“The Politics of Self-Absolution”

I thought this section of del Boca’s article was really interesting, because I think a lot of countries with histories that are often somewhat shameful fall into this same trap. Italy made a symbolic gesture to “absolve” the sins of colonialism, but still fails to own up to the grave moral wrongs committed.

Honestly, though, I think all countries do this. For instance, almost every other year in elementary school, middle school, and high school, we were required to take American history. However, we always started at the very beginning with the Native Americans and the explorers and the pioneers, and we would never make it past the Civil War. While the way we treated Native Americans was truly awful, it’s hardly talked about. And then all of the more recent horrible stuff is omitted because we don’t get to it. But I have a theory that they do that on purpose, so that we’re never really exposed to things like Japanese internment camps, because the U.S. doesn’t want to own up to that still. It’s still rarely ever discussed, similarly to what del Boca was saying about colonialism in Italy.

Overall, while I agree with del Boca’s point, I honestly think it may be a little too idealistic when you consider the context of how countries strive to preserve national pride and image.

Complications of Colonizing Islamic Nations

This was only very briefly mentioned in Jerary’s article, but as soon as it was said I realized how strange it was that this exact point hadn’t been a focus in more of the readings we have done. Jerary makes the point that Italy’s critical mistake was trying to bring Christianity and European-style civilization to Libya, because Libya was an Islamic, Arabic nation and was so fundamentally different from those ideologies that it could not be converted. The European lifestyle was not compatible with Islamic tradition.

The reason for this is that, more than most other religions, Islam is more than just a religion. It is very much a way of life, and in many African and Middle Eastern countries, it is engrained in the foundation of the entire nation – its laws, its culture, its values, and its compatibility with other ways of life. Because Islamic influence in Libya was so strong, Italy was weakened by its commitment to imposing a new set of ideals on them.

Italians (and Everyone Else) and the Invention of Race

What struck me about this article’s discussion of the formation of racial ideas in Italy was how similar that narrative is to our own in the United States, and to almost every other narrative of race formation that I am familiar with. Though exact details and important figures and events differ, the story is almost the same. Racism as a catalyst for unification, the interconnectivity of race and gender roles, and the concept of race as something that does not exist alone, but exists only in opposition to a weakly defined “other” – none of these ideas or themes are new.

However, something that didn’t ring quite as familiar was the heavy reliance on literature to help construct the racial narrative. Poets and authors such as Marinetti, Morasso, and d’Annunzio played a much larger role in crafting the idea of what it means to be Italian than I have seen in any other culture, and I think that, in a way, that is due to the fact that a huge part of Italianness was the artistic culture.

I also thought the idea of the Italian “inferiority complex” contributing to Italian racism was interesting, but it had actually been something that I had been thinking about as well. In order to assert themselves as being on the same level as other Europeans, Italians had to define themselves in opposition to someone “worse.”

Colonizing as Feminizing

Given the “alpha-male” tendency of fascist ideology, it makes sense to examine phenomena relating to it, such as colonialism, in gendered terms. In Robin Pickering-Iazzi’s Mass-Mediated Fantasies of Feminine Conquest, 1930-1940, a lot of the main parallels between the male fantasy of the female and the colonizer’s fantasy of the colonized are put on display.

The most obvious parallel, I would say, is the idea of dominance and power. Not only do these ideas reinforce the colonial power, they also reinforce masculinity. The colonizer is dominating the colonized, as (in this very heteronormative comparison) the male dominates the female. Ideas of power and masculinity at this time were so heavily intertwined that they actually could not be separated.

The other idea that Pickering-Iazzi posits, though, is that both the colonies and women shared an air of exoticism. There was not only a feeling of power in colonizing, but there was a seductiveness, a sensuality, to the colonies themselves.

I found a picture that I think illustrates both of these ideas in action in the colonies. There is not much information surrounding the photograph, but it was taken in a colony with a native woman and an Italian soldier.

Women and Idealisms

“This is indeed a ‘reverse discourse,’ for by recirculating the terms of the rhetoric of virility Labriola comes to reject (by repudiating a ‘Bolshevik’) the grounds of her own fascist idealism, which like all idealisms necessarily posits women as matter and strips them of ‘spiritual attributes’” (Spackman, 48).

I thought this was a really strong point that Spackman made at the end of the chapter, that all idealisms necessarily render women as matter or objects, stripped of any sort of humanness. I had to wonder if this was always true – that no matter what the system or ideology, it reduces women merely to matter. Personally, I think that might be a bit of an oversimplification; however, at the same time, as I consider the political idealisms that I am familiar with, it does seem to hold true that women are viewed as useful for little more than producing more people of that same idealism.

There is a really great book called “A Question of Power” by Bessie Head, about a woman’s struggle with psychosis as she tries to leave behind an oppressive society, and as I was researching this article I came across a commentary on it called “Idealism and the Individual Woman” by Paul J. Herald, which claims that “the recognition of the role of power in sexual relationships and in politics leads inevitably to the rejection of any sort of idealism.” They are both really interesting reads and I highly recommend them if you have the time!


Response to “Racial Hierarchies in Colonial Africa”

I thought that the contradiction between the pre-fascist Italian colonizers being “friendly” but also observing a kind of “natural” segregation was really thought-provoking. I liked that the article examined how image might have developed from an historical perspective.

What I thought was most interesting was the bit towards the beginning of the reading about the kinds of Italians who initially inhabited the African colonies. According to the reading, “Among the Italians in Eritrea were many more workmen, craftsmen, and masons than landowners” (85). I think it’s really important that the Italians did not come in and immediately take over the means of production, but instead they came as workers and did not claim the land for themselves.

Response to “Patrilinearity, Race, and Identity”

This article actually surprised me in terms of how important the patrilinearity of the child was to determining his or her racial/national identification. In a lot of other cultures, even in the present day, “mixed race” individuals tend to be viewed as a threat to distinct racial separations and as a degeneration of whichever race has assumed the superior role. This seems to hold true for this period of Italian history. However, in those other cultures, there was often something called “the one-drop rule,” which dictated that if even one drop of blood of a particular person was of the “inferior” race, the entire person was to be considered part of that “inferior” race. However, in Italian Eritrea, children whose fathers were Italian were able to choose to identify as Italian, which strikes me as almost being ahead of its time.

The Peasant Problem

In this chapter, Ahmida again outlines the reasons for Italian colonialism and the various reactions and justifications of reactions for the people being colonized.

One thing that was new to me that was mentioned in this chapter was Italy’s “peasant problem.” According to Ahmida, the farmers and peasants living in Southern Italy were becoming restless – they wanted voting rights and their own land. Rather than just acknowledging and working with the peasants on these demands, the Italians decided that they would begin colonizing, and they would just get rid of the peasants. If they sent them to settle the land in Africa, then they would have their own land and stop complaining, essentially. The Italians wanted to diffuse any situation which might lead to revolution, without actually having to solve the problem.

Class Formation

by Laura

Before reading this article, “State and Class Formation and Collaboration in Libya” by Ali Abdullatif Ahmida, I had never read anything about the formation of class. I’ve read a lot about class structure and how it is maintained and how it perpetuates itself, but I had never thought about how it actually begins, which was what I really appreciated about this article.

To understand the formation of class structure, you have to break it down into its fundamental components, such as private property, stability of the central government, and ideology. As Italy moved in and colonized Libya, they brought with them different values, ideologies, and social structures, which made their way into Libyan society. However, it is only in conjunction with older ideas and structures from the Ottoman empire that these distinct class structures emerged – the shift was not completely initiated by Italians.

I found it interesting to compare the narrative of class formation in Libya provided by this article with Marxian Class Theory (http://uregina.ca/~gingrich/s28f99.htm). There are a lot of very strong parallels.

Fascism and Religion: Competing for Worship

There were a lot of points during this reading when I actually laughed out loud. Admittedly, once it was just because I had no idea Mussolini wrote novels, and once because I thought the fact that Mussolini essentially stole the Nicene Creed and made it about him and made schoolchildren recite it was absolutely hilarious. But that second one, though, I think is also very telling. Mussolini’s aim was to be a god-like figure, so it seems only natural that he would borrow from pre-existing religions to make that happen. And it also makes sense that the Church would resent him a little bit for it. But it was astounding to me how similarly each entity aimed to shape society. Both opposed liberalism and socialism, both maintained a “commitment to hierarchy and order,” both preferred rural to urban areas, both encouraged the different economic classes to get along, both repressed women, both wanted Italians to have more children – and both wanted to be the most powerful entity in Italy, with the greatest influence over the Italian people. To me it seems that the only problems that the Church had with Mussolini and the Fascist Regime stemmed from a resentment that he was copying them and trying to place himself above them.

Here is a video of Mussolini visiting the Pope that I thought might be of interest. I think it’s noteworthy the sheer number of people Mussolini has with him. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMp4Q5qeUiI