By Jean H Charles
I knew about the French post colonial stress upon the citizens of Haiti, Congo Brazzaville, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroun, Central African Republic, Chad, Gabon, Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast, Madagascar and, Louisiana; but, I was not aware of the French post colonial stress upon the citizens of Syria and Lebanon. And here was my eureka!
Cherchez la France and…
Jean H Charles MSW, JD is Executive Director of AINDOH Inc a non profit organization dedicated to building a kinder and gentle Caribbean zone for all. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol
You will find the root causes of the major hot spots of the world today. Most of them have their origin in the doctrine of divide to rule or divide to conquer permeated into the entire French colonial empire spirit. It is true this doctrine has its origin in the Roman Empire, handed down to the British Empire and perfected by the French.
The case of Syria
The political imbroglio opposing the regime of Bashar al Assad against the majority of the population has been in the news for the past year. In spite of denunciations by the Arab League and the United Nations, Assad is holding strong, his army killing insurgents as well as children and women, with the support of Russia defying the entire civilized world outraged by such barbarism.
Lakhdar Brahamir, the veteran Egyptian diplomat who succeeded Kofi Annan in searching for a solution to the Syrian crisis, declared recently it is nearly impossible to find a solution to the Syrian civil war. Mr Brahimi, who speaks French very well, would do well to go into soul searching of the ethos of the Syrian citizen left by the French occupation of Syria to find some light into the labyrinth of transactional analysis of why the Syrians are killing each other.
The modern Syrian state, a product of the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire, was ruled after World War I through a French Mandate. The Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 awarded Syria and Lebanon to France. In spite of several years of struggle for independence, it took the Second War to facilitate the demise of the French in 1946 from Syria. But the French left a government and an ethos that still rules Syria until today.
France purposefully did not seed the elements of nation building during its mandate. The Syrian population, composed of Christians (10%), a majority Sunnis (74%), has been ruled by the Alawit (13%) imposed upon the country by the French before their departure. Hafez al Assad of the Alawit clan ruled Syria from 1971 to 2000. At his death, his son Bashar Al Assad was invested with the power. The Arab Spring that has shaken several Arab dictators has not been able to uproot Bashar Al Assad from power. The sentiment of citizenship, glazing in the glory of the past and forging a future together is not a staple in the minds of Syrian children.
A recent article of the New York Times indicates how the Sunni children exiled in Palestine are contemplating killing the Alawit children as soon as they have the chance to do so. By setting up the Alawit minority (with the means to do so) against the rest of the population, France reneged on its mandate as trustee of the League of Nations to look after the future welfare of the beneficiary nation.
The French dichotomy
France could have followed the model set up by one of its favored sons, Ernest Renan, who in 1888 formulated the postulate on how to build a nation. One needs a strong army that teaches the glory of the past while molding a shared vision of the future, the citizens must enjoy peace and happiness in their own locality by spreading the benefits of good infrastructure and sound institutions to all ethnic groups and clans and last, but not least, you should not leave behind any group of society. You shall forge a shared vision of the future!
Instead, France has chosen the Napoleonic model in ruling and maintaining its past global empire, pitting one group against the other and, as such, peace and tranquility will never be their lot. In the case of the Syrians, the Alawit were chosen as the intermediary between the colonial power and the remaining citizens and, bloated with arms and influence, they became the ruthless overseer whose only motivation was and is to remain in power by any means necessary.
The case of the remaining French colonial empire
The case of the remaining French former territories is not different, whether we start with A (Algeria) going to L (Louisiana) passing through H (Haiti), and the story is the same. France has succeeded in instilling the sentiment that good citizenship shall not take roots. The only exception has been Vietnam, who fought first the French and later the Americans, mandated by the French to remain reunited as one Vietnam. Under the command of Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese gave a stunning defeat to the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1946 and, when the war was outsourced to the American, the Vietnamese defeated the Americans in the Tet offensive, forcing the Paris Treaty creating the Socialist Republic of Vietnam with the North reunited with the South.
Algeria, which missed the recent Arab spring, remembers the tit for tat killings under the pretext of fighting terrorism that engulfed the country from 1991 to 2001. It still has the scars left by the brutal oppression of the French settlers. Emboldened by the victory of the Vietnamese against the French in 1954, the Algerian resistance staged a demonstration that resulted in the killing of some 400 French pied noirs or colonizers. The French government reacted in killing some 45,000 Algerians. It was the beginning of a 40-year civil war, where torture by both sides was the preferred weapon. To this day Algeria and Algerians, whether at home or in France, remain a nation and a people tormented by the French experience.
Louisiana, a French possession sold for peanuts by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1803 to the United States after his defeat in Haiti, remains today one of the states of the Union with lower indices of development, whether in education, health, infrastructure and economic stimulation. I spent two years in New Orleans, Louisiana, while in law school at Tulane University. I was appalled by the degree of social stratification, not only amongst the white and the black population but amongst the different shades of blackness in the black population. This feature is a constant thread of the French legacy.
The case of Haiti has been well debated in this column and suffice to say that France, in exacting a debt of independence from Haiti at its birth after 200 years of hard slave labor that brought billions to France, was and is unconscionable under any standard of measurement. Any law professor from a major university in the United States, England or even France would make a case not only for Haiti but also would bring glory for his alma mater in volunteering to fight the case -- Haiti vs. France for the return of the indemnity fund valued at $150 million then and $12.7 billion now.
Nation building and citizenship
President Barack Obama in his Convention speech to bid for another term touched the spirit and the mind of skeptics with two concepts: "We shall engage in nation building at home (and abroad) and we shall teach and practice citizenship.”
Whether this new policy shall become a hallmark of the American national and foreign policy at home and abroad, peace at home and in this world will have a future because of this new vision.
Akin to the former failed French colonies above mentioned, the American foreign policy in Iraq and in Afghanistan has been a failed experience in spite of the trillion dollars spent because not enough funding and expertise has been devoted to nation building and citizenship, forcing the Afghans and the Iraqis to practice the shared vision of the future.
I will save my readers from the innuendos á la francaise used to induce the rest of the world in pricey luxurious food, drink or setting (club la vie) because they only have a French appellation as the siren attracting unscrupulous clients to the life of debauchery that has nothing to do with la vie.
Anyway, a nation, like a child or a person, is happy when it loves itself, enjoys and works with all the components of its body as an integrated entity, not rejecting one part or the other. France owes its former colonies in particular, the rest of the world in general, the debt of putting the parts together, for the sake of humanity!