Category Archives: Decolonization

French President Acknowledges 1961 Massacre of Algerians in Paris

An article in Time Magazine reports that the French President Hollande has just reversed a long-standing policy of denial surrounding the killing as many as two hundred Algerian protestors in Paris in October of 1961. The Paris police at the time arrested hundreds of protestors, and some were beaten to death and drowned in the Seine. This history has long been well-documented by scholars (most notably in this recent book), and has been the subject of some films and novels. But the official recognition by the French government represents a significant political step.

Why do you think this is happening now? Why did Hollande chose to take this step?

Suburbs in Post-colonial France and Europe (“Integration”, “Multiculturalism,” “Communautarism”)

To follow up on our discussion about the French banlieues, you will find here an article (in English) written right after the 2005 suburban Riots. In “Understanding Urban Riots un France” Jonathan Laurence and Justin Vaisse give a precise account of how the French, Republican model of “Integration” is at stake in any discussion concerning the cultural, religious and political conflicts as they appear in France, and in particular in the suburbs. They also briefly compare the intergrationist model to other notions used to think about the encounter between the diverses cultures of immigrants and the supposedly more solid culture of European countries where these immigrants settled (Dutch “tolerance”, British “multiculturalism,” for instance). This article is also very good at explaining how one needs to go beyond these notions to consider the specific, concrete situation of the French banlieues and their population to understand the 2005 Suburban Riots.

Despite significant differences within Europe in terms of the spatial history of immigration, the suburbs of England, France or Germany share many features (see this article, in French), partly because they have designed their suburbs by looking at how other European countries dealt with what we could call the spatial organization of immigration (taking up this issue, writer Lydie Salvayre imagined in her 2007 novel Les Belles âmes a Bus Tour of the Suburbs for European good-hearted city dwellers). This article from French news portal Rue89,  written during the last London Riots, explains how the Tottenham Suburbs used to be a model of “Integration” for the Parisian Suburbs. And here, it’s worth noting that if we can definitely draw parallels between the 2011 Riots in the British Suburbs and the French riots 6 years before, the targets of the contestation and destruction were very different: in the more recent case, the symbols of capitalism in England (stores, banks) we attacked, whereas the French youth took the symbols of the state and of the Republic as a target (schools and buses in particular). This is the origin of the discourse according to which Islam is replacing the model of the Republic in the French Suburbs. This issue is a complex and delicate one: how productive is it to understand immigration and social interractions in religions terms? If “integration” as a model seems not to be working in France, how interesting is it to replace this  model with another one that insists on communautarism? How to think about Islam, in France, without either avoiding the question or falling into far-right reactionary position? How can we think of social interractions in the privileged space of post-colonial France?

Here are a couple of links to start thinking about these questions (and to read with a critical mind!):

  • In French

  • In English


En classe mardi, j’ai mentionné la lecture de Général Paul Aussaresses, un français étroitement lié à la torture à Alger. Il a écrit Services Spéciaux: Algérie 1955-1957 en 2001 (traduit en anglais: The Battle of the Casbah : Counter-Terrorism and Torture), son mémoire des événements en Algérie. Il justifie l’usage de la torture dans ce livre controversé, et discute ses opinions ici, qui ont un peu changé depuis la publication de son livre. Pour une discussion plus complète, voici une critique des livres qui résume quelques thèmes importantes de cette semaine et qui parle de Fanon, Camus, et Aussaresses (in English). Je vous recommande de lire le livre d’Aussaresses, qui est vraiment historiquement significatif ; il est quelque fois difficile de lire, mais est quand même très important.

La Tension de génération et l’importance des jeunes

Je voudrais discuter un peu le livre d’Ousmane Sembène que nous avons lu la semaine dernière, Les Bouts de bois de Dieu. Ce qui m’a frappé le plus dans ma lecture était l’abondance de tension qui existe au Sénégal pendant la grève. En fait, il y a plusieurs genres de tension, et elle touche plusieurs groupes dans la société. Le genre de tension que je trouve le plus intéressant est la tension de génération. Les vieux membres de la société se souviennent une ancienne grève qui a échoué à atteindre ses objectifs. Cette ancienne grève a provoqué beaucoup de violence, et les personnes âgées pensent que c’est trop dangereux d’avoir une autre grève.

Niakoro, une vieille femme, est déçue parce que les travailleurs ne cherchent pas le conseil des vieux membres de la société : « De son temps, les jeunes n’entreprenaient rien sans le conseil des aînés. Et voilà qu’aujourd’hui, ils allaient, seuls, décider d’une grève. Savent-ils seulement ce que c’est ? Elle, Niakoro le sait, elle en a vu une » (p.14). Niakoro a peur que la grève sera un autre échec et que quelqu’un sera tué. La fierté joue aussi un rôle dans la tension de génération. Niakoro affirme, « Tout ce que sait un enfant, une grande personne le sait mieux que lui » (p.29).

Bien sur les grandes personnes sont sages et ils ont des perspectifs valables. En général, les enfants doivent considérer le conseil des aînés. Cependant, ils doivent comprendre aussi que les aînés sont plus pessimistes et conservateur, et que la société n’est pas immuable. Les circonstances d’aujourd’hui ne sont pas les mêmes de celles de hier ; peut-être ce qui n’était pas possible hier soit possible aujourd’hui. La plupart du temps, ce n’est pas les personnes âgées qui sont responsables pour les changements sociétales. C’est le devoir des jeunes, qui sont optimistes et énergétiques, de produire des changements révolutionnaires.

More on Algeria


Book Cover

Written in 2008 by journalist and historian Martin Walker, this novel is a murder mystery set in provincial France. The victim is an elderly North African, who not only fought in the French army, but won the Croix de Guerre for his efforts. The investigation “opens wounds from the dark years of Nazi occupation” and even this “seemingly perfect corner of la belle France is not exempt from [its] past”. Throughout the novel, there is much discussion of the topics we studied in class last semester. There is mention of the banlieues violence, racism, religious conflict in a society that prides itself on its laïcité and so on. The solution of the murder, however, reveals an entirely new twist in the history we studied. I don’t know how to hint at it without ruining the novel but it totally blew my mind. And the way that Bruno, the local chief of police deals with the shocking denouement is also excellent food for thought.

Has anybody read it?? And if anybody is looking for a light read this summer, please please please pick this up so I can hear your thoughts about it! It’s not particularly satisfying on a literary level, but it brings to light a new, staggering dimension in Franco-Algerian relations.

Hors la Loi by Rachid Bouchareb


Back in March, I posted about the film Indigènes. Bouchareb’s new film Hors la Loi was shown at Cannes this year and met with great controversy. French war veterans, pieds noirs and right-wing politicians protested its screening, accusing the movie of being biased against France (its portrayal of the 1945 Sétif massacre seems to have been particularly offensive). Audiences were frisked going into the theatres etc. I’m dying to see it but haven’t heard anything about mainstream distribution…has anybody seen it or read anything about it? I hear firsthand that it is just as beautifully shot as Indigènes but a review in The Telegraph says that “depth and complexity are being flattened in the pursuit of accessibility”.

“Nervous Conditions” by Tsitsi Dangarembga

In a high school, I read a novel titled Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga.  She writes from the perspective of a young native girl growing up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and the struggles that she and her family must face in the community and the educational system.  Although it is a work of fiction, she draws heavily from her own experiences growing up in post-colonial Rhodesia (which was controlled by the British).  I did not realize it at the time I read the book, but Dangarembga draws the title from Sartre’s  Introduction to The Wretched of the Earth by Fanon.  The epigraph for the novel points to his exact sentence: “The status of ‘native’ is a nervous condition…”.  While this class has mainly discussed French colonialism and the different conditions that existed for those natives who lived in the French colonies, it is important to note that similar power structures existed in colonies of the other imperialist nations.

On “God’s Bits of Wood”

To help you in your reading of “Gods Bits of Wood,” here are two pages that provide a summary and introduction to the novel.

Click here for an English page from Western Michigan University

Click here for a good French discussion of the novel.

You have already seen some of Ousmane’s work as a filmmaker in the selections from
“Camp de Thiaroye,” and you can find clips from several of his moves in Youtube. Here is a short video homage to him and his work:

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

If any of you come across interesting online material about the novel or its author, please share them as a comment to this post.

Césaire, Fanon, and the Anti-Apartheid Movement

In our explorations of the works of Fanon and Césaire, we have focused primarily on the way these thinkers influenced anti-colonial movements in the francophone world. But these thinkers had a deep influence on thinkers and social justice movements across the rest of the globe as well. Fanon for instance was often cited by the leaders of the American Black Power movement for his ideas on nationalism, and his notions about gaining autonomy through violent struggle became deeply influential to the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara.

And then there was South Africa. While colonial empires crumbled in the 1960s, South Africa remained firmly in the hands of its white minority government, which ruled through a vicious system of racial exclusion called “apartheid,” an Afrikaans term for separation. From its inception in 1948, apartheid gave rise to forceful dissent among the 90% of the South African population that the system excluded from political participation.

As South African anti-apartheid activists developed their arguments against the repressive system, they drew upon a global reservoir of work on oppression and colonialism. As a 20 year old in exile in England in the mid 1960s, Thabo Mbeki, who would one day become president of South Africa, “imbib[ed] the Africanist canon” including Aimé Césaire, Marcus Garvery, Malcolm X, and Frantz Fanon, according to his biographer Mark Gevisser. For his girlfriend’s birthday in 1965, Mbeki (apparently not much of a romantic) gave her a volume of African poetry that he inscribed, “The African poet Senghor is undoubtedly the leading negritude poet in Africa. The godfather of them all is Aimé Césaire, the giant.” For Mbeki and other anti-apartheid activists in exile, thinkers like Césaire and Fanon became a lifeline, a connection to an international struggle against racism and injustice.

Meanwhile, back in South Africa the militant black consciousness movement also felt the influence of thinkers like Fanon and Césaire. Steve Biko, the sharply intelligent, charming figurehead of the movement, wrote extensively about “the struggle,” all the time echoing the ideas of his two Martiniquan forefathers. In 1970, for instance, he published an article entitled “Black Souls in White Skins,” a scathing denouncement of the inferiority complex forced upon black South Africans by the apartheid system. And echoing Césaire he wrote, “’black consciousness’ has to be directed to the past, to seek to rewrite the history of the black man and to produce in it the heroes who form the core of the African background.”

It is clear then that the works of francophone anti-colonial writers helped shape the course of a global black politics, and in South Africa helped to sustain a decades-long movement for basic human rights. If anyone else knows of other movements influenced by Fanon and/or Césaire, I would definitely be interested to hear about them. Feel free to post in the comments.

Philippe Lefailler to Speak on Vietnamese History

Philippe Lefailler, a leading historian of Vietnamese history who teaches at the Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, Hanoi, will be visiting Duke March 28-April 2nd. He will be giving a talk entitled:

The Fragmented Past of the Vietnamese Mountains: Approaches to the History of the Black River Valley, 17th-20th Centuries

at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, March 31st, in 305 Languages Building

(Click for flyer)

He will also be visiting the French section of our class to discuss historical methods and sources in Vietnam on Thursday, April 1st.

Bonjour tout le monde.

Je vous présente le site “Institut National des Archives”, une perle sur l’internet pour cuex qui aimeraient voir la France et son histoire sur les médias historiques. Ici, les étudiants de ma section vont afficher des clips en ordre chronologique. Voici un clip intéressant parce que cela montre juste avant la deuxièume guerre mondiale l’investissement de la part des Européans: