I've discussed French colonization of Vietnam and Algeria in two previous op-eds in Daily Sabah. This will be the third and final piece on the thoughts behind French colonization. The French Empire was one of the largest in history, with the British Empire being the largest. Both empires had colonial rules that were discriminatory, harsh, oppressive and insulting toward the local populations. Many nations, from Asia to Africa, eventually gained independence from their immoral and tyrannical rule.
According to the BBC, Italy's Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said: "France is one of those countries that by printing money for 14 African states. It prevents their economic development and contributes to the fact that the refugees leave and then die in the sea or arrive on our coasts." His remarks reveal the darkest side of France, a side that unfortunately exists even today.
The French colonizers believed that they were superior and tried to forcefully assimilate others into their own culture with the stated aim of "civilizing" people. However, their main focus was to gain ground in the competition for raw materials, pursue new international markets and increase their global influence – the same reasons other Western colonialist powers had. French colonialism brought cruelty, disease, starvation, underdevelopment and more to its colonized nations such as Vietnam and Algeria.
Millions of people suffered under brutal French policies. It should be recalled that the French population during those years was fewer than those in the occupied lands. In the colonies, the easiest way to control the population and make it easier for the French to rule was to ignite racial, religious and ideological turmoil, thus causing clashes among the people. As seen in French Vietnam and Algeria, friends and neighbors were turned into enemies by the French when some people and leaders were encouraged to side with French colonizers. They would eventually fight against their own people in their own country.
The definition of neocolonialism Kwame Nkrumah offers in his 1965 book, "Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism," is enlightening. He used the term in the context of African colonialism, but it still applies when examining current international affairs.
The full definition can be found in the introduction of the book. But for now, I just would like to quote parts related to my own explanation.
"The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality, its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside," Nkrumah writes. "The result of neo-colonialism is that foreign capital is used for the exploitation rather than for the development of the less developed parts of the world. Neo-colonialism is based upon the principle of breaking up former large united colonial territories into several small non-viable States which are incapable of independent development and must rely upon the former imperial power for defense and even internal security," he said.
When looking at the current developments in the Middle East, one can see Western powers like France using the same tactics once used in their own imperial era. In that era, they would invade and exploit regions and nations mercilessly for several decades. In turn, this made them feel as if they were a superior race. It was during this time the French also enslaved innocent and valiant Algerians, Senegalese, Moroccans and many others.
Recently, I came across several media reports in different countries, including France, that are trying to legitimize certain terrorist groups, such as the YPG/PKK in the Middle East.
While they do not enslave the members of these groups anymore, they give them political and economic assistance along with legitimacy against other groups and governments.
Several countries, including France, have once again begun playing certain ethnic groups against others and in doing so, they are trying to divide and conquer the Middle East. One should remember that the Middle East has been accustomed to the turmoil, caused by racial and sectarian plots, for centuries.
France is trying to carry out an immoral political and diplomatic policy by deepening the ongoing ethnic clashes in the region. These policies could very well turn neighbor against neighbor and family against family once again, which would result in the ignition of sectarian and ethnic tensions.
It looks as if the Middle East is ripe for entrapment into racial and sectarian divisions even though there are strong cultural, linguistic and religious commonalities among the people.
The French military presence in Syria and Iraq was established in 2015 as Operation Chammal, to fight the notorious Daesh terrorist group. However, it ended up arming other terrorist groups in the region, such as the YPG/PKK, against Daesh – both of which, it should be noted, have targeted Turkey.
The YPG/PKK finds itself shielded by the nine French bases established in Syria as of Dec. 2, 2018. The number has since decreased to four following Turkish offensives in October and November 2019.
Besides, there are more than 20 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) linked to this terrorist group in France and former French President François Hollande and current President Emmanuel Macron have hosted some YPG/PKK members at the Elysee Palace.
The colonial aim of France is the economic exploitation of the region. Paris will work with any entity to achieve its colonial purposes and prevent its own demise.
Therefore, they are well equipped to use the YPG/PKK as a puppet against other regional nations such as Turkey.
The world changes, times change, people change, but colonial minds do not change. What the French did in Algeria and Vietnam are, unfortunately, still applicable in the Middle East.
*Ph.D. candidate in international relations at the University of Malaya, Malaysia
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