Samia Henni, Architecture of Counterrevolution: The French Army in Northern Algeria (Zurich: gta Verlag, 2017).
Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this book?
Samia Henni (SH): Article 4 of law no. 2005-158 on the “Reconnaissance de la Nation et contribution nationale en faveur des Français rapatriés” (Recognition of the Nation and the National Contributions of the Repatriated French)—passed in the legislative body of the French Fifth Republic on 23 February 2005, under the presidency of Jacques Chirac—mandated that teachers must teach students about the “positive role” of French colonialism, particularly in North Africa (the French departments of Algeria, the French departments of the Algerian Sahara, and the French protectorates of Morocco and Tunisia). It also mandated that instructors acknowledge the “sacrifices” of the French officers who had served in these territories. The second sentence of Article 4 read: “school programs recognize in particular the positive role of the French presence overseas, notably in North Africa, and concede to history and to the sacrifices of the combatants of the French army in these territories the eminent position to which they have the right.”
With Article 4, the French authorities dictated the contents of history lessons; they indoctrinated pupils studying in French schools; they obligated teachers to shroud a number of infamous colonial massacres in silence; they compelled teachers and pupils alike to praise French colonialism and imperialism; they negated the violence of colonialism; they reversed the work of historians and their ongoing debates; they offended all those who had lived, or still live, under a colonial regime; they overlooked the accountability and responsibility of the French colonial authorities; last but not least, they celebrated the crimes that the French civil and military authorities committed, including the crimes of the French paramilitary terrorist group known as the Organisation de l’armée secrète (OAS, or the Secret Army Organization). These were only a few of the consequences of this law. In the wake of an avalanche of national and international responses, protests, debates, and condemnations—which particularly centered on the events of the Algerian Revolution, or the Algerian War of Independence of November 1954 to July 1962—the French authorities removed, with some difficulty, the aforementioned sentence from Article 4 of law no. 2005-158 on 15 February 2006, one year after its institution. Nonetheless, France’s intention to eulogize colonialism existed then and still exists today.
J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does the book address?
SH: The book examines a fragment of what the French authorities sought to hide. It illuminates a few of the myriad of “non-positive” (to paraphrase the French legislators) characters and effects of French colonialism, including the key role the French army played upon the territory and people of Algeria (France’s longest colonial presence in North Africa, colonized in 1830) during the Algerian Revolution (1954–62), which was essentially the French effort to keep Algeria under French rule.
During this bloody and protracted armed conflict, the French civil and military authorities profoundly reorganized Algeria’s vast urban and rural territory, drastically transformed its built environments, and rapidly implanted new infrastructures and settlements across the country. In addition to the destructions of war, the colonial regime decreed a number of laws, orders, and directives for the evacuation of certain areas and the construction of spaces to allow the strict control of the Algerian population and the defense of the European population living in Algeria. The forced relocation and construction of settlements in rural and urban areas was a key factor in isolating the Algerian population from the influence of the revolutionary liberation fighters and in impeding the spread of the desire and the support for independence (or “contamination,” to use the French army’s technical term). This book focuses on these resulting constructions and seeks to portray the modus operandi of French colonial architecture during the Algerian Revolution as well as that architecture’s roots, developments, scopes, actors, protocols, and design mechanisms. This study calls these multifaceted spatial operations the “architecture of counterrevolution.”
Based on a wide array of archival and secondary sources, the book dissects the effects of these measures in transforming the Algerian territory and people, and exposes the intrinsic relationships between military maneuvers, political ideologies, colonial doctrines, and architecture. It reveals the politico-socio-economic meanings of laws, maps, structures, infrastructures, shelters, housing, and other buildings, and discloses how these elements (and their broad network of actors) embody what the psychiatrist and author Frantz Fanon—best known for his 1961 book The Wretched of the Earth—called the “psychology of colonialism.”
J: How does this book connect to and/or depart from your previous work?
SH: The teachings, writings, lectures and exhibitions that preceded my book are centered around questions of built environments in relation to colonialism, warfare, race, class, gender, capitals, and violence. For example, I have written short essays on the effects of colonialism on spatial planning and housing development titled “Black Color and ‘Negro Village:’ Why Skin Color Still Matters in Architecture?”; on the use/abuse of language titled “What the Hell Do They Mean When They Say ‘Independence’? for the artist Barby Asante that she used for her piece at the Diaspora Pavilion, 57th Art Exhibition, Venice Biennial; and on spatial violence titled “Reflections on the Authority of Architecture, or a Brief and Unfinished Cartography of Disciplinary Spaces” for the artist Kapwani Kiwanga for her book Structural Adjustments. I have also curated exhibitions such as “The Algerian Pavilion” and “Discreet Violence: Architecture and the French War in Algeria” that question and voice the brutality and legality of a number of governmental territorial transformations and human uprooting. To this end, my first book connects to and departs from my anti-colonial attitude and position. It does so by unraveling the relations between the practices of the French colonial wars of the nineteenth century, the Vichy regime, and the Fourth and Fifth Republics. It also exposes the nexus of these French-designed systems and disentangles the links between these relationships and the French war to keep Algeria under colonial rule and to protect France’s politico-economic interests in Algeria.
J: Who do you hope will read this book, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?
SH: This book was written for anyone interested in the relations between armed conflicts, colonial violence, territory, architecture, populations’ control, and counterinsurgency operations. Thanks to its multifaceted ambition, I hope the book will inspire and stimulate further research in a number of disciplines: architectural history, urban history, military history, history, colonial and postcolonial studies, political sciences, and visual culture.
I would like to recall that the French colonial war of anti-Algerian independence is widely regarded as the precursor of modern civil-military counterinsurgency operations, thereby also making it an exntension of the rhetorical “Global War on Terror” of today. These theories, known as the guerre moderne (“modern warfare”), were developed by French officers who had gained their practical experience during the Second World War (1939–45) and during the Indochina War (1946–54), which France lost. The officers secretly transferred these methods to North and South America during the 1960s. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, however, the United States and other Western countries have overtly expressed their interest in French military practices in Algeria—notably the infamous urban warfare methods of the Battle of Algiers (1956–57)—and in the ways in which the French army had created, learned from, integrated, and enforced counterrevolutionary measures.
J: What other projects are you working on now?
SH: My current book project, entitled Architecture of Toxicity: The French Army in Southern Algeria, examines French territorial development in the Saharan regions during the last phase of the colonial era and the immediate post-independence period, including the exploitation of oil and gas and the detonation of the first nuclear bombs. These regions include the Algerian Sahara and the French Saharan territories of Mauritania, Sudan, Niger, and Chad. The project investigates how French colonial policies and military measures shaped the design of Saharan territories, cities, housing settlements, infrastructure, and societies. Centered on France’s defense of natural resources during the Algerian Revolution, the objective is to render more legible the complex interplays among trans-Saharan and transnational economic developments and colonial architecture and planning.
J: Would you like to publish your first book in other languages?
SH: I would be extremely interested in translating Architecture of Counterrevolution: The French Army in Northern Algeria into Arabic, Berber and French in order to reach the protagonists and antagonists of these events. I hope that arabophone, berberophone, and francophone publishers will read the book in English and be interested in translating it and publishing it.
Excerpt from the Book (pp. 9-13):
The Algerian Revolution provoked the downfall of the Fourth French Republic (1946–1958). During the eight years of the war, a number of French chief executives attempted to deal with the Algerian question: the Radical politician Pierre Mendès France and his Interior Minister the Socialist François Mitterrand, between June 1954 and February 1955; the Radical Edgar Faure, from February 1955 to January 1956; the Socialist Guy Mollet, between January 1956 and May 1957; the Radical Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury, between June 1957 and September 1957; the Radical Felix Guillard, from November 1957 to April 1958; and the Christian Democratic politician Pierre Pflimlin, for a few days after the first Generals’ Putsch in Algiers and the subsequent French political-military crisis of 13 May 1958. Deserving of special mention is General Charles de Gaulle, who not only served as Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, and Minister of Algerian Affairs between June 1958 and January 1959, but also as the President of the French Fifth Republic for more than ten years, from January 1959 to April 1969.
The French authorities appointed a sequence of eight chief executives to represent French interests in Algeria: the ethnologist Jacques Soustelle, Governor General of Algeria between January 1955 and January 1956; General Georges Catroux, Resident Minister in Algeria from January to February 1956; the syndicalist and Socialist Robert Lacoste, Resident Minister in Algeria from February 1956 to May 1958; the lawyer André Mutter, who acted as the last Resident Minister in Algeria; General Raoul Salan, Delegate General of the French Government in Algeria between June and December 1958, as well as Commander-in-Chief of the French Armed Forces in Algeria; the Inspector of Finances Paul Delouvrier, Delegate General of the French Government in Algeria from December 1958 to November 1960; Jean Morin, Delegate General in Algeria between November 1960 and March 1962; and finally Christian Fouchet, High Commissioner for the French Republic in Algeria between March and July 1962, when de Gaulle declared the independence of Algeria whilst nevertheless imposing a continued cooperation with France upon the country. All of these French civil or military men, representing either the left- or right-wing of the political spectrum, fought for the same cause: to ensure that Algeria was dominated by France and to protect French economic interests in Algeria. The aim of this study is therefore to explore the singular spatial strategies that buttressed the French colonial cause.
The following chapters do not pretend to offer a comprehensive history of the ninety-four months of destruction and construction during France’s war in Algeria; nor do they claim to provide an exhaustive description and analysis of the buildings that the French colonial authorities constructed or destructed in Algeria during the Algerian Revolution. Rather, the book seeks to probe France’s colonial practices as embodied in juridical means, military operations, and design, and to highlight the roles that various officers, technocrats, architects, planners, and ethnologists played in the making of architecture (in the broad sense of the term) over the course of a bloody war of independence. It does so by unraveling the relations between the practices of the French colonial wars of the nineteenth century, the Vichy regime, and the Fourth and Fifth Republics. It also exposes the nexus of these French-designed systems and disentangles the links between these relationships and the French war to keep Algeria under colonial rule and to protect France’s interests in Algeria.
Architecture of Counterrevolution: The French Army in Northern Algeria is structured in ten episodes. Each one seeks to identify figures, protocols, and times involving a convergence of politico-military operations and planning policies. The episodes are guided and framed by a number of protagonists and antagonists who represented the French institutions and government, both civil and military. Each chapter examines an aspect of French colonial counterrevolutionary policies and architecture and suggests a reading of the psychology of French colonialism in colonized Algeria during what was a war of independence. It is therefore not concerned with any one Algerian city, any one practice, any one figure, or any one project. The book relies on particular biographies and specific situations of military character that the French authorities either created or responded to in order to control and obstruct the Algerian Revolution. These circumstances are interrelated and they mirror a set of wider institutions, events, and strategies as defined by their semantic, spatial, and socio-economic impacts.
The first three chapters cover the period between November 1954, which marked the onset of the Algerian Revolution, and May 1958, coinciding with the first Algiers Generals’ Putsch and the collapse of the Fourth Republic. Chapter one, “Unveiling the First Camps,” examines the genesis of the military controlled camps called the camps de regroupement by investigating the missions of the French ethnologist Germaine Tillion and the practices of the aforementioned ethnologist Jacques Soustelle in the Aurès Mountains of northeastern Algeria during the first months of the Algerian Revolution. It reveals that these camps were both extrajuridical and created immediately after the outbreak of the revolution. The second chapter, “Pacification or Counterrevolution?” explores the roots of the colonial doctrine of guerre moderne, its theorists, and practitioners, including David Galula, Charles Lacheroy, and Roger Trinquier. It probes the socio-spatial relationships between this type of warfare, the military policy of pacification, and the positions of the forefathers of “modern war,” who include Marshals Thomas Robert Bugeaud, Joseph Simon Gallieni, and Louis Lyautey. It also scrutinizes the missions of the officers of the Sections administratives spécialisées (SAS, or Specialized Administrative Sections) who supervised the construction of the camps and explores the policies and conditions in which these camps were built in a number of rural regions of Algeria. Episode three, “Vichy’s Ghost in Constantine,” focuses on the development of the camps de regroupement in the Algerian Department of Constantine during the tenure of the former Vichy regime civil servant Maurice Papon. Papon was convicted in 1998 of crimes against humanity for his participation in the deportation of Jews in Bordeaux to concentration camps during the Second World War—a background that did not stop him from serving both as General Inspector of Administration in the Extraordinary Mission (civil and military) in Eastern Algeria and as Prefect of the Department of Constantine between 1956 and 1958. The chapter highlights the legacies between the French fascist regime and the French colonial regime.
The period between the return of General de Gaulle to power in May 1958 and the end of the mandate of Paul Delouvrier in November 1961 as Delegate General of the French Government in Algeria is examined in chapters four, five, six, seven, and eight. These chapters discuss the typologies of housing programs that the French technocrats conceived and planned for Algeria, as well as these programs’ associations with postwar housing programs in France, their differences, and their objectives. chapter four, “On General de Gaulle’s Colonial Project,” investigates the premises based on which de Gaulle launched a colossal socio-economic development plan called the Plan de Constantine (named after the eastern Algerian city) that included the construction of housing units for one million people. It also explores the typologies and effects of these dwellings during the War of Independence and the intentions and actors they involved. This episode also chronicles General de Gaulle’s attempts to partly divert the scope of the armed conflict and surveys Delouvrier’s assignments to transform the Algerian population. chapter five, “Toward Semi-Urban Housing,” debates the controversy of a colonial “assimilationist” housing typology called habitat semi-urbain (semi-urban dwellings), which were specifically designed for Algerian people who were deemed neither urban nor rural. Chapter six, “Officers, Technocrats, and Bidonvilles,” explores army officers’ strategic clearances of the dense bidonvilles (shantytowns) in urban areas, and reveals their counterrevolutionary tactics and targets in doing so. Episode seven, “From Permanent Camps to Villages,” examines the transformation of permanent camps de regroupement into what the French authorities called “villages” in rural Algeria through Delouvrier’s Mille villages (“One Thousand Villages”) program. Chapter eight, “Mass Housing: More with Less,” scrutinizes French technocrats’ and architects’ regulation and construction of mass-housing projects in Algeria’s urban areas, and demonstrates how the construction of housing units was also a practice and enforcement of the counterrevolutionary policy of “winning hearts and minds.” Parts of these episodes look at the role of specific French protagonists in Algeria, such as the former Minister of Reconstruction and Urbanism Eugène Claudius-Petit and the architect Marcel Lathuillière. These episodes seek to trace the frictions and legacies between four influential groups of European planners and architects in Algeria: those who served at the French Ministère de la Reconstruction et de l’Urbanisme (MRU, or Ministry of Reconstruction and Urbanism); those who worked for Le Corbusier in Paris, like Pierre-André Emery; those who collaborated with Fernand Pouillon in Algiers, like Alexis Daure; and those who graduated from or taught at the Institut d’urbanisme de l’université de Paris (IUUP, or Institute of Urbanism at Paris University) and/or the Institut d’urbanisme de l’université d’Alger (IUUA, or Institute of Urbanism at Algiers University).
The last two chapters of the book, “Erecting Fortress Rocher Noir” and “Game Not Entirely Over,” highlight the events around 1961 and the last months of the Algerian Revolution, including the second French Generals’ Putsch in Algiers and the creation of the aforementioned French terrorist group OAS. These two chapters illustrate how General de Gaulle attempted to protect French government in Algeria and its French civil servants and their families from the bloody terrorism of the OAS by designing and building a new city called Rocher Noir (“Black Rock”). Rocher Noir was to be located roughly fifty kilometers east of Algiers, near the Mediterranean Sea and the French air force base at Reghaia. These last episodes examine the mechanisms and circumstances behind the swift design and building of this fortified city in 1961, and how it was temporarily occupied by French civil servants, constantly protected by the French army, and eventually abandoned in 1964.
Architecture of Counterrevolution: The French Army in Northern Algeria provides only a piece of the complex puzzle (yet to be fully depicted) of how the territorial infrastructure and spatial operations of counterrevolution, or anti-decolonization, interlocked with the control, domination, and assimilation of the Algerian population. This institutionalized colonial violence was the outcome of the French form of republicanism guided by the values of its national slogan liberté, égalité, fraternité. General de Gaulle again inscribed this symbolic tripartite motto—the origins of which lie in the celebrated French Revolution—into the French constitution of his Fifth Republic in September 1958, precisely, that is, in the midst of the bloody French war to keep Algeria under French colonial rule.