When Memory Becomes a Prison of Nations


Over the decades, large numbers of Algerians who served in the French armies fought in two world wars and a number of colonial wars, notably in Indochina. In the meantime, Algerians of all ethnicities adopted French as their lingua franca creating a rich literature and press. Algerian friends tell me that they regarded the French language as "war booty", presumably the same as English, which has made India the largest English-speaking country in the world

Keeping alive the narrative of victimhood, successive Algerian leaders have tried to divert attention from their own shortcomings, not to say misdeeds. Covering the 1990s troubles in Algeria, I was often told by Algerian politicians of all colors that all of their country's troubles, including terrorism in the name of religion and police brutality, were due to French colonial rule. After a while, having gotten tired of that shibboleth, I suggested to Algerian interlocutors to fix a certain date up to which everything was the fault of the French but after that regard Algerians as responsible for their own troubles.

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