Elaine Mokhtefi-Klein talks about her husband Mokhtar Mokhtefi's memoir, I Was a French Muslim, recently translated into English by Other Press. She is joined in conversation by Judith Surkis, Amara Lakhous and Madeleine Dobie.
I Was a French Muslim provides a vivid account of a childhood under French colonization and a life dedicated to fighting for the freedom and dignity of the Algerian people. The son of a butcher and the youngest of six siblings, Mokhtar Mokhtefi was born in 1935 and grew up in a village de colonisation roughly one hundred kilometers south of the capital of Algiers. Thanks to the efforts of a supportive teacher, he became the only child in the family to progress to high school, attending a French lycée that deepened his belief in the need for independence. In 1957, at age twenty-two, he joined the National Liberation Army (ALN), the armed wing of the National Liberation Front (FLN), which had been waging war against France since 1954. After completing rigorous training in radio transmissions at a military base in Morocco, he went on to become an officer in the infamous Ministère de l’Armement et des Liaisons Générales (MALG), the precursor of post-independence Algeria’s Military Security (SM). Mokhtefi’s powerful memoir bears witness to the extraordinary men and women who fought for Algerian independence against a colonial regime that viewed non-Europeans as fundamentally inferior, designating them not as French citizens, but as “French Muslims.” He presents a nuanced, intelligent, and deeply personal perspective on Algeria’s transition to independent statehood, with all its opportunities and pitfalls.
Elaine Mokhtefiis an American and Algerian activist, translator, and writer. Born in New York, Mokhtefi began working as a translator for anti-racist and anti-colonial activist movements after moving to Paris in her twenties. She supported Algerian independence efforts, then lived in Algeria from 1962 until she was forced to leave the country in 1974. Her memoir of her time there, Algiers, Third World Capital: Freedom Fighters, Revolutionaries, Black Panthers, was published by Verso Books in 2018.
Judith Surkis is Professor of History at Rutgers University.
Amara Lakhous is an Italian author, journalist and anthropologist of Algerian origin. He lives in New York.
Madeleine Dobie is Professor and Chair of the French Department at Columbia.
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