I was really looking forward to reading Andrew Hussey’s new book The French Intifada: The Long War Between France and its Arabs, and it didn’t dissapoint me, on the contrary – it held up to my expectations.
To fully understand both the social and political pressures wracking contemporary France – and all of Europe – as well as major events from the Arab Spring in the Middle East to the tensions in Mali, Andrew Hussey argues that we have to look beyond the confines of domestic horizons.
As much as unemployment, economic stagnation, and social deprivation exacerbate the ongoing turmoil in the banlieues (the urban hotspots for tension and bouts of rioting), Hussey describes how the root of the problem lies elsewhere: in the continuing fallout from Europe’s colonial era.
In banlieues in Paris, Hussey writes, there is a lot of anger, young men willing to turn themselves into Soldiers for God. The rioters, wreckers, even the killers of the banlieues are looking primarily for justice – their (hi)story has deep wounds all over it.
Hussey knows his subject well and it is evident in his writing. He identifies the current situation in France today, dissects it like a surgeon. Predominantly white, well maintained, metropolitan cities bordered by run down and poorly funded suburbs (banlieues) housing significant numbers of Arab and North African Muslim migrants.
“For all their modernity, these urban spaces are designed almost like vast prison camps. The banlieue is the most literal representation of otherness – the otherness of exclusion, of the repressed, of the fearful and despised – all kept physically and culturally away from the mainstream of French ‘civilization'”, Hussey writes.
The French Intifada is very readable, full of examples, little stories, interesting references – Hussey easily moves from Zinedine Zidane to Albert Camus and Frantz Fanon.
A large amount of anger and hatred amongst the French “immigrant” population stems from the French history in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Whilst none of the European power’s empires can claim to be truly benevolent, French conduct in all three nations was devastating, particularly in Algeria.
The great portion of the book is dedicated to Algeria and the conduct of the French colons there. That is understandable since Algeria really was (and still is) the country when it comes to French colonialism.
Hussey explains how the development of the ethnically French Pied-Noirs in Algeria over the years has also contributed much antagonism and anger, both among the French and the Algerians themselves.
Hussey does what’s necessary (and so often lacking in media representations and public dicussions) – he goes back through history, he offers context, he tries to understand why and how something happened, and not just what happened.
The French Intifada shows that the defining conflict of the twenty-first century will not be between Islam and the West (the so-called clash of the civilizations) but between two dramatically different experiences of the world – the colonizers and the colonized.
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