[WATCH] Liberalism and the Genocide of Algerian Muslims | MGAP Ep. 2

Between 1830 and 1962 France undertook a military occupation of Algeria. At the time, Algeria was a country whose indigenous population was more or less entirely Muslim. The 130 years of occupation were characterized by two especially violent periods.

First, there was the initial conquest of Algeria. This was gradually accomplished between 1830 and 1875. Second, there was the Algerian War of Independence, which ended the French occupation. This took place between 1954 to 1962.

During the occupation, French rule resulted in millions of indigenous Muslim deaths. The exact number of deaths is a debated issue. Western academics estimate a death toll of approximately two million.[1]

On the other hand, Algerian scholars and government officials estimate a death toll of five to ten million.

Algerians claim that 5,600,000 people died as a consequence of French occupation.[2]

The occupation of Algeria is a vast and complex topic, which cannot be covered in one episode. This episode will concentrate on the initial French conquest of Algeria between 1830 and 1875.

RELATED: [WATCH] The Genocide of Indonesian Muslims | MGAP Ep. 1

Prior to the French conquest, the indigenous Muslim population of Algeria was 3 to 4 million. During the conquest, Algeria lost one-third to one-half of its indigenous population. The most authoritative scholarship holds that about 800 thousand Muslims were killed by direct French violence. Moreover, a similar number died as a result of famines, epidemics, and economic collapse triggered by the French occupation. In sum, well over a million Muslims died during the initial French conquest.[3]

However, the French conquest is not only significant because of the death toll it produced. It is also significant because it exemplifies violent policies that Western governments have used over the past two centuries whenever they have invaded and militarily occupied Muslim lands. Although the French played an important role in pioneering these policies, similar policies have been employed by the British, Dutch, and American governments. It is noteworthy that all of these governments are liberal governments. Indeed, France, the UK, the Netherlands, and the US are seen as the most perfect and influential real world models of liberal governance.

Today liberal governments champion what they refer to as “international development.” The concept of development is complex. One component of development includes “progress” in technology and economic output. However, development has another component which involves “progress” in the realm of morality. Alleged progress in morality involves restructuring human societies to make them more free, equal, and humane through the establishment of new human rights. In this way, development involves establishing rights to religious freedom, women’s rights, children’s rights, and the abolition of corporal punishment and the death penalty. Liberal Western countries are regarded as the most developed countries because they are the most progressive when it comes to morality. They have established the broadest array of human rights.[4]

Today liberal Western countries believe they have a moral mission to promote development and human rights in other, less developed countries – including Muslims countries. This type of thinking is not new. Rather, it has characterized liberal Western countries for more than two centuries.

During the nineteenth century, liberal Western countries had these same ideas. They believed that they had a moral obligation to spread development and human rights across the world. At this time, they usually referred to development and human rights as “civilizational progress.” For instance, nineteenth century France asserted that it had a moral obligation to spread civilizational progress across the world as part of a “civilizing mission” (i.e., mission civilisatrice).

During the nineteenth century, it was recognized that Western ideas about human rights conflicted with religious and cultural traditions found in non-Western lands. More specifically, it was recognized that establishing human rights in non-Western lands would require destroying all non-Western religious and cultural traditions. It was expected that non-Westerners would resist this process.

Liberal Western countries held that it was necessary to use violence in order to force non-Westerners to accept human rights. This would require the invasion and military occupation of non-Western lands. With this in mind, Western countries invaded non-Western lands across the globe, including Muslim lands. It is important to emphasize that such actions were not seen as contrary to liberalism and human rights. Rather they were justified as liberal efforts to spread development and human rights. Such justifications were set forth by leading nineteenth-century liberal intellectuals and politicians like John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) and Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859).[5]

Liberal Western countries also wanted to benefit financially through their invasions and military occupations. For example, they desired to take economic resources and land from non-Western peoples. The fact that Western countries wanted to benefit financially does not mean they were not genuinely committed to spreading human rights. Rather, similar to Western countries today, Western countries in the nineteenth century sought to both spread human rights and also advance their material interests.

During the nineteenth century, liberal intellectuals and politicians in France observed that Algeria was an undeveloped country lacking in human rights. More specifically, the French noted that Algerians had an Islamic Sharia-based legal system whose rules sanctioned many human rights violations – including corporal punishment, infringement upon rights to religious liberty, and infringements upon women’s rights.

France recognized that Algerians would not willingly renounce their religion and its laws. France would need to force Algerians to abandon the Sharia and adopt a French-style legal system centered on human rights. France also desired to take control of Algeria’s agricultural lands. It planned to use the indigenous Muslim population to undertake low status labor. Algerians would be allowed to work as farm laborers, servants, and prostitutes for French colonists. So France embarked on a conquest of Algeria both to spread human rights and to advance its economic interests.[6]

As expected, French efforts to conquer Algeria and eliminate the Sharia were immediately met with violent resistance. The Islamic doctrine of jihad teaches that it is religiously meritorious for Muslims to defend their religion, their families, and their land from foreign invaders. In keeping with this doctrine, the Algerians described their resistance to French invasion as a jihad. The Algerian jihad was headed by ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jazāʾirī (1808 – 1883). ʿAbd al-Qādir was both a religious scholar and a highly effective military leader. The doctrine of jihad enraged the French precisely because it was used to justify resistance to liberal French rule.

RELATED: The Algerian Genocide: How France Killed Millions of Muslims

The French conquest of Algeria was led by General Thomas-Robert Bugeaud [Boo-show]. Bugeaud was responsible for crushing the resistance campaign waged by ʿAbd al-Qādir. The ferocity of the Algerian resistance surprised the French, and they took increasingly harsh measures to counter it.

For Bugeaud, the project of spreading human rights and advancing French interests justified extreme violence. Bugeaud gained notoriety for pursuing a strategy of total war, wherein he burnt down crops and villages, seized agricultural animals, massacred women and children, and treated resistance groups with total extermination. Moreover, regardless of standard military regulations, in practice, Bugeaud regularly permitted his soldiers to engage in torture and rape. Bugeaud’s soldiers were infamous for mutilating the bodies of Muslims – cutting off their ears and displaying their decapitated heads.[7]

Bugeaud’s policies would come to characterize the 130-year French occupation. Hence, this occupation not only resulted in millions of deaths, but also countless incidents of torture and rape.[8]

Bugeaud recognized that in order to subjugate Muslims, direct killings were not the only tool – or even the best tool. Rather, it was necessary to cause a general economic collapse – destroying Muslims’ food supplies, homes, and businesses while turning them into refugees without the means to survive. By intentionally bringing about an economic collapse, Bugeaud ensured that famines and epidemics would claim countless Muslim lives.

During the initial French conquest, 800 thousand Muslims were killed by direct violence, while a similar number were killed indirectly by famines and epidemics.

In 1842 the official French periodical Moniteur algérien published an article from an officer in Bugeaud’s African Army (armée d’Afrique). The officer commented on Bugeaud’s tactics for crushing Algerian resistance.

“We have found a more efficient way than burning crops: waging an incessant war which impacts the population through individuals and in all their interests. The flights, the continuous alarms, the enormous losses inflicted by the razzias and even by mere relocations, the women and children we captured; the old, the women, the children and the herds who perished from fatigue and hunger; the necessity to live the entire winter in the harshest mountains, on summits covered with snow – that is what for better or worse pushed the Arabs into submission.”[9]

French liberal intellectuals, politicians, and military officers recognized that Bugeaud’s tactics seemed to conflict with human rights norms. Nevertheless, the French legitimated these tactics by invoking a specific principle; namely that “the end justifies the means.”

In other words, the French had particular ends or aims. These ends included bringing development and human rights to Algeria. In order to achieve these ends, extreme violence was necessary. Thus, France’s ends justified extreme violence.

Addressing the French parliament in 1840, Bugeaud defended his tactics, emphasizing the principle that the end justifies the means:

“These murmurs would seem to tell me that the [Parliament] Chamber find this means [of waging war] too barbarous. Gentlemen, one does not make war with philanthropic sentiments. When one wants the end, one must want the means, when there are no other [means] than those I have indicated, it is necessary to employ them.”[10]

One of the most infamous figures involved in Bugeaud’s conquest of Algeria was lieutenant colonel Lucien-François de Montagnac (1803-1845), who partook in numerous massacres. Montagnac justifies his behavior based on the principle that the end justifies the means. Hence, writing in 1843, he states:

“He who wants the end wants the means. In my opinion, all populations [of Algeria] who do not accept our conditions must be razed, everything must be taken, ransacked, regardless of age or sex; the grass should no longer grow where the French army set foot.”[11]

Elsewhere Montagnac adds,

“Behold, my good friend, how it is necessary to make war on the Arabs: kill all men till the age of fifteen, take all the women and children, put them on boats, and sent them to the Marquesas Islands or elsewhere; in a word, annihilate all who will not crawl at our feet like dogs.”[12]

Notably, Bugeaud’s general tactics were endorsed by Alexis de Tocqueville (1805 – 1859). Tocqueville is one of the most famous liberal intellectuals in history. He was a member of France’s parliament, and was its foremost expert on Algeria. Tocqueville played a central role in directing French policy in Algeria.

RELATED: The French-Algerian War Sixty Years On: A Legacy of Terror

Similar to other nineteenth-century liberals, Tocqueville firmly believed that Western countries should invade and militarily occupy non-Western lands. He endorsed Bugeaud’s tactics as appropriate and necessary.

Writing in 1841, Tocqueville defends Bugeaud’s tactics as follows:

“I have often heard men in France who I respect, but whom I do not approve, find it wrong that we burn harvests, that we empty silos, and finally that we seize unarmed men, women, and children. These are, according to me, unfortunate necessities, but ones to which may people who wants to make war on Arabs is obliged to submit. And, if it is necessary to speak my thoughts, these acts do not cause me more revulsion nor even as much revulsion as many others that the law of war obviously authorizes and which take place in all the wars of Europe…I believe that the law of war authorizes us to ravage the country and that we must do that either by destroying the harvests at harvesting time or at all times by making these rapid incursions that one calls razzias and whose object is to seize men or herds.”[13]

Writing in 1846, Tocqueville states:

“Once we have condoned the great violence that is conquest, I believe that we must not shrink from the smaller violences which are absolutely necessary to consolidate it.”[14]

The French conquest of Algeria offers some important lessons.

First, the premodern Islamic notion of jihad is complex. There are different types of jihad. Some jihads are waged to conquer non-Muslim lands. Other jihads are waged to defend Muslim lands from foreign invasions. During the last three centuries, more or less, every jihad has been defensive in nature. Contemporary Westerners are not enraged by the concept of jihad because Muslims are invoking it to justify the conquest of Western lands. Rather, Westerners are enraged by the concept of jihad because Muslims have invoked it to justify defense against genocidal Western aggression. Algeria is an instructive case. Algeria posed no military threat to France. Rather, France invaded Algeria. The French invasion resulted in a defensive jihad. Moreover, the French were perfectly aware their invasion would produce this result. Nevertheless, they consciously decided to transform Algeria into a bloody realm of mass death, economic devastation, and jihad-related violence.

Admittedly, some of this death, devastation, and violence might have been avoided if the Algerians simply allowed the French to destroy their religious tradition, take control of their lands, and attack their families. The Algerians could have willingly accepted the low status roles that the French designated for them – working under French masters as agricultural laborers, servants, and prostitutes. Yet, accepting such things is not easy for peoples with dignity and honor – like Muslim Algerians.

More generally, we may say that because liberal ideology justifies the invasion of Muslim lands – in the name of human rights – liberal ideology transforms Muslim lands into bloody realms of mass death, economic devastation, and jihad-related violence. This is true whether we are talking about France in Algeria, or the more recent US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, as part of the recent so-called Global War on Terror. Nevertheless, liberal propaganda conceals this obvious fact. For the liberal propagandist, the destruction of Algeria, or Iraq, or Afghanistan is adequately explained by verses in the Quran which endorse jihad. Put differently, the indigenous populations in these lands read the Quran and then decided to destroy their own societies by implementing Quranic teachings on jihad.

A second lesson offered by the French conquest of Algeria pertains to strategies for subjugating Muslims. These strategies are not limited to direct killing. Rather, they depend largely or primarily on causing economic collapses, famines, epidemics and waves of refugees. These generate immense suffering and result in countless indirect deaths. Over the past two hundred years, liberal Western states have continually used such tactics against Muslims, and they continue to be used into the present. Consider recent US policies characteristic of the Global War on Terror. During the past two decades, such policies have produced political and economic collapses in numerous Muslim countries – including Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya. These collapses have resulted in several million indirect deaths as well as 38 million refugees. US forces have also directly killed hundreds of thousands of Muslims. Yet, these direct deaths are only a small part of the overall picture.[15]

A third lesson is that liberal Western views on human rights are more complex than they initially appear. At first glance, it seems that human rights norms prohibit the invasion and violent occupation of other countries. Human rights norms would also seem to prohibit killing millions of people, and engaging in behaviors like torture and rape. Yet, this is a simplistic and historically inaccurate understanding of human rights.

Over the past two centuries, liberal intellectuals and politicians have continually endorsed the view that efforts to spread human rights justify behaviors which seem to violate human rights – including military invasions, massacres, as well as mass torture and mass rape. For liberals, the ends justify the means. So spreading human rights justifies various forms of extreme violence. Muslims have been a primary target of such violence. French rule in Algeria is one example, but there are many others. These include Dutch rule in Indonesia, British rule in India, Russian rule in the Caucasus, and US rule in Iraq and Afghanistan.[16]

In this sense, liberal human rights activism has a genocidal dimension. To be sure, such a view conflicts with liberal human rights propaganda. According to such propaganda, “true” human rights activism does not produce genocides, let alone mass torture and rape. This is similar to propaganda from Christians and communists. Such propaganda asserts that “true” Christianity or Communism does not produce genocides. What is clear is that, individuals claiming to act in the name of Christianity and Communism have produced numerous genocides. The same applies to liberal human rights activists. The human rights activist, the communist, and Christian are the same in the sense that they will never acknowledge the mass violence they worked against others. Judged in terms of statistics, these groups have perpetrated the largest genocides in history. [17]

Nevertheless, they steadfastly deny all responsibility. At the same time, these groups continuously and obsessively condemn the violence they attribute to others – like Muslims. The point here is not to endorse the childish naïve view that all violence is wrong. Rather, it is to highlight the unprincipled and deceptive character of liberal discourse, which has parallels in Communist and Christian discourse.

RELATED: Will France Ever Repent from Its Colonial Past (and Present)?

Notes

  1. p. 4 in Benjamin Brower. A Desert Named Peace: The Violence of France’s Empire in the Algerian Sahara, 1844-1902 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009).p.74 in William Gallois. “Genocide in nineteenth-century Algeria.” Journal of Genocide Research 15(1)(2013):69-88.p.364-365, 374 Ben Kiernan, Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).Abdel Kader Chanderli, Carl Brown, Salah Zaimeche, and Keith Sutton. “Algeria”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 15 Mar. 2022, https://www.britannica.com/place/Algeria. Accessed 15 May 2022.
  2. https://english.alaraby.co.uk/news/algeria-says-56-million-died-under-french-colonialismhttps://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/frances-colonial-era-crimes-unforgotten-in-algeria/1635943
  3. p. 4 in Benjamin Brower. A Desert Named Peace: The Violence of France’s Empire in the Algerian Sahara, 1844-1902 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009).p.74 in William Gallois. “Genocide in nineteenth-century Algeria.” Journal of Genocide Research 15(1)(2013):69-88.p.364-365, 374 Ben Kiernan, Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).Abdel Kader Chanderli, Carl Brown, Salah Zaimeche, and Keith Sutton. “Algeria”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 15 Mar. 2022, https://www.britannica.com/place/Algeria. Accessed 15 May 2022.
  4. Alice Conklin. “Colonialism and human rights, a contradiction in terms? The case of France and West Africa, 1895-1914.” The American Historical Review 103(2)(1998):419-442.Antony Anghie. Imperialism, Sovereignty, and the Making of International Law (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004).Eric Weitz. “From the Vienna to the Paris system: International politics and the entangled histories of human rights, forced deportations, and civilizing missions.” The American Historical Review 113(5)(2008): 1313-1343.Aria Nakissa. “Islam and the Cognitive Study of Colonialism: The Case of Religious and Educational Reform at Egypt’s Al-Azhar.” Journal of Global History (2021).
  5. Alice Conklin. “Colonialism and human rights, a contradiction in terms? The case of France and West Africa, 1895-1914.” The American Historical Review 103(2)(1998) 419-442.Uday Mehta. Liberalism and Empire (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).Antony Anghie. Imperialism, Sovereignty, and the Making of International Law (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004).Jennifer Pitts. A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain and France (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005).
    Aria Nakissa. “Islam and the Cognitive Study of Colonialism: The Case of Religious and Educational Reform at Egypt’s Al-Azhar.” Journal of Global History (2021).
  6. Alice Conklin. “Colonialism and human rights, a contradiction in terms? The case of France and West Africa, 1895-1914.” The American Historical Review 103(2)(1998) 419-442.Jennifer Sessions. “Unfortunate Necessities”: violence and civilization in the conquest of Algeria.” In Patricia Lorcin and Daniel Brewer (Eds.) France and Its Spaces of War, pp. 29-44. (Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2009): 29-44.Osama Abi-Mershed, Apostles of Modernity: Saint-Simonians and the Civilizing Mission in Algeria (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010).Alice Conklin. A Mission to Civilize: The Republican Idea of Empire in France and West Africa, 1895-1930 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997).
  7. p. 32 Jennifer Sessions. “‘Unfortunate Necessities’: violence and civilization in the conquest of Algeria.” In Patricia Lorcin and Daniel Brewer (Eds.) France and Its Spaces of War. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009): 29-44.Thomas Rid. “Razzia: A turning point in modern strategy.” Terrorism and Political Violence 21(4) (2009): 617-635.
  8. p.1-14 in Marnia Lazreg, M. (2008) Torture and the Twilight of Empire: From Algiers to Baghdad (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008).p.155 in David French. The British Way in Counter-Insurgency, 1945-1967 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).Benjamin Brower. A Desert Named Peace: The Violence of France’s Empire in the Algerian Sahara, 1844-1902 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009).
  9. p.624-625 in Thomas Rid. “Razzia: A turning point in modern strategy.” Terrorism and Political Violence 21(4) (2009): 617-635.
  10. p.67-68 in Thomas-Robert Bugeaud, Par l’épée et par la charrue: écrits et discours, ed. Paul Azan (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1948).p. 33 in Jennifer Sessions. “Unfortunate Necessities”: violence and civilization in the conquest of Algeria.” In Patricia Lorcin and Daniel Brewer (Eds.) France and Its Spaces of War, pp. 29-44. (Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2009): 29-44.
  11. p.334 in Lucien-François de Montagnac, Lettres d’un soldat: neuf années de campagnes en Afrique (Paris: Plon, 1885).
  12. p.299 in Lucien-François de Montagnac, Lettres d’un soldat: neuf années de campagnes en Afrique (Paris: Plon, 1885).
  13. p.77-78 in Alexis de Tocqueville, De la colonie en Algérie (Paris: Éditions Complexe, 1988).
  14. p.29 in Alexis de Tocqueville, De la colonie en Algérie (Paris: Éditions Complexe, 1988).
  15. Costs of War Project at Watson Institute (2022) Summary of Findings. https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/papers/summary . Accessed on May, 20, 2022.
  16. SeeFreek Colombijn and J. Thomas Lindblad (Eds.), Roots of Violence in Indonesia (Leiden: KITLV Press, 2002).Robert Geraci. “Genocidal Impulses and Fantasies in Imperial Russia.” In: A. Dirk Moses, (Ed.), Empire, Colony, Genocide: Conquest, Occupation, and Subaltern Resistance in World History (New York: Berghahn, 2008): 343-371.Marnia Lazreg. Torture and the Twilight of Empire: From Algiers to Baghdad (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008).Benjamin Brower. A Desert Named Peace: The Violence of France’s Empire in the Algerian Sahara, 1844-1902 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009).Stephen Howe. “Colonising and Exterminating? Memories of Violence in Britain and France.” Histoire@Politique. Politique, culture, société, 11, mai-août 2010 (2010).
    Bart Luttikhuis and A. Dirk Moses (Eds.) Colonial Counterinsurgency and Mass Violence: The Dutch Empire in Indonesia (New York: Routledge, 2014).
    p.518-525 in William Polk. Crusade and Jihad (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018).
    p.121-122 in A. I. Asiwaju. “Control Through Coercion; A Study of the Indigenat Regime in French West African Administration, 1887-1946.” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria 9(3)(1978): 91-124.
  17. Matthew White. “Great Big Book of Horrible Things” (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011)
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Maaz Ahmad Khan

Alhamdulillah for Islam. Our shuhada are receiving provisions from Allah while the French colonialists are screaming from their graves.