One place to look is the writings of the late Martiniquan, Aimé Césaire, and his powerful book, Discourse on Colonialism. Born in 1913, Césaire was a gifted thinker who completed his studies in France and was a leading light of the Caribbean diaspora in Europe.
Some described the book as “a declaration of war.” Others spoke of it as a “third world manifesto.” Its central thesis was what is the impact of colonialism, not simply on the colonised and their own societies but on the coloniser themselves?
Written soon after the end of World War II, Discourse on Colonialism spoke to the West from an anti-colonial position and considered reasons for the moral and spiritual collapse of Europe that led to Fascism, Nazism and the holocaust. There are two key observations amongst many in the book that might be most pertinent to current Israeli actions.
The first is Colonialism as a system of “proletarisation”. By this concept Césaire explained how in the construction and later continuation of a system of domination and subordination, colonialism prepared the ground for capitalism. It did this through the creation of “false consciousness” within both the coloniser and colonised.
By this he meant colonisers needed to maintain a system of inequality where they were understood as the superior race. One way colonisation achieved this was with the belief and structure of racial inequality.
Césaire explained how the coloniser needed to create a world where the colonised were dehumanised and seen as uncivilised, in need of salvation through being conquered and developed. This false premise of superiority and the perceived inequality between colonised and coloniser allowed the coloniser to justify their brutal activities and prepared Colonies for class based society.
Of course this notion of development and salvation was always a charade. But as Césaire wrote, it provided many Europeans with a false belief and justification for Colonialism. What was original and precocious about Césaire’s reading is he took the observation further to describe how the dehumanisation of Colonialism poisoned Western morality and humanism.
Césaire noted when we remove the facade of Colonialism as development we begin to see colonialisation as an illness infecting European civilisation. It had consequences. The direst of which was Nazism, Hitler, and the holocaust.
This was a bold link to establish and most Europeans were unable to see this for themselves. Césaire’s argument was simple. Colonisation and Nazism had the same foundations. The same ideas. The same cruel and inhumane logic.
The reason why Colonialism was acceptable to European civilisation Césaire argued was because it was done to non-whites and non-Europeans. The dehumanisation of colonial thinking he said cultivated Nazism within European culture. For Césaire, Hitler emerged from the cultural logic of racial domination over others found in the Colonial encounter.
European philosophers had always justified Colonialism on European superiority and a divine duty to civilise the world and regenerate inferior races. A European majority never refuted such ideas; it was part of their belief system. Only with Nazism and the holocaust was this belief system thrown into doubt.
As Césaire noted, the reason Nazism was viewed differently to Colonialism was not because of the inhumane act itself but that, “it is the crime against the white man, the humiliation of the white man, and the fact that [Hitler] applied to Europe colonist procedures which until then had been reversed exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the coolies of India, and the blacks of Africa.”
Césaire described how Colonialism decivilised the coloniser, brutalised him and degraded him. He stressed colonisation “dehumanises even the most civilised man; that colonial activity, colonial enterprise, colonial conquest, which is based on contempt for the native and justified by that contempt, inevitably tends to change him who undertakes it.”
Césaire called this the “boomerang effect of colonisation.” And here we can forewarn the Israeli state and its G7 supporters using Césaire’s own words.
“No one colonises innocently, no one colonises with impunity either; a nation which colonises, a civilisation which justifies colonisation – and therefore force – is already a sick civilisation, a civilisation that is morally diseased, that irresistibly, is progressing from one consequence to another, one repudiation to another, and calls for its Hitler, I mean its punishment.”
Seen through the eyes of Césaire, the Israeli state’s current actions not only have the same cultural logic found in European Colonialism and Hitler’s Nazism. They also illuminate the racism at the heart of the Israeli state.