Today marks another anniversary of the “French-Algerian Massacre” of 1961, when at least 200 Algerians living in Paris were killed by French police and another 11,000 or so were arrested while protesting for Algerian independence from France.
Nabila Ramdani (in The Guardian) reminds us that “many of the killers had been Nazi collaborators who learned their crowd control methods from the Gestapo” and not much has changed in terms of the living conditions and treatment of French-Algerians living in Paris today. Curfews in the banlieues (some of which were the sites of massive protest in 2005), unemployment, police brutality and abuse of the old Algerian war legislation prevent Algerian citizens of France from living freely.
The last time I was in Paris was during the 2006 World Cup (I was cheering on Zidane and my French is much better than my German). I had gone out with some friends who lived in Les Ulis, a banlieue which ironically houses many corporate headquarters. After a few hours of post-match euphoria, I decided it was time to go home … only to be informed that we were locked in the neighborhood for the evening.
The chains keeping poor residents in the projects are no surprise to anyone visiting France from a former African or Caribbean colony. Though France does not “officially” recognize race, the term “Muslim” has been bandied about for decades to describe the flood of ‘undesirable citizens’ from the colony to the metropole. While a number of Senegalese, Algerians and others do identify as Muslim, popular culture (such as Marie Ndiaye’s novel Trois femmes puissantes and Mathieu Kassovitz’s film La Haine) provides a more nuanced understanding of who receives second-class citizenship in the country, often, of their birth (Hint: They don’t look like Carla Bruni).
It is in this context of the increasingly violent rhetoric surrounding issues of citizenship and immigration in the original “post-racial” society that Algerians and their allies today remember the events of 17 October, 1961. We are still waiting for the French government to acknowledge their responsibility for this massacre and many others, but we will likely be waiting for quite a bit longer.