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A Discourse on Barbaric European Colonialism

Colonialism has had a detrimental impact on the colonized and their culture and history. Aimé Césaire, a French poet, Afro-Caribbean author and politician from the region of Martinique stated in the finest Hegelian fashion that colonialism works to decivilize the colonizer.

In his view, torture, violence, race hatred, and immorality constitute a dead weight on the so-called civilized, pulling the master deeper and deeper into the abyss of barbarism [1].

The instruments of colonial power rely on barbaric, brutal violence and intimidation, and the end result is the degradation of Europe itself. Césaire can only scream: “Europe is indefensible.”

Europe is also dependent. The black existentialist political philosopher Franz Fanon once presciently said that: “Europe is literally the creation of the Third World,”. Césaire echoes this sentiment and reveals, over and over again, that the colonizer’ sense of superiority, their sense of mission as the world’s civilizers, depends on turning the other into a barbarian.

The Africans, Indians, the Asians cannot possess civilization or a culture equal to that of the imperialists, or the latter have no purpose, no justification for the exploitation and domination of the rest of the world. The colonial encounter requires a reinvention of the colonized, the deliberate destruction of the past ­ — what Césaire calls “thingification”.

This is why the word “Discourse” has a double-edged meaning. Césaire’s discourse refers to the material and spiritual havoc created by colonialism, and it is also a critique of colonial discourse. These discourses on colonialism raise the fundamental question: How exactly did Europe conquer the world?

First of all, colonization was the culmination of processes that had begun hundreds of years earlier [2]. Secondly, although the success of Europe came as result of a variety of factors, the most important one was weaponry.

Europeans had enormous advantages in military technology throughout the period of conquest. By the seventeenth century, guns were the main weapons favoring Europeans (an early machine gun, the maxim gun, revolutionized violence). Yet weaponry had made all the difference even hundreds of years earlier.

The benefits of colonialism for Europeans can be summed up in three words, gold, god and glory. Colonialism was the culmination of a process that wrecked indigenous economies, ruined local industries, and replaced traditional networks of trade with a world system in which Europeans dominated and the rest of the world serve.

Gold was an economic motive that was a major drive behind colonialism. Indeed, by the fifteenth century, an overland long-distance trade linked Europe and the Non-Western world for over a thousand years. However, it was a technological revolution that would dramatically shift the balance of power — the Europeans ability to dominate world trade by sea.

Europe’s industrial revolution also demanded reliable access to cheap taw materials — so the colonizers were established to serve as feeders to the industrial economies of the colonizer, and the result was the development of economies centered on the export of raw materials.

These actions were justified by the principle of comparative advantage, which holds that efficiency is enhanced by specialization in production, the mother countries decided that their new colonies would produce, based on the colonizers needs and the particular resources of each territory.

As a result of this, monocultures were creating sugar from Cuba, hides from Argentina, coffee from Kenya, cotton from Egypt. Nigeria and India were unusual in that they exported a different cash crop.

The colonies were never to be self-sufficient; instead they were undiversified, vulnerable, and dependent — and that is the tragedy of colonialism that has plagued underdeveloped nations to this day.

The second incentive for European colonialism was God. The word god was often invoked to justify colonialism, and to varying degrees proselytizing was a large part of the colonial effort. Priests came to Latin America on Columbus’s second sailing in 1493.

The Catholic Church was joined by Protestant missionaries who served as aggressive agents of cultural imperialism as well, to compete for souls in Asia, Africa, and to a lesser extent in the Middle East.

Propounding social Darwinist theories of evolution and survival of the fittest, the European saw themselves as more civilized, cleaner, smatter, and better educated than the people they colonized, who were variously described as devious, lazy, or immoral. This Eurocentric colonial worldview has yet to disappear in modern western societies.

A third factor commonly observed as motivating European efforts to conquer the world was the search for the glory and prestige that come with recognition as a great world power. Through out history the French and English had nationalistic rivalries for world domination.

Strategic and economic interests were vital in this competition — so these colonial powers sought control of sea-lanes, access routes, and strategic locations such as the Suez Canal, Cape Town, Aden, Ceylon, and Hong Kong in order to protect their military, logistical, and economic interests.

For instance, the Suez Canal was considered by the British to be the “lifeline of India,” since cutting through it from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea greatly reduced the long journey from Europe around Africa.

Not only did this shortcut mean an enormous increase in the volume of trade, but control of India also greatly facilitated the exploitation of China. As a result of this, location made Egypt strategically pivotal and the British insisted on maintaining a strong presence there.

This colonial arrangement was not threatened until Gamal Abdel Nasser liberated the Suez from the British in 1956.

Colonialism destroyed precolonial political systems and delegitimized traditional leaders without providing a viable alternative to authoritarianism — and this immense colonial wreckage has been felt in Asia, The Middle East and North Africa until this day.

Individual rights and freedoms were subordinated to the mother country’s desire to hold on to power. Western ideals such as egalitarianism and self-determination were seldom applied to non-Westerners.

The colonial model of government was a small elite maintained in power through reliance on coercion. Colonial powers forgot the core tenets of liberalism and governed with barbarism and intolerance.

The hypocrisy of colonial powers was that they preached high ethics but governed with the barbarism that they accused the colonized people of inhibiting. Government based on intolerance, alienation from one’s own culture, and the creation of economic dependency — this is the legacy of western colonialism.

No reasonable person can deny the detrimental effects of colonialism, which caused a decay in progress, economic and democratic independence as well as culture. Societies that are filled with corruption and economic stagnation often have a legacy of colonialism.

Although it would go too far to blame all of it on colonialism, much of the instability found in so many former colonies should be understood as the logical cultural logic of late colonialism.

The only way to undermine previous colonial narratives is to promote a cosmopolitan globalization that is based on mutual interest.

Sources [1] Césaire, Aimé. Discourse on colonialism. NYU Press, 2001. [2] Green, December, and Laura Luehrmann. Comparative Politics of the Global South: Linking Concepts and Cases. Lynne Rienner Publishers, Incorporated, 2017.


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