Journal 1955–1962: Reflections on the French-Algerian War by Mouloud Feraoun

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Photo source of Mouloud Feraoun: wikipedia

Journal 1955–1962: Reflections on the French-Algerian War (1962)
Mouloud Feraoun

This important and moving text is the last completed work by an Algerian Berber novelist and public intellectual who wrote in French, the language in which the original Éditions du Seuil edition appeared in 1962. The English translation profiled here was published in 2000; translated by the team of Mary Ellen Wolf and Claude Fouillade, it was edited (and contains an introduction) by James Le Sueur, and contains copious and detailed notes, a glossary and several maps. The author of this journal, Mouloud Feraoun, was born in a large village in the Kabylie mountains. While he spoke Tamazight (the Berber language of his community), Feraoun was educated in French and wrote in this language, while he never wrote in (nor did he speak much) Arabic. Loyal to his origins, as a writer Feraoun (author of several acclaimed novels plus a study and a translation of a Berber poet’s work) is most concerned with Algerians, and especially Kabyles. Nevertheless, he considered himself a French intellectual, and the respectful reception of his work in France (where he was published by leading houses) confirmed the validity of his claim. From his youth, he had a close friendship with the French (but Algerian-born) author Emmanuel Roblès, who admired his insights and writing and urged him to record and publish his impressions of the French-Algerian War. French and French-Algerian intellectuals alike held Feraoun in high esteem. His assassination, only three days before the peace agreement brought an end to the war [by French Algerian extremists of the OAS (Organisation armée secrète – a diehard group also known as the Ultras), which was determined, at all costs, to maintain French domination and prevent the granting of independence to Algeria] gave added weight to Feraoun’s testimony.

Feraoun was a deeply committed educator who taught for years in high schools – mainly in the Kabyle region, but later in Algiers – and he joined the Algerian education department as a school inspector when teaching in the Berber areas was disrupted by the war. As an important writer and a highly educated Algerian, with leading intellectuals such as Roblès and Camus among his friends, he remained in close touch with his Berber village family and friends. His Journal is an immensely valuable account of a terrible war, not only because it contemplates events from a position that is empathetic to both the Algerian and the French perspectives (and this is so, despite Feraoun’s clear primary commitment to the Algerian liberation cause), but also because it is not only a non-combatant’s position, but maintains to the end the author’s profoundly civilian outlook. That principled stance in the midst of nearly ten years of a war generally seen as one of the most brutal anti-colonial conflicts of the twentieth century, alone, makes the Journal remarkable, but it is also movingly personal, as it acknowledges the value of lives profoundly affected and deaths caused by the war that impinged on the author’s existence. The Algerian Liberation War (or the French-Algerian War, as it is also known) brought about an exceptionally high number of atrocities on both sides (though one needs to note there were several further fissures splitting up both the “French” and the broadly “Algerian” sides of the conflict), though few would deny that (if only through might of combatant numbers, institutional entrenchment and superior armaments) the majority of these were committed on the French side. It is also a war notorious for the extensive use of torture by the French. Feraoun never mentions Fanon in his writing, though he would not have endorsed the latter’s justification of liberatory violence as both a necessity and a way of regaining the self-respect of the oppressed. Feraoun did, nevertheless, note the regained national pride of many of his compatriots at this time of revolt.

Feraoun acknowledged many reservations and misgivings about the value of and need for publishing his Journal. Upon rereading the text prior to its publication, he found himself perturbed by his own “candor … audacity … cruelty … [and his occasional] blind spots and prejudice”; he, nevertheless, wondered whether he had a right to “tamper with … or rectify” these flaws in his account (294). He concluded that he had a duty to bear witness to what he recorded, experienced and had been told; to add his individual account as “one more document in an extremely poignant dossier”. Even if he might occasionally have misunderstood or misperceived an event that he relates, he states: “[E]ach occurrence is inscribed in the flesh of men” (295). He knows, he writes, that France gave much to Algeria, but cannot erase the point that Algerians were left with nothing but the method of violence to persuade France to allow them self-rule, and that it was the violent resistance of the French to this valid demand that led to nearly ten years of death and suffering – predominantly on the Algerian side. To this, Feraoun adds that to have remained silent would have been worse than to produce a flawed or biased account. Brutally self-critical, he acknowledges:

My candor has led me to give in to anger, to argue rather than to bear witness, to betray my duty as a man, to trample on noble sentiments, to abuse the trust of my friends and neighbors, and to wreak destruction on the superior interests of a noble cause. Herein lies my shame and my torment. I know how difficult it is to be fair, I know that a noble soul will accept injustice in order to avoid being unjust, and, finally, I know that silence is a heroic virtue. My people, I could have died. But for almost ten years now, I have staved off threats ten times and found shelter so that I could continue to bear witness to those who were taken by death. Those who have suffered and those who have died had the potential to say a lot of things. My goal has been to say, with some timidity, a few of those things in their place. What I have said has come from the heart and is as insightful and honest as I can make it. (295–6)

The opening entry in Feraoun’s Journal, dated 1 November 1955, reads: “‘It is raining in the city.’ The streetlights have been on for two hours, lighting up the closed shutters and doors of silent facades. The city is still and secluded, cunning, hostile, and frightened …” (11). This entry concerns the city of Fort National in the Kabyle region. His final entry (14 March 1962), set in Algiers, is the following:

Terror reigns in Algiers. Yet people still go out. Those who must make a living or simply do errands have to go out. They leave without being too sure whether they will come back or fall in the street. This is where our common fate has brought us – the bold and the cowardly – to the extent that it makes you wonder whether such labels really exist or whether they are merely illusions, devoid of reality. No, of course, we no longer distinguish between the courageous and the cowardly. Unless, after living in fear for so long, we have all become insensitive and unaware. Of course, I do not want to die and I certainly do not want my children to die. But I am not taking any special precautions, aside from those that have become habits for the past couple of weeks: limiting reasons to go out, stocking up for several days, cutting out visits to friends. Just the same, every time that anyone goes out, he comes back to describe a murder or report a victim. (314)

Feraoun stopped his wife from letting his children go out to school on his last morning (15 March 1962), when he himself left early to attend a meeting of educators. Mid-morning, OAS operatives stormed into the room and commanded six attendees (a seventh person was absent) to follow them outside, where they ordered the three French and three Algerian men to stand against a courtyard wall, and gunned them down one by one, Feraoun being the last of the six to be shot. He had twelve bullets in his body, his son would later testify, and his body was laid out on a central table in the morgue, among scores of other corpses. He lies buried in Tizi-Hibel, his ancestral village.

Feraoun was well aware that many of his compatriots disliked his very scrupulously balanced accounts of atrocities on both sides of the conflict, and were disappointed that his Journal was not more clearly partisan and “Algerian”. Yet, Feraoun never leaves his reader in any doubt about his own recognition of the injustice of the French claim of “ownership” right to Algeria, or the validity of Algerians rejecting by violent acts – necessarily by violence, as they had no other option at this stage – the French occupation of their country (at this stage, by French law “part of” France, rather than its colony). He responded by writing (in 1955, still fairly early in the war): “Unfortunately, these young people have nothing to teach me about this area. I am the elder” (24). He stated, too, that it was not simply a two-sided conflict; there was, for example, the “split between Arabs and Kabyles [Berbers]” (25). Feraoun, furthermore, refused to believe naively that once the French had been driven out, identifying a “virtuous political leader”, one capable of “guiding the nationalist party” (25), would be an easy matter. His scrupulousness and clear-headedness is evident throughout his Journal. For all the warmth and depth of his commitment to Algeria, Feraoun continued to distinguish France and its long history and complex cultural heritage, which he honoured, from the conduct of the French government at this time, the French soldiers and the pieds-noirs (French settlers) in Algeria. He even insisted on his right to identify himself as “French”, in view of his intellectual and cultural achievements in this medium, though he could wax indignant against (for example) Camus and Roblès for pronouncing on the French-Algerian conflict, when they could not (as he could) identify themselves as “Algerian”, with a local right to speak about a country called Algeria, and not “French Algeria”.

The Journal is wide-ranging in the attention it pays (with novelistic vividness) to the daily realities of weather, street scenes and social encounters, and the effects on himself and the people around him of local, familial, national and international events and tensions. His openness to his own milieu makes Feraoun’s witnessing so compelling – along with his deep historical knowledge and his political, as much as emotional and moral, sensitivity. Scrupulousness is perhaps the outstanding quality of this account, as Feraoun traces the reach of prevalent ideas and ideologies, observes the suffering and courage or apathy or ruthlessness of different players, and makes his assessments – or merely notes occurrences that “speak for themselves”. Not that he writes like some uncaring, unaffected and clinically aloof observer; he cares too passionately and is too deeply involved with his people to be merely the dispassionate intellectual. Feraoun also gets carried away, occasionally, in expressing his indignation or proclaiming a position he feels is right, and he does contradict himself (or appears to be protesting too much) on certain issues. His honesty is always balanced with his careful tracing of the complex roots of “simple” facts or acts, however. Along with these qualities, one must note that even in translation, the elegance and lucidity of Feraoun’s writing are hallmarks of his intellectual stature. Feraoun provides us with a mosaic in which his own assessments are shown interacting with the opinions of many others: discussions with fellow writers and intellectuals in Algeria and France; reports in local and French newspapers and journals, or on radio programmes; and conversations with Kabyle villagers or Algiers shopkeepers, with officials and military men, and with his family members.

Without Feraoun himself providing markers for a process so insidious, readers can perceive how, in the course of his journal entries, he is delineating a relentless and inevitable “militarisation” of social interaction in the streets of Algerian cities, towns and villages. Ineluctably, people are pushed into their respective national-political or ethnic “camps”, or into the roles of oppressor, combatant or compliant subject. Formerly easygoing assumptions of friendship, trust and equality are eroded, and interactions among Algerians and French people become awkward, falsely friendly or openly hostile. Suspicion and fear erode the social fabric, but intensify relentlessly. Even everyday decisions such as whether or not to visit, sit with or eat with another person – even a colleague or old acquaintance – become politicised or feel risky. French “overlordship” in Algeria is brutally emphasised by the soldiers, who are everywhere, controlling access to certain institutions or buildings, patrolling the streets and even monitoring travel in the countryside. Because the conflict is not restricted to battlefields or enacted between two armies, but is between an occupying force protecting the interests of a distant country – embedded in a settler population – and resistant, resentful, much poorer locals, it erupts unpredictably, or manifests in sullen endurance or swaggering acts of bullying authority. Because of his own innate gentleness, the brutalisation of all sectors of Algerian society inevitably struck Feraoun as appalling. Though he never stopped believing in either the validity of Algeria’s claim to self-government or the worth of French civilisation, and could celebrate the dignity of his Kabyle people as much as the sophistication of French cultural achievements, Feraoun detested ruthlessness and bloodshed – no matter whether others considered it “necessary” or “justified”. Presciently, but bitterly, he wrote (at the end of 1956, when the war still had more than five years to run its course):

There will come a time when the [French] army and the maquis [the French but locally adopted name for the Algerian guerrillas] will compete to see who can be the most brutal and cruel; for the former, it will be in the name of a system that it is desperately trying to defend, and for the latter, in the name of a freedom that is difficult to conquer. (164)

The French-Algerian War murdered thousands and thousands of civilians, along with combatants who knowingly risked their lives. In Feraoun’s listing of fatality after fatality in nearly every entry of his journal, he notes that while perhaps no one is ever entirely innocent, ordinary, unsuspecting people attempting no more than to go about their lives get mown down along with those “killed in the line of duty”. He makes one see that both the French and the maquis engage in terrorism – for there is no other name for the arbitrary “punishments” all too often meted out to those labelled as terrorists, collaborators, traitors and so on.

It is difficult to choose passages to represent the entries in Feraoun’s rich Journal – it is a lamentation, a fierce accusation, a love letter to his land; and its bitterness is, throughout, expressed in mild or sober tones. The writer’s pain is a shared pain, and he acknowledges, always, the often far worse sufferings of others. In what follows, I provide a sampling of Feraoun’s observations (in both senses of that term) to convey something more of the nature of this testament to one man’s hope and unassailable integrity in the midst of dreadful and taxing demands on his feelings.

On a visit to the village where he was born, where his father and some family members still live, Feraoun learns of the recent assassination – no doubt by a Kabyle – of a local, and of the way this affects local life. “The unanswered question was who had armed this man [the assassin]? Was it a clan? Was it this other clan?” People are “shaken” and, writes Feraoun, “we no longer dare to freely approach one another. We exchange greetings but with reticence. And in order to avoid saying hello, we avoid each other. At times, we just bluntly turn away.” When forced to spend time together, he says, people dare to mention only what is “pathetically trite”, as if to indicate that nothing serious or untoward has occurred. Yet, he adds, a “shrewd and vexed observer” can “read” in people’s expressions a bewildered sense of loss; a questioning of the need for such estrangement. But:

[t]hen the expression changes to indifference, and they leave one another with a lukewarm handshake, a small but discreet gesture. We also part by simply turning away without so much as a handshake or a nod of the head. Damn it, we have had enough. It seems that this is the chorus sung by everybody here all at the same time. Go to hell! In this case, the Kabyle who immediately runs into one of his peers or the Frenchman who meets another Frenchman after leaving a Kabyle flashes his compatriot a complicit smile, so as to clearly demonstrate that he has just snubbed the enemy; in a nutshell, he has done his duty. [30–1 (Date of entry: 18 December 1955)]

Taking the measure of the time (in this rural area, later in the same entry), Feraoun writes that those living in the Kabyle villages had “found [them]selves in a country in jeopardy” since the beginning of October. Suddenly, “military vehicles ploughed through the streets, swooped down into the valleys, crawled up to the villages, stopped in fields, rounded up ‘suspects,’ and, at times, came under gunfire”. In their turn, the “terrorists” (as if only they deserve this label!) start setting fire to bulldozers, laying ambushes, exacting vengeance on presumed informers and revealing their identities to the villagers, “ready and willing to give them sympathy and support”. For, notes Feraoun, and no doubt because of the increasing visibility and effectiveness of the raids by the maquis, “we were beginning to take them seriously, and that gave us new strength” (32–3). In observations like the last one, above, Feraoun does come close to Fanon’s position, one must note. But, within a page further in this long entry, Feraoun expresses his detestation of the “reign of brutality and barbarism [that] has replaced the reign of submission, hypocrisy, and hatred, whether it be half-hidden or suppressed”, and laments that “there is no room for anything except force” (34).

To account briefly for the “sudden” eruption of fierce patriotism among the Kabyles and others, Feraoun ventriloquizes their voice as follows: “The Algerians did not wait for the twentieth century to realize that they were Algerians. […] There were no miraculous phenomena that […] whispered in their ears the magical word patrie”; “the time for Jeanne d’Arc is over for Algeria because there has always been La Kahena” (43–4) – the latter a Berber princess who led resistance against Arab Muslims as far back as the seventh century (Jeanne d’Arc was, of course, a martyr for her leadership of French resistance of the English in the fifteenth century). Villagers, he shows, find themselves increasingly caught between the conflicting orders of the FLN [Front de Libération Nationale of the Algerian Arabs and Berbers] and the French government and military. As always in this type of conflict, “ordinary” rights and freedoms and civilian institutions are either suspended or destroyed. The rebels demand strict Muslim observances; schools are burned down to stop the French military from occupying them, and anyone picked up as a “suspect” is likely to end up shot. When the French governor is recalled in 1956, the local French come out in force to demonstrate against his removal. The Algerians interpret this as a declaration of the pieds-noirs’ determination to retain “their privileges, their wealth, and their slaves” (70). They note bitterly that a demonstration of this kind by Algerians would never have been permitted on Algerian soil! Feraoun “addresses” Camus and Roblès in this light (as a note by Roblès informs us) – remarks to be contextualised by the fact that a meeting in Algiers between these three authors and others was violently disrupted by the “Ultras” (extremists among the French settlers). He now reads the ideal of equality and integration between Algerians and French settlers as a topic these French commentators should rather keep quiet about.

Because, in the end, this country is indeed called Algeria and its inhabitants are called Algerians. Why sidestep the evidence? Are you Algerians, my friends? You must stand with those who fight. Tell the French that this country does not belong to them, that they took it over by force, and that they intend to remain here by force. Anything else is a lie and in bad faith. Any other language is criminal because, for several months now, […] innocents who had accepted these lies […] have died. They have died. And these innocents are primarily indigenous people. [(Also read the African Library entry of 3 February 2017)]

Despite his biting criticism, Roblès was and remained a dear friend to Feraoun, and Feraoun greatly admired and respected Camus, with whom he had a very cordial relationship.

Furious about the myth of “free elections” promised to the Algerian indigenes by the French rulers (as if this were all that they strove for), and the hypocrisy and disguised contempt in this mere sop to an oppressed populace, Feraoun was even more horrified at the news that the rebels had started gunning down peasants working in their fields and burning down their farms “because they were the enemy” (presumably for not joining the maquis in the mountains) and nothing more. He asks, “Can people who kill in cold blood be called liberators?” and asks whether they have “considered […] that their ‘violence’ will engender more ‘violence,’ will legitimize it, and will hasten its terrible manifestation”. He states: “the people are unarmed, bunched together in their villages, immensely vulnerable” (84-5). This dreadful spiral of violence, once let loose, was noted by Feraoun as the war’s greatest horror – he paid no heed to the way both sides declared such bloody acts justified in view of their intended consequences. What he saw was moral deterioration among the rebels easily equal to the hypocritically disguised viciousness of the occupying forces – one as “grotesque” as the other. Registering a hellish sense of gloom and panic, Feraoun, on 14 March 1956, writes that he goes home for “refuge”, since “the French, the Kabyle, the soldier, and the fellagha [peasants] frighten me. I am frightened of myself. The French are inside me, and the Kabyle are inside me. I feel disgust for those who kill,” he says, because anyone prepared to kill “legitimizes the crime and justifies it. Thus, crimes are rendered necessary, like acts of faith or worthy deeds” (90). In early April of the same year, he reports with virulent sarcasm how a young villager, “as expected”, was “shot like a dog”, and that it is quite clear that “the police will shoot Kabyles like dogs”. After torturing this youth to squeeze names of other youths “neither more nor less guilty than himself” out of him, those “brave policemen” declared that the boy was shot “because he was fleeing” (105). On May the 10th, Feraoun writes that “each night the radio station and each morning the press bring us details” concerning the “terrorists’” attacks, “while my compatriots peddle other details” concerning police and French soldiers’ deeds, to the point that such facts are “nothing special”, since “men fall day and night” (109). Feraoun never mentions total numbers, but some conservative French estimates of fatalities caused in this war note around 300 000; Algerians claim up to one and a half million deaths. Although Feraoun declares, “I prefer to suffer with my compatriots rather than to watch them suffer” (122), he thought the idea of Algeria in the future led by “men with neither scruples nor education”, no better than “bandits” (119), horrifying. But, he knew that he was “maintaining [his] balance on a very tight, thin rope” (121). The same sort of “oscillating” information that one moment reports the atrocity of the occupiers, next moment (often in the same entry) is obliged to describe the cruelty of the maquis. One group is as ruthless as the other, and Feraoun sides with the victims.

On 27 July, Feraoun writes how he is knocked up by policemen who need him and another man to identify “the bodies of our poor cousins”, shot much earlier and left lying in the sun. “These are the rebels that the soldiers shot. Do you recognize them?” they are asked. “Yes, […] they are our cousins but they are not rebels,” they reply. Their defence is dismissed, and they are told to bury the corpses within the hour – the women and children are not allowed to come and see the bodies. The next day’s entry reports how a village “girl of easy virtue”, probably used sexually my many of the maquis, is shot down by one of them for having ”a bad reputation” (131). “The winds of panic blow everywhere,” Feraoun notes at a later date, for “brutality reigns” (137–8). Claims that France is successfully repressing the Algerian “revolt”, he says, are a lie that “tears hearts”; “it kills bodies, and spreads hatred and madness” (142). When the French, in late October 1956, intercept a Moroccan aeroplane carrying top FLN leaders, breaking international law, the Algerians do not register this as a victory by the French, but as shameful confirmation that France treats Algeria as a colony and still sees their people as permanent inferiors without rights. Feraoun is outraged that so many so-called “sensitive” Frenchmen of “conscience” who denounce the Russian invasion and the repression of the Hungarian attempt to assert their independence in late 1956, are unable to see the parallel between the “brave Hungarians” and the Algerian “rebels”. Earlier, he had hinted at an equivalent blind spot in Frenchmen lauding the WWII resistance fighters as heroes, but unable to see that the Algerian resistance to French occupation was equally valid. He states:

I tell myself that in all these texts that the press publishes, each time the word Hungary is used, it could be replaced – without exaggeration – with the word Algeria, and yet it never is. Is it because the world that sees us suffer is not convinced that we are humans? It is true that we are only Muslims. That may be our unforgivable crime. That is a question I would like to discuss with Sartre or Camus or Mauriac. Why? Yes, why? (153)

How terribly sad that these anguished questions, in all their sorrow and fury, still hold true, in many respects, for Africans and Muslims in 2017 – sixty-one years later.

In early January 1957, Feraoun reports “atrocious crimes and systematic rapes” in the Ouadhias region, where soldiers are “free to defile, kill, and burn”, and the maquis simultaneously “found it necessary” to “overwhelm and terrorize the population […] to prevent them from rallying around the French”. The French soldiers lock up all the men of one village and take a few out every evening, shooting eighty in all, while women are ordered to leave their doors unlocked and remain one to a room at night to be “available” to be raped. About a hundred other village men are believed to have been locked up in straw-roofed buildings and burnt to death. No wonder Feraoun states that “a rancor that will never disappear is taking root in [his] heart” (166). “Can words express the horror that grips us?” Feraoun asks in a slightly later entry, as he notes that the “world hesitates to believe” (170) the Algerians, even though they continue to proclaim the crimes committed against them. But, he states, he belongs to “a proud, great people”, and he believes (although “this is not a prophecy but a wish”) that they will persist in their struggle for recognition (171). In a midnight conversation with Feraoun, Roblès denounces maquis terrorist attacks on French civilians as making the liberation cause impossible to defend; Feraoun notes that Camus (according to what he hears from Roblès, who has spoken at length – shortly before this – to their fellow author) “refuses to admit that Algeria could become independent”, and that he considers the FLN a “fascist” movement (184). “I understand quite well what [Roblès and Camus are] saying,” writes Feraoun, “but I would like them to understand me as well” and “to put themselves in our place.” He expresses scornful resentment:

Those who are in charge of French sovereignty in this country have treated me as an enemy since the beginning of these events. Yet, while treating me as an enemy, they would like me to act as a good French patriot; not even that: they would like me to serve them just as I am, for no other reason than gratitude for the fact that France has made a teacher, a school administrator, and a writer out of me; for the fact that France pays me a large salary that allows me to raise a large family. […] I am asked to repay a debt as if everything I do does not deserve a salary, […] as if my “teaching” were a generous gift that costs me only the pain of extending my hand to take it; as if this writer’s talent […] were another gift [from them], involuntary this time, but no less generous, one quite obviously destined to defend the cause of France at the expense of my own people […] who die and suffer under the scorn and indifference of civilized countries. Quite simply, I am asked to die as a traitor in return for which I will have paid my debt. (185)

But, as always, one can balance such a passage with one in which he fiercely denounces both the FLN and the French “gentlemen” for their atrocities against the Algerian people, sarcastically asking: “Do you truly believe that, with your dirty hands, you are going to build the better future that you are promising us in your hysterical speeches?” He also tells both sides that since they themselves are the “manufacture[rs]” of the Algerians’ “misfortunes”, they cannot expect to escape them themselves (223).

To the French, Algeria is and remains “the property of France, a very profitable property that must not be let go” (236); whereas, the “brothers” [the maquis] will put to death a villager merely for pointing out their crimes and faults in a conversation. The “vice that is crushing people”, Feraoun notes, just “tightens and tightens, it violates, and it kills” (263). More and more, women “are beaten like men, tortured, killed, and put in prison” (264), whereas the maquis are “kidnapp[ing]” old people and “slit[ting] their throats in the ravines” between villages (268). The relentlessly mounting body count continues – now thirty, now twelve, now several hundred deaths are noted. But to Feraoun, so many of these deaths are of people he knew intimately, ranging from the humblest villager who (being intellectually under-endowed, the proverbial “village fool”) misunderstood a command other villagers knew to obey and got shot down in cold blood, to the sophisticated Algiers lawyer, a Francophone Kabyle married to a Frenchwoman (but no radical), who is gunned down by the maquis. Feraoun’s text is a lamentation at the folly and brutality that characterised this war. At times, later on in the Journal, Feraoun leaves long time gaps, too war-weary, or merely too sickened, to continue tracing the outlines of unfolding events. He writes mournfully, on the first of April 1958: “I am overwhelmed, and I live here [in Algiers] as though in another world; far away from our tiny villages whose echoes no longer reach me” (241). Although De Gaulle’s rise to power in France and his interventions in the French-Algerian crisis were seen as hopeful signs by Feraoun, he had no illusions of a quick end to the war, as the French-Algerian diehards of the OAS (as well as the maquis, but with a lower body count on their side, because they were less well equipped with weapons and did not have police protection) increased their assassinations in the capital. On the fifth of February 1962, some six weeks before his own assassination by the OAS, Feraoun writes: “De Gaulle is going to give a speech to announce that the end of the Algerian war is very close. How many more victims will this war claim before coming to an end?” (313). He was all too well aware that he, too, might not live to see the war’s end.

As a final quotation from the Journal, I choose to use a memorable passage written in January of 1962, in which Feraoun brings the whole contestation down to brass tacks. He writes here:

There are quite sensible people who wonder why the OAS insists on suppressing everything that promotes reconciliation, and practically any attempt to make the pieds-noirs see the most basic of democratic principles – namely, that the minority should bow to the majority and accept its law. This has been a customary practice in France for a long time! In Algeria, more than a century ago, another practice was adopted; a minority, blessed by God, holds all the power in its hands and uses it impudently to its own advantage. For generations, people here have been unable to distinguish between democracy and fascism. But their fascism was applicable only to us, and we, the Muslims, ended up mistaking it for their democracy. This is why our fine scholars and theologians have always claimed that nothing in the world is more liberal than the Qur’an and Islam. In fact, Qur’anic doctrine is more progressive than that of Salazar and Franco. End of discussion. (310)

Feraoun’s acerbic tone is clearly justified by the devastating political points he scores here. He had no illusions that FLN rule would deliver the kind of balanced democratic rule he would have wanted, however. In this, as always, his prescience and fairness of mind are remarkable, and help us estimate how great a loss we suffered in the extinguishing of his life. His voice, though, is one we can continue to heed, and his text is a treasured contribution to the African Library.

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