North Africa, West Asia

Colonial history in the French elections: Algeria, Le Pen, and fascism at the heart of Europe

Marine Le Pen's declaration that colonialism was a positive thing is not only a denial of France's painful history, but an example of the fascism that we now face in Europe.

Jessica Northey
25 April 2017

Election posters of Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) and Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche. Picture by Alfred Yaghobzadeh/ABACAPRESS.COM. All rights reserved. When we see or hear evil we have a moral imperative to call it out. Otherwise evil seeps into our narrative, our media, our politics and our lives. The words uttered by Marine Le Pen – France’s presidential candidate on the eve of one of the most important elections in Europe – insisting that colonialism was a positive thing, are so fundamentally wrong. To then further precise that in Algeria in particular it was beneficial is an incitement to hatred, a blatant lie and the worst form of fascism that we now face in Europe.

The actual denial of France’s painful history in Algeria goes even beyond the amnesia of British colonialism. For young French people who are denied the truth about their past, actively lied to, this is a crime. And it is particularly so for the descendants of the Algerians in France, including for the pied noir families, who were all victim to this cruel and barbaric regime which ran for 132 years until 1962.

In the May 1945 uprisings following the Second World War, when Algerians who had fought to liberate Europe demanded their basic human rights, the colonial government brutally massacred 15,000 Algerians. 104 Europeans lost their lives. Wiping out entire villages, throwing people out of airplanes in a campaign of fear and brutal repression, the French violence was a turning point in the Algerian struggle for civil rights and justice.

Between 1954 and 1962 over one million Algerians were killed during the war of liberation. The extent of cruelty defies belief. Whether reading Alistair Horne’s seminal A savage war of peace on the sheer barbarism, Henri Alleg’s The Question on the institutional torture centres (he saw the internal workings from painfully close up) or listening to the stories of the descendants who saw their parents brutally murdered, disappeared, tortured at the hands of – no other than – the likes of Jean Marie Le Pen. Like his daughter, Le Pen was a French Presidential candidate, and is a man known to have committed torture in Algeria.

Colonial Algeria was a crime against humanity - from its bloody initial conquest to its brutal end. It is a crime which Algerians – astonishingly – have somehow been able to overcome. When the French left in 1962 there was one university in the country - one in which you would not find Algerians. Today there are 48 vibrant institutions, full of students with whom I have had many interesting debates in recent years.

In the almost impossible conditions of continued French terrorist actions at the end of the independence struggle, which saw the Secret Army Organisation (OAS), a right wing French paramilitary organisation, destroying any infrastructure they could get their hands on, including burning down the national library, Algeria rebuilt a nation. The liberation movement rebuilt the Algerian identity, re-designed an education system and rediscovered their proud and beautiful culture.

Listening to this injustice and Le Pen’s degrading comments will make life more difficult for young French Algerians in particular. It will hurt French people in Algeria and Algerians in France. It will break the bonds of friendship which still span the Mediterranean between the shores of Marseille and the coast of Algiers.

Marine Le Pen is playing a dangerous, deceitful and immoral game. And it is one which will ultimately hurt France and French citizens far more than it will damage Algeria. Algerians know their history, and despite all the pain and bloodshed, can be proud of it. As my Professor Olivier Roy once told me, there is no way we can compete: Algerians have a deep understanding of French and European culture, of the Middle East, of African identity. They can adopt multiple identities, build on multiple allegiances and access a multitude of information sources. This century will be theirs if they can manage a peaceful and democratic progression which includes all of Algerian citizens in a real reflection about the future of the country.

The equivalent unfortunately cannot be said in the context of the French presidential election, tarnished with corruption, racism and lies.

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