What Frantz Fanon can tell us about the West’s colonial war in Gaza
In his seminal The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon could be writing about Gaza when he said: “In all armed struggles, there exists what we might call the point of no return. Almost always it is marked off by a huge and all-inclusive repression which engulfs all sectors of the colonial people.”
In Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, that point has arrived.
From Gaza to the Red Sea, on all fronts the West is now unmasked as a lawless killing machine in terror of losing control. Genocide, starvation and war, defended with Olympic-level diplomatic double-speak, are its only answers to the fact that the Global South, and the nations of the Middle East (if not their leaders) no longer wish to live under US hegemony.
Jean-Paul Sartre, in his preface to Fanon's work, wrote of western colonialism: “Our Machiavellianism has little purchase on this wide-awake world that has run our falsehoods to earth one after the other. The settler has only recourse to one thing: brute force… the native has only one choice, between servitude and supremacy.”
Fanon was a revolutionary thinker and a practising psychiatrist of colonial racism and its psychic impact on the colonised, and the coloniser. He and Sartre were writing about France’s imminent defeat in Algeria after seven years of brutal war.
It might seem absurd only four months into this war to say that the American-led Anglo-Saxon empire is likewise facing defeat. The wars in Ukraine and Gaza have exposed the limits of western power, and its utterly two-faced approach to international law and the laws of war. Russia is accused of war crimes in Ukraine, while Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza is backed by all means necessary, even in the face of the interim ruling by the International Court of Justice in the Hague against Israel over its ongoing genocide.
The decision, following that historic ruling, to withdraw funding to Palestinian refugee agency Unrwa by the US, UK and a dozen of their mostly European allies is a barefaced, shameless move to starve out the Palestinians and force a surrender of Hamas, which is proscribed as a terror group in the US, UK and European Union.
Shameless Unrwa defunding
With the suspension of the funding to Unrwa - the main aid body that assists Palestinians - based on unproven Israeli allegations, Israel believes it has won a big prize from its western allies, which will make a catastrophic situation in Gaza even worse.
All of this is designed to put unimaginable pressure on Palestinians and force Hamas into agreeing a hostage swap. For Benjamin Netanyahu’s ministers, defunding Unrwa enables the next stage of their war, which as the recent conference on Gaza in Israel showed is to achieve its goal of ethnic cleansing and resettlement of the strip.
The Houthi blockade of Israel-bound vessels through the Red Sea is the first in history to be imposed without a navy
While on paper all this points to Israel and its allies having an overwhelming advantage over Hamas and its allies in the region, given the military firepower and financial terrorism arrayed against them, the position is less rosy for the western axis than it might seem.
As macroeconomist Philip Pilkington explained recently, the Houthi blockade of Israel-bound vessels through the Red Sea, which it has enforced since November, is the first in history to be imposed without a navy.
This is a game-changing strategy of resistance that the US and its allies have reacted to with air strikes against Yemeni targets, and shooting down Houthi drones. Rather than backing down, the Yemeni movement’s response to this has been defiance and mass mobilisation of millions of its supporters on the boulevards of Sanaa and other cities.
This points to the larger problem, also exposed by this week’s drone attack on a US base on the Syria-Jordan border. The main forces fighting the US and Israel are highly motivated non-state actors, rather than the weakened dictatorships that the axis of western empire has attacked in the past.
US President George W Bush’s invasion force was able to capture Baghdad in a matter of weeks in 2003, declaring mission accomplished on 1 May 2003 (but failing to secure the country in the years ahead). It took Nato around seven months to hunt down Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, when rebel forces murdered him in a ditch in 2011. By contrast, non-state actor Hezbollah fought Israel to a standstill in Lebanon over one month in 2006.
Pilkington, creator of the Multipolarity podcast, also wrote this week that western support for Ukraine is at a critical juncture, hence some of the more alarmist talk coming out of western capitals. “The West is in a very precarious position right now. A war effort that threw a huge amount of resources behind Ukraine is very close to disintegrating.”
Ukraine war fatigue
Republicans in the US are tying further support for Ukraine to their calls for a tougher border policy, while the EU’s pledge of €50bn to Ukraine is likely to disappear into Kyiv's budget black hole.
“The political situation in the United States is becoming superheated and veering toward a potential constitutional crisis,” wrote Pilkington. “And all this is taking place with an extremely contentious and destabilising election looming over the country this November.”
Tensions between the Conservative government of Rishi Sunak and the UK Ministry of Defence are also emerging over British strategy regards the Ukraine war and wider challenges, with the outgoing chief of staff raising the prospect of the return of conscription in the face of impending global conflict.
Sir Patrick Sanders' speech was so critical of the UK’s reduced military capacity that the Ministry of Defence refused to release it to the media. A press officer confirmed to Sky that Sanders’ speech “has not and will not” be made available.
Tobias Ellwood, former UK defence minister and war hawk, told Sky “there is a 1939 feel to the world right now”. Reflecting a common western through-the-losing-glass view of what is happening, he said: "These authoritarian states are rearming. There's a risk averseness about the West in wanting to deal with that, and our global institutions, such as the United Nations, aren't able to hold these errant nations to account.”
While Ellwood sees the West as risk averse, the rest of the world sees the US and its allies on the rampage, defying the ICJ, starving besieged civilians in Gaza, and bombing one of the poorest countries on Earth.
The US and Britain are waging war in the Red Sea with strikes against Yemen in response to its naval blockade of Israeli ships. Since the strikes, the Houthis have declared they will target UK and US shipping.
No matter how often UK and US politicians deny that the Houthis are doing this for the Palestinians in Gaza, that is how the rest of the world sees it. And thanks to social media, the Yemenis’ statements cannot be blocked.
Risks of escalation
Each day brings new risks of escalation. President Joe Biden is now being pushed by US senators to attack Iran, following the death of three US troops at a base on Syria’s border in a drone strike claimed by an Iraqi militia.
In backing Ukraine, and potentially even joining the war, the West is planning for World War Three. Russia is fighting on its own border, and Putin can portray the war as an existential fight against its eternal enemy, the West, which the Russians now appear to be winning.
'The colonial world is a Manichaean world… at times this Manichaeism goes to its logical conclusion and dehumanises the native... it turns him into an animal'
- Frantz Fanon
Each of these escalations points toward an all-round conflagration stretching from the Red Sea to Lebanon to the Baltic. It may not be what either Biden or Sunak wants in an election year, with voters weary of war and majorities in favour of a ceasefire in Gaza. But all their actions are pushing us in this direction.
Western powers are involved in conflicts thousands of miles from home, as they were in Fanon's time in Algeria, Congo and Indochina. Today the western political class has united behind Ukraine and Israel, but for millions of people it is no longer clear that the wars are worth fighting.
As Yemen’s spokesman, Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, put it: “The war today is between Yemen which is struggling to stop the crimes of genocide, and the American and British coalition [who] support its perpetrators. Every party or individual in this world has two choices that have no thirds… who do you stand with as you watch these crimes?”
Fanon, writing 63 years ago, agrees: “The colonial world is a Manichaean world… at times this Manichaeism goes to its logical conclusion and dehumanises the native, or to speak plainly, it turns him into an animal. The native is declared insensible to ethics; he represents not only the absence of values, but the negation of values… he is the enemy of values, and in this sense he is the absolute evil.
“The native knows all this, and laughs to himself every time he spots an allusion to the animal world in the other’s words. For he knows he is not an animal, and it is precisely at the moment he realises his humanity that he begins to sharpen the weapons with which he will secure victory.”
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.