Wednesday, May 03, 2006

battle of algiers

Ebony and I watched The Battle of Algiers last night. Incredible film. It's a faithful account of an early battle in the Algierian revolution to overturn French colonial rule. The events take place in the late1950s.

For one, it's just an awesome film. Fantastic cinematography, editing. Tight script. But it's also an incredible glimpse into a revolution. So much of what happens dovetails perfectly with much of what you might read if you were studying such things.

Much of it also seemed quite relevent to what's happening in the woorld right now, in particular the use of torture. The French tortured members of the resistance. Now, with perspective of history, some theorists point to the battle of Algiers as evidence of the inefficacy of torture. True, the French won the battle. But they lost the war.

But it was probably more than just that. As an imperialist power in the mid 2oth century, the French were on the wrong side of history.

There were several scenes that really resonated with me.

About three-quarters of the way through the film, a high-ranking member of the National Liberation Front (FLN) converses with one of the revolution's mastermind, Ben M'Hidi. It's late at night, and they're standing on a terrace overlooking the Casbah, the Muslim quarter of Algiers.

Do you know something Ali? Starting a
revolution is hard, and it's even harder
to continue it. Winning is hardest of all.
But only afterward, when we have won,
will the real hardships begin.

A real-life picture of Ben M'Hidi (I think).

Later, Ben M'Hidi is captured and paraded out in front of a mob of French journalists.

Mr. Ben M'Hidi ... Don't you think it is
a bit cowardly to use your women's baskets
and handbags to carry explosive devices
that kill so many innocent people?

And doesn't it seem to you even more
cowardly to drop napalm bombs on unarmed
villages, so that there are a thousand
times more innocent victims? Of course,
if we had your airplanes it would be a lot
easier for us. Give us your bombers, and
you can have our baskets.

The actor in the roole of Col. Mathieu

After a couple of on-point answers like this, Colonol Mathieu, who is directing France's counterattack against the Algierian uprising, cuts the interview short, "before it becomes self-defeating." Then he fields questions from the press

Colonel Mathieu ... Much has been said
lately not only of the successes
obtained by the paratroopers, but also of
the methods that they have employed ...
Can you tell us something about this?

The successes obtained are the results
of those methods. One presupposes the
other and vice versa.

Excuse me, colonel. I have the impression
that perhaps due to excessive prudence ...
my colleagues continue to ask the same
allusive questions, to which you can only
respond in an allusive manner. I think it
would be better to call things by their
right names; if one means torture, then
one should call it torture.

I understand. What's your question?

The questions have already been asked. I
would only like some precise answers,
that's all ...

Let's try to be precise then. The word
"torture" does not appear in our orders.
We have always spoken of interrogation as
the only valid method in a police
operation directed against unknown
enemies. As for the NLF, they request
that their members, in the event of
capture, should maintain silence for
twenty-four hours, and then, they may
talk. Thus, the organization has already
had the time necessary to render useless
any information furnished ... What type
of interrogation should we choose? ...
the one the courts use for a crime of
homicide which drags on for months?

The law is often inconvenient, colonel ...

And those who explode bombs in public
places, do they perhaps respect the law?
When you asked that question to Ben
M'Hidi, remember what he said? No,
gentlemen, believe me, it is a vicious
circle. And we could discuss the problem
for hours without reaching any
conclusions. Because the problem does
not lie here. The problem is: the NLF
wants us to leave Algeria and we want to
remain. Now, it seems to me that, despite
varying shades of opinion, you all agree
that we must remain. When the rebellion
first began, there were not even shades
of opinion. All the newspapers, even the
left-wing ones wanted the rebellion
suppressed. And we were sent here for
this very reason. And we are neither
madmen nor sadists, gentlemen. Those who
call us fascists today, forget the
contribution that many of us made to the
Resistance. Those who call us Nazis, do
not know that among us there are
survivors of Dachau and Buchenwald. We
are soldiers and our only duty is to
win. Therefore, to be precise, I would
now like to ask you a question: Should
France remain in Algeria? If you answer
"yes," then you must accept all the
necessary consequences.

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