My introduction to Ivan Segré’s polemical review of Whites, Jews, and Us (2016), by Houria Bouteldja, follows below. The full review, translated by Ann Manov, can be read over at the LA Review of Books. Be sure to check it out; it’s long but excellent.
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 Philosemitic Reaction: 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