In 2004, 1 year before the terrible riots in the French banlieues and 7 years before the Arab spring occurred, the Jewist-Arab-French-Tunisian writer Albert Memmi writes a stunning picture about decolonized countries and the decolonized citizens, both local and emigrated, in his book Portrait du décolonisé.
Memmi describes on a factual basis the disastrous situation of many decolonized countries: the poverty, the corruption, the oppression and how these factors interlink and prevent the decolonized countries to develop and prosper. It is a sad picture that, however, can be recognized by many who worked and traveled in decolonized regions.
In 2004, the Portrait du décolonisé was not well received in France. It was criticized because Memmi wonders why the 100.000’s of deaths in several African conflicts get a lot less attention than the 3000 deaths in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was accused of ‘Zionistic’ views, which would de-qualify the other 96% of his book – it must have shocked a free-thinking intellectual like Memmi who is pleading so warmly for universal values for all to live in freedom and prosperity. And the book was criticized because his portrait of the 2nd generation emigrants is one-sidedly unfavourable. He describes the migrants children that feel lost and end up in (self)destructive ideas and behaviours. It is true that the successful youth, committed to a prosperous society for all, is absent in his book – though very much existent in reality. Nevertheless what he describes has predicted many of the problems we face today in extreme forms.
His book was not translated into other languages – as far as I know – although his earlier book Portrait du colonisé was recognized by many and translated in 20 languages. Portrait du décolonisé could have supported many who wonder what happened, in the 2005 riots in the Paris banlieus, in the 2011 Arab spring, in this decade of (self)destructive terrorism.
I was speechless and breathless when I read his book, and sorry not to have discovered it earlier. Not only is it written in the beautifull, rich and touching French that Memmi masters more than hardly any other writer. He also answers many questions that arose after 2011, but he wrote this already in 2004. His language is never politically correct; he talks in clear words on every single page about the facts as he sees them. However he is never rude, never insulting people like others do who want to breach the politically correct discourse. He proves himself (again) an intellectual who dares to stand up for values and ideas, regardless the consequences.
It is difficult to understand why the world overlooked this precious contribution in a era where the need for insight in the ex-colonial world is predominant. Does this world only read the works that are either extreme or un-controversial? Does this world reject views that are confrontational just by their factional description? If you read in French, read this book. The language is superbe and it will both inform and surprise you – even if you are already knowledgeable in this matter.
Some valuable links about Portrait du décolonisé: