Algeria revisited …Rumour has it that George W Bush is seeking lessons from history on how to extricate himself from the Iraq quagmire that he and his Coalition-of-the-Killing colleagues (including John Howard) have caused.
Bush is reading a recently re-released edition of British historian Alistair Horne’s classic A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962.
I haven’t read the book. But I have read a review which appeared in the Weekend Australian Financial Review on April 14-15 2007. Here are some of the main points from that review.
The Algerian insurgency commenced in 1954 when the majority of Algerian natives fought to free themselves of both the French and the substantial minority of French Algerians who counted Algeria as home.
The European minority in Algeria, known as pied noirs (or black feet) would often react to the news of some bombing outrage by forming mobs that lynched any native Algerians they could lay their hands on. Invariably the victims had nothing to do with the bombs or the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) who were orchestrating the native attacks.
The extreme pied-noir faction, known as ultras, blocked all attempts at political reform. Toward the end of the war, the French looked like they might leave Algeria behind. The ultras formed a military wing, letting off bombs in Paris and shooting Algerians and moderate pieds-noirs on Algiers streets.
In Paris, there were various attempted revolts and coups and near civil war. The army was found to have made widespread use of torture in cracking down on the FLN rebellion.
The FLN, as it turned out, was just as faction-ridden as the French. They kept up a nuisance campaign of bombings and shootings, knowing they would be easily defeated by French forces in case of an all-out war.
Many people talk about Algerian communities in France as if they are ungrateful bloodsuckers. Yet few remember the bloody legacy of French colonialism in Algeria, a legacy which enriched France while sucking wealth and resources out of Algeria.
© Irfan Yusuf 2007