Julian Jackson uncovers the forgotten - and indeed in this country largely unknown - story of the French Empire. In the last of five Essays, he tells the story of France's last great colonial crisis that sowed the seeds for decades of racial tension at home that still endures today.
The French Empire was second only to the British. At its peak in the 1930s it covered some 10 million square miles with a population of 100 million. It stretched from the West Indies to the South Pacific, from Indo-China to the Maghreb, from Sub-Saharan Africa to the Levant. The Empire may be gone now but its legacy lives on both in France and in the former colonies. With a Muslim population of 4.5 million today, France, thanks to her former Empire, has the largest Islamic population of any country in Europe; couscous is as much national dish as coq au vin (or chicken vindaloo in Britain). And with recent turbulent events in Africa and the Middle East reminding the French and us of the importance of these former links, this is a story that is worth telling in some detail.
Tunisia and Morocco had been granted independence relatively easily in 1950s because they were technically only protectorates while Algeria with a white population of over a million was seen as an integral part of France. What also made the Algerian war so bloody and painful was the way the army used torture to break the resistance. Julian explains how this became a crisis of conscience for the French: having been the victims of Nazi torture in WWII they are now the torturers...
Producer: Simon Elmes.