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Frantz Fanon’s Call to Anti-Colonial Violence
(Released October 2011)

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  by Erin McCoy  

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Movements throughout the world have drawn inspiration and justification from Fanon’s oeuvre since The Wretched of the Earth, Year Five of the Algerian Revolution (1959), and the posthumously published collection of Fanon’s revolutionary writings from his time with the FLN, Toward the African Revolution (1964). Former Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver declared that “every brother on a rooftop can quote Fanon” (Zulfiqar 7). Fanon also influenced the thought of Huey P. Newton, founder of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in the 1960s, while the American Civil Rights Movement was underway (Reyes 5).

But also among those who first responded to Fanon was Hannah Arendt, whose answer to Fanon, “On Violence” (1969), “was a response to the events in the universities in 1968 but also to increasing violence both for and against civil rights for black people, and to rising levels of terrorism in Europe and the US” (Frazer 98).

Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt in German stamp issued in 1988 in the Women in German history series

Arendt argued that violence is not a legitimate tool to achieve political ends because of its inherent unpredictability, and because it is just as likely to engender a more violent world as to achieve the ends Fanon envisioned (100).

However, Arendt cannot help but acknowledge that violence can sometimes be justified, and Frazer and Hutchings ultimately conclude that “Arendt’s understanding of the embodied nature of violence is less insightful than Fanon’s” (90).

Meanwhile, Fanon’s texts were being consumed by revolutionaries worldwide. “His works were secretly read and passed around in the jails of apartheid South Africa so that eventually they became part of a new ‘lexicon of strategy’ for resisting. The bookshelves of the Irish Republican Army are said to have housed many copies of Fanon’s books and influenced many key republican leaders including Bobby Sands,” Adnan Ahmad Zulfiqar writes in a paper that examines how Fanonian thought applies to Islamic militancy movements in the world today (7).

The rhetoric of “oppressor” and “oppressed” was translated into Koranic terms and eventually adopted by the leader of the Iranian Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini (Bhabha xxix). South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko recommended The Wretched of the Earth to his colleagues and friends (xxviii). And eight days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, former U.S. assistant secretary of defense Richard Perle wrote “… that the ‘Wretched of the Earth’ (to use the title of Frantz Fanon’s famous anti-colonial tract) are so desperate that they would not fear honorable death at the hands of what they see as the Great Satan,” stating the “Free World” faces “a totally new kind of war” (xxx).

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