Friday, December 28, 2012

France / Algeria / Colonialism

"French President François Hollande delivers a speech at a university in Tlemcen on the last day of his two-day official visit to Algeria, on Dec. 20, 2012." (Bertrand Langlois/AFP/Getty Images)
France's Colonial Hangover: Apologizing Abroad, Ignoring Injustice at Home
By Bruce Crumley
Time, December 28, 2012
"The recent visit of French President François Hollande to Algeria received praise for addressing the painful historical wounds that continue plaguing relations between the two countries. In doing so, Hollande acknowledged the 'brutal and unjust' manner in which France treated its former Algerian colony -- a sober recognition that pointedly stopped short of the full apology officials in Algiers have long demanded. Still, coming a full 50 years after Algeria won its independence with a long and gruesome war, Hollande’s words drew a thundering ovation from the Algerian parliament during his Dec. 20 address. 'Over 132 years, Algeria was subjected to a profoundly unjust and brutal system,' Hollande said during his two-day visit. 'This system has a name: it is colonialism, and I recognize the suffering that colonialism inflicted on the Algerian people.' But despite the praise -- and protest -- Hollande’s comments generated on both sides of the Mediterranean, he failed to touch on two terrible, living consequences of France's legacy in Algeria. First among those is the historical background in which the continuing discrimination and ghettoization of millions of French Arabs are rooted -- much like the increasingly open expression of Islamophobia within French society. Second is his failure to acknowledge the deeply corrupt, brutal and military-supported Algerian power structure that has dominated the country since independence -- one that Paris has preferred to placate and patronize, even as it presses for democracy elsewhere.
'France wants liberty in Syria, [and] hails Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt being rid of their dictators, but Hollande didn’t say a word condemning Algerian suppression,' wrote François Sergent in the Dec. 21 editorial of French daily Libération. '[It's] a repressive system imposed by omnipresent military security, and a caste made wealthy from oil sales the people haven’t seen a dinar of. France wants democracy everywhere, but not in Algeria.' That tormented, contradictory and at times darkly neurotic relationship is anything but new. Algeria was made into an integral department of France, much like Corsica, Martinique and Alsace -- but with several huge differences. Though Christian and Jewish residents of Algeria were granted French citizenship starting 1871, indigenous Muslims -- the vast majority of Algeria's population -- were not. And while Muslims were accorded the right to vote in 1944, gerrymandering of districts always left European-origin colonists with commanding majorities. Algeria's Muslims similarly faced second-class or worse treatment in employment, civic and legal matters. It was within that unfair and often abusive setting that the 1954–62 struggle for independence was fought -- a war that involved mass military deployment, and civilian slaughter, torture and terrorism by both sides. Depending on sources consulted, between 240,000 and 1 million Algerians died in that conflict, and an additional 28,000 French soldiers were killed. As the victory of Algerian nationalists loomed, nearly 1 million people of European origin fled Algeria -- over two-thirds to France, where many of the so-called pied noirs found themselves scorned as rubes or racist colonists by mainlanders. Thousands of indigenous Algerian harkis who had fought for France made a similar journey, most ending up confined to wretched camps by French authorities who clearly wanted nothing of them. Many of the people involved in those contrasting forces are still alive and resentful today. [...]"

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