Algeria: Uncivil War: Intellectuals and Identity Politics during the Decolonization of Algeria

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Uncivil War: Intellectuals and Identity Politics During the Decolonization of Algeria, by James D. Le Sueur. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001. xii + 260 pages. Notes to p. 294. Bibl. to p. 328. Index to p. 338. Acknowledgments to p. 342. $46.50

An incisive and thoughtful work of intellectual history, Uncivil War traces the evolving responses of francophone intelligentsia during the 1950s and 1960s to Algeria's bitter and bloody struggle for independence. Arguing that the war continues to have lasting significance for intellectual history and the discussion of Otherness, the author focuses primarily upon the identity politics it generated for the French and for Algerians. Basing his work upon copious amounts of written material produced during the war and also upon interviews with a number of participants in the debates - Germaine Tillion, Jacques Berque, Pierre Bourdieu and others - James LeSueur manages in several important areas to cast new light upon one of the most dramatic chapters of the 20th-- century process of decolonization. In this study LeSueur deals not only with the hurdles encountered by French intellectuals and a considerably adjusted sense of the French self that emerged therefrom, but also with the maneuvers the French went through to preserve their own sense of intellectual legitimacy. Additionally, he addresses the agonizing conflicts faced by North African intellectuals (e.g., Albert Memmi, Jean Amrouche, Mouloud Feraoun, and Paul Daniel). Questions of Algerian identity, already made difficult by a century and a quarter of colonial domination and cultural interaction, LeSueur argues, were greatly complicated by the intellectual debates of the war years. Answers produced then continued to plague that country from the moment of independence to the 1990s when this work was written.

One of the first predicaments the war handed to the French intellectual community was the validity of mostly unchallenged assumptions about the superiority of French culture and the benefits France's civilizing mission had conferred on colonized peoples. Early on, Jacques Soustelle of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, who never gave up on those assumptions, split off from his confreres and went on to become Governor General of Algeria. After the Philippeville massacres of summer 1955, he became infamous for setting in place many of the repressive security methods that came to taint France's reputation as civilized. Albert Camus, a colon who in 1956 received the Nobel Prize for literature, determined to maintain his silence regarding the Algerian struggle, which greatly compromised the stature of one long considered a radical free-thinker. A substantial majority of French intellectuals in the post-World War II period, however, were leftwing, and with the exception of Camus and a few others, most engaged in a critical rethinking of their own intellectual identity within a crumbling empire and began progressively to align themselves with the anticolonialist movement. But in so doing, many were forced to face up to difficult issues related to the Cold War dialectic, as well as the paradox of an imperialist Soviet regime's advocacy of anti-colonialism.

LeSueur shows that the great majority early in the conflict moved toward addressing what they saw as legitimate Algerian concerns and encouraging policies of reconciliation. Chapter 2 deals mainly with the foundation in November 1955 of the Comite d'Action des Intellectuels contre la Poursuite de la Guerre en Afrique du Nord. …