318 Decolonization

318 Decolonization - Independence and Identity Gandhi and...

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Independence and Identity: Gandhi and Fanon (dec) How do the colonized overcome not only colonizers' economic and military superiority, but the deep- seated sense of social and cultural inferiority instilled by the colonizers in colonized peoples? This, all leaders of decolonization movements believed, was as important--and perhaps a prerequisite--to constructing an economic and political world in which former colonies would be able to exist as equals with the former colonial powers. Resistance to colonialism came largely from rural societies and from growing urban and worker populations. However, independence movements cannot be understood without examining the efforts of native intellectuals--drawn from the "colonial bourgeoisie"--to theorize the nature of indigenous peoples' difference from the colonizers and their need to articulate an independent identity. In the process they thought out and reconceptualized basic categories of social analysis: race, class, gender, the nation. I would like to look closely at Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1947) and Frantz Fanon (1925-1961). While Gandhi and Fanon are radically different figures, they shared a deep concern with the cultural identity of colonized peoples and their ability to defeat the colonist who lives in the heads of subjugated peoples, always reminding them that they are inferior. For colonialism is based on the systematic and continued humiliation of colonial subjects to undermine the sense of self and confidence needed to resist. Neither Gandhi nor Fanon (nor a Communist like Ho Chi Minh) should be seen as simply the expression of a native culture. On the contrary, each drew upon critical strains within Western culture to critique that culture and to suggest a new identity and pride to colonized peoples. 1. Mohandas Gandhi: East Meets West Mohandas Gandhi, leader of the Indian struggle for independence from the British, was from a well- off background (the "merchant" caste) and was sent to England as a young man to be trained as a lawyer--to enter the "colonial bourgeoisie." He initially made every effort to fit into English society, even going so far as to take dancing lessons. This experience led him to the realization that an Indian was an Indian; he was not an Englishman nor, Gandhi came to believe, should he want to be. Gandhi then fell in with various religious groups on the margins of English society. He read the Hindu Bhagavad Gita for the first time not in India, but in England in an English translation. From the Bhagavad Gita, the Sermon on the Mount, and other religious writings,
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Gandhi worked out the creed of selfless devotion to others which would govern his life and politics. From Tolstoy and Thoreau (himself influenced by Indian philosophy), Gandhi developed his ideas of pacifism and civil disobedience--the refusal to comply with the unjust demands of authority. According to the authors Gandhi read and the people he frequented, the dominance of the West was built upon materialism and
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318 Decolonization - Independence and Identity Gandhi and...

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