Komorebi Post- Just a couple of months ago, September 13th, 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron acknowledged a “system of torture” on the role that France played in Algeria. According to Libération newspaper, the acknowledgment was specified to killing and torturing Maurice Audin, was born in Algeria but had a French nationality.
For nearly 60 years, the official version of its colonization in Algeria or what history text books teach students about its colonial past in general, and in the violent years of Algerian struggle for independence in particular, could be easily reflected in the official narrative that Audin got arrested with suspicions of helping Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) but ran away. Nonetheless the French archives documented that Audin was shot in the head, after 10 days of torture.
Inside look on teacher’s History program framework
History program proposes in high school a theme on decolonization, where the war of Independence of Algeria is studied as an illustration of “a process of emancipation of the tutorship and occupation from a foreign State”. The official program emphasizes the conflict not between two belligerents, but between a variety of actors. The teacher is advised to study the evolution of the balance of power “without insisting on the details of events”. The focus shouldn’t be only on the “policy of repression”; a special place should be made on the attempts to reach agreements from France. Accordingly, manuals propose texts to study the Battle of Alger or the Evian Agreements.
FLN is seen as an organization becoming progressively more and more violent. The French “parachutists”, principal actor of the repression, are mentioned in one paragraph; one line on the treatment reserved to their victims, “some of them tortured”. The example of Maurice Audin, a French communist settler supporting the struggle of Independence, proves that this war of decolonization was more complex than two political camps fighting over a territory.
The relative liberty for the teacher as the program provides guidance, and directions that helps to build a frame, presents the decolonization of Algeria in a global context. Independence is not used, and the crimes of the French military forces are clearly removed from the program. The global counter revolution practices of the French OAS (Secret Army Organization) such as arbitrary detention, torture, assassinations transformed a political conflict into a death fight. The constant humiliations made by the forces of occupations and supporters of a French Algeria, largely legitimized by the representation of the Orientals, savage and intellectually inferiors, have been studied and denounced by many scholars Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth, Said in The Orientalism.
According to Laurence de Cock in her book In the White Man classroom – the teaching of the colonial fact from the 80’s to nowadays and interviewed by Les Inrockuptibles newspaper, this interpretation of the “colonial fact” in Algeria in History programs is due to the duality of making the French Republic united while acknowledging the different origins of the French population. Being a history teacher herself, de Cock testifies her difficulties to teach this part of the program to students from Algerian origins, torn between two nationalities (it is legally possible in France to get the two), between collective and (bi-)national memories.
We must admit that Macron’s acknowledgement of Audin’s assassination, as a representative of the State is rather unique in French history. Previous Presidents didn’t take this step, even if Audin’s death had been controversial for 60 years. But teaching the colonial history shows that France has a long way to redeem itself.