A Native with a Pale Face

HOURIA BOUTELDJA is a controversial figure in France. She is the spokeswoman of the Parti des indigènes de la République (PIR), a group (and now political party) founded in the wake of the 2005 Paris riots to promote decolonial politics, a “third way” beyond divisions of left and right. Decolonial theory originated as a discursive framework among Latin American academics during the early 2000s, but soon spread to other parts of the world. Unlike postcolonial theory, with which it is often confused, the premise here is that one cannot speak of life today as “after” colonialism. For the PIR, despite the collapse of Europe’s overseas colonies, “decolonization has yet to be finished” (as Bouteldja told Saïd Mekki in a 2009 interview). In 2012, Bouteldja described their outlook to a Madrid audience as more of a mentalité: “Being decolonial is above all an emancipated state of mind.” The PIR’s position on this count clearly echoes the work of Frantz Fanon (among others), whose writings are frequently referenced in Bouteldja’s own.

Long before the release of Les Blancs, les Juifs et nous in 2016, Bouteldja was already known to the French public for her incendiary statements. Her book-length debut — a poetic, almost literary text, more manifesto than treatise — continues in this vein. Bouteldja opens with a chapter entitled “Shoot Sartre!”, a common refrain heard from pro-colonial French nationalists during the war in Algeria. She provocatively appropriates the refrain, not because she agrees Sartre should have been shot for supporting Algerian independence, of course, but to criticize his continued support of Israeli independence after 1967. Instead, she claims as a “hero” of decolonial politics former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom Bouteldja praises, with some reluctance, for declaring “there are no homosexuals in Iran” at Columbia University in 2007 — in other words: “at the heart of empire.” She takes the risk of admiring the statement’s provocation, even if she also explicitly recognizes that Ahmadinejad was lying. But in him, she sees “an arrogant indigenous man” speaking up to the West, something Sartre was ultimately — when it came to the issue of Zionism — unable to do. For very different reasons having to do with history and the discourses of sexuality in the West and the Middle East, Joseph Massad, a professor at Columbia, reached a conclusion similar to Ahmadinejad’s a year before in Desiring Arabs, a work Bouteldja cited in her 2013 critique of “gay universalism.” Evidently, avoiding the charge of homophobia is not a priority for Bouteldja. The more important, more fundamental issue (“the only real question,” as she puts it) is the oppressed status of the indigenous. In a chapter titled “We, Indigenous Women,” Bouteldja considers the risk of indigenous masculinity imitating white male masculinity, and asks instead “which part, in the testosterone-laden virility of the indigenous male, resists white domination.” That part can be used, she suggests, “toward a project of common liberation.”

Reviews of Bouteldja’s book in France have been unsparing. Ariane Pérez excoriates its celebration of family, race, virility, and religion as reminiscent of the anti-Dreyfusard Édouard Drumont, as well as the suggestion that indigenous women remain “loyal Penelopes” to indigenous men (a suggestion that arrives, one should add, as part of the paragraphs criticizing the ways in which indigenous masculinity imitates white masculinity in response to the West’s attempt to decimate non-Western masculinity, thus making the colonial project on this count come “full circle”). Pérez reminds readers that Stalin often disguised his antisemitism as anti-Zionism, a comparison Bouteldja invited by posing, two thumbs up, next to the graffiti’d slogan “SIONISTES AU GOULAG—PEACE—(mais Goulag quand même).” Roland Simon of Théorie Communiste dubs Bouteldja and the PIR “entrepreneurs of racialization,” declaring: “Critique must be uncompromising on these issues: tactical homophobia, latent antisemitism, sympathizing with pro-Saddam elements during the Gulf War, scrapping women’s struggles (‘for the moment’), etc.” Malika Amaouche, Yasmine Kateb, and Léa Nicolas-Teboul likewise take Bouteldja to task in their materialist theorization of race for identifying Israel with “the Jews.” What to make of those responses, which Bouteldja largely anticipates in her book and recurrently marks as the “traps” of Western thinking into which the liberal (as well as the more radical) left will all too quickly step? Another review, signed by “the friends of Juliette and the spring,” faults La Fabrique editor Eric Hazan for publishing this “right-wing pamphlet.” Hazan and others have since signed a letter intended to counter some of these charges.

Translated here is Ivan Segré’s polemical review of Bouteldja’s book. Previously, Hazan’s publishing house had put out a couple works by Segré, a longtime critic of Israel. Segré’s pamphlet The Philo-Semitic Reaction: The Treason of the Intellectuals came out in 2011, subsequently rendered into English by David Fernbach for a 2013 Verso collection along with a piece by Hazan and the philosopher Alain Badiou. David Broder did the translation of Spinoza: The Ethics of an Outlaw for Bloomsbury in 2017, three years after it appeared under the imprimatur of La Fabrique. Hazan must have expected glowing praise for the new title by Bouteldja from his own in-house reviewer. Yet something clearly did not sit right with Segré about the decision to print Whites, Jews, and Us. For his efforts, Segré was attacked as “an Israeli Camus” in the official organ of the PIR, essentially a turncoat. “I cannot explain his reversal,” lamented Hazan in a rejoinder.

While Rachel Valinsky’s English translation of Bouteldja’s book, Whites, Jews, and Us (Semiotext(e), 2017), has so far failed to generate the same buzz in the United States as it did in France, it was reviewed by Ben Ratskoff in LARB and was the subject of a scholarly roundtable featuring Jared Sexton, Yassir Morsi, Joshua Dubler, Nazia Kazi, Gil Anidjar, and Su’ad Abdul Khabeer for Immanent Frame. The American (US) philosopher Cornel West’s brief preface, which comes to a little over two pages, lends the book his authority as a respected antiracist activist and intellectual. It is to all of those conversations that the translation of Segré’s review will hopefully contribute.

— Ross Wolfe
August 2018


The following essay was translated by Ann Manov.


A Native [1] with a Pale Face

The messianic vocation is not a right, nor does it furnish an identity; rather, it is a generic potentiality [potenza] that can be used without ever being owned.

— Giorgio Agamben; The Time That Remains:
A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans

La Fabrique has just published Houria Bouteldja’s Whites, Jews, and Us: Toward a Politics of Revolutionary Love. Although Bouteldja is a professional spokesperson for France’s Parti des Indigènes de la République (PIR), she takes care at the outset of this unique volume to assert that she is writing as an individual. This review, then, is not a critique of the platform of a marginal political party but the study of a singular text by a singular woman.

The book comprises six parts: a sort of prologue (“Shoot Sartre!”), then four chapters addressed to “You, White People,” “You, the Jews,” We, Indigenous Women” and “We, Indigenous People”; and a hortatory epilogue titled “Allahou akbar!” All this is prefaced by what Bouteldja titles a “Warning,” in which she takes care to inform us that she is inspired by “the history and the present of Maghrebian, Arab-Berber-Muslim immigration,” and — crucially — that in her writing the categories of “white,” “Jew,” “indigenous woman,” and “indigenous person” are “social and political,” that they are “the product of modern history” and “[i]n no way do they bear on the subjectivity or biological determinism of individuals.” In other words, her use of the category of “race” [2] is not racial but rather social and political.

This last point must be stressed, since Houria Bouteldja has been criticized for deploying the category of “race,” a rhetorical choice that can seem to diminish the importance of “class” or even to mobilize a racial ideology. Bouteldja contends that the de facto prohibition of the discussion of race in French intellectual life hamstrings the efforts of those activists who would otherwise fight racial inequality, and therefore prolongs a system of white imperialism that has endured since 1492.

It is sensible that Bouteldja begins with this notice, and appropriate to call it a warning. Bouteldja’s focus on race can be disorienting. It is not a simplification to write that Bouteldja sees racism as a dominant, if not the dominant, social force in the world. For instance, she claims that the gradual introduction, in the West, of legal equality between men and women has depended upon the construction of racial inequality between “whites” and “indigenous people” (black Africans, Maghrebian Arabs from 1830 on, et cetera). Thus she can write about feminism that “white women obtained rights, because of their own struggle, of course, but also thanks to imperial domination” (emphasis hers). Bouteldja cites Domenico Losurdo, who explains, of modern bourgeois politics, that “‘[t]he History of the West’ […] faces a paradox […] The neat line distinguishing white people on the one hand, from black people and Native Americans, on the other, favors the development of relationships of equality within the white community.”

She sums up her argument in a fiery phrase: “They say 1789. Let’s answer 1492!” The Declaration of 1789, [3] indeed, was inspired by the American Declaration of Independence of 1776, which had the material underpinning of the massacre of Native Americans and the slave trade in blacks. The author explains to “whites”: “The white race was invented to fulfill the needs of what would soon become your bourgeois class, because any alliance between slaves who were not yet black and proles who were not yet white was becoming a threat.” These issues, which are essential ones, are better addressed in Sadri Khiari’s book La contre-révolution coloniale en France [4] (La Fabrique, 2009).

Be that as it may, the author’s use of the category of “race” is not only irreproachable but indeed salutary. Moreover, she uses it perfectly coherently, since from the first pages she explains: “Why am I writing this book? Because I am not innocent. I live in France. I live in the West. I am white.” She returns to this question later on: “We are the indigènes de la République, in France, in Europe, in the West. To the Third World, we are white. Whiteness is not a genetic question. It is a matter of power.” For Bouteldja, accusations of “racism,” because she has the audacity to evoke a “white” imperialist race, or of “misogyny,” because she dares to interrogate a “white” feminism that finds it just to stigmatize foreign populations (particularly Arab catcallers) — all these accusations are at best the work of insecure readers, and at worst that of hypocrites who, under the guise of humanist principles, harbor a narcissistic love of their whiteness.

That being said, the book itself, and Bouteldja’s stated reasons for its writing, are in certain ways problematic. Bouteldja’s suffering over her own whiteness and her lack of innocence have surely shaped her politics. But suffering does not a revolutionary make any more than it makes a poet, a lover, or a mathematician. We must examine the reasoning behind every discourse, even the most appealing.

1. “Shoot Sartre!”: The prologue’s title is an extreme right slogan from the era of the Algerian War. Sartre had taken up the cause of the FLN [5], and beyond Algeria was vocal in his sympathies for the “wretched of the Earth.” He was hated by the extreme right and the “white” bourgeoisie. Sartre’s capital crime, in the author’s eyes, was not his outspoken support for an independent Algeria, or decolonization generally, but rather the fact that he advocated for the creation of the state of Israel: “Because beyond his empathy for the colonized and their legitimate violence, for him, nothing would depose the legitimacy of the existence of Israel.” She has warned us that she draws on “the contemporary state of North African and Arab-Berber-Muslim immigration,” and apparently the question of the “legitimate existence of Israel” is central in that story, since despite having ideologically fought alongside indigènes from across the world, foremost the FLN, Sartre’s Zionism renders him irredeemably “white.” Bouteldja writes: “Sartre will die anti-colonialist and Zionist. He will die white. This will not be the least of his paradoxes. In this, he is an allegory of the postwar French left.” Was the “French left” “anti-colonialist and Zionist”? Yes, insofar as Sartre embodied the “French left.” It is a left of “whites,” asserts the author, since Sartre died “anti-colonialist and Zionist.” Having continually stood for the coexistence of two states — one Israeli, one Palestinian — Sartre was a “white.” End of story.

After a short discussion of Genet, and then of the history of “white” imperialism since 1492, and notably of the Nazism that Aimé Césaire considered a “form of colonization of the white man by the white man” (cited on page 21), the author ultimately returns to the unforgivable sin of Sartre: “‘Shoot Sartre!’ It’s not nostalgia for a French Algeria speaking. It’s me, the indigenous woman.” Sartre may have fought against the historical structures of “white” imperialism from 1492 to today, but that can’t outweigh his sin: he legitimized the “existence of Israel.” To fail this litmus test means to forfeit his life. Your stance on Israel places you on one side or the other of the firing squad. Shoot Sartre, shoot Finkielkraut, shoot Postone: lump them all together, Marxists and anti-Marxists. Bouteldja has staged a Copernican revolution: this is a new cosmology with Israel at its center and nothing at its periphery.

Later in the work, addressing the “Jews,” Bouteldja explains that antisemitism “is not universal” but rather “circumscribed in time and space.” “Inuits, Dogons, and Tibetans are not anti-Semitic,” she continues, but they “are not philo-Semitic, either.” To tell the truth, “they don’t care about you.” She is probably right: they don’t care about the Jews. And that’s why Inuits, Dogons, Tibetans, and others might be surprised to learn that they need to shoot Sartre for the sole reason that “beyond his empathy for the colonized and their legitimate violence, for him, nothing would depose the legitimacy of the existence of Israel.” Indeed, it’s not clear that all “indigenous people” judge the question of the “legitimate existence of the state of Israel” to be the central question of politics, as the author does. Inuits, Dogons, Tibetans, et cetera, shockingly, have other problems, ones they see as more urgent than Israel.

Notwithstanding the indifference of the Dogons, Bouteldja’s prologue aims to center global injustice around “the existence of Israel.” “Sartre would die an anticolonialist and a Zionist. He would die white.” To be “anti-colonialist” isn’t enough to make you anything other than a “white,” if you aren’t anti-Zionist. Could a white anti-Zionist ever be acquitted? Maybe, maybe not. For now, we know that antisemitism is not “universal,” that it is “circumscribed in time and space,” that the question of “the existence of Israel” is of a symbolic universalism disproportionate to empirical reality, at least if we admit that, in the history of imperialism from 1492 to today, Zionism — reprehensible or not — is a mere detail.

2. “You, the whites”: Bouteldja kindly assists Descartes by refining and providing an exegesis of his famous credo. To wit: “I think therefore I am. I think therefore I am… God.” The cogito of modern Western philosophy is the mantra of the “white” man, whereby he proclaims himself the equal of God and undertakes dominating nature and other men: “This ‘I’ is a conquering ‘I.’ It is armed. It has, on the one hand, firepower, and on the other, the Bible. It’s a predator.” According to the back blurb, we’re dealing with a “brilliant text [texte fulgurant],” and indeed, Bouteldja’s revelations dazzle: “The Cartesian ‘I’ will lay the philosophical foundations for whiteness.” The question arises: should we shoot Descartes? Some Church officials would no doubt have approved.

Having posited the metaphysical basis of “whiteness,” Bouteldja sketches anew the broad outlines of “white” imperialism since 1492. That is, humanism and progressivism, supposedly “left-wing,” are actually excretions of white imperialism and love between “whites” and “non-whites” is impossible “if the privileges of the one rely on the oppression of the other.” We will grant her this point. But precisely how do we get out of this dilemma, so as to bring about a “we” freed of the categories of “class” and “race,” so as to orient ourselves “toward a politics of revolutionary love”? In the course of her address to the “whites,” the author reveals her vision of a possible egalitarian future:

Why should we remain cloistered within the borders of the nation state? Why not rewrite history, denationalize it, deracialize it? Your patriotism forces you to identify yourself with your state. You celebrate its victories and lament its defeats. But how are we to make history together when our victories are your defeats? If we invite you to share in Algerian Independence and the victory in Dien Bien Phu with us, would you agree to break your solidarity with your warmongering states? We have a more interesting proposition. It was made to you in the past, a long time ago, by the late C.L.R. James, who was already a believer in revolutionary love:

These are my ancestors, these are my people. They are yours too if you want them.

James offers you the memory of his negro ancestors who rose against you and who, by freeing him, freed you. In essence, James says, change the Pantheon, this is how we will make History and build the Future together. It sounds a whole lot better than “our ancestors the Gauls,” don’t you think?

This seems paradoxical: can indigènes truly “de-nationalize” and “de-racialize” by rallying around the memory of their nation and races’ oppression? To understand the argument’s logic, we must return to Bouteldja’s warning to the reader: the categories of “whites,” of “Jews,” of “native Women,” and of “natives,” she writes, “are the products of modern history in the same way terms like ‘workers’ or ‘women’ are.” In other words, just as Marx and Engels, two bourgeois, championed the cause of “workers” and made the history of the proletariat their own, “whites” can identify with indigènes, their history, their ancestors, and their “race.” The individual history of an emancipation is indeed immediately universalizable, and that’s why one can subjectively make it one’s own even if it is objectively foreign. This is apparently what James, “supporter of revolutionary love,” meant. And I share his vision without reservation: I make his “race” mine, I make his “black” ancestors mine, just as I make the ancestors of the “white” proletariat mine, just as I make the Arab ancestors of Bouteldja mine.

Ironically, I am struck by rhetorical parallels between Ms. Bouteldja’s conception of “revolutionary love” and the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew scribes wrote these texts during the first millennium before Christ, in a cultural context very distant from our own. The center of gravity of the Old Testament is a fictional emancipation which is the “exodus from Egypt, from a slave’s house.” This exodus launches a series of events that lead to the establishment of the first kingdom of Israel and those subsequent polities of which the scribes concerned were subjects. The creation of the memory of the exodus allowed these Hebrew scribes, descendants of diverse tribes and residents of a scarcely developed corner of the Levant, to relish in a glorious and common past. By inventing the exodus, the Hebrews invented themselves. Since a genealogy is always a more or less fictional, more or less imaginary reconstruction, it cannot aspire to the universal, to thought, and thereby offer itself to everyone except under the express condition of being a “memory,” that is to say the realization, of a liberation. Ultimately, the lesson of the Hebrew scribes, is this: just because you are racially black, Arab, or Jewish doesn’t mean you have been emancipated; on the contrary, it’s because you have been emancipated that you merit recognition as a descendant of your ancestors, whether they be “black,” “Arab,” “Jewish” or “French.”

3. “You, the Jews”: I will set this section aside and return to it later.

4. “We, Indigenous Women”: Here, the author addresses “indigenous women,” her “sisters.” The question in this book is of “sisters” or “brothers,” as opposed to “whites” or “Jews.” Hence Genet is a “brother” and Sartre a “white.” These categories aren’t based on race, then, but on the Israel question.

Speaking to her “sisters,” the author writes that it is vital to interrogate the feminism that has been introduced to “natives.” They must not delude themselves: this feminism is the product of a “white” history that judges and stigmatizes the culture of “natives,” blacks, or Arab Muslims. In making this argument, Bouteldja dares to defy common sense: if “feminist pioneers in the Islamic world were […] men,” it’s not because they were progressive men; it’s because they were “natives” subordinate to “whites.” As she explains, “Women’s liberation, when it is extolled by men, can in no way be explained by a pro-women tropism, but more conclusively by the complex of indigeneity, shamed by colonial power and seeking to hoist itself up to the level of the so-called norms of the colonized.” The argument is tenacious — and tenuous. Vast amounts of anthropological and ethnological literature are dedicated to such dilemmas as how we can judge cultural practices outside of our institutional and mental universe, or whether we must we defend female circumcision, the caste system, or patriarchy. The general rule, here, is that it’s up to the members of a given culture to conform to norms or to change them — no one likes an armed missionary. But Bouteldja goes further: she questions even Arab intellectuals on the pretext that, in trying to transform their society, they internalized the dominating norms of the colonizer. She explains further on:

The radical critique of indigenous patriarchy is a luxury. If a responsible form of feminism were ever to see the light of day, it would have to take the sinuous and craggy routes of a paradoxical movement, which will necessarily have to pass through a communitarian allegiance. At least, so long as racism exists.

There are a few issues here. First, there are Muslim thinkers who, without aping “white” feminism, show the emancipatory potential of Qur’anic texts and draw a division between two ways of being faithful to Islam, one enlightened and the other backward. And moreover, I find it hard to believe that La Fabrique would publish a statement like this one: “The radical critique of the state of Israel is a luxury. If a responsible form of revolutionary love were ever to see the light of day, it would have to take the sinuous and craggy routes of a paradoxical movement, which will necessarily have to pass through a communitarian allegiance. At least, so long as antisemitism exists.” Some people will certainly object that antisemitism no longer exists or barely exists, that it’s not a universal phenomenon but one limited to certain places at certain times, and that to be perfectly frank, who cares about the Jews, and it would be dishonest to compare the “communitarian allegiance” of the author, a “native,” with the communitarian allegiance of a “Jew.” I will let them object. But let’s return to the question of biology. Bouteldja writes:

Like Assata Shakur, I say: “We can never be free while our men are oppressed.” No, my body does not belong to me. I know today that my place is among my own people. More than an instinct, it is a political approach. But before becoming conscious knowledge, this return was accomplished through a collective will for survival and resistance. My consciousness comes from this. Our collective self reacted by creating its own immune system.

This is the second time she uses the image of the biological body to discuss the collective. The first comes in her address to the “whites”: “Humanism is one of the centerpieces of your immune system.” She defines this “system”: “An organism’s immune system is a biological system consisting of an organized set of recognition and defense mechanisms, which distinguish between the ‘self’ from the ‘non-self’ […]. What is identified as a ‘non-self’ molecule is destroyed.” She spins the immunity metaphor further, explaining that there is a “white immune system,” that is its “politico-ideological apparatus”: “Through it, many antibodies have been secreted. Among them, humanism and the monopoly of ethics.” One might have thought that the biological, organic representation of the body politic was only useful for describing the “white” politico-biological apparatus. And this might seem confirmed when the author finally calls on the “whites” to share the memory of black and Arab indigènes and their “ancestors.” The problem is that she evokes not just “communitarian allegiance” but a biological representation of it: “Our collective self has reacted in creating its own immune system.” Here, her use of the category of “race” proves dangerous, smelling sweetly of l’union sacrée[6]

Nonetheless, Bouteldja’s text evinces a rare political intelligence. Take this powerfully beautiful passage:

In Europe, prisons are brimming with black people and Arabs. Racial profiling almost only concerns men, who are the police’s main target. It is in our eyes that they are diminished. And yet they try desperately to reconquer us, often through violence. In a society that is castrating, patriarchal, and racist (or subjected to imperialism), to live is to live with virility. “The cops are killing the men and the men are killing the women. I’m talking about rape. I’m talking about murder,” says Audre Lorde. A decolonial feminism must take into account this masculine, indigenous “gender trouble” because the oppression of men reflects directly on us. Yes, we are subjected with full force to the humiliation that is done to them. Male castration, a consequence of racism, is a humiliation for which men make us pay a steep price. In other words, the more hegemonic thought tells us that our men are barbaric, the more frustrated they become, and the more they will oppress us. The effects of white, racist patriarchy exacerbate gender relations in the indigenous milieu. This is why a decolonial feminism must have as its imperative to radically refuse the discourses and practices that stigmatize our brothers and that, in the same move, exonerate white patriarchy.

As we see, there are two sides to Bouteldja’s text: there’s not just reactionary and symptomatic ressentiment, [7] but also “revolutionary love.” I think I’ve made that clear. But since independent thought — with respect to any authority, be it communitarian, political, philosophical, or editorial — comes at an enormous price, I don’t intend to mince words about Bouteldja’s text, at least not more than she herself does.

5. “We, Indigenous People”: Here, the author addresses her “brothers” and “sisters.” In particular, she writes:

The proponents of Black Power speak: “Powerlessness breeds a race of beggars.” This is what we are and will continue to be if we do not decide to stand up for ourselves, to think about power, and the strategy and means to attain it. We will be beggars so long as we do not break with our tutors, those who decide for us, without us, and against us. We will be beggars so long as we accept as universal the political divisions that cut up the white world and through which they conceive of the social conflicts and struggles that these divisions will engender. We will be beggars so long as we remain prisoners of their philosophy, of their aesthetic, and of their art. We will be beggars so long as we do not call into question their version of History. Let’s accept rupture, discord, discordance. Let’s ruin the landscape and announce a new era. Let’s decide not to imitate them, to invent and draw from other sources. They say 1789. Let’s answer 1492!

Very well. But though we know her vision, we don’t know its details: how does the author conceptualize “power,” emancipation from the “white world,” “philosophy,” “aesthetics,” and “art”; and finally, what is her “version of History”? And what lesson does she take from 1492?

6. “Allahou Akbar!”: “Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on weekends,” Woody Allen joked. But Bouteldja’s not about to conclude with a Jewish joke. She writes:

Therefore, when a white Frenchman crosses paths with a Muslim Frenchman, he does not encounter a friend or an enemy, but rather, an enigma. Who is this human who persists in prostrating himself five times a day in degrading positions, fasts for a month in often sweltering weather, protects his body and hair from leering eyes, and contributes month after month, year after year, to a fund to build a mosque in the city where his children will grow up, rather than transfer his offerings to the Restos du Cœur? Who is this foolish creature to whom we have delivered Enlightenment on a silver platter, and who persists in turning toward Mecca, like a sunflower that only the sun can subjugate?

She will explain what this “creature” knows, and what “escapes white Reason” a bit later on. And when she does, it’s almost a revelation:

To the mirages of a civilization that birthed the nuclear man, in both senses of the word, where he is located and where he has been assigned — the place of the radical Other — and to he who claims to challenge God, the immigrant answers: Allahou akbar! And he adds: There is no god but God. In Islam, divine transcendence calls for humility and the permanent awareness of the ephemeral. Are not the wishes, the projects of his followers all punctuated by the phrase “in cha Allah”? We begin one day and end another. Only the Almighty is eternal. No one can challenge his power. Only the vain believe they can. From this complex of vanity are born blasphemous theories on the superiority of white people over non-white people, on the superiority of men over women, on the superiority of humans over animals and nature. There is no need to be a believer to interpret this philosophy from a profane point of view.

The author has clearly studied Arabic and the Qur’an, and she has the basics down — she has a few hadith up her sleeve. That being said, her analysis should be taken with a grain of salt. I don’t claim to be an expert in Islam, but it seems clear to me that in Islam, as in Judaism and Christianity, the “superiority of humans over animals and nature” is a fundamental axiom, not a blasphemous heresy. Moreover, classing “the superiority of humans over animals and nature” in the same category — that of “blasphemous theories” — as “the superiority of white people over non-white people,” or of “men over women,” is not only inane, but actually blasphemous.

Be that as it may, Bouteldja is adamant that communitarian allegiance to Islam requires abandoning an anthropocentric view of the world. Indeed, she later explains: “[A]ll other liberation utopias will be welcome, wherever they may come from, be they spiritual or political, religious, agnostic, or cultural, so long as they respect Nature and the human being, who is fundamentally only one element among all others” (emphasis mine). The surrender of human primacy will make for a beautiful tomorrow, Bouteldja argues, since the only necessary condition for the real advancement of the “native” cause is apparently the privileging of Nature over the human (besides the profession of “anti-Zionist” faith).

It must be clarified that Bouteldja’s concern here is not an ecological one — the reckless destruction of nature by narcissistic man — but, again, a metaphysical, existential, ontological one. Bouteldja returns to the Enlightenment and argues that the missing link between “cogito ergo sum” and the “whiteness” that haunts her can be found in another line from Descartes: “We must render ourselves […] masters and possessors of nature.” She comments: “The Cartesian ‘I’ affirms itself. It wants to defy death. It is this ‘I’ that will from now on occupy the center. I think therefore I am the one who decides, I think therefore I am the one who dominates, I think therefore I am the one who subjugates, pillages, steals, rapes, commits genocide. I think therefore I am a modern, virile, capitalist, imperialist man. The Cartesian ‘I’ will lay the philosophical ground for whiteness.” The cogito of Descartes is a dominating “I” since he wants to dominate nature. Let’s shoot Descartes and celebrate Heidegger. And let’s shoot Trotsky, while we’re at it, who wrote this shocking passage from Their Morals and Ours: “From the point of view of Marxism, which expresses the historical interests of the proletariat, the end is justified if it leads to the growing power of man over nature and to the abolition of the power of man over man” (ed. La Découverte, p. 89). [8] Trotsky died “white”: he advocated “the superiority of humans over animals and nature.” But between allegiance to the Arab-Muslim community on the one hand and allegiance to a certain ecological bent on the other, I’m not convinced Bouteldja has taken the best of each.

So in addition to Sartre, damned for having legitimized “the existence of Israel,” the other damned philosopher, the other founder of “whiteness,” is Descartes, whose cogito the author ultimately dismisses, pithily, with “Allahou akbar.” If I were more audacious, I would suggest she take a peek at my book Spinoza: The Ethics of an Outlaw (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.) She would learn that before she made Descartes the father of “whiteness,” Jean-Claude Milner made Spinoza the father of antisemitism. (Bouteldja and Milner’s techniques are indeed quite similar, notwithstanding differences of style and of “communitarian allegiance.”) But let’s leave history aside, and return to Houria Bouteldja’s book. She concludes this section in the mode of the “royal we”:

The We of our encounter, the We of the surpassing of race and its abolition, the We of a new political identity that we will have to invent together, the We of a decolonizing majority. The We of the diversity of our beliefs, our convictions, and our identities, the We of their complementarity and their irreducibility. The We of this peace that we will have earned because of the high price it cost us. The We of a politics of love, which will never be a politics of the heart. For to produce this love, there is no need to love or feel sorry for oneself. One will have only to recognize the other and embody that moment “right before hatred” to push it back as much as possible and, with the energy of despair, to dispel the worse. This will be the We of revolutionary love.

Well, then. She’s thrown Descartes overboard, this “decolonial” adventure seems at a standstill, so it’s time to talk about love. Houria Bouteldja next addresses the “Jews.” Let’s listen.

3. “You, the Jews”: Jews are difficult to conceptualize: on the one hand, they are seen as foreign to “whiteness,” separate from the “race” which, since 1492, has dominated the world (which is why one distinguishes “Jews” from “whites,”) but they’re also worse than “whites” because they are their criminal accomplices, aiding and abetting. Thankfully, Bouteldja has a simple trick to determine if Jews — not white, but not innocent — are good or bad: to cut the Gordian knot that the name “Jew” represents, remember this: “Jews” are foreign to “whiteness” and can be “native” if they are “anti-Zionist”; on the other hand, they are the criminal accomplices of “whiteness” if they are “Zionist.”

The author concludes her missive to the Jews: “You are losing your historical friends. You are still in the ghetto. Why don’t we get out of there together?” What is her proposal to leave “together”? On first glance, the invitation seems paradoxical: the author both calls for Arab-Muslim “communitarian allegiance” and urges “Jews” to free themselves from their own “communitarian allegiance.” However, as Bouteldja reminds us, this is fair when one keeps in mind that Jewish communitarianism (not to mention their state) is a weapon of subjugation and Arab-Muslim communitarianism (revolutionary love) is the only hope for universal emancipation from history. That’s why the crucial question is ultimately this one: How does the author conceive of native emancipation from Zionist domination? And what is her “version of History”?

Bouteldja is a “victim” of 1492. She’s made that clear from the get-go: “What am I? An Indigenous of the Republic. Above all, I am a victim. I have lost my humanity. In 1492 and again, in 1830. And my whole life is spent recovering it. Not all time periods are equally cruel to me, but my suffering is infinite.”

But let’s check the history here: for the “Jews,” 1492 represents not just the discovery of America, but also the expulsion of the Sephardic Jews. But the expulsion of the “Jews” in the West didn’t begin in 1492, no more than ritual massacres did. The “Jews” had been expelled from France in the 14th century, and massacred during the Crusades. This is interesting timing: the separation between “whites” and “non-whites” was first constructed in the treatment of “Jews” before being deployed, at another scale and with a radically different violence, in the treatment of the “natives,” before eventually coming back to the “Jews” with the invention of gas chambers. Maybe Sartre knew this, and maybe that’s why he was circumspect toward the Israel-Palestine question and favored “the existence of Israel” in politically sovereign form, and even in the form of a so-called “Jewish” state on a part of Palestinian territory. But Sartre was a “white,” as he was a “Zionist,” and “Zionist,” as he was “white.” So it’s better to listen to Houria Bouteldja, a “native” of 1492. Let’s see what she has to tell us about “Zionism” and “anti-Zionism,” since she believes this is the principal contradiction. Because she never stops stating it, and restating it: “As for us, anti-Zionism is our country of asylum.”

She explains to the “Jews” that “[w]hether you like it or not, anti-Zionism will be, along with the indictment of the nation state, the primary site of this endgame.” But is it necessary to distinguish “anti-Zionism” and “the questioning of the nation-state”? Isn’t questioning the nation-state enough to question Zionism, since Zionism means the creation of a supposedly Jewish nation-state in Palestine? According to Bouteldja, no, it’s not, because Zionism is always the ultimately decisive and central question, the place of the universal singular. “Anti-Zionism,” she indeed continues, “will be the site of the historical confrontation between us,” but also “the site of the historical confrontation between you and white people,” and then finally “the site of the historical confrontation between us and white people.” So, Zionism is the crux of the problem. That’s why we want to learn how to solve it. Alas, she’s rather stingy about solutions, never explaining her suggestion except with one word, and one word only: “anti-Zionism.” Still, in listening closely, we can unravel the thread of her thought and reconstitute her “version of History.”

She begins by explaining to the “Jews” that they “were really chosen by the West.” And chosen “[f]or three cardinal missions”: “to solve the white world’s moral legitimacy crisis, which resulted from the Nazi genocide, to outsource republican racism, and finally to be the weaponized wing of Western imperialism in the Arab world.” Let’s grant her the first mission. The second is harder to unpack: If “republican racism” is state racism, as the author maintains, how do the “Jews” subcontract it? Are they the ones giving orders, and the republican state the subcontractor? Or are they the subcontractors following the orders of “republican racism”? Her statement is unclear. In contrast, the third cardinal mission of the “Jews” is of a Biblical simplicity: “[S]erve as the weaponized wing of Western imperialism in the Arab world.” This time, the “Jews” are understood as the state of Israel. But what does this mean? The field of military intervention by the state of Israel “in the Arab world” extends from Sinai to Lebanon (and to the Golan Heights) and from the Mediterranean to Jordan, plus a quick intervention in Iraq aiming to destroy the nuclear reactor of Osirak (June 1981). If Israel is “the weaponized wing of Western imperialism in the Arab world,” it follows that for the rest of the “Arab world,” Occidental hawks only have an unarmed wing: a velvet claw.

But let’s review a few basic historical facts: in 1980, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq attacked the Ayatollahs’ Iran with the blessing and support of the West and of the Gulf petrol-monarchies, which furnished it dollars and arms, and a war of eight years ensued, leaving about one million dead. In 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, bled dry, decided to restore its good health by annexing Kuwait, which would guarantee it access to the sea and control of Kuwaiti oil rent, and the Gulf War ensued, followed by about 10 years of economic embargo, with the result of a regional status quo (notably with respect to repartition of oil windfall) and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths. In 1991, the Algerian state interrupted an election that brought the Islamic Salvation Front to power. About a decade of civil war ensued, leading to 200,000 deaths (if this war wasn’t the doing of Western imperialism, we can still note that “white” democracies supported the Algerian dictatorship and its policy of killing civilian populations). In 2003, George W. Bush’s administration decided to begin a second war in Iraq, the pretext this time being that Saddam Hussein, the bloodthirsty dictator, possessed weapons of mass destruction that would somehow get into the hands of al-Qaeda terrorists. Once again, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths and chaos ensued before the Islamic State finally came on the scene. In 2011, NATO militarily intervened in Libya and stands ready today to intervene yet again. Also in 2011, the Syrian people rose against Assad’s dictatorship. Repression was fierce, criminal, and despicable. Syrian rebels organized and took up arms, and a civil war followed that has already led to 250,000 deaths and four million refugees [as of April 2016], in which we have seen Hezbollah, heroes of the anti-Zionist “resistance,” take up arms on Assad’s side, and the Russian army also intervenes on Assad’s behalf in hopes of crushing the Syrian rebel forces. (And according to some sources, Russian aircraft hasn’t exactly used kid gloves.) But of course, Bouteldja pushes all that to the margins to focus on the central question: i.e., the “legitimacy of the state of Israel,” in other words the legitimacy of the “weaponized wing of Western imperialism in the Arab world.” So that’s her starting point.

Her next point consists of understanding the history of Zionism, and here the author affirms that “the main actor is white: the West.” She explains: “Someone will retort that Herzl was a Jew. Sure, except that the question is not who had the idea of Zionism first but who realized it” (emphasis hers). So while the “Jews” are “the weaponized wing of the West,” it’s the “whites” who realized the Zionist idea. Is this to say that it is the “whites” who immigrated to Palestine, built towns there, and fought against armed Arabs? Bouteldja’s statement is, yet again, enigmatic. Her point still stands: it may not have been the “Jews” who carried out the Zionist project, but they were the ones who benefited from it.

So Zionism is “the weaponized wing of the West in the Arab world,” a Jewish idea carried out by whites. But what is Zionism? That’s Bouteldja’s third point: “To universalize antisemitism, to make of it an a-temporal and stateless phenomenon, is to kill two birds with one stone: it is to justify the hold-up of Palestine as well as the repression of indigenous people in Europe.” How is “antisemitism” an argument spun of whole cloth in order to justify “the repression of indigenous people in Europe”? To understand this, one must have read Badiou and Hazan’s little book published by La Fabrique (2011): L’antisémitisme partout [published by Verso in 2013 as Reflections on Anti-Semitism]. They explain how the notion of increased antisemitism among the “indigenous people” of France serves to bolster republican racism, police repression, and social apartheid. So far as the other bird of the “two birds with one stone,” it’s familiar enough: since antisemitism is universal, limitless in time and space, the Jews should have a state to protect them, hence the “hold-up” of Palestine, which satisfies the good “white” conscience at the expense of the “natives.” This is the second time in the book that the image of the “hold-up,” the first coming in the prologue:

Above me are the white profiteers. The white population that owns France: the proletarians, the civil servants, the middle classes. My oppressors. They are the small shareholders of the vast enterprise of the world’s dispossession. Above them is the class of great possessors, of capitalists, of great financers. In exchange for the complicity of the white subaltern classes, this class knew how to negotiate a greater distribution of the riches from the gigantic hold-up, as well as a — very monitored — participation in the process of political decision-making that we proudly call “democracy.”

The “gigantic hold-up” in question is Western imperialism from 1492 to today. But there’s also the Zionist “hold-up,” condensed like a radioactive core, crystallizing all oppression, all domination, all injustice produced by the “white” world since 1492. But is this actually true? In the heart of the whole world’s “natives,” in the heart of Inuits, Dogons, and Tibetans, does the Israel question possess this extraordinary importance — or just in the heart of the author? It seems that just as some universalize antisemitism, others universalize Zionism. The process seems identical. It relies not on reasoning, but on a fantasy of incarnation. So, in the same way that Finkielkraut or Lanzmann think they incarnate the “Jews,” Bouteldja thinks she incarnates the “natives” from 1492 to today. That’s why she can tell the “Jews”:

Before mass crimes were tested in Europe, they were first tested in the Americas, in Africa, in Asia. To dehumanize a race, to destroy it, to make it disappear from the surface of the earth, is already inscribed in the colonial genes of National Socialism. Hitler was nothing if not a good student. If the techniques of mass massacre revealed all their efficiency in the concentration camps, it is because they had been tested on us, and thus made all the more efficient; and if white ferociousness came down on you with such savagery, it is because European populations closed their eyes to the “tropical genocides.”

Because the author has suffered, in her “native” flesh, all oppressions from 1492 on, she has all the legitimacy she needs to put the question of “the existence of Israel” at the heart of the “native” problem, just as she has all the legitimacy she needs to speak in the name of Inuits, Dogons, or Tibetans. Am I, the little white disciple of Descartes, Sartre, or Lacan, really in a position to question her? If I dared to, I would advise her to read La sexualité féminine by Mustapha Safouan, one of the greatest psychoanalysts since Lacan, if not the best. But do I dare?

Zionism, “weaponized wing of the West in the Arab world,” Jewish idea taken out by whites, but to benefit “Jews,” is therefore the “hold-up of Palestine,” a “hold-up” which cannot be reduced to the theft of land extending from Sinai to the Golan Heights, from the Mediterranean to Jordan, but which condenses, lumps together, and exemplifies all the injustices of the “white” world from 1492 to today. That being said, what exactly is this “anti-Zionism” around which the entire world’s indigènes have rallied? The author apparently considers the word self-explanatory. There are a few clues for those who know how to find them. For example, when she evokes the Moroccan writer Abdelkebir Khatibi:

Abdelkebir Khatibi is not as famous as Césaire though he deserves to be. His vision acts as a deregulator of Zionist mechanisms. “Essence precedes existence,” he writes. “Arab essence precedes the existence of Israel,” he adds.

We will go on to learn much more about the “Arab essence” that precedes “the existence of Israel,” but we can already sense that the centrality of the question of “the existence of Israel” does not concern all “natives” equally, unless “the Arab essence” is responsible for representing Inuits, Dogons, or Tibetans and expresses itself in their name. Another defining element of “anti-Zionism” is given to us on page 57, where Bouteldja once again explains that Zionism is a white project whose beneficiaries are Jewish, but also clarifies, in passing, her vision of an egalitarian future between “Jews” and “natives”:

So, then, they gave you Israel. Two birds one stone: they got rid of you as pretenders to the nation and as historical revolutionaries, and made you into the most passionate defenders of the empire on Arab soil.

So there we have it: there exists “Arab soil,” like there exists Inuit soil, Dogon soil, Tibetan soil, et cetera, and also white, Christian, and European soil. Imperialism emerges when people, in this case “whites,” rather than staying and living on their own land, go dispossess others of theirs, exploit them, and massacre them, as in America, Australia, Africa, Asia, and in the Arab world since 1830, finally and above all in Palestine, seed of all oppressions, of all dominations, of all injustices.

Imagine this: a schoolteacher, having finished her lesson, asks the students, “Have you understood?” The “Jews” in class raise their hands. They ask: “Miss, where is Jewish soil?” The school teacher answers: “There is no Jewish land.” So they ask: “But Miss, why is there Arab soil, Inuit soil, Dogon soil, Tibetan soil, et cetera, and even white soil, but no Jewish soil?” The school teacher gets short with them: “That’s how it is. We’re not going to remake the world for the Jews. Besides, we don’t care about Jews.”

For a Cartesian, though, things are a tad more complicated: since humans don’t grow on trees, they have come from an original hearth, which was located about 50,000 years ago in Africa, and from there have dispersed across the Earth. They encountered each other, mixed with each other, stole from each other, and sometimes exterminated each other. Therefore, “Arab soil” is soil inhabited by majority Arabs, who settled there at a certain point in history. The same way that “Jewish soil” is soil inhabited by majority Jews, who settled there at a certain point in history, et cetera. Likewise, Europeans settled in America and in Australia, exterminating practically all the natives there. The Jews didn’t exterminate the Arabs — who, in fact, have become more and more numerous in Palestine since the arrival of Zionists — but they dominated and expelled them. Still, the central question, the one that condenses, lumps together, and exemplifies all injustices, is the “hold-up of Palestine” because the “Jews” have stolen a piece of “Arab soil.” But rest assured, you fine people, it’s a mere matter of time, because soon the crime of 1492 will be repaid, inshallah:

On the international chessboard, Israel disappoints the empire, Iran is imposing itself as a regional power, and the Zionist transplant never took hold in the Arab world, and never will, god willing.

God, having given Arabs a vast territory, and God dearly loving “the Arab essence,” will not permit the “Zionist graft” to take root, minor as it was, considering the size of “Arab soil.” And, if God wills it, the laws of biology will not permit it. I remind you that, indeed, there exists in every organic body an immune system: “An organism’s immune system is a biological system consisting of an organized set of recognition and defense mechanisms, which distinguish between the ‘self’ from the ‘non-self’ […]. What is identified as a ‘non-self’ molecule is destroyed.’”

Condemned by both “God” and the laws of biology, Zionists don’t stand much of a chance. However, the author assures us that she is an enthusiast of “revolutionary love.” There is thus a way out, a possible exit from the ghetto, “together.” Alas, she tells us nothing about it. How does she conceive of the future of Jews and Arabs on “Arab soil”? All we know is that Palestine is “Arab soil,” that this is non-negotiable, and that it is the same for all the “natives” of the world. And since the “Jew” has read books other than Bouteldja’s, he knows that everywhere in the “Arab world,” such as it exists today and as it has existed, “Jews” have been submissive to Arabs, being of a different “communitarian allegiance” than the masters of the house. That’s why the “Jews,” at least a lot of “Jews,” and more and more of them, have rallied behind a certain Zionism which consists of saying, basically: for centuries, we have been the indigènes of whites in the West and of Arabs in the Orient, but now we have gotten our hands on a little corner of land, without oil, sure, but where we intend to rule by our own law, and if you don’t like it, we don’t care. I don’t share this view of Zionism, but I admit that at times I have to bite my tongue to keep from joining the choir.

There are people who think that there is an Arab land (Muslim?), a white land (Christian?), a black land, a yellow land, a this land, a that land, et cetera. A minority of them believe that there is also a Jewish land. But the majority think that there is not. There are, however, other people, let’s call them “friends,” who think that land is land and that partout la terre est bleue comme une orange[9] I know that Whites, Jews, and Us is not supposed to be friendly to me. But it’s hard to give up on Bouteldja’s text — parts of it are powerfully political and poetic. But alas: Under the banner of “revolutionary love,” I read, in the course of an address to the “Jews,” the following declaration:

But you let yourself be won over, slowly, such that a tenacious bias was born: all Jews are Zionists. Now, if you aren’t a Zionist, you have to prove it. You, who dreamt of melding into the “universal,” have now become Jewish again in the Sartrian sense of the word. But for me, this isn’t the worst part. After all, your renunciations are your business, and yours alone. The worst part is my gaze, when in the street, I pass by a child wearing a kippah. That fleeting moment when I stop to look at him. The worst part is the disappearance of my indifference toward you, the possible prelude to my internal ruin.

If the Jews decide to renounce themselves and disappear, it is, after all, their problem. But “this isn’t the worst part.” It’s the pain this causes the author, because she indirectly suffers the consequences of this renunciation by the “Jews.” Indeed, when she goes out in the street, in France, in Paris, to buy halal merguez, visit a “sister,” or protest for an Arab Palestine, wow, she runs into people. And one day, she “crosses a child wearing a kippah.” And yes, this really happens! Just like sometimes a “white Frenchman crosses paths with” another “Frenchman”:

Therefore, when a white Frenchman crosses paths with a Muslim Frenchman, he does not encounter a friend or an enemy, but rather, an enigma. Who is this human who persists in prostrating himself five times a day in degrading positions, fasts for a month in often sweltering weather, protects his body and hair from leering eyes, and contributes month after month, year after year, to a fund to build a mosque in the city where his children will grow up, rather than transfer his offerings to the Restos du Cœur? Who is this foolish creature to whom we have delivered Enlightenment on a silver platter, and who persists in turning toward Mecca, like a sunflower that only the sun can subjugate?

This creature knows something that escapes white Reason.

But now we’re talking about something different — this time it’s the author, a “native of the republic,” who “passes by a child wearing a kippah.” And she explains: “The worst part is my gaze.” All we know about this “gaze” is that it lasts a “fleeting moment,” that it targets “a child wearing a kippah,” that it expresses “the disappearance of [her] indifference,” and finally that it is “the possible prelude to [her] interior ruin.” So we can imagine the feeling that comes over the child, as well as the adult (a father, a mother, a brother, or a sister) who accompanies him, bearing in mind that this is certainly not the first time that this child, or another who looks like him, has faced such a look in the street. That’s what drives me to open a parenthesis. Hazan and Badiou, in their little booklet Antisémitisme partout, explained to us:

Looked at in more empirical terms, the construction of an “upsurge of anti-Semitism in France” is a major argument directed at French Jews, to press them to make their aliyah and settle in Israel. The French diaspora is the second largest in the world after that of the United States, and the Israeli state, haunted by a ‘demographic problem’, attempts to tap all overseas sources available. As it is hard for the Israeli secret services to set fire to synagogues in France as a way of making Jews emigrate (as they did in Iraq and Morocco), a different method is needed. A number of Israeli envoys have spread among the Jewish population the simple message: “Leave now, France is no longer a safe country for Jews.” [10]

Certainly, there are ideological constructions that favor French Jews emigrating to Israel, and an “upsurge in antisemitism in France” is one of them. But at the same time, there are people in France who, passing by “a child wearing a kippah,” stop to look at him for a “fleeting moment.” And not with affection. The author doesn’t beat around the bush: anger is growing. In her address to the “Jews,” she warns: “I know the people of my race well. Though we may be battered and terribly damaged, we still have a big heart and a certain practice of human nobility; but for how much longer?” Time is running out. Love for Jews will come now or never. Hazan and Badiou know better than to write what they have: from an empirical point of view, there are mean looks given to Jewish children, solely because they are Jewish. And these looks are plausibly “a major argument directed at French Jews, to press them to make their aliyah and settle in Israel.”

And since I’ve opened this parenthesis and permitted myself to partially correct the thesis of the co-authors of Antisémitisme partout, I’ll add something else: I have never heard it said that the Israeli secret services set fire to a synagogue in Morocco to push Jews to emigrate. I’ve heard it said about Iraq, but not about Morocco. And while we’re at it, let’s talk about that Iraq story. In 1941, a pogrom against the Jews led to around 150 deaths in Iraq. Attitudes toward Jews had worsened since the Zionists came to Palestine, and World War II riled spirits. Later came the end of the war, the repartition by the UN, the creation of the state of Israel, and the Israeli-Arab war of 1948. In the Arab world, the atmosphere became highly charged for Jews. The immigration of Iraqi Jews intensified as the atmosphere worsened: in 1950, the Jews of Iraq were stripped of their nationality; in 1951, their property was confiscated. It was during this period, also in Iraq, between 1950 and 1951, that a series of bombs were thrown on Jewish sites, including a synagogue. The Iraqi police led the investigation and arrested Jews, of whom two were sentenced to death and hanged. One of them, Shalom Tsalah, confessed, before being arrested, that he had been the perpetrator of the attacks and moreover that he had committed them on behalf of the Israeli secret services. His confessions were signed. It’s thus on the basis of the confession of a man tortured by the Iraqi police and then executed that Badiou and Hazan, apparently, draw their conclusion: the Israeli secret services blew up synagogues to make Jews of Iraq emigrate. It is true that if Israel exists, everything is permitted, even the absence of a footnote.

Let us conclude. After sketching, in broad strokes, the history of 1492, “white” imperialism, the genocide of the natives of Australia and America, the colonization of the Arab world since 1830, Hiroshima and “the front page of Le Monde,” headlined on August 8, 1945, “A scientific revolution: the Americans launch the first atomic bomb on Japan,” “republican racism,” ethnic profiling, her suffering, et cetera, the author calmly explains to us, smack in the middle of the book, that when she crosses “a child wearing a kippah,” she stops to look at him. And reading between the lines, you wouldn’t want to be that child at “that fleeting moment.” But what then, you might ask, does a “child wearing a kippah” mean to her? I have no fucking clue.

However, I do know that if the child didn’t wear a kippah the author wouldn’t stop and look at him. Without a kippah, indeed, he wouldn’t be “Jewish,” he would be … “white.” A child like so many others in France. And then, at worst, the author would be indifferent when crossing paths with him. That’s why I insist, and I do insist: ask the Inuits, Dogons, and Tibetans, and believe me, they will tell you that this “native” who proposes to speak in their name has a pale face. But luckily, Houria Bouteldja is no more the spokesperson of Arabs, Muslims, or Palestinians than she is of Inuits, Dogons, or Tibetans. She is nothing more than the spokesperson of “the possible prelude to [her] interior ruin.” And it’s up to her to deal with that and join us, we who come from all “races” and share the same axiom: when an adult gives a dirty look to a kid, for the sole reason that the kid is Jewish, black, Arab, Indian, yellow, or whatever, one is not “just before hate,” one is “just after.” These are the ABCs of revolutionary love, in addition to the fact that that la terre est bleue comme une orange[11]


Ivan Segré is a doctor in philosophy and student of the Talmud who lives in Israel. He is the author of Qu’appelle-t-on penser Auschwitz? (Éditions Lignes, 2009) and, with Alain Badiou and Eric Hazan, of Reflections on Anti-Semitism (Verso, 2013).

Ross Wolfe is a writer, historian, and architecture critic living in New York.

Ann Manov is a PhD student in French at Yale University and JD student at Yale Law School.


[1] Translator’s note: the term “indigène” in French is a pejorative and colonialist one, akin to the English “native.” Indigenous, with its scientist and politically sensitive ring, is more akin to the French “autochtone.” However, Rachel Valinsky has often chosen to use “indigenous” in her translation and my quotes from the book reflect her choices.

[2] “Race” is a much less common word in French than “race” is in English; where an Anglophone would say “race,” a Francophone would more typically say “ethnie” or “origine,” given the explicitly biological overtones of “la race.”

[3] The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

[4] The Colonial Counterrevolution in France.

[5] Front de Libération Nationale, National Liberation Front; the principal nationalist movement during the Algerian War, and subsequently the ruling party until other parties were legalized in 1989.

[6] L’union sacrée originally refers to the temporary abandonment of internal political division in France during World War I.

[7] Ressentiment, in Nietzsche’s sense.

[8] “Du point de vue du marxisme, qui exprime les intérêts historiques du prolétariat, la fin est justifiée si elle mène à l’accroissement du pouvoir de l’homme sur la nature et à l’abolition du pouvoir de l’homme sur l’homme.”

[9] Canonical poem by Paul Éluard (1895–1952). Literally, “The Earth is blue everywhere, like an orange.” Can be used colloquially to invoke, in Surrealist fashion, universalism.

[10] Alain Badiou, Eric Hazan, and Ivan Segré, Reflections on Anti-Semitism (Verso, 2013).

[11] “The earth is blue everywhere, like an orange.”