A book on France’s relations with its ex-colonies is an indictment of its policies in the Arab world, says IVAN BEAVIS
THIS extremely readable historical account of France’s relationship with its former colonies reveals much about that country that most Britons are completely unaware of.
The French Intifada begins with the 2007 riots when the suburbs of Paris and other cities where much of the five million or so Muslims in France are forced to live exploded.
France has the biggest Muslim population in Europe, much of it descended from those who had to flee the oppressive nature of French colonialism in north Africa.
Britain of course has nothing to shout about when it comes to colonial history but the way that the French went about the systematic oppression of the native populations of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia makes for chilling reading.
Apart from the exploitation of natural resources, the mission of the French colonisers was to implant the concept of Christendom on a population that had been Islamic for over a thousand years.
Overt racism and anti-semitism were a matter of routine.
The Muslims were perceived to be less than human and the colonisers practised brutality on an unbelievable scale.
The reaction of the native population was equally barbaric and Andrew Hussey’s excellent account of the history of French colonialism, particularly since Algeria was declared a province of France in 1830, is where the book comes into its own.
On VE Day in 1945 there was an uprising at Setif in Algeria that resulted in a massacre of Europeans which in turn sparked off a bloodbath by the French army in which 6,000 Muslims were slaughtered.
The main Algerian liberation force the FLN began a murderous campaign against the French in 1955, triggering reprisals by the French using the most hideous of torture techniques and an endless cycle of violence was unleashed until at last Algeria was given its independence in 1962.
History teaches us everything but we learn nothing it seems, as seen in the countless confrontations between Islam and Western imperialism in recent times.
But Hussey’s history of French colonialism explains much about the roots of today’s tensions in France between its romantic attachment to the slogans of the 1789 revolution and the realities of racism and lack of any real opportunities and respect for the Muslim population.
This book’s a page-turner and it awakens a real desire to visit Algiers as a city of mystery and intrigue.
That’s doubtless fuelled by the romantic idealism of Albert Camus when describing life there in the 1930s which the author references.
That’s probably too dangerous a journey — Algeria today is a country of mystery ruled by a vicious army junta that seeks to keep Islamic fundamentalism in check and it’s a no-go area for most westerners.
But it’s equally dangerous not to ponder on the lessons to be learned from the French experience and relate them to our own Islamic populations.