SAINT CHARLES DE FOUCAULD
13. French Catholic Colonisation
EFFECTIVE MEANS OF COLONISATION : THE ARMY.
From 1908, Brother Charles de Jésus experienced a veritable resurrection, the source of an overflowing intellectual activity. If he failed in his home country, his success in the Sahara was complete. In the desert at any rate, he has a spiritual family: the Army! It is the French colonial officers who best understood him. Not that they wanted to convert him to their ways. Having given himself to Jesus and to the poor, the enjoyed the protection of the army in order to disappear even deeper into the desert, journeying to Tamanrasset and even as far as Assekrem. Having attained the most humble position, that of serving the «poor negroes» of the Sahara and the poor Touaregs, he works for the salvation of their souls.
He who wanted to count for nothing finds that by himself he cannot suffice for such a task. But he can count on the officers. They are the only ones who share his concern, near him, like him and with him. They are his true friends, his true family, his fellow workers for the Kingdom of God, his apostles in a certain way. A little unstructured perhaps and even largely unconscious! Some of them, however, are perfectly aware of it... And they are admirable. The desert makes a selection and fashions them by compelling them to live a meritorious ascetic life. With one or two exceptions, these men are absolutely remarkable.
On the 4th December 1909, he writes to his cousin, Marie de Bondy: «The good God has permitted that from the beginning of the conquest of the Targui country, there should be incomparable officers, as good and gentle with the natives as the sisters of charity, whilst possessing the necessary firmness Colonel Laperrine and Captain Nieger do immense good through their kindness towards all. At the same time, they are excellent friends for me. » (Lettres à Madame de Bondy, p. 187)
The previous October, he had written to Bishop Guérin:
«The work of the officers is everything could want to ensure the best: it opens paths, establishes contact, guarantees security and gives a good opinion of us, for Colonel Laperrine, Captain Nieger, Monsieur de Saint-Léger and the others are incomparably good with the natives.» (Gorée, Sur les traces du Père de Foucauld, p. 261)
It is “politics first” in all its fullness, all aimed at the conversion of souls. Between politics and religion, there is perfect harmony. With his Parisian correspondents, the Father retains a certain reserve, because, in the eyes of the administration, he remains a clandestine figure and because they are not in a position to understand the demands of the situation. But to the officers with local responsibilities, he expounds his political principles and solutions openly. He writes to them daily with a view to effective action for the immediate good. These long letters are small treatises on colonial politics inspired by his immense charity.
He writes to Raymond de Blic on the 15th August 1909 :
«Politically, everything is going well in this country. At the moment, the political and the spiritual are closely linked. I am trying to tame, to befriend and to civilise; I would like to spread instruction and education, as the necessary foundation for what is the highest and the best, that which alone is really high and good: the one thing necessary. In this preparatory work, I find Laperrine’s gentle, paternal, friendly administration of the natives a continual and powerful help. Everything is going well as far as the Touaregs are concerned, and I am very happy. At present, the spiritual and the political are linked for them.»
«The political» is reflected on and put into action by a man of unequalled knowledge of Saharan problems, a perfectly disinterested man, imbued with a supernatural wisdom, truly guided in all things by the Spirit of God... The result is an integral doctrine of colonisation.
This “political summa” can be found in Father Gorée’s two volume book: Les amitiés sahariennes du Père de Foucauld. It is a book that is rarely quoted, often avoided, except for drawing wrong-headed conclusions. The book was first published in 1941 under the National Revolution: the first edition was dedicated to Maréchal Pétain with a preface by Admiral Abrial, commander of the fleet at Toulon in those days, and by Raymond Lehuraux, a former officer of the Tidikelt at the time when Father de Foucauld was there. In the 1946 edition, the dedication to the Maréchal and the Admiral’s preface have been suppressed, to yield to the tyranny of the moment.
The first volume contains twenty eight letters to Captain Duclos alone, Laperrine’s successor in 1915 and 1916: a veritable treatise of civilization and colonisation. It is a masterpiece... One can also read the Lettres à Laperrine, from 1914 to 1916, published by La Colombe.
Among these officers, the Father is like one of them, or rather, like their brother, their confidant, but also their counsellor, their political informer, At every moment, he is their comfort, calming quarrels and touchiness when glorious actions go unrewarded.
All that within the setting of his daily religious life. He runs everything at once. He is extraordinary!
In 1910, he built himself a hermitage at Assekrem, with a view to spending the summer of 1911 there. At an altitude of 2900 metres, in a more intense silence, amid a nature that draws from him cries of admiration, he works eight hours a day at his Tamacheq dictionary with Ba Hammou, an ill-tempered and unbearable Black of the tribe of the Dag Rali, Moussa ag Amastane’s secretary Originally from Ghât (Libya), he was an enemy, as Father de Foucauld had certainly understood.
For Christmas 1911, they went back to Tamanrasset, where the Father was bitten by a horned viper. He had no remedy, and when the Tuaregs found him he was already in a coma: they cauterised him with a red hot iron. He came out of that with a limp. But that did not prevent him immediately setting off on his second journey to France. What a man!
From 1912, he rejoices at the progress made in the Hoggar: the construction of Fort Motylinski, plans for a trans-Saharian railway, the establishment of radio relay posts, the building of roads. He wants these populations to be improved and instructed.
From 1904 to 1906, I accompanied the main caravans, bringing fresh supplies to the South-Oranais territories as far as Béni-Abbès [...]. What a rough life we led [...] !
In the course of these stages, I often visited Father de Foucauld’s dried mud cabin, surmounted by a cross, some two hundred metres from the bordj. The furniture consisted of a white wood table, a plank bed, one or two rough and ready wooden stools: he lived there, as a saint, detached from all the good things of this world.
At about 6 o’clock in the evening, all the officers gathered in the fort over fresh drinks, happy to take a breath after the stifling daylight hours
Soon, there was a silence : Father de Foucauld was announced. One of our comrades went up to him to greet him. Then there was this grandiose scene that choked us with emotion. Whilst the flag was being lowered, the Father, dominating the horizon with his fine figure of a former cavalryman, recited the “ Pater Noster” aloud, as nobody has ever recited it ! There was no question then of personal ideas, religious, political or other ; we were just men sending our whole mind and heart to France through the mouth of this holy man. A wide blessing followed, and the Father simply retired as he had come. Those who have witnessed this scene will remember it all their life.
Testimony of Dr Dautheville, attached to the Saharan company of In-Salab in February 1905. He was then sent to Tamanrasset in February 1908. Cf. Les amitiés sahariennes, vol. I, p. 271-272.
THE HUMILITY OF A SAINT
In 1909, as captain of the 2nd Infantry, I commanded the 13th company, spread out among the Posts, from Taghit (where I resided) to Béni-Abbès, where Father de Foucauld had his hermitage at that time.
On the 23rd March, a certain Mokhazeni told me that the « great white marabout » was due to arrive the next day [...].
I went and introduced myself, and for almost half an hour we walked up and down talking about the South and its inhabitants. The Father then said to me :
« Excuse me, but I would like to greet the Commandant Captain of the Post.
– That’s me. » I replied.
I looked more like a djicheur than an Infantry captain! To put that right, I quickly donned my képi !
Father de Foucauld did not stay more than twenty four hours with us. My first lieutenant was away on leave at the time, so I let the Father have his shack. I think I can state that he disregarded what served as a bed (no springs, no mattress !) in order to sleep on the ground.
In the course of our conversations, he confided to me that he did not go in for proselytism, being content with drawing the natives to ourselves, caring for them and giving advice.
On different occasions, during his short stay, the Father came to talk with me ; I naturally introduced my family to him, through photos, and he found that we had beautiful children. That excellent man knew how much pleasure such a subject would give the father !
He was due to stay for a short time at Béni-Abbès before going on the Hoggar, where he was studying the Touareg language in order to construct a grammar and a dictionary. He may have been thinking of those who would continue his work.
« I sow, he told me, others will reap. »
He told us that his house was ten metres long, scarcely 1.65 m wide and tall, because of the poor quality of the wood used. And so, he added, « you can’t move withoutknocking in to something ».
On Thursday morning, the 25th March, Father de Foucauld celebrated Mass in our modest dining room. I had placed a table at the back end of the room to serve as an altar. His altar wine came from flasks having contained mint alcohol. He had advised me to say that he did not want anyone coming to Mass out of politeness or just to please him. As I had a few legionnaires among my infantrymen, I suggested that he look for an altar server among them.
« There’s no point, the Father replied, I am used to celebrating alone. »
All the clerical staff of the Post were present, and many natives hurried to the door, which was left open. Every time the celebrant turned to face the assembly, he kept his eyes lowered.
As it was Eastertide, I had the happiness of fulfilling my Easter duties with Father de Foucauld. To fulfil one’s Easter duties in a bled is usually quite difficult, since the nearest church is hundreds of miles away!
Gentleness and humility recurred in all the Father’s conversations. But he emitted such radiance, that after his departure, I wrote to my wife, who was obliged to remain in France:
« He is a saint ; we shall certainly see him raised to the altars before we die. »
At that time, Father de Foucauld was about fifty years old. He was of average height, but with a slight stoop. Very thin (and I have since learned that he was nearly refused admission to Saint-Cyr for being precociously obese !). His face was framed with a shortish beard ; his hair was short, speckled with a few white threads. His sparkling eyes were deep set in their sockets. The striking thing about his attitude is humility first of all; but his profound and gentle look, when not veiled by his eyelids, is unforgettable.
There is something supernatural about him ; with him, one has the feeling of not being in the presence of an ordinary man.
And as I have told you, I was struck by the attitude of the natives, who showed him veneration more than deference, prostrating themselves before him to kiss the hem of his robe. They called him the great white marabout.
After his departure, some of them said to me :
« So you do have a religion and marabouts and you don’t live like dogs ! »
This reflection shows the effect produced in favour of France by the mere presence of Father de Foucauld. I hasten to add that the influence of this holy man proved to be still more effective.
The afternoon of the 25th March was when he left us. They brought him the mare of an officer of Native Affairs, a calm beast, such as the traveller hoped for. As he mounted, the mare was brushed by his robe and made a movement. His first reflex was that of a former cavalry officer: to steady the mount with his legs; his second movement was that of the humble man: to grasp her by the neck shouting « Hola ! » I witnessed this scene, and went up to him saying:
« Too late, Father, before grasping her neck, you had gripped her with your legs.
– Will you be quiet », he said to me.
During his stay at Béni-Abbès, his family used to send him money via an officer of the Post, with the recommendation that it be handed over in instalments on different dates. The fact is that if he received a payment directly, he would distribute it as soon as he got it. The procedure followed only meant that the alms were spaced out leaving very little money for the payee.
Every Sunday, Father de Foucauld was invited to dine at the officers’ mess. With the excuse that he would thereby be obliged to leave his hermitage – a thing contrary to the rule – he asked whether the meal could not be sent to him, which they did until the day when it was noticed that he only made this request so that he could distribute the food to the poor.
(Testimony of General Giraud, Gorrée, Les amitiés sahariennes, vol. II, p. 287-290)
DOCTRINE OF COLONISATION.
What is colonisation? The way he practised it day after day, imbued with a charity that informs and expands every virtue, far removed from the false simplicity of pacifist goodness, it is primarily military pacification. Then it is the direct government of submissive populations. Finally, it is the enlightened, comprehensive and civilising administration of their everyday life.
First of all peace! And to have peace, it is necessary to conquer. Pursue the rezzous, therefore, and decimate them! This gentle man wants force to reign. It is through force that France will achieve the reign of peace. He rejoiced over the battle of Tit, and he pointed out that the Touaregs had applauded it. On another occasion, when Captain Sigonney had pursued a rezzou and crushed it, Father de Foucauld wrote to him on the 14th December 1910 :
« I send you my congratulations on your splendid pursuit of Baba, son of Abidine, and the recapture of the stolen camels. I hastened to write and report this good news to the Colonel, who will be delighted by it, both for the public good and for you, for I know that he is very fond of you. Your pursuit has had the best effect on the whole of the Ahaggar. The news was brought by Émeri, anticipating the courier by several days. It was a pleasure to see the Touaregs glorying in the fact that it was their officer who had pursued and recaptured the camels, and not the officer from the Sudan. The state of mind has greatly changed in this part of the Ahaggar, and considerable progress has been made for some years. Four years ago, bonfires would have been lit, had Abidine been successful; today, they take pride in the fact that it is you who have succeeded against him.» (Les amitiés sahariennes, vol. II, p. 217)
Force pays. Even when the Touaregs are submissive, they must - it is the cavalryman who is speaking - be kept on a “ short leash ”. From 1914, he warns against any relaxation of the Administration, which would inevitably lead to a return to disorder, to violence and injustice. And when such betrayal or dissidence shows its head, he will call for a severe repression: that the dissidents be shot or expelled, or sent to the Fezzan where the Italians can sort them out!
« Tamanrasset, 30 April 1916
« Two Harratins, bad subjects, tried to run away in order to reach Djanet and so go over to the enemy. Chased, captured and convicted of having wanted to go over to the enemy, Constant had them shot: this punishment, unanimously approved by the natives, has had an excellent effect.» (To Commandant Duclos, op. cit., vol. I, p. 242)
After pacifying the peoples, it is necessary to govern. His system is diametrically opposed to that of Lyautey : he does not a protectorate, but annexation.
He wrote to Commandant Brissaud on the 16th January 1912:
Assekrem, par In Salah
16 January 1912
« Cher Monsieur,
« A thousand thanks for your kind letter and for Captain Yvart’s map; please hand him this little note enclosed... I understand you to be in Morocco and that you are enjoying yourself there! I hope that everything is going well and that we shall pass from the Protectorate to annexation. (The protectorate is better than nothing, but it is a false regime giving scope for enormous abuse and preventing the good due to those people subject to us from being done). I pray the good God to bless you, to give you every success and to allow you to do great good. If in instead limiting oneself to subduing and holding in subjection these almost entirely Berber populations, one were to make close contact with them, providing for their education, as parents bring up their children, gradually and gently bringing them up to our level, this splendid Morocco would become an extension of France. I have no doubt that you are entirely satisfied with your soldiers and making excellent service men of them: they are the brothers of our Kabyles.
«I thank you with all my heart for inviting me to Morocco. I do not say no; it would be a great joy for me to see Captain Yvart; a profound joy to see the French flag flying over that country. Shall I have that joy? I do not know; at the moment, I am held here because of all my work... but I do not give up hope of coming to Morocco, nor of seeing Morocco becoming French to my great joy, nor of seeing you here... It is an “au revoir” that I say to you, cher Monsieur, assuring you of my profound, respectful and most affectionate devotion in the Heart of Jesus,
« Brother Charles de Foucauld. »
(op. cit., vol. II, p. 305)
For annexation to be definitive, one must not play diplomacy with the sultans: they administer only one sixth of the territory, and one should see how! France should take control of Morocco and quite simply make a French country of it. A letter to the same correspondent expresses this lesson of organising empiricism, in which there appears not an ounce of metaphysical ideology. Let us read the letter, mindful that at the same time, in France, the rich bourgeoisie, radical-socialist and anticlerical, refused to provide instruction for the workers, refused to allow them to be organised in trade unions and kept the people from bettering themselves, in order to maintain its power over them. Father de Foucauld rediscovered, and applied to the Hoggar, the great French tradition, where the King stood up for the peasants against the great nobles. Thus, in the 19th century, the impoverished workers should have received justice against liberal capitalism.
Assekrem, par In Salah
15 August 1912
« Cher Monsieur,
« I have received your kind and most interesting letter of the 2nd July, and I hasten to express my full gratitude. I too am fascinated by Morocco and I cannot thank you enough for the very precise details you have given me.
« As you tell me, there is a lot to do. Taking possession of Morocco will transform our African Empire by bringing in this Berber population, full of vigour and capable of rapid progress. Morocco will soon head our magnificent North-West African empire, which is unified from the Mediterranean to Chad. May it be possible to do what you say in your letter and eliminate the main native chiefs who are pressurising the country and remove it from the European fishers in troubled waters. The main native chiefs are one of Algeria’s evils: they siphon off every benefit for their own profit and lay the charge on those they govern, burdening and pressurising them; they are like a wall between the people and us, perpetuating abuse and preventing all contact between their people and the French, for fear that they might lose their influence. In an underhand manner, they oppose all progress because ignorance and barbarism are favourable to their retention of power. They want old abuses, a regime of injustice, ignorance and barbarity, to be maintained. Which means that they must be eliminated everywhere.
«But at the same time, numerous officers must be stationed among the peoples and stay long enough in the same place to make close contact with the people, getting to know them well, and to be known by them, not just holding the people in submission, but doing everything for their progress, gaining influence over their minds and working fruitfully to make Frenchmen of them. The Berbers, as nearly all the Moroccans are, will be likely to make rapid progress; if they fail to do so for us - that is to say by becoming French in keeping with their education - they will do so against us and will take the lead in a national party, Muslim and anti-French, and will quickly be joined by associates in Algeria, Tunisia and the Sudan, and the danger will be great... In order to do what has to be done, we need many officers: please God, may the government understand this necessity and send the personnel that are needed!
« Alas! the submission of Morocco was dearly paid for: poor M. Rossini! poor M. Renahy who took me to see Béchar! poor M. Lesparda! I pray for them as best I can. They died doing their duty; the good God has, I hope, received them in His mercy.
« I shall spend next winter here. In the summer of 1913, I may go to France for a few weeks. I hope that we shall meet some day: whether it be here, in Morocco or in France, it will be a feast for me.
« Au revoir, cher Monsieur. I assure you of my profound and fraternal devotion.
« Yours very affectionately, in the Heart of Jesus
« Brother Charles de Foucauld. » (op. cit., vol. II, p. 306-307)
Father de Foucauld’s commentators express their indignation to see him hoping for this union between France and her Empire to last for a hundred, two hundred, even a thousand years. But the oppression of the Berbers by the Arabs lasted for a thousand years ! A disastrous oppression. So, why should not France’s civilising work also last for a thousand years, for the good of all! Father de Foucauld is against the Arabs, and firstly against their language, the vehicle of Islamisation. He knows that Islam is a perpetual incitement among these peoples to rebel against the “roumis”, the Christians, against France. In a letter to Sigonney of the 3rd November 1911, in the middle of the Italo-Turkish war, he warns this officer against the influence of the marabouts :
«I see things exactly as you do; it is just that I think there is good reason to keep a more than usual watch on the marabouts. Not those of the country, but those who could come amongst us from Tripolitania. The Turks, like all weak powers, readily resort to sending low-level emissaries to sow false news in an attempt to stir up the peoples.» (Ibid., vol. II, p. 234-235)
A prophetic view, which events in 1916 will tragically seal.
His thinking is perfectly clear. Just as he writes to his cousin, Louis de Foucauld, urging him to return to his country seat, so that his children might carry on the tradition, be known by the country people and have a good moralising and spiritual influence over them, so he writes to the officers whom he dreams of seeing permanently installed, remaining there and becoming attached, like a new feudality, to the populations for whom they are responsible. The comparison is so obvious that he writes about it in a letter to his nephew Charles:
«It is like being in the twelfth century in France, here.»
It expresses exactly his dream of the great Christian feudality, for the restoration and extension of civilisation. For the moment, this patriarchal government is a precarious hope whilst the officers are rotated too frequently.
Finally, after pacification and government, there is administration. It has to be started again from A to Z. Father de Foucauld took it upon himself to be the advocate of his “parishioners’” against a blind and harsh administration. He protests when he notices that the Touaregs are supplied with cartridges without detonators, that contracts are not respected or that requisitioned camels are not taken care of. And, beyond this defence of the poor, he works for their way of life to be transformed. As long as they are nomadic, these peoples will never have instruction, morals or justice. They must be made to settle and be taught agriculture. They will thus be forced to work and there will be no further need to go raiding.
How to put them to work? Father de Foucauld shows Captain Duclos a very simple way to get them to begin:
«You have had ten loads of dates sent to Motylinski, which is perfect. With the money you will still manage to have, I advise you not to have dates sent and then send them off, nor to distribute grain for the spring and autumn sowing, but to establish a permanent and free brick making work centre where the bricks would be bought by the baïlik at a very reasonable price, but enough to enable the workers to live (a hundred bricks made and transported to the office gate, a half litre of wheat, rye, bechna, dates or sfouf, according to the baïlik’s choice), the baïlik accepting all the well made bricks brought to him and providing those who ask for work with no more than a mesha [the “mesha” is a spade like tool] and a mould. This workshop would enable anyone without work, and who is not lazy, to live until he could find other work. A reserve of bricks would be built up at the baïlik, which could always find a use and would have cost little. It would not be a great expense, for unfortunately, it is often sufficient to offer a beggar work for him to go off and never be seen again. If I were in your place, that is how I would use any available money. Everyone lives easily in the Ahaggar from April to November. From November to March, when the caravans are in Aïr, there is an awkward moment when there is no milk, for each one holds on to what he has, in case the caravans arrive late.
«It would be of great economic help to the Ahaggar if you were to recommend your non-commissioned officers not to requisition the camels sent by the Kel Ahaggar to the Tidikelt to fetch dates. They wait for these camels and when they fail to return at the right time, there is despair. The people are discouraged from sending to the Tidikelt and they fear for the future. The caïds of the Tidikelt, headed by Bilon, are first class at sending the passing Touaregs’ camels instead of their own, when requested for camels by the office.
«I am happy that Moussa was given no decoration. I hope he will be given no garden at Djanet. You have to hold the purse strings yourself and not entrust them to him, - give him nothing fixed, but make him a present from time to time when there is reason for it. Right now, there is none. The habit of giving will only make him more mendicant than he already is. He receives an enormous amount from the Iforas and makes his own people give a lot too, in a kindly way but one that is effective nevertheless.» (Extract from the Letter to Commandant Duclos, 24 November 1915, Les amitiés sahariennes, vol. I, p. 190-193)
He then demands that justice be done even against the French soldiers who have behaved badly. He encourages Commandant Duclos to be energetic in the fight against theft: «I believe severe repression to be necessary.» Prison or hard labour depending on the gravity of the burglary.
He recommends the officers of Fort Motylinski to open a hospice for the old, where they will have a little work in keeping with their ability and food will be guaranteed. He applauds the motor track and the trans-Saharian project.
He also writes to Colonel Voinot, on the 21st July 1914:
«There is nothing much new here; the Ahagggar, for long the haunt of bandits, has become a land of great peace and of great calm. The Nobles, who were the bandits, are impoverished, annihilated, and their already reduced number goes on decreasing; they are beginning to join the Company, which means that they have something better to do; as for the Imrad, that is to say the plebeians, they are generally good people, peaceful and hard-working: they go on increasing their crops daily and they are tending to settle: that is the beginning of civilisation. When you saw Tamanrasset, there were only two houses, the rest were huts; now there are only two huts, the rest are houses. » (Les amitiés sahariennes, vol. II, p. 136)
A letter to Commandant Duclos of the 4th March 1916 stipulates, even for us today, a policy that is applicable to our North African immigrants; it is the policy advocated by Father de Nantes, when he proposes that they should be allowed to administer themselves, with their own laws, their own police and justice, their leaders being answerable to the French state:
«I am convinced that what we must seek for the natives of our colonies is not rapid assimilation. That is impossible, for assimilation takes generations after generations. Nor should we go for simple association, which by itself is not suitable for effecting the progress of those we administer, nor their sincere union. Progress will be very unequal and will have to be sought by very often different means in our varied colonies. But that must be the constant aim for as many centuries as our colonies belong to us.
«If progress is to be intellectual, moral and material, it can only be achieved by a purely French administration, to which natives can be admitted only when they have acquired not just French nationality and instruction, but also the French mentality.» (Les amitiés sahariennes, vol. I, p. 217)
He wanted to save these people through love. To save them from Islam by quickly outstripping islamisation and arabisation, which go together. Whence his effort to study languages and customs, and to establish a Tamacheq dictionary. It is not even a question of making them French, after the manner of the Republicans and Jacobins; that will be the fatal error of the 13th May 1958. Father de Nantes said to us: «If it had been suggested to him that they should be taught French instead of Arabic, he would have said: No. Leave them, they are a people! In that, he showed himself to be a magnificent colonising genius.»
Let us read this other letter of the 13th January 1912:
«If France fulfils her duty towards her barbarian Empire, that is to say, if she behaves towards these people as a mother and not an exploiter, doing to others as she would have done to herself, and applying the principle: “Love your neighbour as yourself” and the principle of that fraternity written on every wall, that is to say, if she works for the education of these peoples, she will have an admirable empire which will be another France, with double its present population in half a century. If France fails to fulfil this duty, the mass of the population will of necessity remain distant from us, with no attachment to us and different from us in every way. The population will come under the sole influence of the local aristocracy. And they being the middle class, the local squires and marabouts, will gain instruction in our schools but without loving us. From their instruction and ease of communication, there will be born a patriotic union among the instructed and distinguished people of all Barbary from Fez to Tunis - all with the same inspiration, that of throwing us out.
«The peoples of North Africa must be raised not by laws giving them, with a stroke of the pen, the same duties and the same rights as we have, in which they differ so thoroughly from us. We must work to give them material ease, a special instruction and an appropriate mentality. It is not the work of one day, but it can be done, because it is philosophically plain that it is our duty to do so and also because historical experience shows that it has been done many times before.» (Quoted in Afrique française, January 1917)
CCR n° 300, august 1997
PROPHETIC WARNINGS TO FRANCE
On the 22nd November 1907, Father de Foucauld wrote to Father Huvelin:
«I would like to see a good book, in an attractive form and easy to read, written by a layman so as to attract more readers and be widely read - a book that will move those who are of good will and of good heart, highlighting what we should be doing for these backward brethren. It is a great work of extreme charity.»
On the 1st January 1908, he renewed his plea:
«I reiterate the request I made of you... concerning a very necessary book to instil the right idea of our duties towards these millions of souls peopling France’s colonial domain, suddenly become so considerable. I ask you again to take these steps, which you can do so much better than I can [...]. If you cannot do it, please guide me, advise me and tell me whom I should address [...]. But on this, trust your child, who is almost an old man now, living among endless poverty about which nobody does or wants to do a thing. Able and obliged to do so much good, we nevertheless worsen the deplorable moral and intellectual state of these peoples by regarding them as no more than a means to material gain. What the natives see in us Christians, professing a religion of love, in us unbelieving Frenchmen crying “Fraternité” from the roof tops, is negligence, ambition or greed, and in nearly all, alas, they see indifference, aversion and harshness.»
René Bazin seems the right man for the job. He has just written “ Les Oberlé”, an expression of Catholic and French traditionalism, which met with brilliant success and earned its author increasing public recognition.
Father de Foucauld, however, could see nothing coming. In 1912, he is on top of things, he knows his desert like the back of his hand and he feels the wind turning. The Italo-Turkish war gave victory to the Italians who now occupy Libya and are undertaking the conquest of the Fezzan. He sees progress being made and he is delighted, but he also sees that this progress is leading these peoples to the parting of the ways: either it will work for their pride or for their even deeper submission. He increases his grave warnings to his brother-in-law, Raymond de Blic in January, to Captain Pariel in February, to his cousin de Latouche in April, to Commandant Brissaud, to Marie de Bondy, to General de Morlaincourt, to his dear cousin, but really for her husband and the Lardimalies. In December, he writes to the Duc de Fitz-James.
Let us read his letter of the 16th February 1912, addressed to Captain Pariel:
«What a magnificent empire: Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan, Sahara!
«What a magnificent empire! Provided we civilise it, make it French, and not content ourselves with maintaining it in subjection and exploiting it. If we try to civilise and bring up to our level these peoples who now number thirty million and who will number sixty million in fifty years’ time, thanks to peace, this admirable African empire will be an admirable extension of France. If, however, we neglect the love of neighbour commanded by God, our Common Father, and that fraternity written on all our walls, if we treat these people not as children but as material for exploitation, the union which we shall have given them will turn against us and they will throw us into the sea at the first difficulty in Europe.» (Les amitiés sahariennes, vol. II, p. 341)
To General de Morlaincourt :
«Please pray for these peoples of our colonies. No doubt their conversion is not easy! It is a duty for the Christians of the Mother country, just as the Christian education of their children is a duty for the parents. When something is a duty, its difficulty only proves one thing: greater efforts have to be made and we must get down to work more speedily.»
Concerning the establishment of Tamanrasset, planned in 1912, beginning to be realised in 1942, only to be abandoned in 1943, he adds:
«I do not lose hope of seeing you and Édouard here one day. The good God has given France a magnificent colonial empire in North West Africa, a third or a quarter of all Africa, forming a single block facing France and separated from her by a few hours sea crossing. The control of Morocco on the one hand and the occupation of the Sahara on the other, joining our possessions in the North to those of the Sudan, set the seal on this empire. When the railway from Oran to Chad is complete, think of the number of Frenchmen who will want to see these countries and these peoples whom the good God has given us!
«Pray that these peoples may be well governed. These vast stretches comprise about thirty million inhabitants. They will be double that in fifty years’ time, thanks to the peace. If we govern well, if we civilise them and make them French, if we make ourselves loved by these peoples, they will form an admirable extension of France. If we fail to understand the duty of loving our neighbour as ourselves, if we govern badly, if we exploit instead of civilising, if we make ourselves hated and despised through injustice and harshness, this third of Africa, which will learn how to handle our weapons and our tools, which will have an elite educated like ourselves and by ourselves, will profit from our united forces and the means we shall have given them, to escape from us and to become not only independent of us but a fearful enemy. Let us pray that this be understood in France and that those who are not touched by the sense of duty, may do what has to be done out of self interest and fear of danger.»
Thus Father de Foucauld multiplied his warnings. They were not heard at the time, but it is for us to hear them today! Going all the way with his thinking, he quite simply says: Either they will become Christian and remain French, or we shall be unable to make Christians of them, and they will cease to be French in fifty years’ time:
« If France fails to govern the natives of her colony better than she has done, she will lose it, and for these people it will be a step back towards barbarism with the loss of hope for Christianisation for a long time to come.»
On the other hand, the uncle makes the nephew’s eyes sparkle with the promise of a magnificent future if, through Chistianisation, the tree bears the expected fruits:
«When you are a grandfather and in retirement, this empire will have become a great extension of France...»
How can we fail to see the prophetic character of this pathetic appeal?
«If we have not succeeded in attaching these peoples to ourselves, they will chase us out. Not only shall we lose this entire empire, but the unity we shall have given it and which has existed for the first time from the beginning of the world, will be turned against us: it will become a hostile, fearsome and barbaric neighbour for us... It will all become a kind of barbary type Japan.»