Tag Archives: Mouloud Feraoun

Writer as Witness, Words as Struggle: Mouloud Feraoun

783373I wish I could clearly state what this book has meant to me, the twisting thought trails and brambled thickets surrounding writing and struggle and humanity it has uncovered, the old sadnesses it has opened and the new ones it has instilled. It is a gift, and one that came at great cost to its author.

The older I get the more I realise that saying things out loud or writing things down does not always help you. These pages were not for Feraoun, they were for us.

I have only scattered ways of marshaling my thoughts, they do not do justice to the ways that we have traveled together, Feraoun’s words and I. His pain shared at one remove as the days of this first Algerian war for independence progressed. I was thinking about grouping things thematically, but this progression over painful time must be honored I think.


arton8671-2ae1fReading this after Horne’s A Savage War of Peace, what first emerged most strongly to me was the necessity of freeing oneself inside and out from the conquerors, but god the complexities of this. The tragedies. The grief at watching the abyss between peoples grow, knowing it must in the cold light of that original colonial relationship translated into years of continuous oppression. Watching, without turning away, the damage it causes to those inflicting as well as receiving it.

There is also the distance between himself as an intellectual, a writer, a teacher and others — a distance that many of us must try and manage to some extent. He writes:

This time I saw clearly the glint of malice in his eyes that is so typical of the fellagha in our region. For them, the teacher is both educated and naive, a man with good advice who can inform you about laws and regulations and yet believes everything that you tell him.
–November 13 (18)

On the widening distance between the Kabyles and the French, the essentialising of identities that happens through violence, struggle and war:

…as soon as it is legitimate to judge them as a group, it is no longer troubling for anyone to point out their faults. It is no longer a question of Mr Eugène or Jojo but of the triumphant Frenchman who has taken over his place and gotten rich off our backs. Once you buttress yourself with generalities, you are amazed to discover some very broad horizons.
–December 18 (31)

This emerges among his fellow teachers:

…there is now an impassable breach between us; a rupture that both sides deplore but also endure, knowing that it is inevitable. We avoid talking politics. Our French colleagues are, however, quite tactful. When they comment on a crime, a bomb, an attack, or when they speak about their fears, they always assume that we are on their side, that our fates are identical, in short, that we are just as French as they are. We tolerate the assumption, and everyday life remains bearable.
–December 18 (37)


But I love this description of the meaning of the uprising for the people:

You feel that this crowd is wrapped in a new dignity as stiff as a new suit. A suit cut and made to measure, for which everyone is determined to pay the price.
–December 18 (38)

We come to the crux of the things, the reason for the abyss and this struggle itself, what Horne just did not quite understand and Feraoun struggles to express in this summation of the why and the how of the war at the end of 1955:

How does a European define a native? A common labourer, a maid. A bizarre creature with ridiculous customs, peculiar dress, and an impossible language. A more or less dirty, tattered, and unpleasant character. At any rate, a person on the fringe, quite alone, and let us leave him where he is. It is almost childish to revert to these clichés so quickly.  We have been co-existing for a century without the slightest curiosity. The only thing left to do is harvest this mutual indifference that is the opposite of love. (42)

It is still bad faith to talk about their mistakes. From the very beginning they knew what had to be done in order to be on good terms with the natives. they also knew what was required in order to be the only ones to benefit from colonization, much to the detriment of the native. They had to exploit him, make him sweat, beat him, and keep him ignorant. In the beginning there was still a choice to be made, and they made it. Why talk about mistakes at this point? Because now we are demanding accountability? Come on, accountability is more than confessing one’s guilt…By accountability, we mean recognizing our right to live, our right to learn and make progress, and our right to be free….So the positions are quite clear: the fight between two different peoples has begun — the master and the slave. That is all there is to it. To talk, like the press, about an awakening of the Algerian consciousness is frivolous….The Algerians did not wait for the twentieth century to realize that they were Algerians. the best proof of this is that right away they got together behind the liberators. They gathered together because they thought that they were strong enough to fight or die a meaningful death. They united because they expected to success. There were no miraculous phenomena… (43)

More than ever, we are secluding ourselves within our respective worlds, both of which are distinct and hostile. They have their nostalgia for the past, for which they have decided to fight. We maintain the crazy hope of a better future, for which we have decided to die. But as their confidence wavers and discouragement sets in, our self-assurance and courage get stronger. (46)

And this, when will this ever cease to be true?

These people are politicians. Given that we are living in an era in which they are carving words into the flesh of men, this word politician makes us feel like vomiting. (50)


Never for a moment does Faraoun cease to take the side of the rebels in this conflict, and there is never an alternative discussed to the FLN. This does not mean he is not highly critical, or deeply troubled by their strategies while recognising it is hardly his place and feeling guilt over this very critique as he is not the one carrying out this war with a gun in his hands. Still, he writes his thoughts:

The rebels’ expectations are both excessive and disappointing. They include prohibitions of all kinds, nothing but prohibitions, dictated by the most obtuse fanaticism, the most intransigent racism, and the most authoritarian fist. In a way, this is true terrorism. There is nothing left for the women of T.A. [ referring to the mosque which this story is describing] except to shrill with enthusiasm in honor of the new era of freedom that they seem to perceive beyond the foggy horizon that our dark mountains inexorably obstruct.
–January 8 (53)

He relates a story about the fellagha — they stop a jeep carrying a commander and his aide, demand their guns and ammunition and when they are handed over release them and say ‘Thank you sir. Have a good day.’ Faraoun writes

There are several stories like this one that are making the rounds. In the future they will be worthy of becoming folk stories. This is how people create History.
–January 11 (56)

Another trail leads from this along the tracks of history and its makings, but this is already too long.

The abyss between French and Kabyles has been long opened, yet the pain continues as it stretches wider and deeper, he describes his French Colleagues after another ‘terrorist’ arrest:

I read anger and hatred in their eyes. there they were, all four of them ready to contradict me, all four ready to insult me with their arrogance, all four of them ready to put me in that category that they despise, that they exploit, that they would massacre, and that they fear. A crazy fear.
–January 30 (65)

Here insights into village life, the need to know what is happening in this place you belong in a sense, for all the complications of that and even if you are far away.

I have received news from back home. Amar spent the night here, and we talked. He began talking, going back in time, one day at a time…I was happy. There are no more empty moments in my mind, and I am able to imagine what it is like without any difficulty.
–February 2 (66)

I love this critique of the French Left, this seems to hold true always and everywhere where histories of race, class, gender and colonialism hide the true nature of oppression from those on the other side of it:

I could say the same thing to Camus and to Roblès. I feel a lot of admiration for the first and brotherly affection for the other. But they are wrong to talk to us when we are waiting for generous hearts if there are any…It is a hundred times better that they remain quiet. Because, in the end, this country is indeed called Algeria and its inhabitants are called Algerians. Why sidestep the evidence? Are you Algerians my friends? you must stand with those who fight. Tell the French that this country does not belong to them, that they took it over by force, and that they intend to remain here by force. Anything else is a lie and in bad faith. Any other language is criminal because, for several months now, crimes have been committed in the name of the same lies…
–February 3 (71)

This…this exposition, a day’s entry written entirely in the voice of a French settler, it is so chilling. Both for what it meant for Algeria, but for how precise an echo it is of U.S. whites, whether on African Americans or Indigenous peoples and whether two hundred years ago or today.

All I do is ignore them — well, almost. Why are they now rising against me? All they had to do was get themselves a job, just like I did. They are unhappy, they are always unhappy. Is it my fault, damn it? I agree that I have always been aloof with them and that, in my mind, I cannot get used to the idea that they are my equals. I have to admit this with total sincerity, and admit just as sincerely that, deep down, we settled here as winners, that consequently we are the race that rules, that must serve itself first. Why deny it? And, in all modesty, I never display this attitude, and generally we all have enough tact so that life is bearable for the Arabs, and we all deal with enough good faith to give to the best of them almost everything they deserve, especially the more obedient ones. But these people want everything….
–February 15 (75)

And back to the abyss still growing between two peoples:

Will they be trapped in one or other of two molds that are separated by an abyss from which one can only escape as a traitor?

I am reading a few notes about the torture methods used by the Algerian police. I got this from a reliable witness, an intelligent and idealistic young man who looks a bit weary and carries in his eyes the immense distress of those who suffer, of those who have stopped calling for help because they know they are wasting their time. However, they still have hope of finding justice by their deeds.
— March 31 (103)

I sat on the bus with tears rolling down my cheeks reading of the torture. I cannot bear the thought that one human can do these things to another. Working with refugees from Central America all those years ago, I know the marks it leaves. I still see their faces whenever I read these things and my love for them chokes me.

And still Feraoun charts the changes inside of him, the changes he see in others:

Up to now the rebels were aiming to right wrongs; now they are claiming to defend great principles.
–April 6 (106)

We have been relieved of the heavy burden that was choking us: the burden of our common hypocrisy, which is as old as our common history.

We are gradually becoming insensitive, just like those who, privilged by fate, become luckily immune to contagion while providing devoted care to others who suffer from them. We may well be spared from the epidemic, but we will not be grateful.
–May 10 (110)

This now, is what the war feels like, how it shapes lives, destroys families and villages:

The village [Tizi-Hibel] has lost almost all of its young men…People are leaving in anticipation of another police sweep, and able-bodied men no longer dare to sleep at home. They leave at sunset.
–May 11, Aïd (111)

I no longer dare to go out for news. We are all suspects.
–May 21 (114)

I came back from Algiers with Djidj the day before these assassinations. Before reaching Tizi-Ouzou, we were checked six times. From the turns in the road shaded by eucalyptus trees extending from Haussonvillers toward Camp-du-Maréchal, one could see three villages that were burning on the Bou Segza-Sidi Ali Bou Nab. Old and young Kabyle women and children were waiting on the side of the road with shapeless bundles at their feet. They have evacuated the population over there in order to fight a real war. The spring sky cannot dispel the sadness from these drab images.
–May 27 (115)

On men from his hometown hanged by the FLN:

It is difficult to condemn or approve the dispensers of justice. It is just as difficult to expect a kind of infallibility that is not within man’s scope. The heart bleeds, however, when it witnesses this kind of spectacle: today’s executioner inescapably becomes tomorrow’s victim, and this, in turn, will call for another executioner.
–May 31 (117)

He returns from a month in his village, Tizi-Hebel, tries to understand what he has seen and learned:

I wanted to know, once and for all, what dangers were threatening me. I wanted to form my own personal opinion about the mind-set of the liberators. I have returned with my doubts, but I have left my illusions and my candor behind. I discovered much suffering and little enthusiasm, much injustice and little devotion, and cruelty, egoism, ambition, arrogance, and stupidity: a people that is used to being beaten, that continues to take it, but is tired, very tired and on the edge of despair. My people from back home inspire pity, and I am ashamed that I have peace of mind. What follows is a series of events that I witnessed and that may help to explain my overall dismay. But from the start, you must renounce any formal condemnations and look for the source of the evil. There are only victims; there are only guilty people; there are only dispensers of justice. At any time, you could be one or the other. There is no other alternative. (133)

Will I ever be able to say all that I have felt and all that I have promised myself I would say? Where would I find the necessary patience to do all of this? How will I sort out my conflicting feelings without forgetting about the victims themselves or the cruel God or the human beast? Why not forget all of this just as the dead are already forgotten? (135)

A friend Moubarek tells him of his cousin’s death, another view into speaking, bearing witness, telling stories, remembering:

I listened to him as he told his story for the hundredth time. He feels that, as long as he lives, he has to tell it. It is as if he now has nothing else to do in this absurd world where our lives have no more value or meaning than those of wild beasts in the eyes of well-equipped hunters.
–September 9(136)

Faraoun’s view of his own role as witness, his fatigue:

It has been a year since I started writing down my feelings. God knows that I did not lack material, but I was short on desire, taste, and drive. I did not write down everything, of course. Only guide posts, so that later, if my life is long, I will still be able to fee the sad memories of the dark years, of the gloomy days.
–November 2 (145-46)

This. This sentence true of so many peoples in so many places.

Each one of us is guilty for the sole reason that we belong to a category, a race, a people. you fear that someone will make you pay with your life for your place in the world, pay for the color of your skin. You fear that someone will attack you only because nobody has done it yet.
–November 2 (146)

2This one ray of light, this one possibility of the human heart being big enough to transcend all of this at some level at least:

I receive letters from Roblès on a regular basis. At a time when a sense of camaraderie and friendship is failing me, his has remained fraternal and strong. Roblès is more than just a friend or a Frenchman. I cannot connect him to any motherland because he is from everywhere, and that is exactly where I come from, poor friend.
–November 2 (147)


There are more and more gaps now, years marked by a handful of words as though everything has been said. There is a litany of incidents. Then these thoughts on strategy, the UN, the role of Nationalism — these echo so strongly with the African American strategies of the same period, and Black Nationalism as it would grow inspired by such independence movements:

The UN conference on the Algerian question will open in a week. Here in Algeria, and insurrectionary strike — one that the French are trying to quell — will start simultaneously. We understand the sacred character of this strike. The Algerians must proclaim their suffering and anger to a world that hesitates to believe them. Those sickly sweet and hypocritical voices that will protest their innocence and will overwhelm us with imaginary kindness–fanatical and ungrateful that we are–must be drowned out by our shouts, the shouts of those who are skinned alive, the shouts of those who are afraid, and the groans of those who are dying. The best possible scenario would be if all our dead crossed the Atlantic so their sinister laughter might be heard at the tribune of the UN, behind the Parisian sirens who already flatter themselves with having seduced Uncle Sam.

I wish my people–my country–all the happiness of which it was deprived and all the glory it is capable of achieving; when I have witnessed its blossoming, its joy and pride, I will be able to despise my patriotism just as I despise other examples of patriotism.
–January 16 (170-71)

Another curious phrase on the distance imposed by intellect:

I am one of these complicated people who learned a lot of useless things in school. These useless things make me, as well as others like me, physically ill, and all of us together become strangers in our own land.
–January 24 (173)

This paradox of heroes of the French resistance against fascism using their experience to in turn oppress another people is not something Faraoun explores, cares much about, but there is this:

I had already encountered another SAS officer a long time ago who, acting on the same prejudice, wanted to deny us everything. This particular wretch would talk every chance he got about his exploits in the French Resistance in an effort to persuade us that our situation was not the same.
–December 25 (230)


It has been a month since I last opened this notebook in which, for three years, I have made a practice of writing about my anxiety or my confusion, my pain and anger. In truth, I believe that I have said and rehashed absolutely everything about the subject. What good does it do to repeat and reframe the same matters one more time? What else has happened during this past month of war except what could have happened during other months? I am overwhelmed, and I live here as though in another world…
–April 1 (241)

It sometimes happens that some poor fellow’s nerves suddenly snap, and as he becomes submerged in a state of lucid madness, he begins to talk and talk and talk. At the djemaâ, in the cafes–everywhere–he says exactly what he thinks about “his brothers”. The people watching him become alarmed and try and feel sorry for him. They know that it is futile to try and stop him. If they enjoy listening to him, it is because, in a sense, he reads his words from their hearts…No, it will not last long. One fine morning, he disappears.
–April 3 (243)


…it is always the fellagha who, no matter what they do, inspire confidence and win hearts. No matter what they do, they are still soldiers fighting the enemy, soldiers doomed to a certain death because they are defending the country.
–April 26 (265)


So today, I had to get back to this notebook, which I abandoned several months ago. It is not that I had nothing to record concerning myself or anyone else, but the gap is always easiest to bridge when there is nothing special about the details…all this is sad, really too sad. So I say to myself, “What good will it do?”

I think that I am content to limit myself to an objective reporting of the facts as I see them unfolding in front of my eyes. Later on, this will allow me to recreate the atmosphere. Of course, that is if I live long enough.
–January 25 (272)


To Horne the youyous were a signal of otherness, of eerie disregard, I knew they were not.

A rational fellow told me that the rage of the French in Algeria is out of control. Their rage is filled with hatred and fear, but not madness. They have money, and they use it to pay ruthless commandos to go terrorize the Arabs at night during curfew: they bang on doors, brutalize or kill people, and start fires. They must have lists and get specific orders. These people are killers. The Arabs fight back by yelling youyou and counterattack with bottles filled with water, pebbles, and sticks. As soon as someone knocks on your door, start youyouing but do not open your door; your neighbors will cry youyou also, and then others will do the same. When the alert has been heard everywhere in the vicinity, you must come out and make threats. Then the black 403 Peugeot or the D.S. Citroen of the same color will hightail it into the night, with its cargo of rowdies wearing civilian clothes or paratrooper outfits.
–January 16 (287)

This reminded me of El Salvador again, the precise descriptions of the vehicles carrying death squads, the assumption that everyone knows the meaning of the Ford Bronco pulling up to your door and me knowing the immigration officer would require more proof as a political matter.

And these, almost his final words, so much more meaningful here at the end of this war and just before the end of his life rather than pulled out of context and quoted as they so often are:

I have spent hours upon hours rereading all of my notes, newspaper articles, and small clippings that I have kept. I have become reimmersed in a sad past, and I am leaving it overwhelmed. I am frightened by my candor, my audacity, my cruelty, and, at times, my blind spots and prejudice. Do I have the right to tamper with what I have written, to go back, to alter or rectify it?

Did I not write all of this day by day, according to my frame of mind, my mood, the circumstances, the atmosphere created by the event, its reverberations in my heart? And why did I write it like this, bit by bit, if it was not to witness, to stand before teh world and shout out the suffering and misfortune that have stalked me….

If all this is printed and published, as I believe that it must be, if this publication incites even the least bit of anger or hatred, if it increases by any amount the misfortune of an individual or the community rather than comfort, rehabilitate, and instruct, this work will be futile and detrimental. I will regret having completed it. At least I will not have evaded my responsibility by remaining silent. This would be even more reprehensible…
–August 17 (294-296)

He was killed by the fascist OAS on March 15, 1962 but he is not forgotten. Mouloud Feraoun, presente.



A Savage War of Peace

A Savage War of Peace - Alistair HorneI knew almost nothing of the war of liberation in Algeria, and Horne’s A Savage War of Peace was an enormous introduction (624 pages worth), bringing immense satisfaction at finishing it. It is brilliantly crafted history, slow going but fairly enthralling none the less, and a wonderful management of detail. It is as balanced and critical as the author can make it I think, exploring the critical events and the political machinations of the war on both sides. For an aerial view of everything that happened, explored with all the benefits of both hindsight as well as the immediacy of interviews with almost all of the key figures surviving on both sides, this is a good place to start in understanding the conflict. And it is full of sidelights of the humorous and pulpy details of plots and spies and bungling that I confess with a sense of almost shame, I enjoyed immensely.

For all that it is written by a European (of neither France nor Algeria), and despite his best efforts and his deep critique of France’s role, it is still the French and the pied noir that A Savage War of Peace understands best, while Algerians themselves remain for the most part inscrutable and ‘other’. I am reading now the journal of the author Mouloud Feraoun, which has broken my heart in two and left me far more critical of Horne’s account because it exemplifies what is missing — the understanding of a colonised people finally standing up, along with the day to day fear, violence, death, descriptions of torture, hunger, loss, conflicted feelings about the FLN even while fully supporting their struggle.

Three things primarily struck me in reflecting back on it. First, how little I know of French history and how hugely important Algeria was in its history, as Horne summarises:

The war in Algeria — lasted almost eight years, toppled six French Prime Ministers and the Fourth Republic itself. It came close to bringing down General de Gaulle and his Fifth Republic and confronted metropolitan France with the threat of civil war.

The second is how closely it parallels the settling of the United States, and how much the white mobs in defense of their land and their privilege reminded me of the white mobs I have studied in the US…defending their land and their privilege. On the French policy of ‘pacification’:

Said Bugeaud in a renowned statement before the National Assembly in 1840: “Wherever there is fresh water and fertile land, there one must locate colons, without concerning oneself to whom these lands belong. (30)

That is the foundation of it all, conquest and a refusal to give up its fruits. Part of that was the destruction of anything Algerian that could offer up resistance, primarily the policy of breaking up great traditional families

because we found them to be forces of resistance. We did not realise that in suppressing the forces of resistance in this fashion we were also suppressing our means of action. The result is that we are today confronted by a sort of human dust on which we have no influence and in which movements take place which are to us unknown.
— Jules Cambon, governor-general 1894 (p37)

This quote struck me, both in its poetic racism and in the sad reality of colonialism that seeks to destroy any sense of strength and sociality with such a tremendous human cost. Dust in the eyes of the oppressor, a terrifying analogy, for who cares what you do with dust? Lives shorn of culture and mutual support and richness in the experience of the oppressed, though of course they strive to conserve, protect, rebuild what they can.

The third is how this conflict, and that in Indochina, flowed naturally from World War II and calls into question much of what I thought I knew. It reverse polarities, putting people who might have been my heroes for their role in the resistance, for their sufferings in the concentration camps, in an alliance with fascists. I cannot fundamentally understand it, just as I cannot understand the oppression of the Palestinians by Israelis.

The list of generals — paras from both Indochina and Algeria — all heroes of WWII, leaders of resistance, many in concentration camps:

Ducournau, Trinquier, Bigeard, Brothier, Meyer, Jeanpierre, Fossey-François, Château-Jobert, Romain-Defossés, Coulet.

This is a long list. They took what they had learned in fighting fascism in Europe and applied it to the oppression of both the Vietnamese and the Algerians fighting a war of liberation, and they were both efficient and murderous.

One of the key figures of the revolt and attempted coup against de Gaulle was:

The slender St Cyrien, Jean Gardes…The only son of a Parisian heroine of the Reisistance, who had run a cell through her well-known Restaurant des Ministères on the Rue Ministères on the Rue du Bac, Gardes himself had won no less than twenty-four citations for bravery and been severely wounded with the Tiralleurs Marocains in Italy. (354)

He worked in Indo-China and Algeria, and was put in charge of the Cinquième Bureau, with its ‘potent functions of propaganda and psychological warfare’…

It is not just that they were heroes of the resistance, these men appropriated symbols of uprising from their history, drawing parallels from the French Revolition and the Paris Commune. In describing the brains behind the fascist OAS (Organisation de l’armée secrète), Pierre Serjent writes of him: ‘rigid comportment and incisive speech, Jean Jacques Susini evoked in me … the image of St Just.’ (482)

Of the uprising led by the FNF (Front National Français — it would later fold into the OAS), Horne writes (and is he prompted in this by interviews with the men or simply on his own? It hurts me to think of the Commune in this fashion):

At Ortiz’s “command post” there was chaos reminiscent of the headier days of the Paris Commune; everybody talked, gave orders and made speeches in an atmosphere dense with Bastos cigarette-smoke, the smell of sweat and beer. In the street below some young members of the FNF began spontaneously to prise up paving-stones and create a barricade… (361)

With the same results:

With remarkable speed, army pioneers got to work, bulldozing the barricades, replacing the pavé and covering it with a thick, prophylactic layer of bitumen — as Paris had done after her “troubles” in the nineteenth century (373)

It was not just the French who were decorated war heroes in this conflict. In thinking about the turn to armed uprising as opposed to non-violence (which I think we tend to support more now on this end of history, both for philosophical and well as very practical reasons as the terrain of war has shifted), for those emerging from the celebrated armed struggle against German fascism, what could be more obvious or natural? How could they just return to be oppressed by the same people they had fought alongside of in a war for freedom and justice? This is again another parallel with returning soldiers of colour to the US no longer content to put up with second-class citizenship.

Just one example: The FLN’s external campaign to influence the United Nations was led by M’hamed Yazid and Abdelkader Chanderli —  Chanderli had fought in the French campaign of 1940, escaped to Britain to join de Gaulle, in 1948 a reporter on Palestine, and in 1954 he was working for UNESCO.

This same war created a wave of displaced Nazis seeking to occupy themselves, some of them, for money I am sure, ended up on the side of colonised peoples as arms-dealers:

On the ground floor were a group of ex-Nazis who had found refuge in Cairo and had made themselves useful to Nasser; among them a former S.S. man called Ernst-Wilhelm Springer, who had helped form the pro-German Muslim Legion in the Second World War… (262)

Racism and colonial struggle have clearly wrecked havoc on the ideology, on the sense of what is just and an instinctive knowledge of which side is the right one that is usually portrayed as being so clear in WWII. Obviously, it was not.

Horne also quotes Marighela, Brazilian revolutionary, and his ideas of destroying the ‘soft centre’ thus forcing the authorities to negotiate with the revolutionaries — a tactic used both by the FLN (learning from the use of Bao Dai to undercit Ho Chi Minh in negotiations in Vietnam) and the FNF in their khaki shirts.

Heading one of the chapters is this interesting quote:

No, all Algeria is not fascist, all the French are not “ultras”, all the army doesn’t torture. But Fascism, the “ultras”, and torture, they are France in Algeria (Pierre Nora, 1961)

Krim Belkacem, negotiating for the FLN in Switzerland, helps understand why.

A European population has been created, heterogenous in its origins, but soldered together by its integration within French nationality… It has benefited from exorbitant privileges … Independence is going to pose the problem of these Europeans. (471)

It is not until reading Feraoun that I have gotten the full sense of these privileges, you cannot from Horne.

Nor is he able to explain why the same men who had fought the fascism of Germany could fight on the side of fascism in Algeria, but there is one fascinating quote from him:

To begin at the beginning, in November 1954 France was caught at a major disadvantage because, in contrast to Britain over India, no French politician, not even Mendes-France or Mitterand, let alone the Communists, could contemplate any kind of French withdrawal from Algeria. Mollet the Socialist echoed Mendes-France the Radical: “France without Algeria would be no longer France.” (545)

It is a repetition of France and Haiti which I find so immensely chilling. How, you wonder, can entire peoples replay over and over again the same inabilities? To turn to Trouillot’s discussion of why France of the period of Enlightenment and the revolution would oppose to its last breath the revolution of Haiti and its struggle for freedom:

I am not suggesting that eighteenth-century men and women should have thought about the fundamental equality of humankind in the same way some of us do today. On the contrary, I am arguing that they could not have done so. But I am also drawing a lesson from the understanding of this historical impossibility. The Haitian Revolution did challenge the ontological and political assumptions of the most radical writers of the Enlightenment. The events that shook up Saint Domingue from 1791 to 1804 constituted a sequence for which not even the extreme political left in France or in in England had a conceptual frame of reference. They were “unthinkable” facts in the framework of Western thought. (82)

There is no such historical distance for France of 1956-1962. How was Algerian freedom after WWII still unthinkable?

Horne keeps returning to this phrase — Algérie montait à la tête
(Algeria goes to the head, Louis Joxe). Perhaps there is something to this, given how hard men fought to keep it when they had no prior roots or connection there. But I think most of the answer lies in the pattern of settlement — dense and deep-rooted as it was in the U.S., South Africa, Australia… I imagine what US history would have been if the genocide of Native Americans had not been quite so effective, if enough had survived this horror to outnumber white settlers and they had been able to carry out a struggle for liberation with such armed effectiveness. The reaction might have been even more violent than that of the French. The ongoing abolition-civil rights-black lives matter movements have been enough to inspire lynchings, riots and massive destruction.

The countries that the right — composed as it was by heroes of the resistance — considered sympathetic? Portugal, Spain, Israel, and South Africa.

Nor were the French restrained in their violence or determination. This included a policy of massive resettlement beginning in 1957:

This was regroupement, or resettlement, which — to rephrase the oft-quoted axiom — aimed at emptying the water away from the fish by isolating communities from the FLN and thus denying it refuge and supplies. It involved the resettlement of over a million peasants from ‘exposed’ communities to barbed-wire encampments, which often looked horribly like concentration camps (220)

When de Gaulle finally decided he would allow Algeria independence it was only a signal to increase terror. This declaration of the OAS shows that some of the settlers were willing to destroy everything to stop the peace process moving forward. Their goals as they articulated them were:

to paralyse the powers that be and make it impossible for them to exercise authority. Brutal actions will be generalised over the whole territory. They will aim at influential personalities of the Communist Party, at works of art and all that represents the exercise of authority, in a manner to lead towards the maximum of general insecurity and the total paralysis of the country. (516)

When peace talks began in Evian, the OAS assassinated the mayor and declared it an act of ‘national sulubrity’ (467).

Over the years French policy had also included a wide use of torture. Again, it is only in Feraoun that you get a sense of what this actually meant, but an interesting aside is the sense that torture is something the police do, not the army. I feel there is something psychologically important here to understand about oppression, but I am not sure what it is:

Certainly the pernicious effect on the French army as a whole lasted many years after the war had ended, and many officers came to agree with General Bollardie in condemning Massu for ever having allowed the army to be brought into such a police action in the first place, thus inevitably exposing it to the practice of torture (206).

The most pernicious effects, in reality, were suffered by Algerians, throughout the war and long after the war was over. On the situation of Algerians in France:

by 1973 they were close on 800,000. For the most part these Algerians lived like third-class citizens, their plight concealed from the eyes of other Frenchmen. Existing in rat-infested bidonvilles, or six to a tenement room, without women and on the poor food that their rock-bottom wages would provide, over eighty percent of the Algerian workers performed the traveaux pénibles; generally the heavy, dangerous or distasteful labour eschewed by Frenchmen…

In the summer of 1973 a bus driver had throat slit by an Algerian and terror was renewed:

whites machine gunned Algerian cafes in the city and threw Molotov cocktails into their lodgings; a sixteen-year old boy was shot down by men in a moving car. In Toulouse fifty paras rampaged through the streets on a ratonnade, beating up any North African they encountered. (550)

Just a final note before getting to the spy-novel details in which fascists are humiliated (a nice way to end), I was saddened (though not surprised I suppose) at the role ethnologists played in this. Jacques Soustelle was first an ethnologist, and then governor-general. Originally of the left, he soon shifted. Ethonlogist Germaine Tillion was part of the resistance, tortured by the Gestapo. She took the part of Algerians but was still instrumental in forming the policies of government support that formed the carrot that Soustelle hoped would neutralise the uprising for freedom when carried out alongside armed repression and torture. Another ethnologist Jean Servier, in 1957 started developing the harki units — light companies of Alegrian muslims that exploited the divisions between tribes, between Kabyles and Arabs and tried to attract FLN defectors.

There is one bright spot of academic solidarity, however:

…on hearing of his death [Ali Boumendjel] his former mentor, René Capitant, Professor of Public Law at the University of Paris, informed the Minister of Education that he was suspending his courses.  (233)

So now, some of the dark humour to be found in this terrible place:

 Bigeard had that particularly French quality of allure essential to an outstanding commander. He seldom did anything without panache. Instead of arriving by staff car or even helicopter, his favourite manner of inspecting a unit was to drop by parachute, arm at the salute as he touched down

The footnote is even more ridiculous:

This nearly ended in disaster when Bigeard, by now nearing sixty and a senior genera;, was dropped into a shark-infested sea by mistake during a visit to troops in Madagascar. He broke an arm but was saved by his faithful staff who had parachuted into the sea with him. (168)

They should have left him to the sharks, the poetic justice in that is almost unbearable.

The Algerians ran guns using the Queen of Jordan’s private yacht.

On the French Foreign Legion (actually mostly German apparently):

As an elite body it still enjoyed the best food in the army and was accompanied wherever it went by its own mobile brothels — “le puff”. (169)

There was an attempt by the right to blow up Salan (a key figure in all this, who would move as far right as anyone) with a bazooka, the conspirators? ‘Dr Kovacs, the ex-Hungarian doctor and hypnotist…and George Wattin, alias “The Limp”‘ (182)

The bad-assness of Algerian freedom fighters:

Azedine had had his right forearm shattered by a 50 mm. calibre bullet. For two days he lay in a coma, apparently half-blinded with pain, buy had refused the ministrations of even the primitive A.L.N. field hospital, dressing and removing splinters of bone from the wound himself. (252)

On Pierre Lagaillarde, fascist student leader (and by god, the French students were all fascists in this tale):

the forebear with whom Lagaillarde liked most to identify himself was his great-grandfather, an obscure deputy and revolutionary called Baudin who had found immortality in the 1851 uprising against Louis-Napoleon. Leaping on top of a barricade and crying “I’ll show you how one dies for twenty-five sous a day,” he had been promptly shot. (278)

I don’t know why that made me laugh out loud. But it did. Another interesting note, as part of the mob action on 13 may 1958 that seized the government, and the Gouvernement-Général…the students led  by Lagaillarde hurled down the bust of Marianne in the foyer. I can barely handle the symbolism.

Horne uses the expression to ‘cock a snook’. I have no comments on that.

A dude calling himself ‘Le Monocle’ was put in charge of the OAS terror campaign in Paris.

During the attempt at a putsch on Thursday, 20 April 1961:

Godard, the master intelligence operator, in the excitement of arriving had mislaid in a public corridor his briefcase containing all details of the putsch (448).

And again

…some of the waiting putschists apparently unaware even of the codeword Arnat… Once they were rendered leaderless by Faure’s arrest, no orders came through until a detachment of gendarmes appeared in the forest and gave a brusque order to disperse with which the powerful body of paras sheepishly complied. (454)

There were a few bright spots in the struggle to make our world bearable.