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We had visited the site and noted several possible targets. We had been told to place two bombs, but we were three, and at the last moment, since it was possible, we decided to plant three bombs. Samia and I carried three bombs from the Casbah to Bab el Oued, where they were primed. . . . Each of us placed a bomb, and at the appointed time there were two explosions; one of the bombs was defective and didn’t go off. Djamila B., Zohra D., and Samia, Algiers, September 1956 (quoted in Amrane Minne, 1993: 97) In the terrorists’ camp, I lived in hell. I awoke at dawn to start cleaning, washing, cooking, fetching firewood and water. I nursed the sick and served the wives of the terrorists, the legal ones they called “free women.” Every night the terrorists visited me, taking their turns. They forced me to have sex several times a night. During my [six months’] captivity I was raped by about 50 dirty, stinking, brutal, violent men. . . . The rest of the night, to keep me from running away, they bound my wrists and ankles with wire and took away my clothes. Chréa Mériem, March 1998 (as told to Belloula, 2000: 115) FORTY-TWO years separate these quotations, yet the experiences described seem to be centuries apart—and in reverse order.* During the Algerian war for independence from France (1954-1962), thousands of women were active participants, taking initiative even on deadly missions. During the civil war of the 1990s, tens of SOCIAL RESEARCH, Vol. 69, No. 3 (Fall 2002) Algerian Women in the Liberation Struggle and the Civil War: From Active Participants to Passive Victims? BY MEREDETH TURSHEN thousands of women and girls were the victims of terrorists who denied not just their womanhood but their humanity. I went to Algeria in April 2001 to ask how this apparent shift from active participant to passive victim could have happened. How is it that Algerian women—whose struggles became, through the pen of Frantz Fanon (1924-1961), the hallmark of a national revolution’s potential to liberate women—found themselves the target of a civil war in the 1990s? How did Algerian women, whose analysis and praxis of women’s liberation were so advanced, respond to increasing restrictions on their lives and the lives of their daughters in the aftermath of war? What options do Algerian women think they have now, and which are they pursuing as the civil war winds down but economic difficulties increase? The Algerian War The war for independence (usually referred to as the Algerian war in the francophone literature) was not the first in which women participated actively as combatants, spies, fundraisers, and couriers, as well as nurses, launderers, and cooks. But the Algerian war set a precedent for African women in liberation movements, in part because Fanon immortalized it. Fanon (1965 [1959]) dramatized the changes wrought in women and in the family by the revolution and by women’s participation in the revolution , which he saw as necessary, even inevitable, given its nature. The ministry for veterans’ affairs reported in 1974 that 11,000 Algerian women had fought for the liberation of their country (about 3 percent of all fighters); Amrane Minne (1993: 219) thinks this a serious underestimation of women’s participation. Of this number, 22 percent were urbanites and 78 percent came from rural areas; these percentages mirror exactly the rate of urbanization in Algeria at the time (Amrane Minne, 1993: 231). The militants took up arms to fight for independence from 890 SOCIAL RESEARCH France but also political weapons to free women from ignorance and servitude. Urban educated women joined the maquis (the rebel forces operating in the mountains) when arrest in the city was imminent; living in villages they taught illiterate peasant women about their social role and explained colonialism, the revolution, and the reasons for the independence struggle. Sometimes, in regions loyal to the National Liberation Front (FLN), bold educators tried to transform social relations between men and women, which they found shocking (Amrane Minne, 1993: 83). The French military and police did not spare women participants who were captured; about 2,200 mujahidat (women combatants...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 889-911
Launched on MUSE
2015-04-01
Open Access
No
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