In September 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron officially acknowledged France’s use of systemic torture during the Algerian War of Independence (1954 – 1962). It was the first time a French president had made some sort of gesture towards the victims of the country’s many colonial crimes. Until its independence, Algeria had been one of France’s longest-held overseas territories, dating back to 1830 when colonial French forces invaded the capital, Algiers.
One of France’s largest “projects” in Algeria was introducing French language assimilation policies, effectively destroying culture, communication, and a sense of community amongst Algerians and Amazighs. This forced adoption of a foreign language allowed France to hold a cultural monopoly over Algeria. It has continued to have repercussions on the country’s education system to this day, sparking debate about the role of language in Algeria’s cultural identity, as well as which language(s) to teach in schools.
Algeria is the second largest Francophone country in the world. Though French is not recognized as its official language, it is Algeria’s lingua franca.
In a two-part essay for Media Diversified, activist Barâa Arar explains France’s project of cultural domination in Algeria:
To maintain the domination of Algerian land and people, it was imperative French colonisation manifested in all spheres of daily life. The French regime used cultural weapons to continuously pervert Algerian conceptions of nationhood and self. From linguistic expression to traditional dress and bureaucratic practices, the French regime infiltrated and annexed pre-contact Algerian ways of life. Algerian ways of being were forcibly dissolved under the weight of those of the coloniser. In order to survive under occupation, many colonised communities assumed, unwillingly and often unconsciously, the identity of the colonisers, which is the ultimate colonial fantasy.
One of the most potent cultural weapons in the maintenance of French hegemonic domination in Algeria was the rigorous and calculated language assimilation policy.