Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Battle of Algiers: A 1966 film worth watching

The Algerian National Flag

From Netflix, I rented “The Battle of Algiers” exactly a month ago. I hadn’t had the chance to see it until last night, however, and almost returned the film without watching it. At long last, I found someone who didn’t mind watching a political film and so I finally watched this much recommended classic.

Circa 1956, the French must have been having hard time. They’d just had their butts kicked at Dien Bien Phu and their Indo-China venture was doomed. Now they were facing a growing uprising in yet another French colony, this one in Algeria. Pan-Arab nationalism had been ignited and wouldn’t stop until Algerian Independence in 1962. All of this occurring not too long after a Vichy government and the ravages of WWII.

In the crowded streets of Algiers, policemen are being shot in the back by terrorists and bombs go off in cafes, airport lounges, and dance halls. A hardened veteran of the French campaign in Vietnam is called in to disassemble the uprising by all means necessary. Colonel Mathieu knows how the guerilla insurrection game is played.

Colonel Mathieu is honorable enough but not squeamish about applying a measure of physical punishment to the terror squads. He dissects and analyzes the terror cells with methodical precision and eliminates them one by one. The problem posed by the film is that, even though Mathieu is successful in his anti-terror campaign, a later uprising forces the French to acquiesce to Algerian Independence.

The desire for independence and freedom strikes a chord throughout the western world. Yet, the very freedom that people seek is endangered by fundamentalist and extreme Islamist movements which represent submission to the Mullahs. Moderates in the Middle East have not failed to notice.

The Algeria government has battled the Islamic extremists for control of the government ever since achieving independence. Since the seventies, the Pan-Arabism which swept the Middle East has been seriously challenged by the religion-as-government mentality of the Islamic fundamentalists.

This has been an interesting inversion which has led neither to prosperity nor to stable governments. Tragically, this shift of emphasis has led to the widespread murder of moderates and to a perpetuation of violence and cruelty against men, women, and children.

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