Today’s Iraq is yesterday’s Algeria

Imperialism is the same whatever you call it.

by Adri Mehra

Three years and 650,000 dead men, women and children later, perhaps it’s time to reflect on the invasion and occupation of the sovereign nation of Iraq.

The questions keep running roughshod over that ‘T’ word that is at the beating heart of American foreign policy.

Are Iraqis terrorists? What constitutes a terrorist, exactly? Does acting in self-defense make you a terrorist? Are American soldiers, then, terrorists in their own right?

Surprisingly, the keys to understanding terrorism may lie in the string of maxims we are spoon-fed by pop culture.

“Diplomacy begins at home.” “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” “Either you’re with us, or you’re with the terrorists.”

These are all at this point crude paraphrases of their original statements of succinctness, but they hint at a greater composite truth that remains completely unacknowledged by the Bush administration.

I recently watched the seminal 1966 film “La Battaglia di Algeri (The Battle of Algiers),” a searing, bloodletting documentary of the Algerian Revolution for independence from the French government’s 150-year occupation, ending in 1962.

The parallels that can be readily perceived between this film and the current American occupation of Iraq are so elementary and stark that they could easily be drawn in Crayola pastel by a Che-loving preschooler.

Yet, even though Bush screened the film at the Pentagon in 2003 for his generals and counterterrorism czars, why are the built-in lessons of the film going unheeded?

In the film, an al-Qaida-type hierarchy of cells plans and executes local terrorism in the city of Algiers, traveling from the Casbah (the old, shabby native Muslim neighborhood) to the swankier European quarter to plant bombs in cafes and discothèques, with the occasional roadside explosion or ambulance hijacking.

Sound familiar, Mr. Rumsfeld?

The tactical methodology employed by the FLN (the Algerian revolutionary organization) in the 1950s is more than simply the grandfather to the Iraqi “insurgency” of today.

It is the same damn barbecue, my friends, just with a different regional sauce.

Certainly the most telling moment comes from the tacit acknowledgment by Col. Mathieu and his cronies that, although they have blown up “the last” of the Algerian terrorists, there is an entire nation outside of its capital city of Algiers that will no doubt hunger and swell for freedom soon enough.

Which leads to my next pop-culture citation of folky millennial war-brat wisdom: A military victory does not mean you have also won politically, i.e. the “hearts and minds” of the population you have duly invaded.

Demonization does not equal democratization. Why do Middle Eastern governments keep electing hard-line despotic Muslim zealots?

Perhaps it is better than the alternative – secular, Washington-funded autocrats like Saddam Hussein.

Not that the United States didn’t fund the Taliban, either. But that’s another “movie” in the great projector of human history, which seems to be marked by conflicts, not solutions.

Whether it is Baghdad, Beirut, Jerusalem or Algiers, it is oppressed people getting pissed, and that ain’t rocket science, unless you count the rockets.

Adri Mehra welcomes comments at [email protected].