Revisiting the debt

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« Yes Lord, forgive France for speaking the right path and taking side alleys ».
Léopold Sédar Senghor,
Hosties noires (1948)

At a time when people are wondering quite when and where the next plane is going to crash, the West’s own sense of self-importance has been shaken at the very heart of its system of economic and cultural domination – that is, in its confidence. It wasn’t just its invulnerability that collapsed along with Twin Towers. Its certainty about being right collapsed too. At one recent international event, an American publisher claimed that the United States lack the necessary tools for understanding what has happened to them. The media have coined Samuel P. Huntington’s sensationalist title, The Clash of Civilizations (1996), in their quest for analyses and references. But isn’t it above all a clash of ignorance? Huntington argues that Western universalism is dangerous because it risks triggering a war between the different civilisations’ leading states. But his solution is to westernise the world and maintain Western technological and military superiority over all over civilisations! As Edward W. Saïd pointed out in Le Monde on 27 October, Huntington’s argument « is a War of the Worlds-type gadget that is more effective at reinforcing defensive pride than reaching a critical understanding of the stupefying interdependency of our time ». Human history is fortunately the fruit of a permanency of rich interaction and sharing. Less fortunately, it is also the fruit of a series of reactive barbarities, both in the North and South. Seemingly opposing civilisations thus have more in common and maintain closer ties than the editorials and those misfortunate, hate and fear-inspiring words « crusade » and « jihad » tell us.
Indeed, interdependency is so great that it is scandalous not to admit it. Wasn’t that what the French youths of Algerian descent expressed when they invaded the pitch and interrupted the France-Algeria friendly? What was the point of celebrating a reconciliation that is contradicted by the immigrant children’s daily experiences? France and its ex-colonies do not need big illusory masses. They need a real change in mentalities. This will only happen if France faces its history, its illusions, its terrible dark chapters as well as the brighter passages. This will only happen if it closely examines its prejudices in order to deconstruct them.
That is why it is important to revisit the colony – so that Europeans and Africans alike can better understand the remnants left over in our minds. The griots say that the future comes from the past. We don’t have to flagellate ourselves. We need to look ourselves in the eye. It isn’t about increasing our guilt or about victimisation, both of which are alibis that create misunderstandings and regressions. It’s about opening the debates, even if they are painful and ambiguous. Our note on page 67 explains why we have published (contextualised) texts that we do not necessarily subscribe to. Words are highly revealing of the state of the collective imagination and the level of the debate.
The Durban Conference on Racism was also dominated by highly charged words (see p. 110). Was it a failure? In its confusion of issues, no doubt, but not in its conclusion, which at long last declared the slave trade a « crime against humanity ». This was the prerequisite for development aid to be able to shake off its unavowed guilt. It was the prerequisite for the century-long drain and destructuring to find reparation in global rebalancing. Southern debt has to be cancelled to cancel the debt of slavery and colonialism. That is the next step. The fight goes on.

///Article N° : 5420


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