Indigenes (in America “Days of Glory”) is a rather good French film which came out in 2006.
In it Africans from the French colonies are recruited to be soldiers to help the Allies liberate France. They come from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and beyond, though this film focuses on the North African Arabs.
They set out with ideals, but soon discover the institutionalized racism that allows them never to be equals with white French.
Essential French history vocab: “pieds noir” (lit. “black feet) is the nickname for the white French colonists in North Africa, especially in Algeria.
The tragedy is that after the independence of France’s colonies, France stopped paying veteran’s pensions to all the colonial soldiers who had fought on her behalf. When Nicolas Sarkozy watched the film, he pushed the reform through to pay them all their backpay, although most of them had died of old age already.
Jamel Debbouze is a French actor/comedian of Moroccan descent who plays the soldier with the crippled hand. He was also in “Amelie.” There’s a lovely scene of a French girl flirting with him, but there’s no sign of it on YouTube.
The film is far better if you know some French, then you can hear when they choose to speak French rather than Arabic, and what it says about their characters.
This is exactly why news reports from Syria are so hard to be accurate about. Most of the sources we have are Western, and they say these are demonstrators for more political freedom and for Assad to step down, and they get shot up by tanks.
The official Syrian line is that there are foreign agents and armed gangs shooting at police officers and soldiers and thereby provoking an armed response.
Where’s the truth? It’s hard to tell, but most importantly in terms of the Arab street, it’s very divided. The important thing isn’t empirical truth, but what people actually believe.
It’s worth noting that in 1982, Hama was virtually flattened in a protest at the time, with tens of thousands of dead.
What I find always very puzzling is what the Syrian government releases as its explanation: there are armed foreign agents stirring up trouble, and the shootings are coming from armed gangs against the Syrian soldiers.
It sounds ludicrous to me, and I think to any outside observer, but I’m given to understand that it’s a very common scapegoat in the area, and that people tend to believe it.
Still, tanks against protesters. Brutal only begins to describe it.