In this lecture based on his recently published book ‘Neither Settler nor Native: The Making and Unmaking of Permanent Minorities’ (HUP, 2020), Prof. Mahmood Mamdani argues that the nation-state and the colonial state created each other. In case after case around the globe — from the New World to South Africa, Israel to Germany to Sudan — the colonial state and the nation-state have been mutually constructed through the politicization of a religious or ethnic majority at the expense of an equally manufactured minority.
The model emerged in North America, where genocide and internment on reservations created both a permanent native underclass and the physical and ideological spaces in which new immigrant identities crystallized as a settler nation. In Europe, this template would be used by the Nazis to address the Jewish Question, and after the fall of the Third Reich, by the Allies to redraw the boundaries of Eastern Europe’s nation-states, cleansing them of their minorities. After Nuremberg the template was used to preserve the idea of the Jews as a separate nation. By establishing Israel through the minoritization of Palestinian Arabs, Zionist settlers followed the North American example. The result has been another cycle of violence.
Neither Settler nor Native offers a vision for arresting this historical process. Prof. Mamdani rejects the “criminal” solution attempted at Nuremberg, which held individual perpetrators responsible without questioning Nazism as a political project and thus the violence of the nation-state itself. Instead, political violence demands political solutions: not criminal justice for perpetrators but a rethinking of the political community for all survivors — victims, perpetrators, bystanders, beneficiaries — based on common residence and the commitment to build a common future without the permanent political identities of settler and native. Prof. Mamdani points to the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa as an unfinished project, seeking a state without a nation.
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About the Speaker
Mahmood Mamdani is the Herbert Lehman Professor of Government in the Department of Anthropology and Political Science and the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, where he was also director of the Institute of African Studies from 1999 to 2004. He received his PhD from Harvard University in 1974 and specializes in the study of African history and politics. His works explore the intersection between politics and culture, a comparative study of colonialism since 1452, the history of civil war and genocide in Africa, the Cold War and the War on Terror, and the history and theory of human rights. Prior to joining the Columbia faculty, Mamdani was a professor at the University of Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania (1973–1979), Makerere University in Uganda (1980–1993), and the University of Cape Town (1996–1999).
Prof. Mamdani has received numerous awards and recognitions, including being listed as one of the “Top 20 Public Intellectuals” by Foreign Policy (US) and Prospect (UK) magazine in 2008. From 1998 to 2002, he served as President of CODESRIA (Council for the Development of Social Research in Africa). His essays have appeared in the New Left Review and the London Review of books, among other journals.
He teaches courses on: major debates in the study of Africa; the modern state and the colonial subject; the Cold War and the Third World; the theory, history, and practice of human rights; and civil wars and the state in Africa.
Prof. Mamdani’s books include Neither Settler nor Native: The Making and Unmaking of Permanent Minorities; Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror (2009); Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror (2004); When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism and Genocide in Rwanda (2001); Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism (1996), which was awarded the Herskovitz Prize of the African Studies Association; Politics and Class Formation in Uganda (1976); From Citizen to Refugee(1973); and The Myth of Population Control: Family, Class and Caste in an Indian Village (1972).