Michael Shurkin
Is Zionism Colonialism? p. 3

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:

To the obstinate effort of the colonized to overcome contempt ... to his admiring submission, his studious care to mix in with the colonizer, to dress like him, to talk like him, to conduct himself like him all the way to his tics and his ways of flattering, the colonizer opposes a second form of contempt: derision. He declares, he explains to the colonized that these efforts are vain, that he can only gain a supplementary reward: ridicule. For he will never succeed in identifying with him, not even to reproduce correctly his role. At best, if he does not want to hurt the colonized too much, the colonizer will appeal to metaphysical characteristics. The spirits of the two peoples are incompatible. Each gesture is informed by the entire soul, etc. Then, brutally, he will say that the colonized is only a monkey. And the more intelligent the monkey, the more he imitates well, the more the colonizer gets irritated. With that attention and that bitter flair that is developed by bad will, he will dig out the revealing nuance in the clothing or the language, the lapse of taste, he always succeeds in discovering.
(Memmi 141)

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.

[1]       [2]       3       [4]       [5]       [6]       [next->]

June 2003

Zeek in Print
Spring 03 issue available here

Zionism and

Michael Shurkin

Simulacra and Science Fiction
Dan Friedman

I Hear America

Jay Michaelson

I wish I was...
Harbeer Sandhu

Josh Gets Contacts
Josh Ring

When I Met Humility, I saw Letters
Abraham Mezrich

David Stromberg

Zeek @ Low
June 26, 2003
Click for details

about zeek