The late Glen Ford would probably refer to events in Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, and elsewhere as the “blowback” from France’s colonial past.
“Decolonization,” Frantz Fanon once wrote, “is always a violent phenomenon.” It is a “program of complete disorder.” And its violence and disorder, Fanon might add, takes place simultaneously in both the metropoles and the colonies, in the centers of colonial authority and the insurgent territories at the margins of the world.
Let’s take France as an example. While Paris is burning, France’s neocolonial West African territories are about to explode. Protests erupted in Paris after the police murder of 17 year old Nahul Merzouk – but also against decades of institutionalized and entrenched French racism against Black and Arab youth. The protests reverberated across all of France, but also in West Africa, where years of racist French economic, financial, and military meddling and control have shown independence to be nothing more than an exploitative and extractive neocolonial sham. Indeed, on July 26, 2023 in Niger, a military coup d’etat removed the country’s neocolonial government and President Mohamed Bazoum. Young coup supporters protested France’s presence in the country by burning French flags, destroying parts of the French embassy in Niger, and calling for an end to French colonialism in their country.
Niger is only the latest flashpoint in the revolt against France. From 2020 there have been four coups in the Sahel region of the African continent: Mali (2020 and 2021); Guinea (2021), and Burkina Faso (2022). The leaders of these coups have, at least in part, focused on removing France’s oversized - colonial - presence in their countries. Burkina Faso and Mali have succeeded in kicking out French troops. Niger and Guinea want to do the same, and quickly.
The late Glen Ford would probably refer to what is happening in Niger, what happened in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, and across the Sahel, as the “blowback” from France’s colonial past. “France,” he reminds us, “has a whole lot of history to answer for.” This is why it must be terrified of the people that it has “radicalized” because of its centuries and looting and killing and racist discrimination.
In 2015, Ford was interviewed by Jared Ball for The Real News Network on the attacks in Paris by “Islamic extremists.” In the interview, titled “France’s Colonial Past and Blowback,” Ford argued that France’s colonial legacy was being ignored as a source of the attacks. Like no other commentator could, Ford summarized the cause of the imperial blowback in a few short, sharp, and biting sentences: “So now Paris is burning and people are wondering why. Well, the reason Paris is burning is because Paris has done more than almost any other country besides the United States to set the whole world on fire.”
Below, we reprint Ford’s interview to help us understand this new stage of violence and disorder of decolonization in the African world – and to commemorate the second anniversary of the passing of our relentlessly brilliant and politically uncompromised comrade. What we would do for Ford’s analysis today.
Rest in Power, Glen.
France’s Colonial Past and Blowback by Glen Ford
The Real News Network
JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome, everyone, back to The Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore. 129 people were killed in Paris this week in an attack ISIS has claimed credit for. But amid the cause for solidarity with France and President Hollande’s promise to avenge the fallen there may be an issue with historical memory at play here. Glen Ford, founder and executive editor of Black Agenda Report is back with us for this week’s edition of the Ford Report to discuss this and much more. Glen Ford, welcome back to the Real News.
GLEN FORD, EXEC. EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Thanks for the opportunity, Jared.
BALL: So as you watch the post-attack media fallout of sorts in the coverage and the conversation about what’s happened in Paris, what is it that you see going on, or what may be going on, from your perspective?
FORD: Well, I think we can put it this way. The French, and this goes for the British and for the Americans, too, they’re like pyromaniacs who’ve set a fire that they can’t control. And that fire is the fire of Islamic fundamentalist jihad, a jihad that they have carefully stoked for nearly four decades, ever since the CIA and the Saudi Arabians with the cooperation of the rest of the Europeans invested billions of dollars to create the international jihadist network with its headquarters originally in Afghanistan.
The attacks, I think, in Paris are just the latest examples of blowback, only this time on imperial soil. Before that there was, of course, the subway and bus attacks in London, and of course 9/11 here in the United States. But these should all be seen as self-inflicted wounds. France has a whole lot of history to answer for. It’s terrified of what it calls the self-radicalized youth among France’s large Arab minority. But these people, and I want to point out that they are stopped and frisked on the streets of Paris and other French cities at higher rates even than black Africans of French descent, or rather black Africans who are now French. These people were radicalized by French racism. And French racism is a product of French imperialism.
The French foreign minister was at the meeting of the G20 this weekend, and he claimed that the French were singled out, that they were singled out for attacks in night clubs because the French like to dance. Well, the French have never been very famous for their dancing. But they are infamous for having killed a million Algerians in the 1950s and ’60s in trying to put down the Algerian quest for independence. When the French say, as they are now saying, that this weekend’s violence was the worst on French soil since World War II, that is a straight-up lie. The French police, back in 1961, attacked a peaceful demonstration of Algerians and massacred 200 of them, and threw scores of their bodies into the Seine river. The young French folks who are the grandchildren of those Arab victims don’t need to be self-radicalized or taught by some imam about French racism. They know it firsthand.
The French and the British are the ones who cut up the Middle East into little places that they thought they could control. And in the process of doing that, they favored one sect, one religious sect or ethnic sect, over another. They did that in a grand strategy of divide and conquer. And they laid the groundwork for the bloodshed in that part of the world that we see today. France also claims that the Muslim world hates it because it stands for liberte, fraternite and egalite, but all of that’s just for white Frenchmen only. During the whole course of the French revolution, when they were citing those glorious principles, not one Haitian slave was set free by the French. The Haitians had to make war against the French and free themselves.
France claims that it is the great gift to the world, because it has a secular government. Because it separates a church and state. But it’s the second-largest arms merchant to Saudi Arabia, the most fundamentalist and reactionary state in the Muslim world. And in alliance with Saudi Arabia and with of course the United States and Britain, France has waged war against secular governments from Afghanistan to Iraq, to Libya, and to Syria. And now that war, that war against secularism, has come home. And yet the French are crying that evil forces are attacking them because France is a secular state, and oh yes, the people there like to dance. France is only a champion of secularism for white Frenchmen. In the Arab world, France gives arms to the jihadists in order for them to bring down secular governments.
The fact that France has a nominally socialist government makes some leftists in the United States wonder, well, why is this happening? But France had a leftist government, a socialist-led government, back in the 1950s and ’60s when it was killing a million Algerians who were seeking their independence, and they were communists in that government as well, and they went along with the carnage. Because by and large the French, like most white Americans, don’t give a damn about the rights of colored people in the world, especially their colonial subjects. They don’t care that these jihadists who they themselves have financed and nurtured all these years attacked in Beirut and killed defenseless civilians, because, well, those are people of color. But France, in fact, was behind the partition of the Middle East in such a way that Lebanon was so fraught with sectarian impulses and divisions that it had to undergo a long civil war.
So now Paris is burning and people are wondering why. Well, the reason Paris is burning is because Paris has done more than almost any other country besides the United States to set the whole world on fire.
BALL: Well, Glen, listening to you it occurred to me to maybe remind people that they might want to check out the classic Battle of Algiers film about French colonialism in Algeria. But I also …also have them, maybe not even go back that far. Because it was only in 2005, I believe, where a lot of Algerian and African descendants, the successive generations after the colonial period, some even saying the hip-hop generations, uprose and young people were in the streets voicing their concerns with the racism that they continued to suffer as so-called citizens of France, and residents of Paris, even. So I think it’s important that we appreciate this brief history lesson you’ve offered here for this edition of the Ford Report.
FORD: Yes. When we look at the so-called banlieues of Paris we see the ghettos of the United States. We can [ID] that.
BALL: Well, Glen Ford, thanks again for joining us here at the Real News Network and for this edition of the Ford Report.
FORD: Thank you.
BALL: And thank you for joining us here at the Real News. And again, for all involved, I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore saying as always, as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace, everybody, and we’ll catch you in the whirlwind.
France’s Colonial Past and Blowback: Glen Ford interviewed by Jared Ball for The Real News Network, November 17, 2015.