Book Reading & Discussion: On Torture: From Algiers to Baghdad

Thu, January 31, 2008 7:00 pm at Alwan for the Arts

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Torture and the Twilight of Empire: From Algiers to Baghdad

Book Reading/ Signing by Mirnia Lazreg with an Introduction and Discussion-Chaired by Joseph Massad

Free and Open to the Public

The book Torture and the Twilight of Empire looks at the intimate relationship between torture and colonial domination through a close examination of the French army’s coercive tactics during the Algerian war from 1954 to 1962. By tracing the psychological, cultural, and political meanings of torture at the end of the French empire, Marnia Lazreg also sheds new light on the United States and its recourse to torture in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This book is nothing less than an anatomy of torture--its methods, justifications, functions, and consequences. Drawing extensively from archives, confessions by former torturers, interviews with former soldiers, and war diaries, as well as writings by Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and others, Lazreg argues that occupying nations justify their systematic use of torture as a regrettable but necessary means of saving Western civilization from those who challenge their rule. She shows how torture was central to guerre révolutionnaire, a French theory of modern warfare that called for total war against the subject population and which informed a pacification strategy founded on brutal psychological techniques borrowed from totalitarian movements. Lazreg seeks to understand torture’s impact on the Algerian population and also on the French troops who became their torturers. She explores the roles Christianity and Islam played in rationalizing these acts, and the ways in which torture became not only routine but even acceptable.

Written by a preeminent historical sociologist, Torture and the Twilight of Empire holds particularly disturbing lessons for us today as we carry out the War on Terror.

Marnia Lazreg is professor of sociology at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Her books include The Eloquence of Silence: Algerian Women in Question.

Joseph A. Massad is associate professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University. He is the author of Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan; The Persistence of the Palestinian Question: Essays on Zionism and the Palestinians, and Desiring Arabs

This book interprets torture not as an incidental if frequent characteristic of neocolonial conflict, but as one of its major elements. …Her work is certainly pertinent to the present. Peter Paret, Institute for Advanced Study

The premise of this book is excellent. Lazreg seeks to link the extensive
use of torture to the demise of empire by means of two case studies, France in Algeria and the United States in Iraq. Her analysis is a theoretical psychohistory in which she uses her archival research to extrapolate on the psychology that motivates the torturer and to theorize about state terror. Patricia Lorcin, University of Minnesota

Last updated: 2008-01-26 16:43:16

Rumsfeld at Abu Ghraib
Rumsfeld at Abu Ghraib
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Book Cover

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