racism or culturalism?
Reader comment on item: Why Was Enoch Powell Condemned as a Racist and Not Charles de Gaulle?
Submitted by Kepha Hor (United States), Aug 19, 2013 at 19:43
What do you think of comparing Leopold Senghor with Chinua Achebe, or some other author from ex-British Africa.? I think it would be a better comparison than Senghor and Tagore. Conversely, are there any famous Vietnamese, Lao, or Khmer authors who are as avowedly Franco-phile as Senghor? Possibly not.
Any author from a formerly French Subsaharan African country represents a literary culture that simply didn't exist (unless you count oral tradition) prior to colonization. Tagore, by contrast, sought to define a vernacular Bengali literature rooted in India's ancient tradition of Sanskrit writing; much as early 20th century Chinese authors and intellectuals tried to make modern Northern Chinese ("Mandarin") as serious a literary language as the older Classical Chinese (there's a big difference between the two). In an Asian context, such things were quite possible simply because there were ancient literary traditions as well as the inflow of Western models.
But, to address the topic of racism:
Reading the comments of both DeGaulle and Powell, I sense that their "racism" is at base culturalism. It's said that during one of his speeches, Powell was interrupted by a West Indian who demanded to know what Powell would do with people like him, who were immigrants, but married to native Britons. Powell told him "You, Sir, are assimilating: you are not the problem." By the same token, what did De Gaulle think of Christian black people (especially from the French Caribbean) such as Felix Eboue and others? I suspect he had very few problems with such people compared to those he had with much lighter-skinned Muslim Arabs and Amazigh.
In our own infamously "racist" United States, culturalism worked both to institute racism and in its dismantling in the older Civil Rights movement. The Age of European Discoveries put people who both looked different and belonged to widely different cultures in close proximity. But one of the forgotten "talking points" of late 18th and early 19th century abolitionism was that the Christianization of black slaves raised the issue for myriads of William Wilberforces and Harriet Beecher Stowes of the shocking horror that the modern "Philemons" were not heeding Paul's admonition about a whole race of "Onesimuses" (see the NT Letter to Philemon--it's a short read). Later on, one secret of Martin Luther King's effectiveness was that he spoke an Evangelical idiom that tweaked the consciences of his opponents. Also, both abolition and the Civil Rights movements benefited greatly from large numbers of white Americans waking up to widespread cultural commonalities between themselves and their black neighbors.
And, to pursue the question farther, does anyone have any idea of how far 19th century "scientific racism" influenced either man? While both may grate our current sensibilities, neither quite sounded like a Hitler (and De Gaulle, after all, was dismissing the Algerie Francais crowd as well).
What would Enoch Powell had said had the South Asian immigrants been divided between Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Methodists rather than between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs? What would De Gaulle have said had the Maghrebi Arabs been mostly Catholics while the Amazigh preferred L'Eglise Reformee? Never mind the Jews: the Cremieux laws had made Frenchmen of both the Ladino-speaking and Mustaribs among them long ago. We can only guess. But something tells me that ex-colonial immigration would have been far less of an issue under such conditions.
Anyone who has a deep appreciation and love for his received culture wishes to preserve and protect it. I suspect a good many Chinese and Taiwanese might read Powell's and De Gaulle's comments with a great deal of sympathy--including many who might be quite tolerant and appreciative of foreign-origin settlers and sojourners in manageable numbers.
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Daniel Pipes replies:
Indeed, Chinua Achebe also confirms the point I made.
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