From the early days of summer an-Other specter has been haunting Europe: the specter of Bandung. A Europe immersed in one of the largest waves of racism and Islamophobia in decades hosted (though not necessarily welcomed) an earthshaking gathering that Houria Bouteldja foretold in the final pages of her book, naming it the Bandung of the North. Sixty years after the iconic “Third-Worldist” meeting took place in Indonesia, the author and her comrades of the Indigènes de la République and the Decolonial International Network gathered in a disfranchised Parisian commune to host an event featuring speakers such as Angela Davis, Mireille Fanon-Mendès, and Michèle Sibony. The event strengthened a network of communities in the global north who are living under the pressures of coloniality—that is, the patterns of racial, sexual, economical, and epistemological domination developed during colonial times in colonial locations that transcended their contexts by being reproduced globally up to the present day. The mission of the Bandung of the North was twofold: first, to put an end to complicities with the system by denouncing the false promises of the West; and second, to replace this complicity with revolutionary networks of companionship, enabling us to imagine alternative futures beyond the debunked “myth of modernity.”
I invite the reader to consider Bouteldja’s manifesto Whites, Jews, and Us as a sharp intellectual contribution that offers us a glimpse of the Bandung of the North potentialities. This project transcends the limits of academic inquiry. Bouteldja’s work will not be proven in ludic games of philosophical logic or in the historicist judgments of meticulous archivists. Rather, the ultimate test of the project will be in the struggle of the social movements that take up the mantles of resistance to coloniality and construct new realities that both challenge universals and go beyond parochialisms. This is not to say, however, that academics have the luxury of ignoring Bouteldja. Her powerful work shatters and reimagines intellectual canons, engages and critiques globalized dead ends, and explores and breaks with the socioexistential justifications of violence. Furthermore, she offers tools to broaden the networks of resistance disrupting not only the criminality of the West, but also the complicities of her/our own communities: “we form this group of the wretched of the interior,” she writes, “at once victims and exploiters.”
The manifesto can be read from beginning to end as an acknowledgement of complex positionalities, a denunciation of systemic complicities, and a construction of revolutionary companionships. Bouteldja, first and foremost an organizer, is never alone. She is always in community; today, among the Indigènes de la République, tomorrow, in the emerging Bandung of the North, and yesterday, in a subterraneous tradition among those “wretched of the interior.” This is why she always walks with companions, ancestors and contemporaries alike. In the book, her first partner is Mafalda, an internationalized comic strip character of a pre-teen who lives in a European settler society in South America. In the frames shared in Whites, Jews, and Us, Mafalda protests to a friend about human beings’ complicity with a capitalism that ultimately discards poor children’s lives. Her friend, known for her constant daydreaming about her future bourgeois life, dismisses Mafalda’s anxiety, hoping to just be normal children and “play in peace.”
Mafalda, however, like Bouteldja, cannot just play in peace. Yes, one is a French citizen and the other is a descendant of European settlers. Yet, one is an Arab living in Europe amidst a racist society and the other is a representation of surviving voices of revolutionary activists bloodily murdered by Western-backed dictatorships. This makes them both “bastard children” of coloniality who are unable to associate themselves and identify with a mythical peace, an aspirational dream of white “innocent societies” premised on the nightmare and ultimate death of the bodies and ideas of these “bastard children.” Yes, a (Cartesian) Ego that hides its geopolitical positionality can raise collective banners of peace: “We are all Charlie” in 2015 or “We are all Americans” in 2001. But Mafalda and Bouteldja cannot play a game that they experience as a form of blackmail, in which they have only one choice: identify with the colonial perpetrator to avoid being accused of endorsing terrorism or subversion. Theirs is a different game that privileges companionship with one another over complicity with the system. The “wretched of the interior” form a new community by finding alternatives to the arc of possibilities imposed by the West. The role of the new community is neither to accept nor reject white society but to “escape” from its false choices “as much as” one can.
This creative, revolutionary departure reimagines a new arc, even reencountering old friends who are now seemingly enemies. This is why the next step for Bouteldja is to decolonize the systemic role of a key “wretched of the interior” collective: Jews. Drawing from the French-Algerian experience, Bouteldja describes Jewish aspirational complicity within an imperialist framework. Jews became a “buffer population,” as their permanent aspiration to whiteness led them to accept their role as subordinates in modern nation-states (“dhimmis of the republic”) and collaborationists who exported imperialism to the Arab world (“Senegalese riflemen”). After the Holocaust, Jews were assigned a third “cardinal mission”: that of providing legitimacy to a society that was in a state of moral implosion.
It is in this framework that Bouteldja finds her second companion in the struggle against systemic complicities: a teenage Anne Frank. The author explains how she “cried greatly over” Frank’s denunciation of human collaboration with racial genocide. Yet, her tears were not prompted by a Holocaust Industry that exculpates Europe and justifies the oppression of Palestinians. The “Destruction of European Jewry” had a different historical and rhetorical role than that assigned to it by the Industry. Bouteldja does not treat the Holocaust as a foreign history that she needs to borrow with care so as to foreclose possible accusations of anti-Semitism. Extending her hand to Jewish experiences, she affirms that she has known Hitler “intimately” as well. First, aided by Afro-Caribbean thought, she finds him in the “tropical” genocides that anteceded and informed the Holocaust. This shows not only the “colonial genes” of national socialism, but also that “Hitler was nothing but the best student” of republican imperialism. Second, she finds him in her own experiences when she was Anne Frank’s age. She argues that she met Hitler every day in the racism encountered “on the benches of the school of the republic.”
This is precisely how Bouteldja intends to challenge Jews to choose companionship over complicity: by understanding the Holocaust as the outcome of the racism experienced in fascist and republican imperialist regimes alike. The resistance against anti-Semitism, then, is in the relational histories with Afro-Caribbean people and Arabs, not in the reproduction of a Western nation-state in Palestine. What does she want from Jews? Perhaps nothing else beyond what Rosa Luxemburg, her next Jewish companion, proclaimed. Like Luxemburg, Bouteldja practices a triple critique: against the Western liberal civilization that would decay into barbarism; against the fashionable Left of the moment, complicit with liberal society and that vilifies the revolutionary for her irreverence; and, finally, against the limited parochialism of her own community. Jews should do as Luxemburg did and leave behind their parochialism to “feel at home in the entire world, wherever there are clouds, and birds and tears.” Bouteldja welcomes Jews to the new community by associating the Western arc (fascism, republicanism, imperialism, and the fashionable Left) with racism and anti-Semitism. She insists that Jewish decolonization is possible and they(/us) would ultimately choose companionship over complicity. She does admit to being “optimistic.” But the historical and systemic relation of Jews with the other “wretched of the interior” dictates that “between us everything is possible.” For Bouteldja, Jews and her communities “have a common future.”
Jews, however, are not the only ones who could be decolonized while constructing the new community. The “Indigenous” women need to break the cycle of complicity, as well. Accordingly, her third companion is womanist Audre Lorde. Bouteldja asks her “sisters” to recognize that the West has not only forced the “absorption” of “sexism and heterosexism” but also restricted the source of potential answers to a Western arc (from Left politics to feminism) that, again, hides its geopolitical positionality. In a world where men of color are “castrated” in the public sphere and exercise violence over women of color in the private sphere, the latter are asked to hand over their “brothers” to a white prison industrial complex that will destroy not only their lives but also their communities. This success of the West is the ultimate test of complicity in that it makes men reproduce violent sexism and women find refuge in a white oppressive system, presenting an elusive whiteness as the only salvation. A “decolonial feminism,” a term the author finds problematic but necessary, should find alternative answers to the options presented by the West: silence or self-destruction. The complicity ends when the wretched of the interior acknowledge and create alternatives to the dead-ends generated by the “indigenous gender trouble.”
The success of the system that traps “the wretched of the interior” is forcing their complicity, which, in turn, makes them “at once victims and exploiters.” The alternatives offered by the Western arc (from fascism to republicanism to socialism) are portrayed as the only ones available. Even immigrants, the “Indigenous in the republic,” should become conscious that they “are complicit with the exploitation of the South.” But, perhaps going beyond the author, “we” are not Western but Westernized. And an alternative is emerging from these experiences. This alternative is not the parochialism that ends up reinscribing complicities within the Western canon of practices, as does the exclusivist reading of the Holocaust. The Bandung of the North in general, and Bouteldja in particular, practice another strategy: they always walk in network.
Our revolutionary companions, the author tells us, may be Mafalda, Anne Frank, Rosa Luxemburg, or Audre Lorde. Or Enrique Dussel, Aimé Césaire, James Baldwin, and Malcom X. Or, perhaps more provocatively, Josy Fanon, Marthe Moumie, Djamila Bohired, or their “sisters.” It is only when social organizations, and not just beautiful minds in comfortable deckchairs, walk with their transmodern forebears that the forced systemic complicities veiled under the myth of modernity can be unmasked. Bouteldja, then, finds a new meaning in the words of C. L. R. James: “These are my ancestors, these are my people. They are yours too if you want them.” (The fact is that the Bandung of the North, the specter that haunts Europe beyond complicities, does want them. And the movement has only just begun . . .