A History of Violence in the Early Algerian Colony by William Gallois (review)
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A History of Violence in the Early Algerian Colony. By William Gallois. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. viii + 207 pp.

William Gallois has made an important contribution to the recent renewal in scholarship on the French conquest of Algeria. Mostly using correspondence between commanders on the ground, the Governor General’s office, and the War Ministry, complemented by British and Algerian sources, he analyses in detail many cases of lethal and other extreme violence undertaken by the Armée d’Afrique in the 1830s and 1840s, as the French sought to subdue local Algerian resistance through a systematic range of tactics beyond face-to-face combat. After 1837 especially, such methods increasingly blurred the boundaries between combatants and civilians. Razzias formed the key component of repression: these punitive raids targeted local communities that had not submitted to the French and also warned neighbouring leaders of the likely consequences of noncooperation; here, the communicative functions of such violence are convincingly analysed. As a policy of terror, the razzia developed into a scorched-earth policy, culminating in the deliberate asphyxiation of entire villages whose inhabitants had sought refuge in caves. General Bugeaud, military commander and later Governor General, presented the razzia policy as a necessity to ‘pacify’ a recalcitrant people. The French military mindset had internalized centuries-old portrayals of North Africans that essentialized and dehumanized them as violent, untrustworthy religious zealots (the gendered aspects of such stereotypes go unexplored). French violence was thus mimetic, the French thinking, erroneously, that their own lethal behaviour mirrored that of local societies. While Paris was partly beholden to a more legalistic public opinion that condemned extreme violence, correspondence presented here shows conclusively that Prime Minister and War Minister Nicolas Jean-de-Dieu Soult ultimately covered such punitive action. Gallois argues that the methodology of war and military history is ill-suited to understanding what occurred, since the French were seldom waging a conventional war: far more soldiers died of disease or alcoholism than in combat. For Gallois, the history of violence, using an expansive definition of genocide, better accounts for the programmatic, coordinated, and targeted destruction of both people and their habitat in early colonial Algeria: cross-imperial comparison, notably with the British colonization of Australia, here provides a heuristically useful model for understanding such ‘small-scale genocides’ brought about by the ‘lifeworld razzia’. While this is an argument that needed further development, Gallois also makes a suggestive case for examining how the colonization of Algeria can potentially contribute to genocide studies. In the process, however, this has meant, arguably, his neglecting nuanced work by Raphaëlle Branche, Omar Carlier, Alain Dewerpe and Sylvie Thénault on much betterstudied late-colonial Franco-Algerian contexts: such work might possibly have helped explain the period of conquest, notably regarding the justification, euphemization, and narrativization of disproportionate state violence and the wider official ‘management’ of public opinion, the logics of Algerian violence, and the relationship between colony and metropolis, the latter part of the wider ‘spatial turn’ in recent French colonial historiography. This timely, clear, and eloquent analysis provides much food for thought, [End Page 407] both for historians of the period and for those working on later colonial Algerian history and its legacies.

Jim House
University of Leeds