Alleg went into hiding shortly after the paper closed.
The manuscript of La Question was smuggled out of a military hospital where he was recovering after his interrogation. His memoir of torture became famous overnight in France and for many waverers, it put paid to the notion of a compromise. By comparison with La Question , a lot of the later pieces in Algerian Chronicles looked like metropolitan op-ed. And here was a rare irony in the uninflected fight Camus had picked.
A pied noir with a rare sympathy for the Arabs and Berbers, Camus had always had more reason to distrust the communists than the editors at Les Temps modernes gave him credit for. At the heart of this dispute was the problem of violence. Much has been said about why Sartre — or Jeanson, or Alleg — could countenance it, while Camus found it repellent.
In the s he had excused violence as a grim French necessity in the face of defeat and occupation; it was not the servant of a grand idea. The onset of the Cold War suited Camus: it meant he was no longer in two minds. He could wag a reproachful finger at Nasser and rail against the invasion of Hungary.
He remained a dogged anti-colonialist. Camus, for his part, had barely changed his position after their falling out. By the time he accepted the Nobel Prize in he was a statuesque figure: spurned voice of reason on Algeria, fervent anti-communist, bringer of light to the overcast north of European philosophy. As Sartre turned his attention to Vietnam in the wake of Algerian independence and refused a Nobel award, Camus the moralist seemed lost to posterity, buried along with the man. Le Premier Homme , published 34 years after his death, is a deeply sympathetic portrait of a poor settler family — his own family — in Algeria.
If Sartre and his circle had lived to read it, they might have forgiven Camus for brandishing his proletarian credentials in Paris. In La Peste , Rieux the doctor is a model of fortitude a good novel with an irreproachable citizen at its centre; how hard is that to write? The stars seem to tumble in slow motion towards the horizon and she feels a lifelong malaise — an oppressive fear, mingled with regret — beginning to lift.
For Camus, Janine has the makings of a good outcome in Algeria, even if she represents only half of the equation. This is a longstanding objection to La Peste. He is a more divisive figure now than he was in his lifetime.
The idea fell apart under a barrage of angry scepticism from Algerian intellectuals and academics, who see him unequivocally as a colonial writer, and technically French. In France the Camus problem is very much worse. He has never been a national treasure in the style of Sartre or Malraux. Benjamin Stora, a historian of the Maghreb and the Algerian war , was put in charge only to be shown the door a few months later.
Stora, nowadays close to the Socialist Party, was a good choice for the Ministry of Culture if they were to provide funding, which seemed to be the plan. The mayor was appalled and so were the vengeful little groups in Aix who have her attention.
More than three million pieds noirs and their descendants live in France today, from a repatriated stock of about , Most of them are in the south, drawn — as Camus was — to warm climates, and many are Janines, who understand that what they were promised did not belong to them. A handful nurse the grievances of their parents and grandparents; fewer still are old enough to remember the bitterness of independence at first hand.
After Stora left, his hapless successor resigned. Haroun and his mother have moved away from Algiers to live in a deadbeat coastal town between Oran and the capital and, as the Europeans depart, mother and son have taken over a nearby house vacated by a family of settlers. Egged on by his crone of a mother, Haroun fires two rounds at Joseph and buries him the same night.
When the novel opens he is already an ageing drunk in a bar in Oran going back over the details with a student at work on a Camus thesis. Years earlier there had been another academic, a good-looking woman who arrived on his doorstep and announced that his brother was murdered by a settler. In a strong Camusian undertow Joseph and Moussa are murdered Abels, members of the same tragic family, founded by the colonial encounter. Haroun, like Meursault, was bound by his colonial destiny to be a Cain.
An FLN officer fresh from the maquis interrogates Haroun about the murder of Joseph, but just as Meursault was on trial for a moral shortcoming rather than a killing, so Haroun is under suspicion chiefly because he failed to join the FLN at the time of the war. We remember Meursault, vision impaired, senses stunned by the afternoon sun, and the revolver in hand. But surely Camus knew this. In this impressive version there is one oddity.
There was more to it than that. Camus had been given the job of working with anti-colonialist Algerian militants, and felt they had been betrayed after a Moscow-inspired volte-face led the local party to side with the authorities when they started arresting nationalists.
It is rather a spontaneous revolt against perceived injustice, the outraged sense of an ethical boundary having been overstepped. Since the issue went to press Kamel Daoud, decidedly a free thinker, has been harassed by Abdelfatah Hamadache Zeraoui, an obscure Algerian imam with strong views about the sale of Christmas logs in Algerian pastry shops. The authorities, he said, should execute him in public: if sharia law were applied in Algeria, he went on, the punishment would be death.
A Change. I am one of the few English-speaking foreigners, apart from some Foreign Legionnaires, who lived in Algeria during the tragedy. I spent and in a town in western Algeria and in , as a journalist working for a Canadian magazine, roamed the country between the ceasefire and the election on 1 July. It was a period of awful mayhem: I described it at the time as like being in a shooting gallery.
Algeria was a complicated place. Camus understood that complexity.
It also -- eerily and unsettlingly -- echoes the contemporary Israeli-Palestinian disputes. Instead he tried to maintain a sensible middle position, breaking his silence occasionally to call on both sides to stop violating the rights of the innocent and to declare a "civilian truce" that would have protected all noncombatants from being made targets of violence. But unbeknownst to Camus, he was there under the protection of the FLN, which had played along as a mere "strategic maneuver". That we have been able to do such things is a humiliating reality that we must henceforth face. An appendix of lesser-known texts that did not appear in the French edition complements the picture of a moralist who posed questions about violence and counter-violence, national identity, terrorism, and justice that continue to illuminate our contemporary world. After a magisterial preface in which Camus elucidates his refusal to take sides, the book opens with an extended investigative survey he wrote in about a destitute region in Algeria called Kabylia. Though a penetrating thinker, Camus was no prophet.
Some of the European Algerians — because that is what they were — were fifth and sixth generation; I knew no one who was less than third generation. And they were ordinary working people. The mayor of Oran was a communist. Algeria was not a colony and it irritates me when I hear the dreadful business described as a colonial war.
In the summer of , with great difficulty and some risk, I crossed the Sahara Desert from Algeria to what is now Mali and entered the colonial world.
It had a totally different atmosphere. A year later I crossed into South Africa and the atmosphere again became something like Algeria. I have never understood why, in the Anglophone world, apartheid South Africa is never described as a colony and French-speaking Algeria is. Although he never lived in Algeria after , he returned there regularly to visit his family. He maintained warm friendships with childhood friends and cordial relations with a number of Arab intellectuals. When the Algerian war for independence broke out in , Camus was devastated. For years he had voiced strong criticism of French colonial policy in Algeria, and was forced to leave the country in after the authorities shut down the newspaper where he had published his most critical articles.
He considered himself Algerian. In , one million French citizens lived in Algeria, three-quarters of them born there. When even such modest proposals were scuttled by hard-line French settlers and the French government, power among Arabs shifted to the independence movement, which had concluded that only violence could make the French budge. The bloody war that ensued lasted eight years; terrorism and brutal repression — including the torture of militants by the French Army — reinforced each other in a deadly cycle.
Even a regime change in France, with Charles de Gaulle returning as president of the Fifth Republic in , could not stop the bleeding for another four years.
Camus was caught in the middle: a passionate believer in justice for all, he supported Arab aspirations for political rights but could not give up his own love of, and claim to, Algeria. Above all, he felt outrage and horror at the blood being shed on both sides. Just weeks before, on Aug. It is to preach the folly of war as bullets fly.