Book Review: A Dying Colonialism

Professor Pierre Chaulet passed away last Friday. He was one of those French men and women who sided with the FLN during the Algerian war. I do usually take my time before writing about a recent event and this is why I am not going to write about this valuable Algerian man. The reader can browse the internet (Algerian news websites and blogs) to find some good tributes.

Instead, I will write a few words on Frantz Fanon‘s book “A dying colonialism“. Note that I didn’t write about the author last year for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of this death. Some good articles have been written last year and the reader could easily find them on-line.

Frantz Fanon was another Frenchman who defended the Algerian cause and sided with the FLN. And it was Pierre Chaulet who introduced him to the revolutionary party in 1955. Unfortunately, he died a few months before the ceasefire was declared.

Fanon is quite famous even though I feel he’s not given enough attention (compared to Aimé Césaire for example). His most known books are “Black skin, White Masks” and “The wretched of the earth” probably because they mostly tackle some universal concepts.

Societies evolve with time and this is how countries become more or less developed. Stagnation means that the society is already dead and is about to disappear. Change could be gradual, regular and continuous, and I guess it is the case most of the time; but at some other occasions you’ll find that a discontinuity appears and a break between the past and the present is observed. It is like the society has undergone a sort of revolution. And the difference between these two cases lies in the change causes and their nature.

The Industrial Revolution caused some dramatic changes inside the European societies which in turn led to a change in the world power balance. Things are not settled yet but the regime change in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, and the war in Syria may lead to big and unexpected changes.
The black decade and the pseudo-socialist to pseudo-liberal system transition have also led to breaks in the Algerian society’s evolution. We have yet to measure all the effects of these changes.

A dying colonialism“, which was first published in 1959, deals with this topic and gives and account of the huge societal and cultural changes the Algerian society went through during the first five years of the war.
The author stressed on three aspects:

Women condition:

In this chapter, titled “Algeria unveiled“, the author speaks about the veil and how this had always been a topic the French used to illustrate Algeria’s (I should say Muslims’) backwardness and oppression of women. Note that this tactic is still used today and not by the French or Westerners alone.
Fanon wrote that in order to get rid of and fool the colonizer, the Algerian woman decided to take off her veil, stopped walking on the side of the road, travelled the country alone, spent nights outside the house and in the mountains living side by side with Algerian men, etc. And their husbands, fathers and brothers accepting this behaviour because they understood it was for the sake of independence.
At the same time, when the French rose in May 1958 to defend the idea of a French Algeria and made several servile women unveiled, nationalist women who were unveiled put on the veil (haik) as a sign of resistance and refusal of this aberration (Algérie francaise).

The family:

Besides the change in women condition which also affected the Algerian family, Fanon mentioned some other aspects over which the Algerian patriarchal family has been shaken. He gave the example of the illiterate parents who continued to fear the French while their children, youth and fearless, believed in their ability to oust the oppressor. He spoke of the children who argue and explain things to their fathers or their older brothers when they should have kept silent per “past rules”.
Families with some members working with the FLN/ALN and others collaborating with the French also went through dramatic transformations with lasting effects.

Algerians and medicine:

Fanon, as a psychiatrist in Algeria, witnessed how badly some of his colleagues treated the Algerian patients. This and other reasons were behind the Algerian people’s attitude, mainly distrust and fear, toward modern medicine which they associated with the French oppressor. The Algerian revolution made sure to change this attitude. Algerian doctors and nurses who worked with the FLN while using modern techniques made everyone understand these methods were not only harmless but also instruments of Algerian self-determination.

In “A dying colonialism“, Fanon also speaks of self-respect and fearlessness and how these are mandatory characteristics for people who want to oust the occupier. I wonder what he would say today in this new world which is… not that new.

You may want to read this related post.


7 thoughts on “Book Review: A Dying Colonialism

  1. Hello,
    I didn’t know much about this revolutionary figure except that I imagined hime to be like Fredrik Douglas, but from what you’ve written and by taking a look to his Wikipedia entry it seems to me that he had accomplished a fascinating life starting from his upbringings in Martinique island to his experiences in WWII, his education and life long dedication to the struggle against racism, his practice of psychiatry in France and Algeria culminating with his involvement in supporting the revolution through his ideas, writings and actions.
    It is obvious that he has a radical left leaning ideology, but it is hard to access his philosophy and thoughts without reading and understanding his writings.
    Still, I have deep appreciation for his efforts and courage through hard times in our history. And thank you for bringing the subject to attention and for the review.

    • Hello Anzio_express,

      You reminded me of when I was a kid and heard of Hopital Frantz Fanon in Blida or Maillot in Bebeloued and, as I had never heard of these guys in school, thought why keep French (the enemy’s) names…

  2. Hi, thanks for reading my review of “The Stranger.” I really enjoyed this post. Although I am studying French in university, I am woefully ignorant about Algerian history. Thanks for the informative post on this important figure.

    • Hi Anna and welcome to the blog.
      Many Algerians and most French are ignorant about Algerian history so you shouldn’t worry about that 🙂

      I feel like Camus has come back into fashion these past years; I dare hope it has nothing to do with G W Bush reading the Stranger! But the author (and his work) are controversial in Algeria and stir many debates.

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