Letters From the March 19-26, 2018, Issue

Letters From the March 19-26, 2018, Issue

Letters From the March 19-26, 2018, Issue

Heartbreaking foresight… Corrections (alas)… Off base [web only]


Heartbreaking Foresight

How prescient was Patricia J. Williams in her column “Shooting Students” [Feb. 26]? Or perhaps it wasn’t a matter of prescience, given the mind-numbing, soul-crushing frequency of school shootings and the legislative stasis caused by the GOP’s NRA-backed obstructionism. In the current atmosphere, it wasn’t even surprising to hear Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, after the Parkland massacre, tell conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that states “clearly have the opportunity and the option” to allow teachers to carry guns on campus.

As Williams points out, this notion is the quintessence of lunacy. The GOP fulminates, hypocritically, about burdening the nation’s children and grandchildren with debt, yet it seems content not only to watch today’s youth be shattered physically and spiritually by gun violence, but then also to leave any solution to the very same generation. Sensible regulation of firearms must be a voting issue in November.

David Routt
richmond, va.

What never ceases to amaze me about these “solutions” is the assumption by gun activists that you can somehow separate the good guys from the bad guys. The first time a stressed and disrespected teacher pulls a gun on her students, will they be advocating for arming the kids?
Nannette Croce

I’m way behind in reading my issues of The Nation, so when I turned to this article the day after the Parkland massacre, its headline was jarring. I have two comments:

First, with regard to Williams’s observation that our nation is at war with itself, I would more pointedly observe that it is the moms and dads of students who are at war with the gun industry, the NRA, constitutional-carry types, and other backers of permissive firearm laws. Parents are losing; we must acknowledge this fact and take action.

Second, I hesitate to accept that this is the end of civilization, but I sure hear Williams’s cry of anguish. Then again, perhaps civilization ended in the United States when it entered the 17th year of the War on Terror (or choose your year). These responses to violence share an outlook that crosses the line.

Tom Hardenbergh


The article “A New Day for Justice” [Nov. 20/27, 2017] contained a statement about the writer Matt Taibbi that was inaccurate. The Nation has reached a settlement with Mr. Taibbi pursuant to which the inaccurate statement, as well as the rest of the passage regarding him, has been removed from the online version. That version is titled “Are Sexual Predators in the Workplace Finally Facing Justice?” We apologize for the error.

America’s Favorite Monopolist” by David Dayen [March 12] claimed that Warren Buffett’s Berkshire 
Hathaway is invested in the aerospace company TransDigm and cited TransDigm’s alleged price gouging as an example of the way that Buffett benefits from monopolistic practices. Regrettably, we confused Berkshire Hathaway with Berkshire Partners, 
a firm unrelated to Mr. Buffett. It 
is Berkshire Partners that is invested in TransDigm. We apologize to 
our readers and to Mr. Buffett for the error.

The book review “Rule by Fear” [Feb. 26] mistakenly cited 1932 as the year Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany. The correct year is 1933.

Off Base

I am delighted that Bill Fletcher Jr., found Zohra Drif’s memoir, Inside the Battle of Algiers: Memoir of a Woman Freedom Fighter, so “striking” that he was moved to pen a lengthy reflection on one of the issues it raised for him [“One Person’s Terrorist? Reflections on Zohra Drif’s Memoir of the Algerian Revolution,” Feb. 2]. However, I am sorry that he did not give your readers a broader and more nuanced view of the many rich layers of this groundbreaking work, published last September by my company, Just World Books.

Fletcher’s review focused almost wholly on the issue of the use by Drif and her FLN/ALN comrades, back in the 1950s, of violence against noncombatant French settlers in their country. By then, France had for 130 years exercised a brutal, in many cases genocidal, settler-colonial rule over the country. Yet Fletcher chose not to do anything to describe or represent Drif’s own, very well-thought-through and clearly expressed views on the subject at any greater length beyond merely characterizing them as “direct and unapologetic.” Nor did he write about any of this book’s other notable and well-explored themes.

Why does this matter? Well, firstly because Drif was indeed an expert on the topic of liberationist violence and everything else she wrote about in the book. While still in her early 20s, she was—as is not made clear by Fletcher—the actual Algerian moudjahida (freedom fighter) who placed a bomb in the Milk Bar cafe in downtown Algiers; and in the book she describes in great detail both this act and the lengthy discussions she and some of her comrades among the moudjahidate had had on the ethics of this policy. She also records, in great and moving detail, one notable occasion on which the moudjahidate’s plans to bomb a well-known Algerian collaborator were turned down by their commander on political grounds.

Secondly, at that and many other points in the book, Drif shows how the FLN/ALN’s policy of violence was inextricably linked to, and always subordinated to, the FLN’s broader political goal of achieving national liberation. Two quick examples: Even in the heat of the battle, she and other members of her military cell in the Algiers Casbah were involved in crucial, pre-negotiation contacts with an emissary attempting to negotiate de-escalation moves directly with President de Gaulle. Then, when she and her ALN boss, Yaacef Saadeh, were finally on the point of arrest, her greatest concern was that the French forces storming their hiding place not get hold of the lists of women activists all around the city who were planning a nonviolent mass sit-in within the coming days.

Thirdly, Drif demonstrated through her own continuing life course that the violence used by the FLN/ALN was not “mindless” or even (I would argue) “terrorist” in nature. After her arrest, she spent five years in French prisons. Upon Algeria’s achieving liberation, she and all other FLN/ALN prisoners were released. She was then elected to Parliament, worked as a lawyer, and ended up in the present century as vice president of the country’s senate, the National Assembly.

Bill Fletcher would have been much fairer to this heroine of her country’s liberation struggle if he had recounted some of these facts, or if he had actually allowed readers to glimpse, and judge for themselves, some of her own argumentation on these matters. Indeed, he does not even explain to his readers what her actual role in the FLN/ALN’s struggle was, beyond writing that she had “played a key role in some of the wrenching scenes” depicted in the movie The Battle of Algiers. (Interestingly, that movie seems to be the only source for everything he claims to know about Algeria’s national-liberation struggle.)

Drif’s book has many other notable strengths. It is a vivid account, by a thoughtful and still-living Algerian moudjahida, of what it was like to grow up as a girl in a relatively privileged indigenous-Algerian family under French settler colonialism…and later, of the numerous, multi-layered challenges she faced at a time when her desire to take an active part in the liberation movement often ran directly up against the (perhaps understandable?) desire of the movement’s male leaders—and many of its supporters—to preserve as much as possible the patriarchal norms on which they felt their culture’s preservation relied.

Zohra Drif has a compelling writer’s voice, a talent for representing the nuance of culture and the culture of nuance, and a wonderful eye for detail. Bill Fletcher could have ascertained all this in person if he had bothered to come and hear her when we brought her to New York last fall. We shall try to bring her back again. In the meantime, I hope your readers may reach beyond his fairly solipsistic musings and read the book itself.

Helena Cobban
charlottesville, va.

Bill Fletcher Jr. Replies

I appreciate Helena Cobban’s response to my essay, but—with all due respect—I believe that she missed the point of my piece.

The essay was aimed at using the issues raised by Zohra Drif to highlight for a largely US audience two interrelated matters that regularly emerge when discussing national-liberation struggles. One is the nature of settler colonialism and, as a result, the nature of settlers. The other is the matter of political violence against settlers who are frequently described in the Western media as “civilians.”

Drif’s outstanding book presented the reader with a vivid portrayal of settler colonialism’s reality in Algeria. She further demonstrated that the settlers were not neutral civilians but, as in other settler states, an objective extension of the repressive apparatus of the colonial/settler state. This is something that is rarely touched on in the West, except in left circles.

The issue of violence against civilians is something that many of us have great difficulty addressing. What I was attempting to explain was the fact that targeting the settlers was neither irrational nor illogical, once you understand the role of settlers (and the settlers’ use of violence against the oppressed). At the same time, I was arguing that the political consequences of such violence must always be examined because, in any struggle, there are not just two opposing forces but other forces that are engaged directly or indirectly.

Cobban seems to feel that my failure to discuss the myriad other issues that are contained in Drif’s book somehow represents a slight. I not only disagree but find such criticism a bit odd, and the tone unusually mean-spirited, since I obviously found the book compelling and encouraged readers to engage it in my essay. The book catalyzed issues I have attempted to understand and explain for many years. Living in a country that looks at virtually everything from the point of view of the settler, I found Drif’s book to be a notable and badly needed antidote.

Bill Fletcher Jr.
mitchellville, md.

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