Hazelton Detention Camp

Kenya and the Mau Mau – Article Reaction Essay

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by survivors of the detention camps in Kenya to analyze the difficulty that historians face in gaining access to historical documents.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 Book Cover

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

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?

A DP camp possibly near Hallendorf, Germany

In War’s Wake: Europe’s Displaced Persons in the Postwar Order – Response Essay

*The image above is of a displaced person’s camp, possibly near Hallendorf, Germany. The image is from a blog about a family’s history. One of the members of the family, Janis, was a POW and later lived in a displaced persons camp. Click here for more information and more images.


 

In In War’s Wake: Europe’s Displaced Persons in the Postwar Order, Gerard Cohen analyzes the creation and evolution of the concept of a “displaced person.” He shows that the term arose in a specific context to describe a specific set of people and, because of the role that Europe and America played in post-World War II international politics, the definition of what it meant to be displaced was applied universally. He also shows how the term was politicized and evolved based on the strategic needs of competing world powers during the Cold War, leading to the commodification of displaced persons. The most important contribution of the book, however, is the development of the idea of what it means to be a citizen of a state.

One of the most interesting, though perhaps least clearly explained, ideas in the book is that people underwent a commodification. Conceptually, they stopped being actors receiving aid and became statistics that had to be managed, from counting caloric intake to disposing of displaced persons in the most expeditious fashion possible. Cohen shows that the way people in dire circumstances were thought of underwent a conceptual shift during the period between the World Wars and again after World War II. Initially people were recipients of “Victorian charity,” a concept that Cohen fails to adequately explain. One can infer from the text that it had little to do with attempting to give the poor the means by which they could advance themselves economically. Food or money was provided, but there was no intent to actually eradicate poverty. The new form of care provided after World War I by UNRRA was designed to elevate people by providing them the means to support themselves and become productive and economically successful members of society. This new conception of relief was adopted later by the IRO and informed later definitions of humanitarian relief work. It wasn’t enough to simply “throw” resources at populations in need of relief. To truly alleviate the situation, one had to give people the means to reestablish a sense of community, of dignity, and the means to become economically self-sufficient.

This new form of help required new forms of monitoring and categorizing people. Cohen cites Foucalt’s theory of “governmentality,” which posits government intrusion into people’s lives as a form of violence. While there was a great deal of intimidation, I’m not sure Foucalt really applies in this situation. According to Cohen, displaced persons were able to forge a history if necessary and still receive benefits. One could argue that requiring detailed information and the history of a person is a form of violence, but in the case of providing that information to receive benefits, it becomes a transaction, albeit an uneven one, with the government, or in this case the IRO, holding all of the power in the situation. Additionally, as the situation evolved, a person’s history was not necessarily as important as where he came from, or what his religion was.

The most pressing issue addressed in Cohen’s work is the conflict and debate revolving around where people belong. It is obvious that by the time World War II ended, the idea of nationalities had become firmly entrenched in people’s minds, but that the exact definition of nationality was still in flux. This is no surprise, since the idea of nationality is still hotly debated today. Nation and state were becoming synonymous in people’s minds. Poland’s demands that all Polish displaced persons be returned while simultaneously working to prevent the return of Jews to Poland is evidence of this. Was there a place for minorities in a state? Do people have to become assimilated to the culture and language of the dominant nation in a state to truly belong? Given the current situation in Europe with Muslim and/or North African minorities being targeted, especially in France, it would seem that people in general still see nation and state as essentially the same. Myths about the ideals and values that a state stands for are typically based on the values and ideals of a particular nation within the state, so expecting people to adhere to them is an expectation of assimilation. Is there room for difference?

Cohen’s book raises many other issues, especially moral issues about the rights of displaced persons in migration, what it means to form an international community, and the hegemonic role of the West in defining what it means to be displaced, a refugee, or entitled to special consideration. The way that the West has defined displaced persons has implications for the internal operations of all states. However, in showing that the definition of a nation was still in flux, and that nationality and belonging can be decided and changed with mere paperwork, Cohen undermines the immutability of nationhood or belonging.

Differing Islamist Ideologies: Violence and Government

A short essay I wrote last year for an undergraduate history course on Islamist political movements:

Modern media has tended to portray Islamist movements as a single entity with a single goal in mind: the establishment of an Islamic state. While it is true that establishing an Islamic state is the end goal, this simple categorization denies the existence of a diversity of Islamist movements, each with different opinions of how a state should be formed and what institutions should be put in place to make it Islamic. Islamists do share a core set of beliefs: the need to establish an Islamic state, the reestablishment of Islamic law as the basis for regulating life, the belief that most or all of the problems in the Muslim world are a result of the failure of the development of ‘authentic’ Islamic institutions to manage political, economic and social life, and the belief that Islam is an all-inclusive social system that could and should regulate all aspects of life.[1]

Beyond these core beliefs, Islamist groups vary widely on essential topics like what form an Islamic government should take and how it should be established. For example, some Islamists believe that Islam is wholly compatible with democracy and others denounce democracy entirely. Part of the reason for the conflict over the admissibility of democracy is a common wholesale rejection of Western ideas due to the long history of colonial exploitation of Muslim lands, or a feeling that adoption of Western ideas is tantamount to admitting defeat, since Islam couldn’t provide a model of government on its own.[2]

In terms of what constitutes proper Islamic governance, the Quran and hadith do not contain much information regarding the establishment of ‘Islamic’ politics or political structures. What Islamic religious sources do say on the topic is vague, laying down general rules rather than specific instructions. An Islamic government should be a “median community” that establishes justice, “command[s] the good and proscribe[s] evil,” and considers the public good in its decision making process.[3] However, what isn’t stated is exactly what constitutes a median community, what justice necessarily is, what institutions should be established to command the good and proscribe evil, or how to include the community in the decision making process, or to what degree the community should be included at all.

The idea of the inclusion of the community in the decision making process, established by Islamic concepts like shura[4] and ijma[5], has been used to justify the idea of democracy being compatible with Islam. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian Islamist, wrote, “A call for democracy does not necessitate a rejection of God’s sovereignty over human beings.”[6] He also said that “Islam antedates democracy in establishing the basic principles on which the essence of democracy rests…” and “…we have the right to borrow from others whatever ideas, methods, and systems might be beneficial to us as long as they do not contradict the clear dictates of the foundational texts or established principles of the shari’a.”[7] He was clearly recalling the fact that much of Islamic philosophy, logic, mathematics, and systems of government were borrowed and adapted from civilizations as diverse as the Greeks, Byzantines, Persians, Indians (South Asian), and Chinese, refuting the idea that the importation of foreign systems and ideas is inherently wrong or contradictory to Islam by using the past as an example.

Additionally, he was arguing against the idea that placing legislative power in the hands of the people (democracy) is a violation of God’s sovereignty and therefore against Islam, an argument favored by Sayyid Qutb. Qutb would not have accepted earlier incorporations of foreign ideologies as a legitimate reason for the incorporation of democracy into Islam. Qutb argued that Muslim society had been degraded and contaminated by Western ideas that had accumulated over the centuries. He believed that these ideas, which he referred to as pathologies, led to the failures present in Egyptian society at the time he was writing.[8] He believed that through action Muslims could regain a dominant position in the world, specifically by re-embracing the ideals of the first generation of Muslims through dedication to the fundamentals of the Qur’an and by purging all vestiges of jahiliyya from their lives, including in the government.

Like Hasan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb advocated the establishment of the Islamic state through violent jihad. Sayyid Qutb was known as the “Philosopher of Islamic Terror” and his ideology inspired the violent jihad of later Islamists.[9] This was true of Muhammad ‘Abd al-Salam Faraj, another Egyptian Islamist who was involved in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981. Faraj wrote, “Jihad for God’s cause, in spite of its extreme importance and its great significance for the future of this religion, has been neglected by the ‘ulama of this age. … There is no doubt that the idols of this world can be made to disappear only through the power of the sword.”[10] Hamas too believed that violent jihad was the answer, stating in its charter that “Jihad is [the movement’s] methodology, and / Death for the sake of Allah is its most coveted desire.”[11] What these Islamists all had in common was their focus on the near enemy. Al-Banna, Qutb and Faraj were all focused on establishing an Islamic state by defeating the secular Egyptian government. Hamas was focused on defeating the Israeli state. However, not all Islamist groups focus their energies on just the near enemey. Other groups, most notably al-Qaeda, globalized the concept of jihad by placing an emphasis on defeating the far enemy, primarily the United States and Britain. The most memorable of their global strikes was the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City in September 11, 2001.

Osama bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaeda, led the fight against the United States because of what he saw as continued American (and general Western) intervention and interference in the affairs of Muslims. He was incensed by the fact that the Saudi government had invited American forces into the country to defend the Kingdom rather than relying on Muslims, especially when the American forces remained in the country after hostilities with Iraq ended. He accused the Saudi monarchy of being illegitimate for acting in contradiction to Islamic law, saying, “this situation is a curse Allah has laid upon them for failing to object to the oppressive and illegitimate conduct and measures of the ruling regime, chief of which are: its disregard of Islamic law, its denial of the people’s legitimate rights, the permission given to Americans to occupy the Land of the Two Holy Places, and the unjust imprisonment of righteous ‘ulema.”[12]

Bin Laden believed the American presence in Saudi Arabia was one step in a bigger plan by America and Israel to subjugate the Muslim countries. Like Faraj, he advocated violent jihad as an individual duty that should be fulfilled at any cost, but unlike Faraj, he advocated targeting the West globally, rather than striking locally, because he saw the West as the source of continued unrest in Muslim countries. This shift in the focus of violent retaliation from local to global initiated a new type of jihad which is best described as a decentralized franchise where local groups may be independent or in contact with other groups and are willing to choose targets world-wide.

The belief that all Islamist groups are the same is an oversimplified interpretation of what is really a much more complex group of beliefs and ideologies. Violent Islamists are not even able to coordinate their misappropriation of jihad into a coherent strategy, with some groups focusing on local targets and others focusing on global targets. There are uniting factors, the strongest of which is the end goal of establishing a state based on Islamic law and Islamic values, but even that goal is a point of contention among Islamists, since they are not able to come to a consensus on what type of government is appropriate. Should there be an Islamic democracy? If not, then what? Who should participate? These are just some of the questions from a specific set of issues, violence and the form of government desired, that separate Islamist ideologies, and they are by no means the only questions or the only differences. Islamists may at some point in the future agree on a unified plan to reach a unified goal, but that time is not now.

References

Euben, Roxanne L., and Muhammad Qasim Zaman. Princeton Readings in Islamist Thought: Texts and Contexts from al-Banna to Bin Laden. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.

Management Systems International (MSI). “Exploring the Thinking of Islamists: Islamist Views Toward Government, the Economy, and Pluralism.” USAID. November 2002. http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PNACW875.pdf (accessed December 13, 2012).



[1] Management Systems International, “Exploring The Thinking of Islamists: Islamist Views Toward Government, the Economy, and Pluralism,” USAID, November 2002, http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PNACW875.pdf (accessed 13 December 2012).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] An Arabic word meaning consultation, or a consultative council or assembly.

[5] An Arabic word referring to the consensus or agreement of the Muslim community on the rightness of a belief or practice.

[6] Roxanne Euben and Muhammad Zaman, Princeton Readings in Islamist Thought: Texts and Contexts from al-Banna to Bin Laden (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), 238.

[7] Ibid., 236-237.

[8] Ibid., 131.

[9] Ibid., 129.

[10] Ibid., 327.

[11] Ibid., 369.

[12] Ibid., 439.

Do Video Games Cause Violence?

I know this is an old topic, but I just wanted to say my piece.

There has been a lot of controversy in the US about video games and the effect they have on kids. Some parents complain that video games loaded with violence give kids the impression that it is an appropriate way to solve their problems.

This whole concept of blaming video games seems to have sparked off with the incident at Columbine High School, which, by the way, has spawned its own video game called Super Columbine Massacre RPG. The parents of the victims were looking for someone to blame, which is only natural, and somehow they latched onto video games and movies as the source of the two offenders aggression. These parents went so far as to attempt to sue the makers of video games and movies for their supposed influence in the Columbine incident. Thankfully, their suit was thrown out as ridiculous.

Do video games contain a lot of violence? Well, sure they do. Violence and action are the main staples of some of the most popular video games ever to come out, like first-person-shooters Doom and Halo. There’s also the wildly popular Grand Theft Auto series which, as the name implies, focuses on stealing cars and also involves crime-filled storyline scenarios and prostitution, among other things. Even the MMO genre has its share of violence. Most of the more popular MMOs incorporate some form of PvP (player versus player) combat into their gameplay.

So, does that mean video games are to blame for inappropriate behavior? Well, no, it doesn’t. Responsibility always falls back on the person who commits the act, and on the parents if the person is a child. I grew up playing video games. As an adult I’ve played a lot of violent video games as well. I’ve also seen a lot of violent, gory, criminal things on television, in the movies, and in real life, both as a kid and as an adult. So, does that mean I can go kill someone and then blame it on video games? Can I say TV made me do it? Get real. People are set above animals for a reason. We are sentient. We can think. We can assimilate new information and come to logical conclusions. It is up to each person to use that knowledge appropriately. Just because I’ve seen someone die on TV from a shotgun blast to the face doesn’t mean that it’s something I should do too. I’ve also seen the Roadrunner run through a wall with a road and scenery painted on it. I’m not going to do that crap either. If someone can’t distinguish between fiction and reality, that’s not a matter of the media they’ve been exposed to. It’s a matter of a mental disorder.

In the case of children and childrens behavior, the responsibility ultimately lies with the parents. If parents don’t want their children playing violent video games, then maybe they should take an active role in their child’s life and monitor what they have access to. Either watch or research what they’re planning on watching and make a yes or no decision. Check out the music they’re listening to and decide on whether or not you think it’s right for them. Oh, and those labels on the covers of video games (and the ratings on movies for that matter) are there for a reason. They don’t get marked “Mature” because they involve calculus, you know.

On top of keeping track of what your kid is seeing, doing, and listening to, another great idea might be to get involved in your kids life. Remind them that you’re not just their parent, you’re their friend. Ask them how they feel. Ask them about problems they’re having. Tell them they don’t have to be embarrassed with you because you may have been through it too. Emphasize “may” so they don’t think you’re being condescending. If they want to see or listen to something you object to, ask them why they like it. Just… talk to them. If parents talk to their kids more and develop a better relationship with them, then I’m sure most of these crazy things that happen (like Columbine) can be avoided. The biggest thing to remember is that kids should be respected too.

Then again, this all makes too much sense, and we’re living in a time when common sense just isn’t so common anymore.