Algiers, book review, Camus, commentary, Mitchell Gray, review, The Stranger
Every US military leader ought to study the Algerian War of Independence from 1954 to 1962. The problems in Indo-China and Southwest Asia could have been reduced. Here was insurgency, terrorism, asymmetric warfare and the “eastern” method of warfare.
This novel was published in 1942 and is set in Algeria, a French colony since the 1830’s. France encouraged French citizens to colonize in Algeria and France also brought Algerians to France.
Camus won a Nobel Prize for literature for The Stranger in 1957 during the uprisings.
The end of WWI in 1918 ushered in a wave of anti-colonialism and this included Algeria. Independence was craved.
The novel focuses on the “antihero” Mersault who is a simple man who impulsively shoots and kills a nameless Arab on a beach on a blinding day. He is tried for murder.
After WWII France was very weak and began to lose contested colonies such as in Southeast Asia. The Front de Liberación Nationale (FLN) in Algeria spearheaded the fight and brutalities occurred on both sides as the French resisted independence.
The “absurdity” (Camus rejected that he was an Existentialist) of the trial was that Meurault was depicted by the prosecutor as “uncaring” or indifferent towards his dying mother. The outrage was not that he murdered an Arab but that he was not an appropriate son. That was his real crime.
Finally, in 1962 Algeria achieved independence and hundreds of thousands had been butchered. The fighting was extreme violence and cruelty. Hatreds fueled the inhumanity.
Critics point out the Arab victim was never named nor developed by Camus. This was seen as the French snobbery towards the native Arabs.
Algeria suffered an extremely brutal and cruel civil war in the 1990’s with ISIS like brutality. The Islamic party won elections in 1991 but the government canceled them.
Blood flowed. Heads fell. Flesh burned. Fear ruled.
Algeria is a major natural gas supplier. France still has great influence and al Qaeda has large cells there. Terror attacked still occur.
Europe battles problems with its Muslim populations especially from Algeria and neighboring Morocco. For decades the Algerians were marginalized and they claim treated as inferiors by France. Many joined ISIS.
We must learn from history and this includes novels that capture popular moods. We must learn better ways to live among ourselves and realize every human life is equal.
Meursault was a murderer. His crime was not being a bad son. But in this novel, much is learned about French attitudes towards their colonial possessions. We still deal with these attitudes today.
Mitchell Gray is the author of I Heard You Were Going on Jihad: How a Minnesota FBI agent may have prevented a second wave of attacks before 9/11 and exposed the Oklahoma terror network (Minneapolis: Mill City Press, 2015). An Iraq War veteran, he previously provided valuable information to counter-intelligence agencies after 9/11, had practiced as an attorney, and taught as an adjunct professor on matters having to do with the oil and gas industries.
Above: cover of and Amazon link to the graphic novel adaptation.
Camus, Albert. The Stranger. New York: Vintage Books, 1946.
Film trailer: The Battle of Algiers (film with subtitles), released September 1967 in the United States (IMDB).