|Nadine, did you know that Sharia (Islamic law like cutting off a hand...) was still practiced by the Belgians on a wid scale in their African colony?|
King Leopold's Ghost Makes a Comeback
Tamara Straus, AlterNet
September 24, 1999
AlterNet talked to Adam Hochschild about the reaction to his provocative book, the history of the Congo and the political landscape of the post-colonial era.
It's an unusual thing when a book about African history makes a bestseller list. Yours reached the #10 spot on the nonfiction bestseller list among independent bookstores nationally this month. Why?
AH: Publishers, like reporters, practice herd behavior. They think in categories. King Leopold's Ghost was offered to 10 publishers. Nine turned it down. They thought people weren't interested in African history. And that may be true. But I deeply believe that if you have a good story, and can tell it in a way that brings characters alive, that brings out the moral dimension, that lays bare a great crime and a great crusade, people will read it. And they have. The book has been or soon will be published in half a dozen countries so far, and there are in total well over 100,000 copies in print.
What has been the reaction to the book in Belgium?
AH: It's been fascinating to watch. It was published in both French and Dutch, the country's two languages, and became the #1 bestseller in each. The reviews were very nice, but the old colonials were absolutely enraged. There are tens of thousands of Belgians who had to come home in a hurry when the Congo became independent in 1960, and for them King Leopold II is a great hero. If you read French, you can follow their attacks on the book on the Internet. There's also a website where Congolese students in Europe have been talking about the book. One posted an anguished message saying that when he quoted some figures from it in making the oral defense of his thesis, his thesis chairman promptly flunked him. So you can see that the wounds of that whole colonial relationship are still very raw. Faulkner, speaking of the American South, said it best: "The past is not dead. It's not even past."
How do you explain the erasure of the Congolese genocide? What does it say about the West's attitude toward the colonial period in Africa?
AH: Americans and Europeans are accustomed to thinking of fascism and communism as the twin evils of this century. But the century has really been home to three great totalitarian systems--fascism, communism and colonialism--the latter practiced at its most deadly in Africa. In the West we don't want to recognize this because we were complicit in it. Countries that were democratic in Europe conducted mass murder in Africa--with little or no protest from the U.S.