“[A]nd each day hundreds of new orphans, Arabs and French, awakened in every corner of Algeria, sons and daughters without fathers who would now have to learn to live without guidance and without heritage”– Albert Camus, ‘The First Man’.
In the early months of 1958, Hneri Alleg’s La Question was published in France and caused an immediate scandal for its first-hand description of torture by the French military in Algeria. For Alleg, the scourge of institutionalized torture not only afflicted the native Algerians, but functioned as “a school of perversion for young Frenchman”. In the long course of the war (1954-1962), dehumanization of the enemy led to increasingly brutal manifestations of violence. Albert Camus bemoaned the war for its extreme tactics and for severing two interconnected communities. However, these two communities, the indigenous and the European, had never constituted an organic whole. Part of the strategic logic of Nationalist terrorism was to provoke a heavy-handed French response that illuminated and reinforced the schism between the French setter and the suspect ‘Arab’, thereby provoking greater collective self-consciousness. The instance of Algerian nationalism, of the struggle for independence can be interpreted as an instance of social imagination postulating a new societal form. In a limited sense this is accurate, but in the stronger sense employed by Cornelius Castoriadis it is not. Algerian nationalism was determining, but it was also determined, and it yields to rational explanation. To understand the violence of the Algerian war, the birth of Algerian nationalism, one must understand the logic of colonialism and the Algerian experience of colonial domination.