The French military and political response to the Algerian war of national liberation became, along with the British anti-guerrilla operation in Malaysia, the template for many subsequent such operations. From Vietnam to Latin America, the French and British colonial model of counterinsurgency became the reference to which other imperial nations looked. Torture, the targeting of the civilian population, the use of air warfare on that population and the forced removal of entire villages followed by their detention in militarized camps are just some of the more brutal aspects of this type of counterinsurgency. The fact that any of the popular struggles for independence and against colonialism and imperialism succeeded is a testament to the desires of those who fought against their occupiers.
A common denominator in these and other colonial situations was (and remains) racism on the part of the colonizers. That racism, which was so deep it infected the colonized and convinced many of them that they truly were less human than the Europeans who had invaded and occupied their lands, made the independence struggles anti-racist struggles, as well. This seems to have been especially true in Algeria, where hundreds of thousands of its residents who had been born of French parents and raised in that nation defined themselves as better than those Algerians who had little or no French blood. Indeed, this set of residents even had a classification of their own—les pieds-noirs. Similar yet different from those of European blood whose ancestors had invaded and occupied the Americas, the pieds-noirs identified with the French tricolor, but had made their lives in Algeria. In other words, they considered themselves both Algerian and French. The Algerians, however, saw them differently. When the national liberation struggle became an armed struggle, most of the revolutionaries considered the pieds-noirs as French and therefore the enemy. Likewise, most of the pieds-noirs considered themselves French and aligned themselves emotionally and politically with their mother country.
This is one reason why the recent novel by Joseph Andras is so intriguing. Titled Tomorrow They Won’t Dare to Murder Us, it is a wonderfully contrived fictionalization of the life, torture and execution of the communist fighter for Algerian independence Fernand Iveton. Iveton was a pied-noir supporter of the Algerian struggle and a communist. He was convicted of planting a bomb in the factory where he worked in Algiers. Even though the bomb was discovered before it was set to explode and was intentionally placed so it would kill no one, Iveton was tried and executed. This was despite the fact that the French authorities had not executed anyone involved in a non-fatal attack to that point in the war. Before he was sentenced, Iveton was brutally tortured and, in a scenario all to familiar in 2021, the fact of his torture was ruled inadmissible and irrelevant in the courtroom. Meanwhile, the French media (except for a few leftist papers) expressed outrage at the torture, yet accepted the execution as a fait accompli.
Iveton’s story is a compelling and even inspirational one on its own. In Joseph Andras’ fictionalization, it becomes much, much more. Chapters alternate between descriptions of his hellish experience in detention and the joyful romance of his marriage. There is the efficiency of the carceral state and the emotional amorality of the torturer; the concern of his fellow prisoners and the abstraction of his situation by the political parties. The reader enters into Iveton’s childhood, his health issues and his life in the colony; his discovery and embrace of socialism and anti-colonial struggle; and the journey into a deep and undying love between his wife Hélène and himself. She is a former member of the anti-Nazi Resistance, a Polish emigre with a son from a previous relationship. The two meet when Fernand is in France to get medical care for his tuberculosis. From their first meeting and the mutual attraction they discovered to their last visit in prison, their love is a love worthy of envy in its simplicity and completeness; its strength and its beauty. It is a love that did not deserve to die at an executioner’s hand.
Subtle, concise, evocative and poetic, Andras’ writing takes the reader inside the souls of the protagonist Iveton and his lover Hélène. As Andras’ tale unfolds, it becomes clear that Iveton’s political commitment is also about love; that revolutionary love which Che Guevara once stated guides the true revolutionary. Although one cannot help but hope Iveton will be granted a reprieve from the firing squad, it is clear that this tale was a tragedy from its inception and the only possible conclusion will be a tragic one. Joseph Andras’ rendition in these pages most certainly gives it the dignity and notice it deserves.