Monday, May 16, 2005

Massacre in Algeria

/ old imperialism / just like / new imperialism /
A reminder of a little-mentioned "detail" of imperialist history, by Mohammed Harbi in "Le Monde Diplomatique", on occasion of VE day:
"As France celebrated victory in Europe on 8 May 1945, its army was massacring thousands of civilians in Sétif and Guelma - events that were the real beginning of Algeria’s war of independence...
... The massacres in the Sétif and Guelma regions on 8 May 1945, described at the time as events or troubles in north Constantine, marked the beginning of the Algerian war of independence. This episode in the Algerian tragedy is one of the great turning points in colonial history."

Via Monochrom

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This episode in the Algerian tragedy is one of the great turning points in colonial history.

Sadly, not really. It was neither the first nor the last massacre of Algerians by the French (and by other Algerians), and it didn't have much effect at the time.

The war for independence didn't get going until 1954, nine years later. And the first phase was dominated by relative moderates and _evolues_, Gallicized Algerians. They weren't appealing to the blood of murdered martyrs; they were trying to negotiate a new arrangement in Algeria, with themselves sharing power with the _colons_.

That got thrown overboard fast once the _colons_ started massacring people wholesale, sure. But that came later.

Colonial history is full of massacres and atrocities and battles lost by the colonized. After independence, there's a natural tendency to transform these events into turning points and martyrdoms, and thus construct a coherent narrative of national redemption. Look closely, though, and the actual history is usually a lot messier, full of false beginnings and pointless deaths.

Doug M.