Thursday, January 25, 2007
A Savage War Of Ideology
The reissue of Alistair Horne’s A Savage War of Peace had the following commentary from the New York Review of Books: “The Algerian War lasted from 1954 to 1962. It caused the fall of six French governments, led to the collapse of the Fourth Republic, brought De Gaulle back to power, and came close to provoking a civil war on French soil. More than a million Muslim Algerians died in the conflict and as many European settlers were driven into exile. Above all, the war was marked by an unholy marriage of revolutionary terror and state torture.
“The conflict made headlines around the world, and at the time it seemed like a French affair. From the perspective of half a century, however, this brutal and intractable conflict looks less like the last colonial war than the first postmodern one—a full-dress rehearsal for the sort of amorphous struggle that convulsed the Balkans in the 1990s and that now ravages the Middle East, from Beirut to Baghdad, struggles in which religion, nationalism, imperialism, and terrorism assume previously unimagined degrees of intensity.”
The liberal critique, so preponderant now, has the slaughter of a million Algerians (“Muslim Algerians” importantly for the NYRB) as a “full-dress rehearsal for the sort of amorphous struggle” that is to be found everywhere the Western powers have an eye on. Liberalism: a Nazi-like slaughter in a country that wants nothing but its independence is an “amorphous struggle”. No right and wrong. No oppressed and oppressor. No distinguishing the violence of the colonised with that of the coloniser. “Imperialism” is lumped into the same category as “nationalism”. The war of liberation is “terrorism”.
Algeria is not alone: the violence inflicted on Malaya and Aden, amongst many others, is at best blandly referred to as “counter-insurgency” or more usually “counter-terrorism”, not imperialism. The ideological demands are now so great that this is not surprising. That the rewriting of history is being conducted so openly, so blatantly, is a little more unexpected. Is Horne’s book the imperialist tome the NYRB suggests? Nevertheless, Horne’s book is said to be “On the reading list of President Bush [surely some mistake?] and the US military”. In the same way that US military personnel are reported to be viewing the film the Battle of Algiers, no doubt Bush and Co. will read into Algeria’s fight for national liberation what they wish to.