Houria Bouteldja and the white left

Houria Bouteldja, leader of the Parti des Indigénes de la République (PIR), has been consistently attacked by the French press. DIN makes an evaluation with her on these attacks.

DIN: It is not the first time that you are the target of slanderous attacks coming from the right and from the left, but the current attacks are particularly violent. Could you come back on the reason of the attacks you have to face currently?

HB: The previous attacks, that we can analyze retrospectively as a test, happened last June. Its main actors were Danièle Obono, Jean Birnbaum from Le Monde, the French secular and islamophobic sphere and myself. Its culmination was a press box of supports, signed by intellectuals and published in Le Monde. This press box was a catalyst for further attacks. The watchdogs pounced on it like a pack. Some of the people who signed, were traumatized by these media attacks. Right now, we came across a similar campaign but of higher intensity: it lasted 3 weeks without interruption, a real woman hunt, and it all started with the word “comrade” on which I should briefly come back since it contains all the resorts of this case.

First, the word “comrade” makes me respectable and does not marginalize me like what is done with the PIR. If I am recognized now, by the main left-wing force (France Insoumise), it is not only a success of political antiracism but also of its most demonized figure. Hence it goes against this demonization since its purpose is to isolate me. Indeed, since Macron’s election for the French presidency, it is the national-republican camp, that goes from Valls to Fillon, that has lost. Macron sticks to an ultra-liberal line but not on the same ideological resorts as neoconservatism. For its enemies, he is almost our ally – which is, of course, a gross error. However, they are right to see Danièle Obono as a real expression of the progress of political antiracism, because even if she is required to take distance with us, she comes from the struggles against state racism and imperialism. And what makes them crazy is both the fact that Macron did not use identity issues and the fact that new figures, who are not entangled in Mélenchon’s national republicanism, are entering the French parliament.

The current offensive against me has worked since Danièle Obono has clearly differentiate herself from the PIR. We are witnessing a white fall back: the France Insoumise, who tried an opportunistic appeal during the presidential elections, comes back to its gravity center: national republicanism.

DIN: How do you explain what appears as an inability to read your texts, whether it is from activists, journalists or academics? It seems that your texts are rarely read – even if it is on this base that you are often attacked.

HB: I would answer both yes and no. Some politicized colonial subjects and a whole part of the radical Left are reading my texts. Let’s look at this in a methodical way, starting by explaining that the decolonial thought is revolutionary and the PIR has played an important role in developing it in the framework of the worldwide colonial counter-revolution and in the specific context of French republicanism. This political thought shakes the traditional categories of the left. We are questioning the dogmas of the progressive thought without breaking with a strategic aim, which is to build an alliance with the left. In other terms, we did not just produce a political thought but we transformed it into practice. Indeed, we achieve, with all our brothers and sisters from the sphere of political antiracism, with, against and separately from the left. The secret of this dishonest reading of our texts lies here:

  • The left has gone from failures to failures since the 1980s.
  • The only big success from these ten years is Mélenchonnism who has to sacrifice the French banlieues and put forward a false universalism in order to rally its social basis on a republican and social project. Regarding the most radical wing of the left, they are stuck in a very traditional view of the class struggle. The deep logic of these two tendencies (Mélenchonnism and the radical left) is to unify their basis, their big fear is the risk of division in a context in which the Lefts are particularly weakened and in which fascism becomes more and more a possible perspective.

In this context, political antiracism, both participates to the rebuilding of the Left and puts it in crisis. It is through the risk of division and the panic it creates that one should understand the hysteria around the texts of the PIR, and particularly mine.

DIN: What is the purpose of the antisemitism accusations you have to face?

HB: To put a line between the bad guys and the good ones. In this situation, the Jewish question is widely instrumentalized to the profit of the good white conscience. I think that people do not give a damn about Jews and the irony of all this is that we are the only ones to really care, I mean consequently. This is why we want to put the history of the Jewish genocide back in the long history of colonial (and capitalists) crimes. We are among the few who give a political sense to the famous words “never again” who cannot be understood without an understanding of whiteness and white power.

DIN: The left seems particularly sluggish on the attacks you have to face. How do you explain that, despite the progress of the anti-racist struggle these last years – and the role played by the PIR in events like the demonstration for Palestine (2014), several conferences against islamophobia, the two Marches for dignity, etc. – your support are extremely rare in organizations that reclaim themselves from the fight against racism?

HB: Because there is an intellectual terrorism in the left. As soon as I am constructed as an anti-Semitic demon, every single person who comes close to me is, mechanically, marred. The French left has, for a long time, abandon historical materialism and has become religious and moral. The French left works through principles. Its priority is that it is more concerned with respectability than with the building of a balance of power with French colonial subjects.

I would be way more supported if I would bow down before progressive ideas. I would if those ideas were politically efficient, but they are not if one wants to analyze the contradictions racism introduce in social relationships. The assertiveness from the PIR towards all its detractors, white and non-white (and they are a lot of non-white detractors of the PIR) is not a caprice but a must in order to link the new French colonial subjects to mainstream politics.

DIN: The ideas you develop and defend are discussed in the whole world; your book (Whites, Jews and Us) was translated into English but also in Spanish and Italian; you were invited in important universities in the US, Spain, Germany or Australia. Nevertheless, in France research (from activist or academics) seems pretty much hermetic towards your writings. What is, in your opinion, the reason for this paradox?

HB: We should not idealize other countries because their “Houria Bouteldja” are also demonized. If I am welcomed in US, Spanish or Australian universities because I criticize France, what about their own decolonial activists? I am not sure that black leaders in the US or Latin-American leaders in Spain are appreciated in their countries.

If I am welcome in those universities, it is also because they like seeing France felling from its pedestal. There is also a certain curiosity for complex and dialectical ideas. Thus, I am seen as a voice that should be respected. Cornel West’s foreword to the English translation of my book is very significant from this point of view.