Friday, February 02, 2007


Last night the IFSers went to see "Indigenes" at the Alliance Francaise. The movie is about soldiers from French colonies in Morocco and Algeria who fought to liberate France from German occupation in World War II. The gist of it is, France was not entirely accepting of those who were dying to defend it. While in some instances, the soldiers receive acceptance and support, in others they're treated much as blacks were in the American South under Jim Crow laws, i.e. not so well.

The main point of "Indigenes" is that while Vichy was seen as the racist side, things were not so clear cut. The very soldiers brought in to fight racism were in fact subject to plenty of it themselves. This phenomenon is quite common, to say the least. Think of the American North scorning the South for being racist while keeping its universities and country clubs restricted--the relative equality up north may have had as much to do with Northerners openmindedness as with an economy that didn't demand slavery, or consider America bringing freedom to the Middle East while attempting Christian theocracy at home. But it's still upsetting.

The other, implied message is about France today and where the population of immigrants from North Africa and their descendants stands. This movie makes the point that they a) come from heroism, and moreover, heroism in the name of France, and b) that no matter how much the French will try to deny it, those colonized by France were quite thoroughly screwed over. I've never heard much about North African soldiers fighting for France before, but I see no reason to challenge this assessment. That the North African characters are portrayed as unqualified good guys (religious but in a moving and never fanatical way, patriotic even when France gives them nothing, fighting racism while never themselves appearing to be racist, and wishing to marry a one-night stand) doesn't take that much away from the movie.

While Jews are never mentioned in "Indigenes," anyone French or with a knowledge of French history should realize that, as these North African soldiers were fighting a war as second-class citizens, Jews (first immigrants, later native French Jews) were being deported from France and taken to concentration camps. By not mentioning this, the movie is better able to implicitly equate these two instances of French nastiness. Indigenes thus brings the two principal French minority stories together, showing that both Muslims and Jews were victims of French policy during WWII.

Why does this matter in terms of today? The common perception in France and perhaps elsewhere in Europe that Jews are treated better than Muslims because Europe feels guilty about the Holocaust, whereas horrible things were done to Muslims, too, has some role in why (to generalize a ton) Muslims in Europe are sometimes resentful of their Jewish neighbors. While I'm not sure if these two situations are all that equivalent, there's a decent point to be made that the situation of Jews and Muslims in France has something crucial in common, namely that both groups received mixed messages, to say the least, about whether they were French. Maybe if all French Jews saw this movie, and all French Muslims saw "The Sorrow and the Pity," everyone would get along. That, or the Muslims and Jews would turn on the ethnic French, thus gaining the immediate respect of a whole array of other countries worldwide.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The analogy, as you say, is far from perfect. The Jews in Western Europe wanted nothing more than to assimilate, while the Muslims often seem to want to form a caliphate in Western Europe.