Franz Fanon on Colonial Geography

The zone where the native lives is not complementary to the zone inhabited by settlers. The two zones are opposed, but not in the service of a higher unity. Obedient to the rules of pure Aristotelian logic, they both follow the principle of reciprocal exclusivity. No conciliation is possible, for of the two terms, one is superfluous. The settlers’ town is a strongly built town, all made of stone and steel…The settlers’ town is a well-fed town, an easy-going town….the settlers’ town is a town of white people of foreigners.


The town belonging to the colonized people…is a place of ill fame, peopled by men of evil repute. They are born there, it matters little where or how; they die there, it matters not where or how. It is a world without spaciousness; men live there on top of each other, and their huts are built one on top of the other….The native town is a crouching village, a town on its knees, a town wallowing in the mire….The look that the native turns on the settler’s town is a look of lust, a look of envy….And this the settler knows very well; when their glances meet he ascertains bitterly, always on the defensive, “They want to take our place.

Wretched of the Earth, page 39

What strikes me about this passage is not only the extent to which it describes the contrast between the two places I lived in Palestine –  West Jerusalem and the refugee camp named Kalandia, but the extent to which these living conditions are actively pursued by the colonizers, and sometimes it must be said also by the authorities which represent, or purport to represent, the interests of the colonized. The German colony area in West Jerusalem is absolutely an easy going town, with scant reminders that you are living within a kilometer of one of the most contested neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, Silwan. People there are mostly easy going, mostly easy to talk to – but if you ask them about the conflict they get this look in their eye, and they repeat slogans like “They want to take what is ours”.

Perhaps this fear and willingness to use force in defence characterizes a difference between actively colonialist societies, like Israel, and societies where colonization is a fait accompli, like Canada. It’s very well for us activists to call for the Decolonization of Canada – but while we might identify as Settlers, we will never know the emotions of those who feel the need to fight against the colonized to maintain their property.

And perhaps, as sad as it is to say, perhaps Canada cannot be decolonized – simply because those who were colonized are not in a position to lead a successful rebellion against the colonists, where the right of the colonists to property was challenged not only in discourse but with force.

Perhaps decolonization is quite a rare and difficult thing. And maybe this is why activists around the world stand behind Palestine – because there it looks like a victory for decolonization is actually possible. Perhaps this is why it is not a hypocricy to support the Palestinian cause when there are hundreds of other situations much more dire from a humanitarian perspective. There is a difference between an immoral social situation, and a political conflict in which one can take sides – and for this reason the sheer quantity of suffering is not in itself a motivation to become politically involved, but rather an amplifying factor which increases the salience of situations which are already politically demarcated.


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