By Nabila Ramdani
In 1962, Bob Dylan released his first album, Brigitte Bardot was at the height of her fame, and the James Bond film Dr No was made.
It was the start of a decade which would forever be associated with creativity and entertainment.
But for Algerians of my parents’ generation the swinging 60s mean something entirely different. My father remembers 5 July 1962 – exactly 50 years ago – as the day that France’s last major colony became independent.
Freedom for Algeria, the largest country in Africa and the Arab world, called time on a savage period of history in which some 1.5 million Algerians died, most in aerial bombing raids and ratissages — jargon used to describe the way in which army units “combed through” cities and towns slaughtering those they came across.
Hundreds of thousands more were tortured as an entire nation was made to pay for resisting the might of an overseas “master” to whom it had been subjugated for 132 years.
Such thoughts were high in my mind on a recent trip to the Château de Vincennes, the castle just outside Paris where King Henry V of England died.
What visitors are not guided to is the site of the nearby concentration camp for dissident Algerians. My father told me about compatriots the same age as him who were hanged from trees by police in the Vincennes woods.
One of the lynchings made a small item in the then Manchester Guardian in early 1962 under the headline “Strange fruit in the trees”, the headline taken from the lyrics most famously performed by Billie Holiday about African American hangings.
The killing by police of over 200 Algerians on a single day in Paris in October 1961 was similarly under-reported. Many were thrown into the Seine and left to drown. Some 10,000 more were rounded up inside the city sports stadiums and attacked; torture methods included victims being forced to drink bleach.
It did not stop there. Masses of disaffected Algerians imported to rebuild post-second-world-war France on low wages were stuck in rundown out-of-town housing estates where, today, their children and grandchildren continue to face anti-Muslim discrimination on the margins of the republic.
There was barbarity on both sides, but last week the authorities focused on the “positive aspects” of colonialism — the sort schools are now obliged to teach by law. It imposes an “official” view of history, whitewashing the crimes France’s erstwhile empire inflicted on Algerians.