeeding, i.e., a prolonged and large scale military occupation.” was valid. Even a man as brilliant as he was could not have foreseen that a colonial power like Israel would be able to manipulate America. the world’s wealthiest military power, into protecting and paying for a large scale, apparently endless, military occupation.