Is violence an effective or destructive political tool in the writings of Fanon & Gandhi? To what extent is such violence justified?

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Jessica Pope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For Fanon, violence is definitely an effective political tool in the fight against colonialism. He is emphatic on this point. In his book "The Wretched of the Earth," Fanon describes colonialism as a system that totally dehumanizes both the colonizer and the colonized. He explains: "The Negro enslaved by his inferiority, [and] the white man enslaved by his superiority, alike behave in accordance with a neurotic orientation." Fanon argued that only the colonized could break this enslavement, thus freeing both colonizer and colonized. For Fanon, violence was personal power and political agency. In a system where colonized people had been stripped of so much of their autonomy, Fanon saw in violence a chance to assert one's humanity. "Violence is man re-creating himself," he claimed.

Gandhi spoke often on the issues of violence, non-violence, cowardice, and self-defense. An ardent practitioner of both religious and political nonviolence, Gandhi nonetheless accepted the use of violence as a last resort: "I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor."

As to whether the use of violence was justified in Algeria and/or India, this depends largely on one's personal belief system. Some will say violences was justified, even necessary, considering the abuses and horrors of British colonialism. Some believe the use of force is never justified, even in cases of self-defense - let alone for reasons of nationalism. Between these positions are many colors, subtleties, and nuances.

It's hard to say what is justified and what is not, especially in hindsight. After all, we know what happened in Algeria and India, and our knowledge of what happened will probably paint our judgements about what folks should or should not have done at the time. These hypothetical do raise important questions though. Historically, violence has been the primary tactic of war. We might ask, is there such thing as a non-violent war? In what situations (if any) might war be necessary? What are the true causes of war? What are the costs, and what are the benefits?

Why do independence movements so often take the form of armed conflict? Certainly there are models for non-violent independence. India is a well-known example. Canada declared independence from Britain in 1867 without an ounce of bloodshed. Yet, throughout history, the model of bloody revolt is widespread and pervasive. Why? These are interesting questions to think about. Trying to answer them for ourselves can help us to clarify our own values and beliefs.

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