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Picture of Frantz Fanon, psychiatrist, revolutionary and political writer

December 6, 1961
Frantz Fanon   (1925 - 1961)
Frantz Fanon: Inspiration to Al Qaeda
by Steve King

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On this day in 1961 the psychiatrist, revolutionary and political writer, Frantz Fanon died of cancer, at thirty-six. Fanon was from Martinique, but his militant Marxism was schooled in France and field-tested in Algeria, where he became a leading psychiatrist and an advocate of liberation by violence. This approach to Algeria received support from Sartre, as much as Albert Camus's refusal to become involved in his homeland's problems received Sartre's contempt.

Fanon's books are seen as a major influence upon past and present radical political movements, from Black Panther and Red Brigade to Al Qaeda-style jihad. As Eldridge Cleaver put it, "Every brother on a rooftop can quote Fanon." Unfortunately, most often-quoted is this passage from the "bible of Third Worldism," The Wretched of the Earth:
    Violence is a cleansing force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction; it makes him fearless and restores his self-respect.
The last thing wanted by the Third World, argues Fanon, is to merely take on the outlook and structures of its colonial masters, thereby allowing for only a changing of the bourgeois guard. This is his description of the revolutionary's worst nightmare:
    . . . The national bourgeoisie will be greatly helped on its way toward decadence by the Western bourgeoisies, who come to it as tourists avid for the exotic, for big game hunting, and for casinos. The national bourgeoisie organizes centers of rest and relaxation and pleasure resorts to meet the wishes of the Western bourgeoisie. Such activity is given the name of tourism, and for the occasion will be built up as a national industry.
All this can sometimes lead to a literary smile. Critic Rita Barnard sees a lot of Fanon in the following poem by the South African poet-communist politician (and former political prisoner), Jeremy Cronin. It is one of the "Epitaphs" in Even the Dead (1997), in this case "For a Recently Departed Soul from the new Patriotic Bourgeoisie":
    Hey, man, don't weep
    I can't take your call presently
    As I'm upwardly mobile

    Please leave your prayer
    After the beep

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Related authors:  Albert Camus, Harriet Beecher Stowe, James Baldwin, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Richard Wright
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