Les Pied Noirs
While revisiting the history of the French-Algerian war in 1954, I stumbled
on an extensive quote -- at
second hand -- from Paul
Johnson's Modern Times, which though written before 9/11 provided a valuable
key to understanding 'terrorism' as it emerged from the chrysalis of
anti-colonialism. Colonialism died in part, Johnson argued, because it provided
the demographic basis for its own demise. (Hat tip: FreeRepublic)
Algeria was the greatest and in many ways the archetype of all
anti-colonial wars. In the 19th century the Europeans won colonial wars
because the indigenous peoples had lost the will to resist. In the 20th
century the roles were reversed, and it was Europe which lost the will to hang
on to its gains. But behind this relativity of wills there are demographic
facts. A colony is lost once the level of settlement in exceeded by the growth
rate of the indigenous peoples. 19th century colonialism reflected the huge
upsurge in European numbers. 20th century decolonization reflected European
demographic stability and the violent expansion of native populations.
Algeria was a classic case of this reversal. It was not so much a French
colony as a Mediterranean settlement. In the 1830s there were only 1.5 million
Arabs there, and their numbers were dwindling. The Mediterranean people moved
from the northern shores to the southern ones, into what appeared to be a
vacuum: to them the great inland sea was a unity, and they had as much right
to its shores as anyone provided they justified their existence by wealth
creation. And they did: they expanded 2000 square miles of cultivated land in
1830 to 27000 by 1954. ... But rising prosperity attracted others ... And the
French medical services virtually eliminated malaria, typhus and typhoid and
effected a prodigious change in the non-European infant mortality rates. By
1906 the Muslim population had jumped to 4.5 million; by 1954 to 9 million. By
the mid 1970s it had more than doubled again. If the French population had
risen at the same rate, it would have been over 300 million by 1950. The
French policy of "assimilation", therefore, was nonsense ...
Algeria was lost to France even before the events of 1945, when the first
troubles began. And because there is really no dividing line between colonialism
and the counter-colonization Western Europe is experiencing today, Johnson's
observation applies with at least partial validity to modern South Africa,
Israel, France and the Scandinavian countries. Declining European birthrates and
burgeoning Muslim immigrant fertility are making the policy of
"assimilation" just as problematic in Western Europe as it was
in Algeria five decades ago. One answer to this problem is to redefine political
entities so that ethnic Europeans are once again the 'majority'. It is probably
accidental that beginnings
of the EU in 1957 coincided with the final withdrawal of the shattered
colonial empires to the European shore. But it is not improbable to suggest that
it represented an attempt to stem the decline in the core sources of European
power. The rise of United States and Japan and the meant the Old Continent was
no longer the sole technological powerhouse. And after a brief postwar boom,
European population was once again trending flat. Consolidating markets was an
obvious counter to the advantages of the United States. Yet the European
enlargement project had a secondary effect. It was the most audacious act of
Gerrymanderying in history. It provided the opportunity to sidestep the changing
demographics in Western Europe by redefinition. Long after Frenchmen were a
minority in France they could still belong to an ethnic European majority,
providing Europe extended to the Dnieper. Instead of mending the hole in the
hull, the problem could be ameloriated by making the ship bigger so that it
would take longer to sink.
Although the economic aspects of the European constitution that will be
presented to the French on May 29 have been the focus of debate, its demographic
dimension is as important and more viscerally understood. Jean Marie-Le Pen's humorless
parable about EU enlargement nevertheless has a certain truth to it.
The government will use every means possible and imaginable [for a
"yes" win]. Now, in confidence, the prime minister tells us that …
it’s a French Europe that we’re trying to build—a sort of French colony.
It's like an old joke during the war: “Come quick! Come quick! I took 50
prisoners, but they won’t let me go!” [Laughs.] Well it’s exactly that,
isn’t it? France took 24 prisoners, but they won’t let it go!
But if the EU is a really an attempt to turn the continent into a French
colony it has once again run into Paul Johnson's observation that a "colony
is lost once the level of settlement in exceeded by the growth rate of the
indigenous peoples" except now it is in the context of Eastern European
entrants. At the heart of French electoral resistance to the EU Constitution is
an unwillingness to accept the free-market policies that non-French members
want. Sylvain Charat
at Tech Central Station writes:
The 1957 Treaty of Rome proclaimed four fundamental freedoms: the
free movement of persons, capital, goods and services. This has been strongly
restated in the Lisbon Agenda, which aims to make Europe the most competitive
economic zone in the world by 2010. Convinced that liberalization of services
would be an important source of wealth and jobs, the European Commission was
asked by EU leaders to draft a directive ensuring it. This was done on January
13th, 2004 ... the two French commissioners at that time, Michel Barnier, now
foreign minister, and Pascal Lamy, hoping to run the WTO, signed onto it.
Additionally, the French government did not protest.
Those free market aspirations have come into shuddering collision with the
French 'social model' where
25 percent of the workforce is employed by the government, 10 percent of the
population is on welfare and French law calls for a 35-hour week. While European
enlargement ordered British shopkeepers to sell wares in grams and kilos instead
of pounds and ounces it was fine, but now that it lets "hairdressers,
plumbers and accountants to work freely across Europe" as the Scotsman
reports, it is no longer so fine -- and a French 'Non' is more than likely. This
is bound to be met by the rueful echo of what one Muslim moderate, who was
originally in favor of Algerian integration into Metropolitan France said
five decades ago: "the French Republic has cheated. She has made fools of
us ... why should we feel ourselves bound by the principles of French moral values... when France herself refuses to be subject to them?",
except that it will be uttered in Polish, or worse, English.
Europe if not now then soon must accept that enlargement by itself can never
fully compensate for the fundamental weakness of its demographics and economy.
Even a ship as large as the Titanic eventually fills with water. French
EU Foreign Minister Michel Barnier could not have spoken
more eloquently of the dead-end French policy had become when he said the EU had
no contingency plan in the event of a rejection. "We have no plan B. You
cannot have a plan B. It is 'Yes' and that's the only way to discuss this item,
so we go 100 percent for that outcome". If wishes were horses then beggars
Will Hutton in the Observer
understands the real need to address Europe's weaknesses -- to avoid the belated
repetition of Algeria on its soil -- by a means better than bankrupt French
strategy, though he can't state it clearly.
Fifteen consecutive opinion polls during April have confirmed that the 'no'
vote in the French referendum on the Constitutional Treaty stands at some 53
per cent .... An improbable alliance of right and left is tapping the mood
that French travails in general, and unemployment in particular, are because
France cannot be true to an idea of France. France has been locked in quasi
economic stagnation for more than a decade; unemployment is 10 per cent and
youth unemployment even higher.
The original Common Market was a French creation, in effect, an extension
of the French state and the accompanying subordinate relationship of
capitalism. Now that the EU is being transmuted into a network of European
states, of which France is but one and in which the market has a much more
central role, France is losing control of both the EU and an idea of France.
And what's worse, it isn't delivering results. Vote 'no'.
There is a realistic chance that there could be a 'no' vote in both
countries, in which case the treaty is stone dead. What to do? One option will
be to muddle through, adapting the current European treaties where possible,
but that ... Even if it doesn't happen ... the dark forces in both countries
have got to be addressed, and that means rekindling growth and answering the
question of how the European project is to be squared with an idea of Holland
and France. It's a political quagmire, demanding high skills from Europe's
wooden and unimaginative leadership.
After sixty years of retreat from its colonial heyday, Europe is an idea
whose back is to the wall. What it needs now is a new vision and leadership,
which with some American help, may address the core of its weakness: suicidal
demographics; cultural self-loathing; its oppressive socialist economies. The
hour is late and the ship captained by fools but hope still remains.