From militant Third World liberation to the fallacy of collective memory, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Africa is a Country
In 1953 Fanon moved to Algeria to work in the small town of Blida, about 50 miles from the capital Algiers. He applied for a position as a psychiatrist, having recently qualified. Fanon did not leave France for Algeria because he predicted the future publishing success of The Wretched of the Earth, or that a war and revolution against France was about to break out. Algeria transformed Fanon. At the large hospital in Blida he experimented with therapies that he had seen at Saint Alban and developed with the Spanish revolutionary psychiatrist François Tosquelles. After 1954 the hospital was quickly drawn into the war.
The hospital that had been for a brief period a sanctuary for those physically and psychologically injured was sucked into the maelstrom. Members of Fanon’s staff were arrested, some beaten, others had joined in the strike action called by the Front de Libération National; others went to fight in the mountains. As Fanon’s colleague Alice Cherki remembers, ‘the hospital was considered to be a veritable nest of fellaghas. Fanon was certainly a target … a sweep up was being prepared.’ There was no neutrality. A repressive noose was tightening around Blida’s hospital. [continue reading]
New York Times
Sixty years ago today, Albert Camus gave the speech of his life. It was a speech, in fact, that nearly cost him his life, as well as one that failed in its goal of saving the lives of countless civilians, Arabs and French alike, caught in the vise of terrorism employed by both sides in Algeria’s war of independence. The reasoning behind the speech, as well as the reasons Camus gave it, cast important light on the “war on terror” now being fought in the West.
By early 1956, the war between Algeria’s nationalist movement, the National Liberation Front (the F.L.N.), and the French military had spiraled into mutual butcheries and bloodbaths — from the slaughter of the French colonist population (the “pied-noir”) of Philippeville, where more than 100 men, women and children were hacked to pieces by their Arab neighbors, to the policy of “collective responsibility,” the indiscriminate killing of Arab men, women and children by French soldiers and civilian militias. It was not just Algerians, but Algeria itself, that, in Camus’s words, was dying. [continue reading]
The African slave trade in the Persian Gulf began well before the Islamic period. Mediaeval accounts refer sporadically to slaves working as household servants, bodyguards, militiamen and sailors in the Persian Gulf including what is today southern Iran. The practice lasted, and evolved, through many centuries.
In Iran’s modern history, Africans were integral to elite households. Black men were mostly eunuchs working inside the king’s harem and houses, while black women were servants to Iranian women. [continue reading]
What were the greatest human catastrophes of the 20th century? When asked this question, most people answer the Second World War, followed by the First World War. The former killed around 50 million people, the latter 17 million. But there was another catastrophe that dwarfed both of these, that is rarely mentioned. The influenza pandemic of 1918-1920, better known as the Spanish flu, killed at least 50 million people worldwide, and perhaps as many as 100 million.
While working on a book about that pandemic, I have been thinking a lot about why it has for so long attracted the label “forgotten”. It certainly isn’t because it only affected Spaniards. “Spanish” flu is a misnomer, a historical accident that came about because, unlike the belligerent nations in the First World War, Spain, which was neutral, didn’t censor its press to avoid damaging morale. The first flu victims Europeans learned about from the newspapers, therefore, were Spanish. [continue reading]