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Antisemitism and Catholic Colonial Algeria in the Time of Dreyfus

In: Historical Events

Submitted By paperking
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From 1894 to 1899, Captain Albert Dreyfus, an Alsatian Jewish artillery officer, languished in prison on Devil's Island after the French Army General Staff wrongfully convicted him of treason and espionage. The campaign for his release, organized by his family and supporters, along with revelations of an army cover-up, saw the so-called “Dreyfus Affair” become the major focal point of French public discourse at the turn of the century. Partisan camps of “Dreyfusards” and “anti-Dreyfusards” waged a war of words against each other as they debated Dreyfus' innocence and, implicitly, what it meant to be French in the Third Republic. Marked by an effusion of antisemitic vitriol, this debate has been characterized by Frederick Brown as a polarizing battle between two rival visions of France.[1] This battle at times extended to the streets, as it did in response to the publication of Émile Zola's 1898 “J'accuse.” Zola's open letter indicted the Army General Staff for antisemitism and cover-up, and prompted reactionary riots across France, the most violent of which occurred in French colonial Algiers. There, the burning of Zola in effigy sparked a riot in which 158 shops were destroyed, six Jews were assaulted (two fatally), and 9 rioters, 47 police, and a large but unknown number of Jews were seriously injured.[2] As the site of some of the only murderous violence during the Affair, colonial Algeria deserves particular attention.

Examining the Dreyfus Affair from the perspective of French colonial Algeria illuminates the place of antisemitism in Algerian political culture, the development of modern French antisemitism, and the relationship between antisemitism and colonial racism.[3] According to George Fredrickson, antisemitism, like all Western racisms, is predicated on a presumption of basic human equality rooted in Christian and Enlightenment…...

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