Monday, January 26, 2015

Worth Reading – “The French Intifada” by Andrew Hussey

Ned K


With the gruesome nature of the shooting of French journalists and other French citizens in Paris, I searched for something to read to find out what would lead young people living in the suburbs of Paris to carry out such an attack. From the press reports, it was clear that the attackers were enraged on what they saw as complete disrespect for their belief in Islamic faith and a degrading of the prophet of Islam in a French newspaper. I read on an internet report that the attackers were of Algerian decent.


Luckily I came across a book in a city library written by an Englishman Andrew Hussey. The book was released in 2014 and is called “The French Intifada” and published by Granta Books in London. Hussey spent much time in the outer suburbs of Paris and Lyons and the streets of Algiers talking to the dispossessed and downtrodden mainly Moslem populations of all these areas before writing his book.


His book convincingly traces and connects the oppression of the Moslem population in French-colonized Algeria dating back to the 1830s with the current oppression of the millions of Algerian descended Moslems living in the ghetto like outer suburbs of Paris in the 21st Century. These suburbs outside the glamour of the inner city of Paris are called “banlieues”.


(Above: French Muslim youths respond to police shooting of a Muslim teenager in 2010)

In March 2007 Hussey was in the northern suburban district of Paris called the Barbes at the time when riots broke out which the French mainstream press explained in terms of an understandable revolt by poverty-stricken youth, the kind of revolt caused solely by the French domestic situation. Hussey went to the centre of the Barbes district, called the Gore du Nord. There he found from conversations with the young people a slightly different cause of the riots.


“The Gore du Nord, at the heart of this district, is frontier territory. It is the dividing line between the wretched conditions of the banlieues, the suburbs outside the city, and the relative affluence of central Paris. The rioters at the Gore du Nord or in the banlieues often describe themselves as soldiers in a ‘long war’ against France and Europe. To this extent they are fighting against the very concept of ‘civilisation’, which they see as a European invention. The so-called ‘French Intifada’, the guerrilla war with police at the edges and in the hearts of French cities, is only the latest and most dramatic form of engagement with the enemy” (Hussey – Introduction to his book).


The “Fourth World War”


Hussey’s book describes the struggles and upheavals within the Islamic populations in France (more than 5 million Muslims) and northern Africa and Middle East as the “Fourth World War” following the end of the Cold War (the Third World War).


“This war is not just a conflict between Islam and the West or the rich North and the globalised South, but a conflict between two very different experiences of the world – the colonisers and the colonised. It is necessarily a war of shifting frontiers, elusive enemies and ever changing tactics, because of the ambiguous complicity that defines their relationship under the colonial order. Torture, collective killings and ethnic cleansing were all deployed by the French in North Africa as weapons of war. On the Muslim side, insurgency, terrorism and assassination were legitimised as tools against the European oppressor.  The fact is that France itself is still under attack from the angry and dispossessed heirs to the French colonial project. As long as this misunderstanding persists the ‘long war’ will endure” (Hussey – Introduction to his book).


Reading the chapters of his book, a gruesome picture unfolds of colonial oppression. The Algerian people from 1830 were treated in a way not dissimilar to the treatment of Indigenous people in Australia by British colonialism. Hussey’s book is on a par with Robert Hughes’ book The Fatal Shore. Perhaps better because it links the past situation of a colonised people with their current situation both in the ‘mother country’ (France) and their homeland Algeria.


The book puts the desperate actions of a few in Paris in January 2015 in context, even though they occurred after the book was written. That is another strength of the book. Events occurring after its publication have proved correct.


A confronting read, but well worthwhile for understanding underlying causes of unpredictable events in today’s world of imperialism in decline and under siege on many fronts geographically and even more fronts in the minds of millions of people. Hussey’s book assists in unravelling part of the puzzle.

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