Academic journal article Arab Studies Journal

Between the World and Algeria: International Histories of the Algerian War of Independence

Academic journal article Arab Studies Journal

Between the World and Algeria: International Histories of the Algerian War of Independence

Article excerpt

DECOLONIZING CHRISTIANITY: RELIGION AND THE END OF EMPIRE IN FRANCE AND ALGERIA Darcie Fontaine Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016 (251 pages, bibliography, index, illustrations) $99.99 (cloth)

THE BATTLE OF ALGERIA: SOVEREIGNTY, HEALTH CARE, AND HUMANITARIANISM Jennifer Johnson Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016 (270 pages, bibliography, index, illustrations) $75.00 (cloth)

MECCA OF REVOLUTION: ALGERIA, DECOLONIZATION, AND THE THIRD WORLD ORDER Jeffrey James Byrne Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016 (388 pages, bibliography, index) $65.00 (cloth)

The history of Algeria is undergoing a boom, especially the history of what remains by far the most studied period, the War of Independence (1954-62). A raft of new research has come out in English in the past few years, and the publication of three books exploring international aspects of the war in the same year is proof of the field's expansion. While previously the historiography was notoriously isolated from Algeria's regional and international context, much of this new research is concerned with connecting Algeria to the wider world. The three books reviewed here explore different international aspects of the decolonization conflict. They all contribute to countering the colonial doctrine that conflict in Algeria was purely domestic to France, and they all do so on the basis of research conducted in Algeria. This expansion also means that it is time for the field to mature, and these new perspectives on the Algerian War of Independence suggest many ways forward for future research.

Grounding the history of Algeria in research conducted locally is a surprisingly novel development. One of the ironies of the historiography on the Algerian War of Independence is that it started expanding in the 1990s, precisely when it became nearly impossible to do research in Algeria itself. In France during that time, a series of public controversies on the French army's use of torture reactivated longstanding internal debates about the war. Moreover, the eruption of an extremely violent conflict between the army and Islamists in Algeria following the abortive 1991 elections seemed to call for renewed study of the nation's foundational liberation struggle. Meanwhile, research in Algeria came to a virtual standstill for most of the "black decade" from 1992 to 2002, as foreigners fled the country and Algerian intellectuals were the victims of systematic targeted assassinations. Yet it is paradoxically in this period that many scholars began writing new histories of the 1954-62 conflict, even while they were unable to go to Algeria themselves. In France, the likes of Sylvie Thénault and Raphaëlle Branche led a new generation of research on the war. Crucially, the first major international history of the war, Matthew Connelly's A Diplomatic Revolution (Oxford University Press), which functions as a starting point for the books in this review, was published in 2002, relying on extensive research in the United States, France, and Tunisia but not Algeria itself.

The situation changed surprisingly rapidly in the next decade. In France, increasingly fractious political debates around immigration, mul- ticulturalism, and social problems in the banlieues led to a re-imagination of the Algerian war as the alleged root cause of these problems. French scholars were increasingly joined by Americans. US interest in the Algerian conflict increased dramatically after 2001 as a simplified narrative of radicalized Arabs planting bombs against the West proved too tempting not to be instrumentalized by various political interests. With the invasion of Iraq in 2003, standard narratives of the Algerian War, from Alistair Horne's A Savage War of Peace (Macmillan, 1977) to Pontecorvo's classic film Battle of Algiers (1966), suddenly became the usable past to understand current developments.

Around this juncture, it once more became possible to do research in Algeria, albeit research of a particular kind, and foreign researchers began to wade into the Algerian National Archives, where depending on their topic, they gained more or less access. …

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