Franz Fanon, in his “The Wretched of the Earth”, believes that freedom cannot be obtained without the use of violence. Fanon argues that colonialism is built on systemic structural violence which eventually triggers a violent reaction. In his view the violent nature of that reaction is tragic but healing and necessary. It’s healing lies in its ability to break up the inferiority complex of the colonized and to release the tension which has been inscribed on the body during a lifetime of violent oppression.
“We shall support whatever the enemy opposes and oppose whatever the enemy supports.” (Mao Tse-Tung). In the movie Battle of Algiers the lifestyle of Algerians seemed to be depicted accurately and realistically. In the film, the Algerians were seen as second class citizens, if that. They were segregated from the rest of society and ostracized for their appearance and lower class status. Often, Algerian citizens could be walking down the street and would get yelled at or chased by French citizens of Algeria. Algerians did not seem to be welcome in their own country and had fewer rights and privileges than the French citizens.
The Algerian people and the FLN were driven to violence because the French made that the last option for them. The society the Algerian people were living in was decaying, highly crowded, and dirty. People were made fun of daily and did not have the same opportunities as the French citizens. The government would place sanctions on Algerians and the FLN to keep them from opportunities of advancement or uprising. In this film, the FLN is seen as a group of brutal people who are willing to kill and be killed for their right to freedom and self-determination. However, the film is quick to show the brutalities they had to endure, but more importantly the societal segregation they encountered on a daily basis.
For the FLN, the people of Algeria had so little choice in their future and everyday activities, they it seemed as thought they felt they had nothing to lose. Why not rise up and fight for civil rights and equality in our own country. Men, women, and children all played integral roles in the revolution. These people still led normal and productive lives, but felt they had no opportunity for advancement or betterment of themselves or their families. So, they resorted to violence and the only means they knew how to get attention. All these people wanted, was to be heard, and they felt this could only be accomplished through violence.
The Algerian people and the FLN came off as desperate people who badly want control over their country and their futures and their children’s futures. The French citizens seemed not to care that these people were being treated cruelly, and the government seemed to be on a mission to eradicate all FLN members no matter what the cost. The French government’s main concern was losing control, even if relinquishing control was for a good cause and was the right thing to do.
When the FLN decided to rise up and take action against their oppressive government, they made the use of “terrorism” a means of fighting. The group could easily rationalize “terrorism” as a tactic. This group endured unfit living conditions, a lack of education, a lack of respect from other community members, oppression and limited opportunities due to the reigning government, and segregation from society. The FLN saw no future for their children or themselves and they wanted a choice in how their lives would unfold. Civil rights and self-determination were key concerns. When all hope is lost, people will resort to desperate measures.
The FLN wanted their civil rights and the right to determine their own future. They wanted their children to have opportunities and they wanted equality in all areas of society, so no one was seen as better than the other. The Algerian people had lost hope. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain, so why not start a revolution. Raising the eyebrows of their government and government around the world could only help their causes and better their conditions. The group was at the end of the line and saw no other choice but to try and create a radical change in any way possible. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
The FLN used violence in the form of bombs and weapons. They targeted civilians, even their own people, to get their point across and gain attention. They had the mentality that if a person was not with the FLN they were against them. This created a much more hostile environment, contributing to violence from both sides (Battle of Algiers). In the movie we saw that the French Army, led by Colonel Mathieu, had a strategic plan to track down and stop the terrorists by using interrogation (torture). So the ethical dilemma from the French point of view was if torture is a justifiable counter measure to terrorism?
From a practical perspective, protecting a majority against a minority of murderers can be seen as grounds to torture those who have relevant information. Col. Mathieu recognizes that fact. He tells his men: “the problem, as usual, is: first, the enemy; second, how to destroy him. There are 400,000 Arabs in Algiers. All against us? Of course not. There’s only a minority that rules by terror and violence.” To Mathieu, the
needs of the French community at large out way any and all needs of those in military custody. Ending the terror campaign will certainly improve their well being, by easing their fear, by promoting the common defense and by restoring order.
It can also be argued that the terrorists, by their involvement in vicious terror plots, have surrendered their rights not to be tortured. As a result, torturing them is not per say immoral because they have no ethical appeal and no rights to violate. Even supposing their rights are inseparable and cannot be taken away; do the innocent’s rights to not be killed not supersede the rights of those who are to be tortured? Even if all rights violations are equally undesirable, it seems appropriate to torture one or two captives to obtain relevant information to prevent further rights violations of innocent people. For these reasons, the French have decided that, given their circumstances, torture is justifiable. From that perspective, it can be assumed that since the military is charged with protecting the general public and rooting out the terrorists, not torturing for information would be against their duty and therefore immoral. Consequently torture can be seen as not only justified in the situation, but in the context, the ethical thing to do. Also, the military officers have an ethical duty to destroy the terrorist cells with all expediency. They are charged with doing anything possible to stop more attacks from happening.
Mathieu confronts the journalist’s moral uncertainty when he tells them that: the FLN wants us to leave Algeria and we want to remain. Now, it seems to me that, despite varying shades of opinion, you all agree that we must remain. When the rebellion first began, there were not even shades of opinion. All the newspapers … wanted the rebellion suppressed. And we were sent here for this very reason. … We are soldiers and our only duty is to win. Therefore, to be precise, I would now like to ask you a question: Should France remain in Algeria? If you answer “yes,” then you must accept all the necessary consequences.
But torture was not the only means the French used to suppress the revolutionary movement. More than 2 million Algerians were removed from their villages, mostly in the mountainous areas, and resettled in the plains, where many found it impossible to reestablish their accustomed economic or social situations. Living conditions in the camps were poor. Hundreds of empty villages were devastated, and in hundreds of others orchards and croplands were destroyed.
Fanon argues that because the proletariat is closely linked with the foreign power, they will not be able to lead the revolution, like Marx says. So the weight of waging the revolutionary war in this case will be on the lumpen proletariat.
The Algerian war of independence is an example of the determination and will of the people to achieve their goal. Though, militarily subdued by French forces, the FLN was able to get political and diplomatic support from the civilized world which ultimately compelled the French authorities to announce independence for the Algerian people. This war of independence passed through many ups and downs and millions of innocent people suffered badly but the ultimate will of the people found its way to the final success. Movement of such nature should always remain a source of inspiration and motivation for the underprivileged and suppressed people of the world.