The Algerian war, France and the postcolonial debate

The Algerian war, France and the postcolonial debate

Macron wants to come to terms with the French history and colonial past. Whether it was the investigation about the French role in the genocide in Ruanda, whether it was a national debate about the historical role of Napoleon or now the report about France´s role in the Algerian war which also produces heated debate on Al Jazzera and the Arab world. Especially also in Algeria. Relations between Algeria and France have hit rock bottom. Algeria called back its ambassador from Paris on Saturday and accused the president of the old colonial power of “meddling in internal affairs” and “making irresponsible statements”. Algerian media are foaming with anger about Emmanuel Macron and are wondering whether he wants to destroy the process of coming to terms with the French colonial wars. The French daily Le Monde quoted on Saturday from a meeting Macron had with 18 young people on Thursday. The youth group has been meeting for months to discuss the Algerian war and was invited by Macron. One subject: a massacre of Algerian demonstrators in Paris on October 17, 1961, which, according to various sources, resulted in several dozen to several hundred deaths and which remains unpunished in France – the 60th anniversary of which is due in a few weeks.

 An 18-year-old participant in the round demanded from Macron “the truth” and “recognition and condemnation” of this massacre, which his own grand-uncle had fallen victim to. Macron, according to the newspaper report, replied broadly: in Algeria they are telling a story that is “totally rewritten” and “is not based on truths”, but on a “discourse based on hatred of France”. Macron continues: „The Algerian nation has been living on a memory since 1962 that says: France is the problem.“ When one of the Algerians in the group contradicted him, Macron said: „I am not talking about Algerian society in general, but from the political-military system that was built on this reminder pension. ”This system is“ tired ”today. In addition, one had to ask whether Algeria was ever a nation before the colonial era.

Algeria became French territory in 1830, in which only white settlers had rights. In 1954 a war of liberation began that killed over a million people, was accompanied by countless French war crimes and ended in 1962 with Algeria’s independence and the exodus of settlers to France. The French extreme right around the former colonial officer Jean-Marie Le Pen and his daughter Marine Le Pen, who rejects any criticism of colonialism, are recruited from their ranks. To this day Algeria is in fact ruled by the generals who emerged from the former liberation movement FLN (National Liberation Front). When the French historian Benjamin Stora first presented an independent research report on the Algerian war in Paris in January, Macron responded by promising “symbolic acts” to recognize crimes, but “neither apologizing nor remorse”.

Algeria, on the other hand, required France to „officially recognize its war crimes and crimes against humanity“. Macron’s new statements fall in the context of this dispute and the beginning of the election campaign for France’s presidential election in April 2022. The big surprise in the primary campaign is the rise of right-wing publicist Eric Zemmour in the opinion polls, at the expense of other right-wing candidates. Zemmour is of Jewish-Algerian origin, incites hate against Muslims and defends colonial rule. The Algerian commentator Brahim Takherouet accused Macron of navigating in Zemmour’s waters. Algeria’s president stated in support of the ambassador’s recall that France’s crimes “must not be the object of distortion of the facts and mitigating interpretations”.

As example: Ali Boumendjel died on March 23, 1957 when a French soldier threw him out of the window. The judical expert of the Algerian liberation movement FLN (National Liberation Front) had been arrested 43 days earlier, one of many who disappeared from the infamous „Battle of Algiers“, with which the French colonial army wanted to break Algeria’s struggle for independence. Under the command of French military intelligence officer Paul Aussaresses, Boumendjel was interrogated and tortured until he was no longer needed and Aussaresses threw him from the sixth floor. Officially, it was said that Boumendjel had committed suicide. It wasn’t until March 3, 2021 that France officially told the truth about it. President Emmanuel Macron received four of Boumendjel’s grandchildren at the Élysée Palace and confessed that the French army had „tortured and murdered“ their grandfather. This admission was not a heroic act. Aussaresses himself had described in detail the murder of Boumendjel and others twenty years earlier when he published his memoir. Official France was appalled, but nothing happened. Boumendjel’s widow died in 2020 without recognition of this crime by the French state.

Aussarresses‘ memoirs are the memories of a mass murderer. Every night his people went out in Algiers collecting suspects for interrogation. Torture by beatings, electric shocks and drowning was „tolerated if not recommended“, right up to the minister responsible, François Mitterrand. Afterwards, the interviewees could neither be let go nor handed over to justice – “there were too many”. Therefore, “summary executions were part of keeping order […]. The FLN obviously had to be liquidated and only the army had the means for it. It was so clear that there was no need to give orders. Nobody has ever asked me openly to execute anyone. You didn´t have to say it.“

This French counterinsurgency method, in which whole sections of the population are treated as suspects, were used worldwide, from Latin America to Rwanda before the genocide. The continuity between Nazi and colonial crimes is evident in France, not least through people such as the good civil servant Maurice Papon, who organized the mass deportation of French Jews during the German occupation, then became prefect in Algeria and, in 1961, as police prefect of Paris, had Algerian demonstrators massacred. “After Vichy, Algeria” was the title of the French newspaper Le Monde’s editorial for the 2001 Aussaresses confession. Twenty years later, the Algerian War of Independence from 1954 to 1961 with its hundreds of thousands of dead remains unresolved. During these seven years, 1.5 million young French were deployed as soldiers in the Algerian war. No one has ever been charged or convicted.

A new investigative report by the French historian Benjamin Stora lists collective crimes: “The destruction of hundreds of villages and the establishment of ‚forbidden zones‘ in which no Algerian was allowed to move without being shot; the tens of thousands disappeared whose families are still asking about the resting places of the bodies; the use of napalm; laying millions of mines; the contamination of the Sahara by nuclear tests started in 1960; the establishment of internment camps in which thousands were held, often without judgment ”. The Algerian war overshadows France’s politics to this day. The Fourth Republic fell apart, World War II hero General de Gaulle seized power and negotiated Algeria’s independence with the FLN. Angry colonial generals attempted a coup in 1961. From their ranks, strengthened by fleeing white settlers after Algeria’s independence, emerged the anti-Gaullist right-wing extremist Front National of the colonial soldier Jean-Marie Le Pen, which is now called the Rassemblement National under the leadership of his daughter in opinion polls with 48 percent of the votes in a runoff election against Emmanuel Macron lies.

Justice Minister Mitterrand, who approved torture in Algeria, became France’s first “left” president in 1981. One of his first acts was to rehabilitate the 1961 coup generals. He was followed by the Gaullist Jacques Chirac, who in 1999 recognized the Algerian war as a “war” for the first time – to commemorate the fallen French. In 2005, his successor Nicolas Sarkozy obliged French schools by law to teach the “positive role of the French overseas presence, especially in North Africa” – this passage was deleted after massive indignation. It was not until the socialist François Hollande celebrated a day of remembrance in 2016 for “all” victims of the Algerian war, but that was drowned out in the Islamist terror. And Macron? His reaction to the Stora investigation report commissioned by him – „Acknowledgment yes, sorry no“ – was received bad in Algiers. But recognition would be better than non-recognition, and Stora’s central recommendation – a “Treaty on Memory and Truth” between France and Algeria – would be a model–also for a Germany that still tends to find colonial crimes unimportant.

But it are not only the war crimes in Algeria, but also the massacre against Algerians in Paris at that time. A police massacre on the streets of Paris? Inconceivably. And yet it was almost exactly 60 years ago when the Algerian war entered its final phase. After a peaceful demonstration for the independence of the colony, corpses lay on the bank of the Seine, corpses bound. The number of deaths, probably over a hundred, was never precisely determined; not to mention that they were Algerian deads. The Algerian war also produced a solidarity a movement in West Germany that long preceded that bloody October day 1961: radical solidarity with the Algerian liberation struggle – in the 1950s, the musty Adenauer era. It was the first internationalist movement after the end of National Socialism. The group of activists were small heterogeneous groups: trade unionists, intellectuals, communists, Trotskyists, nature lovers, committed Christians, including a few Catholics with a CDU party membership. They smuggled money and weapons for the liberation front, brought Algerians who had to flee from France over the border in the trunk at night. Some helped to set up a secret arms production facility in Morocco, disguised as an orange plantation, and in Osnabrück an attempt was made to provoke a banking crisis in France by producing hundreds of thousands of counterfeit franc notes. All of this seems unbelievable against the background of the kidney table era of the 50s and 60s. Perhaps the desire for social change was projected onto North Africa at the time, but what does that matter?

Algeria, as Claus Leggewie described it, offered „the score with which one could mix a few anti-colonial tones into the pathetic organ tone of the decreed Franco-German reconciliation“. Incidentally, West Germans sometimes read documents from the liberation movement in translations that came from the GDR. The knowledge and experiences of earlier anti-colonialism are now buried for more than one reason, but details about the Algerian solidarity movement can be found in the book “Hoch die internationale Solidarität” “Long live the international solidarity” by the journalists Werner Balsen and Karl Rössel which was published 25 years ago.

When France tortured and interned en masse in Algeria, the memory of National Socialism was still fresh. Some French intellectuals who sided with the liberation struggle had suffered in German concentration camps. And they said of the camps that France set up in Algeria: „Do we need to console ourselves with the fact that there are neither gas chambers nor crematoria in these camps?“ It later emerged that the police prefect responsible for the massacre in Paris had been involved in the deportation of French Jews for the Vichy regime during the Nazi era. Multidirectional memory may have been brought up to this term more recently, but it has existed for a long time, has imposed itself on contemporaries of events, and the Algerian war is a prime example of this. In 1961, the year of the Paris massacre, the Eichmann trial began in Jerusalem and the specifics of the Shoah were negotiated before the eyes of the world.

Nobody equated them with the crimes in Algeria, but colonialism and National Socialism were seen in relation to one another. As early as the 1950s, Jean-Paul Sartre noted that young French people in the colony were being forced “to give up their lives for Nazi principles against which we fought ten years ago”. And: “In 1945 we saw all the false naivety, the evasions and insincerity, the silence and complicity as collective responsibility. We denied the Germans the right to claim that they knew nothing about the camps. ‚Oh what!‘ We said. ‚They knew everything!‘ And we were right: they knew everything. Only today can we understand something: because we also know everything. “ When France tortured Algeria, the memory of National Socialism was still fresh.

Hans Magnus Enzensberger later took up these associations in the German context; Anyone who watched the horror in the French colony without doing anything was complicit. There were also former concentration camp prisoners in the German Algerian movement. Under the cover name Si ¬Mustapha, the communist Winfried Müller became a key figure in persuading German mercenaries who were involved in the French Foreign Legion in the Algerian War to desert. They had to take their weapons with them and hand them over to the liberation front. Si Mustapha, who organized it, had been an armed forces deserter himself. Intertwined stories; that is a subject today, clever texts are written about it. Was there more trading in the past? In West Berlin 1964 also a demontsration against imperialims in the Congo.. Black and white students (male) demonstrated side by side, wearing very correct-looking cloth coats and leather shoes, which did not prevent them from breaking a police chain. How did they look at each other back then? They defined themselves through a common opponent, interests counted, not identities. The analyzes were rather woodcut, and individual involvement in racism was deliberately overlooked.

However the debate about the colonial history of France, Germany and other former colonial states has just started and intensified also due to the Black Lives Matters movement and the new generation of postmodern gender students of postcolonialist studies and due to the rise of some former colonies to a new world power.. And they won´t only polarize within the former colonial powers, but also in their relations with their former colonies. On Sunday, Algeria closed its airspace to the French military – but France’s combat mission in Mali is dependent on it.

But it is more a discussion of the former colonies with the alleged unique crime of the Holocaust. All these former suppressed anticolonist and liberation fronts want to have their suffering comparable to the really unique industrialized elimination of Jews by Germany which has become some sort of world standard and comparison, even as antisemitism is getting stronger in many states. Some realists already see that there is a connection between German colonialism, the race theory against African people and the Jews and the mass murder of the alleged minor Slaws and Russians as the Third Reich wanted to colonize in the East and not in Africa and to elminate all Jews as they perceived them as a world dominating power while the ally Japan had the same assumption, but didn´t want to eliminate the Jews but make an alliance with them as the real world leading power..

Both are right and wrong at the same moment, if you don´t see the connection. The anticolonialist movement and states seem to suffer from both sides: By the prioriorization of the Holocaust and the missing apology by the former colonial powers. That´s a wrong competition of neither and nor. Both were crimes and mass murder , however even if the German National socialism was the most extreme form and „only“ against Jews, but on the basis of racism against all other races. All these crimes were never dealt with the exception of the Holocaust and that is the reason why other former oppressed states or groups of the former colonies want an apology or also a compensation for their suffering as colonialism since Columbus was accumulating all the Western capital , wealth and therefre these empires. And it is a completely nonsense to spilt these antiracism and make the right wringed parties to make their jokes and fragmentation on it. However , Al Jazerra and all these anti-Western anti-colonialist media as all thes new postmodern gender students of postcolonialim studies who are infiltratting the Left and the media and state apparatus, always forget about the former colonialism or the new neo-Ottoman Empire of Erdogan. Slavery was not an invention of the Columbus and his successors, but already a fact in Roman and Arab history and the African slaves exported to the USA were kidnapped by African or Arab tribe leaders in order to make profit and expand their own power and empires.And also European peasants´ sons were kidnapped and recruited to be exported in the American wars against British colonialism in the not yet USA- from white man to white man . But this accumalation argument tries to forget what the own pre- and post colonial rulers made „wrong“. They did it „right“ due to their interests, which are the same by former Arab, Asian or African leaders as the so called Western human race and a innocent human race and not only the bad angry white men as Black Live matters tries to make as argument and makes some sort of a new racist argument.

There are also extremes forms of denying the former colonies their own civilization and history in the West as Erich Däniken, movies like Star Gate or the pre-austronautic movement from Silicon Vally, a form of spoiled kids of the futurism of the earlier Western progress story who really think that all these old civilizations from the Mayas to the Egyptian pyramids to Angkor Wat were just from outer space and Obama was a hidden reptoid. These are the most extreme forms of a new racism which ignores the former civilizations and have they only hope for space mass tourism and a new space colonialism by Elon Musk, Jeff Bezoe, Captain Kirk and the salvation of human kind in space as they ignore history and the real world.

.Nevertheless, one should put the argument in the forefront that the former colonial powers should not get into a mere mea culpa guilt complex. The former colonies have developed very differently, had enough time to develop, made their own“mistakes“ and many former victims became new perpetrators who suppress their own population, minorities or even are heading towards their own neo-imperialism, if they became strong enough. Between the desperate Africa, inside the Muslim or Arab world and the emerging economies of Asia there are big differences. Therefore France should apologize for its war crimes and colonialism as Germany and the rest of Europe including Russia, while Macron´s critisism of the old FLN political- military regime is also correct as they try to prevent any reform of their old rotten system. Or you just make alliances between old and new rotten regimes in order to survive it. Similarily, all those liberation fronts which included Mao amd Pol Pot as liberation armies and „liberation movements“, while they in the same moment as they created their own Chinese or Cambodian sovereignity, these sort of liberation slaughtered millions of their „own“ citizens. Therefore you can make accusations against all sides or try to get out of the cycle and think about how to create a better future for all.But in reality it is a blame game between allegedy declining and rising or ascending powers, national stares and their new capital accumulation by means of even military expansion. or just to keep rotten regimes alive by blame games.

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