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The blowback of repression and the dynamics of North African radicalization

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The narrative of the historic struggle against colonialism is subject to a high degree of political manipulation in North Africa. Myths, memories and symbols based on the struggle against colonial oppression, whether ‘true’ or not, provide a latent and continually relevant context for understanding and interpreting contemporary events. For both recent North African immigrants, and second, third and fourth generation immigrants to Europe, contemporary injustices and violence, whether perpetrated in Europe or in the Maghreb, are being understood in this historical colonial context. For some, these myths, memories and symbols may be the reason why they join a peaceful, democratic group to lobby for democracy and political transparency. For a minority of North Africans, these symbols of the past are invoked to justify a jihadist challenge to North African regimes and the West. Based on extensive interviews with North African activists and community leaders, this article will show how the collective memory of the abuse of power by the state, both during and after the colonial era, has created a latent mistrust of the West, especially of France. Political repression in North Africa since independence has created a rupture between what was expected from independence and the realities of political life, and North Africans often ascribe this disappointment to the inherently French character of the regimes which were in power during the 1950s and 1960s. North Africans also believe that this is reflected in the continuing active intervention on the part of the West to support these illiberal regimes in the face of democratic and popular challenges. The subsequent senses of injustice and disappointment, relating to the use and abuse of state power, continues to shape North African political mobilization and, worryingly, has created a latent basis for radicalization among North Africans living and working in Europe.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2009

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