The French Intifada

The French Intifada by Andrew Hussey

When I first heard about this provocatively named book, I put it on my reading list. With a subtitle like “the long war between France and its Arabs”, how can I not? As with a lot of books on the list, if it doesn’t get read immediately, it gets pushed down further and further. But then Charlie Hebdo happened, and this book became #1. I especially wanted to see if this book predicted the shooting.

The book is broken out into four main sections. The first talks about the banlieues of France – suburbs of major cities where the large Arab population struggles to find its identity. The sheer number of violent attacks is somewhat shocking. The other three parts are devoted to the colonial history of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.

1) The idea of laicite is strong in France.

Laicite is the notion that it is illegal to distinguish individuals based on their religion. It sounds like a more hardcore version of the separation of church and state. Hussey claims that it was a way of keeping the Catholic church in check and promoting the republican values of France. An interesting point near the end of the book is that, as a result, they don’t know how many Muslims are in prison.

2) Lyons is one of the most right wing and Catholic cities in France.

Lyons, the unofficial capital of Deep France, is the second largest city after Paris, but this is a little known fact because Lyons doesn’t position itself that way. Hussey talks about the 1981 riots here and brings up the concept of the souchards – those who are rooted and belong to France – vs the immigrants.

3) France invaded Algeria in 1830 and some even watched the invasion like a performance.

The conquest was supposedly instigated by the fly whisk incident, in which the Dey – Ottoman governor of Algeria – hit the French consul Deval.

4) The colons in Algeria came to be known as the pied noirs from the black shoes they wore.

These pied noirs introduced an interesting dynamic where they wanted total control and thwarted France’s attempts to appease the natives. They opposed the three main political forces at work – integrationist, nationalist, and Islamic. Side note: for Arabs, there are two different strands of nationalism. Qawmiyya (tribe) refers to pan-Arab nationalism, while wataniyya (homeland) refers to a specific region.

5) The war for independence in Algeria was sparked by incidents on Toussaint Rouge (All Saints Day) in 1954.

The nationalist group FLN (Front de Liberation Nationale) killed pied noirs, including two teachers in a bus.

6) Albert Camus and Zinedine Zidane are both Algerians.

Camus is portrayed as pro-Algerian and laments France’s mishandling of Algeria – especially in its use of torture. Zidane has been called a harki – a derogatory term for Algerians who fought for the French during the war of independence.

7) Wahhabism is the puritan form of Islam from Saudi Arabia. It’s somewhat synonymous with Salafism, but I don’t know enough to say that. 

Islamist forces began to take over in 1980s and 1990s, with extremist, anti-West groups forming. They were especially against Jahiliya – the state of ignorance that they believe people are in until they truly become Muslim. A civil war between FLN and the Islamists began in 1991 when the Islamic FIS gained a majority in the first round of elections.

8) Morocco is socially divided into the poor north and the rich south (Casablanca, Rabat).

Tangier is known as a seedy city in the north with heavy Spanish influence. The 2004 Madrid attacks are linked to Tangier, and Hussey paints the attacks as a payback to the French-favored south.

9) Ben Ali – and his Tunisia – was the most West-friendly North Africa ally.

Although Tunisia seemed peaceful and trouble-free from the outside, Ben Ali was a harsh leader who angered his people. When a vendor lit himself on fire in 2011 after a dispute with a policewoman, the Arab Spring began. Ben Ali was overthrown and fled to Riyadh. It was an embarrassing moment for Sarkozy and other high profile French leaders. Now, Tunisia is more unstable, and Hussey even mentions how the French population there has been receiving death threats as a result of a Charlie Hebdo publication.

10) The rise of Islamists has become a major issue for the West.

And this is exacerbated by the connection between North Africa and France. The population in France’s banlieues is an extension of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. The more they feel they don’t belong, the more likely they are to turn to Islam. Best quote of the book: “‘Why not? I can’t get to France. There’s nothing else here now. Why not fight for God?'”


I’ve read a few reviews online, and they have not been very favorable. I can see why. The first strike against this book for me is definitely the typos. It’s amazing how one extra “a” or “the” can destroy credibility. This applies to making slides too. Secondly, the book doesn’t really do a good job of connecting the past with the present. A lot of it is plain history, with no serious attempt at analysis. I do give him credit though for a very enjoyable read. This book is definitely a great primer for learning about French influence in North Africa – a link that might prove to be crucial in solving the West vs Islam puzzle.


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