Another student guest blog. This student attended a recent viewing of The Battle of Algiers on our campus, and here are their thoughts on this movie. The images they used are scenes from the movie, so go see it if you want to see these images in their original context!
The Arab spring has encouraged many political scientists to examine what makes or breaks a revolutionary movement. Not only is the mobilization of the suppressed citizens important, but also factors like international assistance and history of the dispute determine the outcome of the revolution. But one aspect which is sometimes overlooked is the importance of the reaction of the central government to revolutionary movements. Made in 1966 The Battle of Algiers gives us a good look at the different techniques a central government can take to influence the outcome of the revolution. I will focus on two techniques: 1) Coercive action, 2) Reintegration.
Before we get into this, just FYI- The movie takes place during the end of the colonization of Algeria in under French rule. The opposition (Algerian natives) is the predominantly Muslim National Liberation Front (FLN) who reside in their part of Algiers (the capital of Algeria) called the Casbah. The FLN wants the French government out and desires to have complete autonomy over all Algeria.
1) Coercive action:
One of the most obvious forms of government reaction to the revolutionary movement depicted in the movie was coercive action. This is seen first in the response bombing of a building in the Casbah by a few French government officials. Also interrogation methods, and deterring protest by shooting at the protesters were other ways of suppressing the FLN movement. Of these the interrogation method was the best way of coercive means because the French government gained information about the higher-ups in the FLN. Which in the end gave them the upper hand and the ability to kill the leaders of the FLN and stop the movement. But not for long. The problem with coercive methods is the opposition (FLN) gains more unity by having the same enemy (French Government).
Because the FLN was a loosely put together organization, the one thing the French Government did not want is the mobilization of the people living in the Casbah. Yet using these coercive methods (French Side and Casbah) solidifies the enemy and almost guarantees the popularity of the FLN will grow. Which, as seen in the movie, materialized in a successful popular uprising two years later. Although the coercive means work in the short run, they create a stronger argument for the opposition and can lead to destruction in the long run.
Two non-coercive (and I will say ‘reintegration’) techniques used to stop the FLN movement were also seen in the movie. The first was when French Guards were speaking into the loudspeaker and telling the members of the Casbah that the FLN was defeated and the French government is now in power. This was said many times in a monotone voice, which was simply ignored by those walking by. People were not moved by the loud speaker because it was what they were told to believe, it was a very negative message of ‘your movement is dead’ instead of positive statements explaining what the French Government could do for the people. This movement quickly backfires when the microphone is taken over by a young boy affiliated with the FLN and gives a small positive propaganda speech. There is great response to this hopeful message by the people walking by.
The second technique used by the French to entice the members of the FLN to reintegrate was the distribution of food after the strike. The French government inventively distributed food after they closed shops and restaurants in the Casbah. The food cart was pulled along behind a band playing the French National Anthem. If people would take the food, while simultaneously hear the French National Anthem it would associate food with the French Government. This little psychology experiment, although creative, was not accepted by those in the Casbah and instead the unity of those in the Casbah and the FLN was again reinforced.
Let’s wrap it up
This is a look at two ways of how the central government can react to uprisings in their countries. It seems the coercive means gave great purpose to the opposing FLN movement, while reintegration techniques were ineffective. Although in the end of the movie the French government killed the leader of the FLN they did not kill the heart of the movement which came back to haunt them in the end.
This movie also gave rise to some interesting parallels to France’s current xenophobic nature. Maybe it is possible the Battle in Algiers began their skepticism of Muslims and the outside.