“The Question”

On June 12, 1957 the Algerian nationalist journalist Henri Alleg was seized from his friend’s house by French colonial authorities. This began a three week ordeal of electrified torture. When it became clear that he would not reveal anything to his captors, he was transferred to a prison camp. From there he somehow managed to smuggle out an essay he had written about his time in captivity. In 1958, this essay – published under the title, “The Question,” and prefaced with an introduction by Sartre, caused a sensation in Paris where it is was largely known but unacknowledged that French forces were engaged in barbarous pursuits in Algeria. (The book was only legalized in France after the Algerian War ended, in 1962.)

I bring this up because The Chronicle of Higher Education has a fascinating little item in the current issue about the University of Nebraska Press and their decision to release the first American edition of “The Question” since 1958. This new edition includes an afterword by Mr. Alleg, who is now 80, in which he draws parallels between French conduct in Algeria and the American treatment of detainees at Gitmo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

I have not read the afterword yet, though I am wary of the comparison. It is trite and inaccurate to squeeze American efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq within an anti-colonial framework. Though, of course, this never stops the soggy old leftists congregated around Tariq Ali at the New Left Review.

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