Making Peace With Violence: Camus in Algeria

Robert Zaretsky writing today in The New York Times

On a Sunday afternoon, Jan. 22, 1956, shortly after 4 o’clock, a taut and nervous Camus stepped to the podium at the Cercle du Progrès, a Muslim-owned building in the center of Algiers.

CamusAn audience of 1,500 men and women — French and Muslim, intellectuals and shopkeepers — had filled the hall and spilled into the staircases and adjoining rooms, and was waiting. The atmosphere was tense and febrile, especially as a menacing crowd of French colonists opposed to the meeting was massed outside the building.

Camus told the audience that it was his duty, both as a French Algerian and a writer, “to make a simple appeal to your humanity.” … He proposed what he had proposed on earlier occasions, that the F.L.N. and French authorities agree to a “civilian truce.” Looking around the hall, Camus declared that he had not come to ask that his listeners “relinquish any of their conviction.” Regardless of the ideological, political and historical causes at stake, he continued, “no cause justifies the deaths of innocent people.” …. he urged his listeners “to renounce what makes this situation unforgivable, namely, the slaughter of the innocent.”

Yet the slaughter of the innocent continued for another six years.

21stoneWeb1-tmagArticleDemonstrators in Algiers, December 1960.Credit Associated Press

I’ve taken these passages from Robert Jaretsky’s piece in the Times of January 22, Making Peace With Violence. It certainly ought to be read by the warring groups in Syria, or wherever they may be. But it won’t be. In fact, the Times, the newspaper of record, probably doesn’t reach the people who are most in need of its news reporting and opinion pages.

Zaretsky points out that what Camus faced in Algiers some 60 years ago is much the same thing that we face today, in the Middle East, and most particularly in Syria, where the opposing sides go on with the destruction and the killing, where they do not seem to hear one another, let alone the cry that’s out there to at least stop the slaughter of the innocent.

Instead, as in Algeria, the slaughter goes on, and those who would survive, for the most part the innocent, try at least to save themselves and their loved ones by fleeing. To where? Well not to the United States where only a few thousand Syrians have been taken in, a few thousand out of the 4 million who have fled the country. One million have fled to Germany.



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