Torture and the Twilight of Empire: From Algiers to Baghdad (Human Rights and Crimes against Humanity)

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ISBN-13: 978-0691131351
ISBN-10: 069113135X
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Editorial Reviews


"In Torture and the Twilight of Empire, Marnia Lazreg draws resourcefully on military history and sociological and cultural analysis to explain how the French colonial state tried to forestall its own collapse by terrorizing the Algerian population in viciously creative ways. She provides a fascinating intellectual history of modern torture; an unflinching empirical account, or 'ethnography of torture.'"--Priya Satia, Times Literary Supplement

"Nothing short of a thorough anatomy of torture and cruelty, their methods, justifications, functions and consequences both on the victims as well as the perpetrators. . . . The author effectively argues that the occupying Western powers have not only justified their systematic use of torture and cruelty as a regrettable but necessary means of protecting and saving Western civilization from those 'who hate our way of life' but they have also used this argument as a pretext for invading and colonizing those nations that dare to challenge Western politico-economic hegemony. . . . Recommended reading."--Muhammad Khan, Muslim News

"In this brilliant and disturbing book [Marnia Lazreg] looks at the intimate relationship between torture and colonial domination through a rigorous examination of French tactics during the Algerian war from 1954-62."--Will Podmore, Tribune

"The philosophical analyses can be challenging to grasp, but for those looking to better understand the way torture figures into a military occupation, Lazreg's book provides an insightful and detailed account of the Algerian model."--Hannah Fleury, International Socialist Review

"As a highly original, yet solid, analysis of the political sociology, psychology, and anthropology of torture, Lazreg's research establishes critical connections between Algeria and the Shock and Awe Campaign of the Second Gulf War with the Bush White House years marked by state terror abroad and at home. . . . This book is required reading for all."--Julia Clancy-Smith, Review of Middle Eastern Studies

From the Inside Flap

"This book interprets torture not as an incidental if frequent characteristic of neocolonial conflict, but as one of its major elements. Using the Algerian war as a case study, Lazreg argues that to the French forces the psychological and political significance of their policy of torture was far greater than its operational significance. Her work is certainly pertinent to the present."--Peter Paret, Institute for Advanced Study

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Human Rights and Crimes against Humanity
  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (December 23, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069113135X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691131351
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,738,939 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By William Podmore on April 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Marnia Lazreg is a Professor in the Sociology Department at Hunter College, the City University of New York. In this brilliant and disturbing book, she studies France's war against Algeria (1954-62).

She shows how a militarised colonial state used torture and terror to forestall the collapse of its empire in the age of decolonisation. The political economy of colonial rule required violence, including torture.

Once torture was permitted, it became routine. Euphemised as `screening' and `pacification', its purpose was to enforce obedience. It continued right to the end of the war. The only way to stop it was to end the war.

Torture routinely practised was routinely denied. Politicians tried to excuse it as coming from `a few rotten apples', as `occasional excesses' and `regrettable incidents', and blamed the victims, claiming that Algerians `only understood force'.

Novelist Albert Camus condemned the violence by both sides, yet defended France's claim to Algeria, which could only be upheld by violence. He supported the settlers against the colonised, using the same arguments as the colonial state, calling for peace and coexistence within colonial rule.

Today, apologists for torture like Alan Dershowitz, Michael Walzer, Jean Elshtain and Michael Ignatieff assist politicians who destroy civil liberties at home and cause chaos abroad. Blair seeks solace in confession and God's forgiveness, preferring these to democratic accountability.

Lazreg shows that despite the cultural differences, French, British and American war practices and rhetorics are similar. Their wars of occupation disguise material and strategic interests as civilising or democracy-building.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By ewaffle on August 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The withdrawal from Algeria by the French in 1962 marked the end of their overseas empire. Algeria had been the last bastion of French colonial power and was home to over a million French citizens who considered it as much a part of the motherland as the Left Bank. In this book Marina Lazreg studies the close, contingent and even necessary relationship between colonial domination in crisis and torture, paying particular attention to the rationalizations used military commanders and theorists to not only justify but also dignify the physical and psychological torture they inflicted on Algerian insurgents, their supporters and families and thousands of otherwise uninvolved but suspect citizens.

The Algerian war a crucible for many of the counterinsurgent techniques used in later years by the United States in Vietnam and by Central American and South American governments against their own citizens. It was unlike any war the French had fought in the past and was based on a theory of warfare that included pacification--complete control of the subject population.

Part of the insanity of fighting against the entire indigenous people of a country/colony was shown by the difficulty that some French field and general grade officers had in carrying out operations against the Algerians since they were some of the same things they had the officers had suffered at the hands of Nazi torturers when prisoners during World War II. The very language had to be twisted and perverted--no mention of "concentration camps" (or its French equivalent) was allowed for example. The memory of the horrors of German camps was too strong throughout Europe.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ayman on June 9, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Torture and the Twilight of Empire: From Algiers to Baghdad, by Marnia Lazreg, is an eloquent plea to end torture. Professor Marnia pursues a historical, anthropological and philosophical inquiry into France's use of torture in its war against Algerian independence from 1954-1962.

The most important thing to understand is that France's use of torture and terror "was about France and her internally contested history and identity, which inescapably included the empire." (p. 23) The counterinsurgency's main purpose was to deny a political identity to the Algerians, and torture, which represents the greatest level of control of one human being over another, allowed the French the quickest, most efficacious justification of French control of Algeria. Algerians could not be allowed to challenge the French people's self-image.

The author describes methods of torture and state terrorism. Torture began with undressing the captive. After some beating, including slapping (which some in the U.S. today don't want to classify as torture), electrocution of genitalia and other sensitive areas of the body would begin. Torturers would also perform "castration" through twisting of the male genitalia. Other techniques included rape with objects, forced sitting on bottles, solitary confinement, near starvation, truth serum and sleep deprivation.

Yet the bulk of the narrative describes the various justifications and experiences of torture. Military theorists studied and taught competing theories of why torture was necessary in counterinsurgency. Anthropologists explained why torturing Algerians was prudent or beneficial. Church clergy and military chaplains found doctrines which allowed torturers to seek forgiveness and communion.
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