Each century is behind…from one century to the next. Alphonse Allais

Let me tell you a funny anecdote. In 2011, a few months after the start of the revolution, a young girl visited me. To be more precise, the daughter of a militant leftist who, despite everything, was a good friend of mine. I hadn’t seen her since she was a teenager about ten years ago. She was a student or an artist or something like that. I was curious to know how someone who displayed militant tendencies at an early age was experiencing the events taking place at the time.

You’re still in Tunis” I say. She responds to me right off the bat, “In Berlin. That’s the place to be today if you want to live, (Europe)!” Via text! Not a single word more or less. I was so horrified by her response that I made note of it. I wanted to tell her, “You stupid idiot, it’s for a century and a half that you’ve “lived” Europe!” I was pissed. You think I’m exaggerating? The Arab World, the whole Arab World, tried to reinvent itself and in order to reinvent itself it had to uproot itself from Europe. You still  think I am exaggerating? What this young lady seemed to be ignoring was that we’re already “living” Europe.

The real Europe, not the Europe that’s in love with herself. The real Europe, meaning Europe (or Euro-America) as a globalized, hierarchical group that reshapes our societies, imposes her norms and institutions in ways that allow herself to reproduce the fatal hierarchy in which she is the center. A hierarchy, might I add, which allowed itself time to accumulate immense capital (in all domains) and which allows itself, especially today, to remain stable in a sort of chronic agony.

translation here

Doctor, my ethos hurts.
It’s hard to say but…I have political views that are completely contradictory to my ethos.

We too, have a severe illness. And I’m afraid that with the successive defeats of the Arab revolution, it’s only about to get worse. This illness is called “Europe-centrism”. It is particularly based on two absolutely fallacious ideas promulgated by colonization. One, is that history keeps moving forward and it moves towards progress.  The other, is that history moves forward with Europe– more generally, the West, as the starting point. Consequently, countries that don’t jump for joy for being a part of Europe are known as loser countries, has been countries, “backwards”, “behind”, and viewed as countries that don’t have a “place in history”. Our only ambition would thus be to catch up to speed and to gain access, by scrupulously following the steps to modernity that were taken by the European states. Our revolution should remain modest, not because of the simple logic behind the relationships between political forces, which would be an acceptable argument, but because it is not suitable to blaze through the steps that make us first transform our social relations, traditions, culture, beliefs, habits and customs, how we speak, our laws, our institutions, in order to learn how to “live Europe” in our homelands. Rather than breaking up with the ideology of being “behind” as well with the Bourguiban tradition, we are doing exactly the opposite of what Frantz Fanon prescribed when he wrote for the anti-colonialists of his time:

Let us not pay tribute to Europe by creating states, institutions, and societies which draw their inspiration from her.

Certainly, with a modern, dictatorial, European system, we prefer its democratic form. Does that unavoidable model provide a means to an end which assures our full “place in history”? Are we going to try and think, unearth, invent, drive a new historical dynamic, (which is sadly) inseparable from the fact that Europe already exists and is irreversible (even more unfortunately) within ourselves? Are we going to remain backwards when wanting to replicate models that were conceived only to forbid us from replicating them in its same forms? Or do we still persist in making idiotic calculations weighing the positive and negative sides of European modernity or listen to old crotchety philosophers who keep harping on us about their disjointed rhetoric of “modernity and tradition”?
Oh, the time has long past when revolutionaries like Amilcar Cabra would write: “Colonialists are used to saying that they brought us a place in history. Let us demonstrate today that no, they forced us out of history. From our own history so that we follow their path in last place, or better yet, their history’s path.

“We Arabs, we are behind” is what we have sighed to ourselves for more than a century. Streams of powerless tears flood our newspaper columns.  A veritable fountain of tears spewing from our tear ducts. And we ask Europe, who quietly laughs at us, to give us a hand. “We Arabs, we are behind. Let’s be modern!” We’re spending our time running to catch a train that is behind us. Europe is not our future; it is our past.