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The French conquered Algeria in the 1830s and began to teach their language and culture. The exported their citizens to Algeria and these people settled there and became known as the pied-noir who by the 1950s numbered around one million people.

The Algerians were a subject people. As the great political theorist and critic Edward Said wrote, “human identity is not natural and stable, but constructed and occasionally even invented outright” (Said 1979, 211). Through colonialism the French tried to create a new subservient Algeria. As another writer, Al Azm, says, “it is hard to understand another culture without resorting to categorization, classifications and misinterpretation. It is usually represented in terms of the already familiar, and then such distortions and misinterpretations become inevitable” (Al Azm 1983). The Algerian were oppressed and colonized and had little to no say over their future. Much of this domination was obvious and tangible, such as the French domination of the Algerian economy, other forms were cultural and less tangible. As Edward Said explained in Orientalism, The first explorers of the Orient brought to the West the first stories and images of the people of the East. In that respect they are responsible for setting the tone of the relationship between the two cultures. These first early images seemed in some way, Said argues, to occasion what came after them—political and administrative control of the East as a vast colony (Said 1979). No effort was made to understand the cultural divide between East and West; this lack of understanding led Westerners to believe their own way of life was simply better and should be taught to Easterners. Indeed, as many Eastern nations became colonies of the West, this idea increased. As section one of the film explains, Said believes early artists such as Ingres and Flaubert unfairly characterized the Orient. Edward Said believes that many current Orientalists maintain these views.

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Oppressed, the Algerians decided to strike back. The founded their ideology of resistance in orientalist ideas (though they didn’t call them such at the time) and in Marxism. There was a Marxist element to the liberation struggle as there were too many similar struggles of the era. As was written by one of the most famous Algerians of the period, Frantz Fanon:

And it is clear that in the colonial countries the peasants alone are revolutionary, for they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The starving peasant, outside the class system is the first among the exploited to discover that only violence pays. For him there is no compromise, no possible coming to terms; colonization and decolonization a simply a question of relative strength (1961, 45).

Organizing themselves in various groups, the Algerians attacked French soldiers, French civilians, and Algerian who they believed were collaborating. They sought to disrupt French activity and make it too painful and costly for the French and the French settlers to stay in Algeria. Their goals were limited: they wanted independence and they wanted the French out of Algeria. They used rudimentary means to try and accomplish these goals.

While there were conventional aspects to the way the Algerian independence fighters organized themselves, including command structure and the way they often sought to attack French military installations and soldiers, they also engaged in brutal intimidating acts of torture against civilians they suspects of colluding with the French and against French people (Aussaresses 2006, 121). They killed women and children. These acts by any definition would be considered terrorist. However, when looking at the old terrorism it is important to see that these acts by the Algerian nationalists were only one part of their operations. Terrorism was not their overall modus operandi. They did not wish to maximize French civilian casualties, and while they may have occasionally hid out in Tunisia and Morocco and received arms from Communist countries, they were not part of a global syndicate.

The Algerians made French involvement in Algeria extremely costly. Their terrorism through limited means was enough to eventually convince the French to withdraw. For a long time the French debated amongst themselves. Algerian terorrism was forcing them the act more brutally towards Algerians, they felt that in many respects they were betraying their own values (Aussaresses 2006, 82). While there are many differences between old and new terrorism, there is also one constant. Those who engage with terrorism and try to defeat often have to get their hands dirty. Because terrorism can be so costly, Western countries with certain moral and legal standards often have to pay a terrible price in terms of human rights in order to try to defeat it. In the case of the Algerian War of Independence, the French paid this price and eventually felt it was simply too high.

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