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Why is it so hard for France to say 'Sorry' to Algeria by Jonathan Laurence of the Brookings Institute

Why Is It So Hard to Say 'Sorry' in French?

France has never apologized for its treatment of colonial Algeria. Why not now?


As Algeria kicks off festivities for the 50th anniversary of its independence from France this week, all eyes are on the former colonial power's new president, François Hollande. Nine countries asked to join the party in Algiers -- including the United States, which conveyed American gratitude to three-term President Abdelaziz Bouteflika for Algeria's "key role" in global counterterrorism and regional security. The French government sent no representatives to the opening ceremony, held in Algiers on July 5, but said that Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius would travel there soon to advance a late-summer visit by Hollande, raising expectations that a turning point is near in the prickly post-colonial relationship.

Some anticipate that Hollande could become the first French president to apologize formally for more than a century of colonization and hundreds of thousands of war dead beteen 1830 to 1962. Officials in Algiers say a full and frank apology is long overdue. Should they expect normalization of Franco-Algerian relations from a leader who billed himself in the campaign as "président normal" -- in stark contrast to his predecessor, the frenetic Nicolas Sarkozy?

Hollande is the first French president with an explicitly post-colonial mindset. He was 10 weeks old when Algeria's National Liberation Front (FLN) took up arms against French occupation. His predecessor, Sarkozy, may be a year younger, but during his presidency he had no time for what he called "eternal repentance." And his party colleagues in parliament even passed a law praising colonialism's "positive role."

Hollande, on the other hand, has long been on conciliatory and friendly terms with Algeria. As a student, he interned in the French embassy there in 1978, and he returned to Algiers as a guest of the ruling FLN while he was Socialist Party secretary in 2006, where he was granted a lengthy meeting with Bouteflika. Two weeks after declaring his presidential candidacy in December 2010, Hollande returned to meet with the father of Algerian independence, Ahmed Ben Bella.

During those visits, Hollande forcefully condemned French colonialism as "an inequitable and oppressive system" that "must be condemned without reservation." The day he received his party's nomination, Oct. 17, 2011, Hollande participated in a memorial for Algerian victims of French police 50 years earlier. And at an unusual moment in late April  -- just one week before his runoff against Sarkozy -- he dispatched a former justice minister, born to French parents in Algeria, to repeat his pledge to resolve all past disputes.

Nonetheless, a straightforward apology faces two serious hurdles.

First, Hollande must sort through complex emotions in France. The French were not alone in the scramble for North Africa. Their military fought in the Algerian war of independence for more than twice as long as it did for France's own liberation during World War II. In 1962, when the French army withdrew, nearly a million settlers were forced to evacuate the only homes they knew. The settlers felt abandoned, and those who stayed behind were subject to kidnappings and disappearances. Some of those nostalgic for l'Algérie française included Hollande's own father, a local politician who supported a right-wing, pro-colonial presidential candidate in 1965. One recent political profile concludes that Hollande "constructed his political identity in rejection of his father's own choices."


Jonathan Laurenceassociate professor of political science at Boston College and nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, is author of The Emancipation of Europe's Muslims.

Tags: Brookings, Institute, Jonathan, Laurence, Sorry, Zalgeria, Zfrance

Views: 326

Replies to This Discussion

It seems that the eminent senior fellow Jonathan Laurence hasn't read of the ethnic cleansing of the French from Algeria after independence, followed by the acceptance of Algerians into France as economic migrants.

But of course, I forgot, the Have it Both Ways argument applies: whats allowed and approved for Muslims, is forbidden to the native people of France.

BTW, anybody know where those figures are (for the expulsion of the French)?  I'm sure they're combined with the discussion about the French Movie depicting the troubles in Algeria, but I can't find it.

France should in no way apologize, if they do it will be one more step to dhimmification. What many do not realize that it was not a war of independence, but one more war in the advancement of islam.

In the early morning hours of November 1, 1954, FLN (Islamist/Marxists), launched attacks in various parts of Algeria against military and civilian targets in what became known as the Toussaint Rouge (Red All-Saints' Day). They also attacked many French civilians, killing several. From Cairo, the FLN broadcast a proclamation calling on Muslims in Algeria to join in a national struggle for the "restoration of the Algerian state – sovereign, democratic and social – within the framework of the principles of Islam."

 160,000 Jews leave Algeria en masse in 1962

 900,000 Pied-noir leave in 1962  ( Pied-noir is a term used to name the European-descended population) About 100,000 Pieds-noirs chose to remain, but most of those gradually left over the 1960s and 1970s, primarily due to residual hostility against them, including machine-gunning of public places in Oran

 100,000 Harkis fled in 1962,( Harkis were the indigenous Muslim Algerians).

If it was a war of independence the killings would have stopped, but the killings are still being carried out today, in accordance the islam.

Today's Algeria is not ready to 'take back' its Jews, the Harkis or the Pied-noirs, they would be harassed and murdered the same as those that did not leave in 1962

No the French should not apologize for losing a battle in this ongoing global war that islam declared 1400 years ago, an apology will only be another victory for islam

The French like every body else should get their heads out of where the sun doesn't shine, and see that the war is now playing out in their suburbs and cities, and not on distant shores.

Thanks Shiva.
There's also figures for the number of French people that left Algeria after indepenence, for their own safety. It was ½ million or 2 million. Joe should know, its a comment on the movie about it.

Pied-Noir (French pronunciation: [pjenwaʁ], Black-Foot), plural Pieds-Noirs, is a term referring to French citizens who lived in French Algeria before independence. Specifically, Pieds-Noirs include those of European settlers descent from France or other European countries (such as Spain, Italy and Malta), who were born in Algeria.

From the French invasion on 18 June 1830 until its independence, Algeria was administratively part of France. This name started to be used commonly shortly before the end of the Algerian independence war in 1962, while formerly they were simply called Algerians, whereas Muslim people of Algeria were called Muslims or Indigenous.

As of the last census in Algeria, taken on 1 June 1960, there were 1,050,000 European civilians in Algeria (10% of the total population including 130,000 Algerian Jews)

So Alan, if the census is correct, the we can take the comment on the video with a pinch of salt


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