Monday, December 5, 2011

Postcolonial Theory and Newt

Who says that postcolonial theory is too difficult and abstract, and can only be discussed among the academics in their ivory tower?

No, it is discussed on the pages of the New York Times, in the heat of presidential politics. By whom? By the witty, irreverent, and red-hair op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd.

The same Maureen Dowd who wrote about the spellbound love story of Patti Smith, the volatility of Steve Jobs, and the sexual abuse at Penn State?

It is sometimes easy to forget that she was a winner of the Pulitzer Prize on commentary, and has been a White House correspondent and covered four presidential campaigns. She is so smart and covers much more than politics.

She knows Newt, in depth. Many of us know that Newt Gingrich, the frontrunner in the GOP presidential contest, is a historian—a pricey one at that. He charges about $1.6 million from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae for consultation fee as a “historian.” The American Historical Association should crown him its Patron Saint or give him a Life Achievement Award.

Well, what does the professor write on? Novels and serious non-fictions. But he cut his teeth as a historian writing on Africa. On Congo to be precise. His dissertation at Tulane University submitted in 1971 was entitled “Belgian Education Policy in the Congo 1945-1960.”

I am one of those busy academics who have heard about this, but have not actually read it. But Dowd told us what Newt wrote in “Out of Africa into Iowa.” Newt said that colonialism under Belgium was both good and bad. Until the Congolese had been educated enough by the colonizers, they were not ready to rule themselves. He also said that we should not “generalize” white exploitation.

Newt is not the only historian defending colonialism. The British historian and Harvard professor Niall Ferguson is another one. In Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power, he states that colonialism is a benign form of global government. The British Empire collapsed not because of decades of struggles of colonized people, but because of the overreach of the Empire. He bemoans the fact that the U.S. is not prepared to take up the mantle and finish what the British Empire has started.

Now back to Newt. Congo is a country that captivates all postcolonials. Why, because Joseph Conrad wrote The Heart of Darkness, based on Congo. Edward W. Said has written about the novella again and again. Did Conrad try to contrast the darkness of the continent with the “light of civilization?” Or did he try to demonstrate the brutality of the Belgian colonial regime and the self-doubt of Marlow? Where can we locate the “darkness”—in the natives or in the hearts of the colonizers?

As a historian, Newt fails repeatedly to read the signs of the time. At the height of the civil rights and Black Power movement and global protest in 1971, he sided with the colonizers. In 2011, forty years later, the former professor has not become wiser. At the height of the Occupy movement, he said that the poor people are poor because they are lazy. He said we should abolish children labor laws so that the poor kids can work as janitors. He sides with the 1 percent.

Newt, the 99 percent are not stupid. They are the ones who will decide whether you can become the president or not.

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” said George Santayana. If the American people did not know the true color of Newt the first time he was around, they should know it by now. Otherwise, God save America.