In 1830, France creates
settlements in the northern part of Algeria. As years went by, France
discovered how rich Algeria was in oil. This made Algeria important to the
economy of France. Eventually, the civilians of Algeria grew tired of the
occupations. After the Second World War, Algerians joined the movement of
revolt. The FLN was started and became the head leader of the war. The FLN used
certain military and political tactics in order to chase France out of their
country. Violence was a main strategy of the war. However, to what extent is
this use of violence justified? To answer this question, the use of violence is
assessed on both sides. French forces caused Algerians to revolt. The FLN was
actively promoting the use of violence to end the colonization. As well, the
FLN made sure the voice of the Algerians was heard around the world. The FLN
refused to settle for anything less than absolute freedom. This way, the French
have no support or allies and they become intimidated. Eventually, the French
agreed to settle. The negotiations between the two countries ended in the
independence of Algeria.
The French-Algerian war
was an 8 year war that took place in Algeria as a result of French
colonization. It is often characterized by guerrilla warfare, terrorism, and
torture. It was one of the bloodiest and most significant post-World II
conflicts. A significant amount of Muslims and Europeans were killed or injured
in the name of Algerian Independence. Although no set number has been declared,
the highest estimated number of casualties is 1 million people. The events of
the Algerian War are successful use of violent extremism for political ends.
However, to what extent does the success of Algerian freedom fighters justify
the use of violence for political ends? To answer this question, this essay
assesses the history of France in Algeria and various violent tactics used on
both sides to argue the justification of this violence. To understand Algerian
strategies of war, the events leading to them must be assessed as well.
French Colonization in
important to France for two reasons; the presence of more than one million
French colons and the resources of oil that had been discovered. 34,000
soldiers landed at Sidi Ferruch in June of 1830 using Napoleon’s 1808
contingency plan. In response, the Algerian dey ordered 43,000 opposing troops
to defend the territory. Shortly after small battles, the dey surrendered and
fled Algeria, followed by the flee on 9,000 more Algerians. This meant that
Algeria was under full French rule. In 1865, the French declared that Arabs and
Berbers can only apply for French citizenship if they abandoned their Muslim
faith. By 1848 almost all of northern Algeria was under French rule. However,
the great majority of Europeans in Algeria were working-class or deportees. Not
the July Monarchy nor the Second Republic knew what to do with the conquered
territory. Jules Ferry (1832-1893), the prime minister during the Third
Republic, created a theory of a new colonialism “where there is political
predominance, there is also predominance in products, economic predominance” (Sartre
10). Thus, colonial imperialism is born. Colonialism is the practice of
implanting settlements in foreign territories. Whereas, the imperialism is the
idea that drives this practice.
Events Leading to The
After World War II,
Algeria was amongst the general rise of nationalism and the new demand of
freedom. It started out as an uprising that originated in the Aures Mountains
in 1954. Furthermore, separate groups began to revolt in Algiers. Eventually
these groups would become the one group called the Comittee National pour la
Révolution Algeriènne (National Comittee for the Algerian Revolution). Although
France allowed for Moroccan and Tunisian independence, they did not allow for
Algerian independence. This is because they saw Algeria as not only a colony,
but a region of France. This meant that the French government saw the revolts as
acts of treason and responded with violent force to demolish the rebellion.
Onward, 30 attacks were
made by the FLN on November 1, 1954, also known as All Saints Day. Amongst the
people attacked were police and French army, seven people were killed. On
November 12, 1954, the President of the French Council of Ministers gave a
speech, he announced that the FLN attacks would not be tolerated:
One does not compromise when it comes to defending the internal
peace of the nation, the unity and integrity of the Republic. The Algerian
departments are part of the French Republic. They have been French for a long
time, and they are irrevocably French. … Between them and metropolitan France
there can be no conceivable secession (Mendès France).
This day is known as
the mark of the first day of a war that would carry on in history as one the of
the most ferocious and bloody achievement of independence.
Analysis of Violence In The
The Front de
Libération Nationale (FLN) of Algeria was first started to achieve
independence from French colonialism, to create democracy through the Islamic
principles. Later it became the controlling political party after the Algerian
Revolution (1954-1962). The FLN originally included mostly military and
political leaders. Some other members were also Algerian nationalists and
Europeans who were sympathetic to the nationalist cause.
There were small
organizations for the military and politics within the FLN. The Armée de
Libération Nationale (ALN) was the military organization within the FLN.
The Comité Révolution d’Unité d’Action (CRUA) was the political
organization. In 1958 the Gouvernement Provisoire de la République Algérienne
(GPRA), a provisional government, was started so countries would recognize
their goals of taking down the French government.
Originally the FLN
wanted the Algerians to unite to be able win the war, this was the number one
necessesity. Any group, organization or individual that was considered
competition to the FLN was eliminated (Jackson 20). Another main part of the
FLN’s ideas was violence. They thought that violence was a key tool in winning
the war (Hutchinson 22). Islamic groups as well as the Algerians who had pride
in their country were important to this process (Jackson 24). Ahmed Ben Bella
truly believed that the FLN did not have any sort of specific ideology and that
this was a positive factor to the joining of other people. Hutchinson agrees
with Ben Bella when she states: “The FLN did not possess a highly structured or
comprehensive ideology; the revolution was simply guided by nationalism”. The
country was hard to control and unify when the war ended. The new government
could not control everyone all at once.
Military Role of The
The goals of the
military were broad. First, they wanted to demolish colonialism by isolating
the French army and settlers. Thus, destroying the French administration. Their
main tactics to reach this goal were guerrilla warfare and terrorism. These
acts of violence targeted pieds noirs (Europeans living in Algeria during the
French rule) and the French military (Hutchinson 61). Furthermore, men were
sent to military bases located in Tunisia to train for war. One of the FLN’s
first attacks on France was the one on All Saints Day. The thirty attacks
included bombings and other guerrilla warfare strategies throughout the
country. The FLN, however, argued that they tried to avoid killing European
civilians. The FLN received all their weapon supply by ambushing military
personnel. Arming the ALN and FLN was crucial to their military tactic;
violence. A large amount of the FLN arms was acquired this way as seen. In the
film The Battle of Algiers, many of the FLN members are seen killing
French militants and running off with the arms they steal from the dead bodies.
In an interview, Ben Bella talks about how he smuggled arms from Tunisia and
Egypt, another method used to acquire arms for Algerian freedom fighters.
Support from Libya, the Soviet Union, Spain and other Arab countries concerned
the French as they saw this as a potential threat. Freedom fighters usually met
in the capital. The Battle of Algiers, which lasted a year from 1956 to 1957,
changed the way the freedom fighters were going about their road to freedom.
The FLN now decided that not they would lift the tactic of never attacking a
civilian (Talbott 80). In A Dying Colonialism, Fanon talks about the
important role of women with the freedom fighters. Since women were to be
respected and untouched due to the Islamic views, they passed through French
checkpoints much easier than men. Most people who were attacked by the women
who helped the FLN were civilians. The often used method of attack by women in
the FLN was to bomb a public place using a timed bomb in a bag. The Battle of
Algiers depicts this movement of women in the FLN in the scene shown on the
left. In this scene a man is being searched quite thoroughly. However, the
woman distracts him by making herself look as if she’s a French settler as she
is not dressed in the traditional Muslim hijab. This shows how easy it was to
go through the checkpoints as a woman, giving them a vital role in the
Another goal of the
military was to become a popular favorite amongst the Algerians. This support
was to be gained by violently killing or torturing any traitors. This included
Algerians who wanted Algeria to stay under the French rule and even Algerians
living in France. They intimidated Algerians into supporting their views with
the use of terrorism. They needed people to know that betrayal would not be tolerated.
They also wanted to make sure that any other political group that was
considered competition for recognition and support to dissolve or remove
themselves from the public eye.
This eventually worked,
after a few months of this “French counterterrorism” the FLN gained more
support and members. In retaliation, the French enforced the death penalty to
any FLN member who was captured. Propaganda, was their most successful way of
receiving support, leading to more recruits for their party. The FLN wouldn’t
agree to cease blood shed until they had proof that they would be granted
independence, resulting in both sides to turn to more extreme and more violent
Most of the men joining
the FLN were young men. Many were at the age of sixteen and seventeen,
unemployed, uneducated, and with very little knowledge of religion. This made
them more prone to join and the hatred of the French regime. To join the FLN
you had to have “experience”, in other words, you must have already been a part
of an attack. The more people a person killed, the more higher ranks they
received (Evans and Phillips 221). The dead bodies were like badges of honor,
without them the FLN would not take the person seriously.
As the FLN escalated
with their use of violence towards the French, the French armed groups
continued to do so as well. Carlos Marighela’s ways of going about on guerrilla
warfare strongly made an impact of the way the FLN was thinking. Marighela’s
theory did not work for him in Brazil, but the rest of the world looked at his
theory to apply it to their own problems. He convinced the world that the use
of terrorism and violence would make the opponent react too hard, making that
opponent look bad. As a result, that would gain support for the country using
violence. The FLN used Marighela’s strategy when they decided to go to war with
France as a whole, this included the civilians as well. They began to protest
against the people who wanted to use military as a strategy.
On August 20, Phillippeville
became the FLN’s following target. They ordered the guerrillas to besiege
Philippeville and any other village around it, targeting almost 26 different
cities that inhabited pied noirs. The men and undercover women bombarded cafés,
went house by house shooting families. The violence included grenade attacks on
cafés, door-to-door killings of entire families, and “revolting
savagery…carefully premeditated planning which clearly lay behind the
massacres.” (Horne 120). The FLN decided to choose Phillippeville because it
was meant to parallel the events that took place in Sétif. This town held the
protests and gatherings where people who hated Algeria came together to express
that hate together. The following quote describes the inhumane treatment of the
Algerians during the time of the war; “The day after the massacre, after French
troops were called in to end the killing, French hatred was exemplified in the
mass execution of all Algerian prisoners, buried by bulldozer due to the high
numbers of casualties.” (Stone 33). The estimated numbers of deaths in
Phillipville was about 123, in retaliation, however, 1,273 Algerians were
killed by the French. Sound familiar? Marighela’s militarization tactics worked
for the FLN. The French did overreact and they fell right into the FLN’s mouse
trap. They reached the decision that for the FLN to stop the violence they must
be promised an independence (Stone 145). This also set up a plan for combat in
the capital city, Algiers. The targeting of European civilians as occurred in
the Battle of Algiers and, second, the internationalization of the conflict,
including bringing terror to mainland France. These two major actions were a
consequence of this resolution and purpose (Hutchinson 14).
militants blocked off the borders of Algeria with barbed wires that
electrocuted anyone who tried to pass. This worked at separating anyone who
wanted to enter Algeria from any other country, keeping them stranded in
Tunisia (Derradji 118). 80,000 army men guarded the barrier which is also known
as the Morice Line. It also was surrounded by mines and ditches, it was the
easiest way to get killed so most contingents avoided it (Horne 146). This
barrier helped the French eliminate members trying to come into Algeria, about
6,000 members were lost because of this, any member who left and tried to come
back either died or never made it back (Horne 266). The true purpose of the
Morice Line was to keep civilians safe and away from the violence of the FLN
and to make France more dominant in the FLN’s confrontation. Most of the time,
the line was disregarded by the French. They ignored the fact that it was meant
to separate territories, they would go in to the cut off territories and bomb
them. In particular, the French invaded and bombed the city of Sakiet in
Tunisia because they believed there was suspicious activity. They thought the
FLN was hiding out in that city, hospitals and schools were affected (Horne
249). This, again, was an overreaction on the French’s part. The fact that they
bombed other territories made them look like the true enemy, gaining more
support for the FLN. A bombing in a different country is not equal to the FLN
hiding out in another country. This fault on the French part was also another
way for the Algerians to gain media and international support. Tunisia ordered
journalists to document all the wrong-doings of the French, but little did they
know how the FLN was manipulating them (Horne 250). The strategy of gaining
support from the rest of the world by making the French overreact to their
attacks was working.
From my research on the
Algerian Revolution, it is seen that violence and terrorism were tactics of war
for both countries. Both France and Algeria, used these strategies move forward
towards their political goals; French dominating Algeria for land and Algeria
becoming an independent country. For the FLN, their idea of making the
civilians come together as one, they needed to attack French forces together.
This way the FLN gains support and more people join or cooperate. Another
important tactic was to have the world watching when the French react too hard,
making the French gain a bad reputation and gain Algeria favor. For the French,
to keep a French Algeria the army must use violence to reach an end. However,
to keep Algeria, France crossed the line of acceptable use of violence which
made the lose political support internationally. While each country has
different political goals and ways to reach those goals, the presence of
terrorism and violence in this war to achieve those goals is a similarity. It took
eight years for the FLN to reach their goal of independence which they began
fighting for in 1954. The citizens of Algeria kept their mind set on never
agreeing for anything unless it was independence. Eventually, what once was a
complete rebellion with the use of violence, turned out to be political
strategies to negotiate and call the world for help. The Soummam conference
gave the ALN a different tactic on how to go about the war. They understood
that they wanted the rest of the world on their side but anything that was to
be discussed or fought was only between the French and the Algerians. The
violence, the countries opposing the French, and the manipulation from the FLN
all put an ample amount of pressure on French authorities. The use of violence on
the part of the Algerians is, in fact, justified. The French decided to come
into the territory of another country and the people revolted. This has been
seen numerous times in history, but never this bloody. Throughout the
revolution, both sides of the war grew tired and eventually came to an
agreement. The conclusion reached in this research is that the FLN’s use of
violence is justified. The French invaded their land and the only way the
Algerians could get them to leave is by harassing them until they were tired.
The French responded to the simple confrontations by killing innocent
civilians. In retaliation, the Algerians would start to kill anyone that got in
their way. In the end, the FLN’s use of violence is justified because they were
occupied by a country using violence against them.
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History of Political Violence in Algeria, 1954-2000: Brothers in Faith, Enemies
in Arms (north African Studies, V. 3). United States: Edwin Mellen Press, 1
Evans, Martin, and John Phillips. Algeria:
Anger of the Dispossessed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 28 Jan.
Fanon, Frantz. A Dying Colonialism.
London: Writers and Readers, 1 Jun. 1965.?Horne, Alistair. A Savage War of Peace:
Algeria, 1954-1962. New York: Viking Press, 27 Mar. 1978.?
Hutchinson, Martha Crenshaw. Revolutionary
Terrorism: The FLN in Algeria, 1954-1962. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution
Press, Stanford University, 1978.?
Jackson, Henry F., and Hollis Lynch. The
FLN in Algeria: Party Development in a Revolutionary Society. United
States: Greenwood Press, 1977.?
Mendès France, Pierre. ‘Reaction to
Events in Algeria’. 12 Nov. 1954. A Savage War of Peace.
Merle, Robert. Ahmed Ben Bella. New York:
Walker and Company, 1965.?
Sartre, Jean-Paul. Colonialism and
Neocolonialism. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2006.?
Stone, Martin. The Agony of Algeria.
New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.?
Talbott, John E. The War Without a Name:
France in Algeria, 1954-1962. 1st ed. New York: Knopf ,1980.?
The Battle of Algiers. Dir. Gillo
Pontecorvo. 1966. DVD.