Memmi's arguments about the construction of the colonized appear to be similarly valid if only for the way they echo Zionist rhetoric about Arabs. According to Memmi, the colonizer constructs a "mythic" identity for the colonized through a series of libels and negations, and then he succeeds in imposing this identity on the colonized, who ends up by internalizing it, believing it, and living it to the point that the myth becomes reality. It is particularly noteworthy that Memmi identified laziness as the cornerstone of the colonizer's myth. How many times have I read or heard from Zionists about the failure of Arabs to develop natural resources, work the land, and improve their lot? According to Memmi, Arabs who hear the same libel enough times end up believing it.
Another effect of the colonizer on the colonized that seems particularly true for Israel is his argument about how colonization places the colonized "outside of history and outside of the community (cité)." (133) "Colonization denies [the colonized] any part in war and in peace, in any decision that contributes to the destiny of the world or his own, any historic and social responsibility" Reading these words, I thought of a discussion I had with a friend in the West Bank settlement of Eli. As we stood at the edge of the settlement and looked out across the barren valley to an Arab village, I asked her what she wanted Arabs to do. Her answer was "nothing." Arabs should submit to Israeli authority, resign themselves to having been bested, put up passively with Jewish settlement, and do nothing. In other words, she would condemn Arabs to an existence with no stake in the future of the country in which they lived.
At the time I could sense the absurdity of my friend's position. It struck me that people can put up with being poor, but at the very least they have to believe, however falsely, in the future. Memmi in fact explained such a situation leaves young Arabs with no avenue for evolution. They have no voice, no chance at power, no role to play in any of the decisions that might improve their lives. They have only one recourse. "The only way to evolve, really, is to rebel." (123)
Memmi acknowledged that there seem to be two ways out. The colonized, Memmi wrote, can prefer assimilation to rebellion, attempt "to become other," rather than "to reconquer all of his dimensions that colonization has amputated from him." (137) Yet those who try to assimilate are bound to fail. They fall into self-hatred, for "when the colonized adopts these values [of the colonizers], he adopts his own condemnation, which is integral to them." "To liberate himself, or at least so he thinks, he accepts his own self-destruction. The phenomenon is comparable to the negrophobia of the Negro, or the anti-Semitism of the Jew." (138) Drawing on his own experience in high school, when he would go to any length to imitate the French bourgeoisie, Memmi continued:
So really, assimilation is impossible. Indeed, it is never really desired by the colonizers, and all those colonized who attempt it are deluded. Thus there really is only one way out. "Unable to leave his condition with the accord of and in communion with the colonizer, he will try to liberate himself against him: he is going to revolt." Revolt, Memmi argued, was as inevitable as the failure of assimilation. It will happen. Rather, as Memmi wanted to tell us in 1957, it is already happening.
Zeek in Print
Spring 03 issue available here
Simulacra and Science Fiction
I Hear America
I wish I was...
Josh Gets Contacts
When I Met Humility, I saw Letters
Zeek @ Low
June 26, 2003
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