In this piece, Assia discusses the experience of colonialism in Algeria and its impact on the young generation of French-Algerians whilst asking an important question – can we forgive and forget about colonialism?
We are taught history, in the hope that the future generations will not repeat past mistakes yet simultaneously we are also taught to forgive and forget, and that is where our main issue lies. This is most evidently seen through the comments made by the President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron, who recently stated that ‘Algerians need to get over their past. As an individual who was directly affected by the French colonial experience in Algeria, this statement lends itself to be incredibly problematic.
Firstly, we must reflect on the nature of the human state. Forgiveness in itself is a difficult task, which is often made more difficult without an apology being issued on the side of the wrong-doer. It seems to be the case that no ex-colonial or imperial power wants to issue an apology, whether it be Belgium with King Leopold or Britain’s reluctancy to pay reparations to Jamaica for the slave trade. The acceptance of blame has not happened to effect an apology and then lead to gradual forgiveness.
‘We must accept that the experience of colonialism and violence has shaped and added various dimensions to our identities.’
Secondly, there seems to be this failure to allow former colonised groups to be entitled to their emotions. Must be we forget our emotions and be expected to plough on, irrespective of the abuse and violence we experienced? In an ironic spin, how would Macron feel if the President of Algeria, Bouteflika Abdul-Aziz stated that the French need to get over the French revolution. We must accept that the experience of colonialism and violence has shaped and added various dimensions to our identities.
Yet, former colonies are not given the same access to human rights, as these individuals are not seen to be ‘human’. The ‘liberty’ of taking control of their own destiny is hard when they are expected to simply ‘forget’ and move on. When one side denies ‘the other’ its past and devalues its emotions, it forces a social amnesia on the next generations, washing out their cultured coloured identity – thus showing the continuation of colonialism through other means.
In the UK, we see the existence of a wide variety of diverse identities and labels: British Asian, British Caribbean, Black and British, all celebrating their identity both independently and alongside their British identity. Yet, in comparison to France, we see the absence of this celebration of diversity – you are simply ‘French’ as ‘everyone is equal’.
‘When one side denies ‘the other’ its past and devalues its emotions, it forces a social amnesia on the next generations, washing out their cultured coloured identity’
So, why do children of the diaspora grow up knowing they do not fit the French (cheese) mould? Without realising, many make it a subconscious life aim to be as French as possible to gain this internal sense of acceptance and equality. However, it can be argued that this void will never be filled because of the rejection of others due to the colour of their skin.
I am often denied my French identity as my hijab does not correlate with the image of a French person. I can’t actually be of French European origin and explaining my background can be quite tiring as it always seems I need to justify my existence. Yes I am half colonised, half coloniser. No my mum is not a French Algerian, she is French, no my dad is not French Algerian but British Algerian.
I fall in this cyclical system where my emotions are conflicted; why do I care what others think?
‘But why shouldn’t I also be proud of my cultures and clarify them?’
This all seems to be a reflection of the world we live in today, where we stay stuck in this recurrent system and wonder why things keep going wrong.
In our post-colonial world, the general discourse is one of newfound modernity, acceptance and global decolonisation. Yet, the year 2017 showed us that there were some buried issues in our society that had been festering under the pretence of tolerance.
Brexit, Trump, Libyan slavery. These are all warning signs that superiority, racism and crimes are still present because we haven’t corrected these immoral actions and allowed these to continue to exist in covert forms in contemporary society. Shoving these under the carpet or spending a few hours under our national curriculum learning about certain brief aspects of the slave trade, colonialism and imperialism does not signify progression.
It is our duty to educate ourselves and not forget.
It is our duty to take the knowledge of our unique histories and spread it, to both inform and enrich ourselves and others.
We should care about what other people think when it comes to our cultures and histories because they are often narrow stereotypes that can be changed and should be with a little effort on all our parts.
Until we don’t educate ourselves on the past mistakes and crimes that shaped the global world, we won’t be able to establish a society in which progress and hope can exist. We must aim to remember the knowledge of the beauty of our cultures, the strength of our ancestors so we can create new intellectual revolutions, educating people and being the better person by forgiving.
In the hope of letting 2018 shine bright as a beacon of progression, we must not forget.
Assia is a 20-year-old History and Arabic student, part-time English tutor and Masseuse. She loves to travel and strongly believes in continuing her education outside of the classroom setting, with this being driven by her strong belief in decolonising knowledge.