After watching both Battle of Algiers and Bloody Sunday I have come to have a better understanding of the motivations behind these two very important revolutions. It is important to understand why the FLN and IRA decided to engage in “terrorist” activities, because analysis of the motivations behind their actions will allow us to see how “terrorists” are labeled and who is labeling them. The ways in which these groups are labeled and characterized has a large impact on the actions taken and the ramifications of these actions. In the cases of the FLN and IRA, both groups had been labeled “terrorists” and both took two very different courses of action. These actions are directly related to how they are labeled and looked upon within a society. In this paper, I will depict the ways in which the representation of “terrorist” groups constructs a particular understanding of the causes of their actions. I will also illustrate the ramifications of this construction process.
In Battle of Algiers the lifestyle of Algerians seemed to be depicted accurately and realistically. In the film, the Algerians were seen as second class citizens, if that. They were segregated from the rest of society and ostracized for their appearance and lower class status. Often, Algerian citizens could be walking down the street and would get yelled at or chased by French citizens of Algeria. Algerians did not seem to be welcome in their own country and had fewer rights and privileges than the French citizens. The Algerian people and the FLN were driven to violence because the French made that the last option for them. The society the Algerian people were living in was dilapidated, highly crowded, and dirty. People were made fun of daily and did not have the same opportunities as the French citizens. The government would place sanctions on Algerians and the FLN to keep them from opportunities of advancement or uprising. In this film, the FLN is seen as a group of brutal people who are willing to kill and be killed for their right to freedom and self-determination. However, the film is quick to show the brutalities they had to endure, but more importantly the societal segregation they encountered on a daily basis. For the FLN, the people of Algeria had so little choice in their future and everyday activities, they it seemed as thought they felt they had nothing to lose. Why not rise up and fight for civil rights and equality in our own country. Men, women, and children all played integral roles in the revolution. These people still led normal and productive lives, but felt they had no opportunity for advancement or betterment of themselves or their families. So, they resorted to violence and the only means they knew how, to get attention. All these people wanted, was to be heard, and they felt this could only be accomplished through violence.
The Algerian people and the FLN came off as desperate people who badly want control over their country and their futures and their children’s futures. The French citizens seemed not to care that these people were being treated cruelly, and the government seemed to be on a mission to eradicate all FLN members no matter what the cost. The French government’s main concern was losing control, even if relinquishing control was for a good cause and was the right thing to do.
Also, in Bloody Sunday, the Irish members of the IRA were also desperate and willing to take extreme measures to accomplish their goals. However, the IRA vowed to not use violent tactics, as they knew it would discredit their cause. In Bloody Sunday the IRA seemed organized and comprised of intelligent people who just wanted a radical change in the way they were allowed to interact in society and the opportunities available to them. Men, women, and children of all ages were IRA members who marched down the streets of Ireland to bring attention to their plight. Any international attention that could be brought to their situation was beneficial for the IRA. The more people that could see the Irish population as segregated, less educated, given less opportunities and subjected to the worst living conditions, the better. The concerns and demands of the Irish people and the IRA were not being listened to by the British government and were seen as a joke by British citizens. The IRA was fighting for the right to self-determination and the restoration of their civil rights. These Irish people saw no future for themselves in a country that once belonged to them. The British rule was oppressive and uncaring and wanted more than nothing to eradicate the IRA, even though they did not use violence as a tactic. The British labeled the IRA “terrorists” and then made it seem as though there was use of violence against British forces. This was obviously not the case and the IRA never resorted to violence. All the IRA wanted was to get attention so they could create change in a seemingly hopeless society. When the FLN or the IRA decided to rise up and take action against their oppressive governments, they were rationalizing the use of “terrorism.” Both groups could easily rationalize “terrorism” as a tactic. Both groups endured unfit living conditions, a lack of education, a lack of respect from other community members, oppression and limited opportunities due to the reigning government, and segregation from society. Neither the FLN nor the IRA saw a future for their children or themselves and wanted a choice in how their lives would unfold. Civil rights and self-determination were key concerns for both groups. When all hope is lost, people will resort to desperate measures.
Sociologists can also rationalize the “terrorist” tactics used by both the FLN and IRA. Referencing Oliverio’s article, terrorists are people who are young, not American (in this case not the norm or majority), angry, irrational, out of society, and concentrated in urban areas (6). This easily characterizes the FLN and the IRA and the people that were involved in the organizations. Many sociologists, including Oliverio, believe it is who is doing the labeling and how you label a group of people. The FLN just wanted to freedom and restoration of their civil rights. The IRA was not even violent and just wanted to be heard so change could occur. Both groups were labeled and depicted as “terrorists” in the media and by the governments. This label was all anyone knew about either group.
According to a sociologist by the name of Black, “terrorists” will never take action against an equal. Both the FLN and the IRA were oppressed and less respected than their respective governments. They were not seen as equals and they knew they were not. Also, there needs to be social distance, but also physical proximity between a “terrorist” group and their government (21). This was definitely the case for Algerian and the Irish.
Also, Black focuses on the structure of a society and its’ perpetuation. The structure in both the Algerian society and the Irish society had been in place for quite some time. Both structures limited opportunities for education, which limited opportunities to make money, and eventually limited the collective power of the people (25).
There are numerous other theories that apply to “terrorists” and “terrorist” groups, but the above two seemed to apply the most. Both the FLN and the IRA had similar goals. They wanted their civil rights and the right to determine their own futures. They wanted their children to have opportunities and they wanted equality in all areas of society, so no one, or group, was seen as better than the other. The Algerian people and the members of the IRA lost hope. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain, so why not start a revolution. Raising the eyebrows of their respective governments and government around the world could only help their causes and better their conditions. Both groups were at the end of the line and saw no other choice but to try and create a radical change in any way possible. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Of course all revolutions and uprisings have common threads and underlying, or obvious, themes, but still have their individual goals and unique tactics. Between the FLN and the IRA, violence was the only difference in strategy. The FLN used violence in the form of bombs and weapons. They targeted civilians, even their own people, to get their point across and gain attention. They had the mentality that if a person was not with the FLN they were against them. This created a much more hostile environment, conducive to violence from both sides (Battle of Algiers, movie).
The IRA, however, was adamant about their use of non-violent tactics. The IRA used rallies and marches to educate and make people aware of their situation and the changes they wished to make. Members of the IRA fought to gain membership into the Parliament. The IRA discouraged the use of violence, as it was seen as though it would discredit them. The IRA also seemed much more organized than the FLN, employing the help of anyone who would listen to them. Even though the IRA was eventually subjected to violence by the British government, their point had been clearly made and that bloody Sunday was seen more as a victory for the IRA, than anything else. Even though lives were lost, it proved the inhumane treatment inflicted by the British government, and the unwillingness to listen to IRA demands and relinquish control (Bloody Sunday, movie). Because both of these groups were depicted as “terrorists,” it drove them to take drastic measures they would have preferred not the resort to. The label that was placed on these people, and the segregation and belittlement they endured, created a structure in which they could no longer thrive or advance in society. These people were oppressed and had no other option, other than to use their last resort. For the FLN it was violence, and for the IRA it was marches and rallies. Both means of change sparked violence from each group’s respective governments, but eventually led to their liberation. The ways in which these two groups are seen, are directly derived from their label as “terrorist.” A structure that creates hostility, violence, inequality, and inhumanity has severe ramifications, as we have seen. The structures that both of these groups developed in were created by oppression, a lack of understanding, and a desire to remain control. Labeling people or groups as “terrorists” and creating a structure in which these people feel trapped and immobile, is the quickest and easiest way for a country or society to suffer severe ramifications, often resulting in violence. This was the case in both Algeria and Ireland. So, in the end, both the FLN and the IRA attained what they ultimately wanted, but not without some sacrifices and unseen loss of lives. The price for freedom is steep, but it is even steeper when one group oppresses another. The ramifications for creating a structure in which people hate their government and have limited options concerning the betterment of their life, are often unseen initially. However, eventually a group will rise up, a sense of urgency will set in, and violence will ensue, one way or another. A lack of care and understanding will only bring violence, and for me, if these two films did anything, it was reinforce the fact that communication is key, no matter who or where you are.