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Torture and the Twilight of Empire:
From Algiers to Baghdad
Marnia Lazreg

Paperback | 2016 | $24.95 | £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691173481
368 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
Hardcover | 2007 | $57.50 | £48.95 | ISBN: 9780691131351
360 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 6 halftones.
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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--especially women--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.


"In Torture and the Twilight of Empire, Marnia Lazreg draws resourcefully on military history and sociological and cultural analysis to explain how the French colonial state tried to forestall its own collapse by terrorizing the Algerian population in viciously creative ways. She provides a fascinating intellectual history of modern torture; an unflinching empirical account, or 'ethnography of torture.'"--Priya Satia, Times Literary Supplement

"Nothing short of a thorough anatomy of torture and cruelty, their methods, justifications, functions and consequences both on the victims as well as the perpetrators. . . . The author effectively argues that the occupying Western powers have not only justified their systematic use of torture and cruelty as a regrettable but necessary means of protecting and saving Western civilization from those 'who hate our way of life' but they have also used this argument as a pretext for invading and colonizing those nations that dare to challenge Western politico-economic hegemony. . . . Recommended reading."--Muhammad Khan, Muslim News

"In this brilliant and disturbing book [Marnia Lazreg] looks at the intimate relationship between torture and colonial domination through a rigorous examination of French tactics during the Algerian war from 1954-62."--Will Podmore, Tribune

"The philosophical analyses can be challenging to grasp, but for those looking to better understand the way torture figures into a military occupation, Lazreg's book provides an insightful and detailed account of the Algerian model."--Hannah Fleury, International Socialist Review

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments ix
Abbreviations xi
Introduction 1

Part I: Imperial Politics and Torture
Chapter 1: Revolutionary-War Theory 15
Chapter 2: Militarization of the Colonial State 34
Chapter 3: Psychological Action 61
Chapter 4: Models of Pacification: From Nietzsche to Sun Tzu 87

Part II: Ethnography of Torture
Chapter 5: Doing Torture 111
Chapter 6: Women: Between Torture and Military Feminism 145

Part III: Ideology of Torture

Chapter 7: Conscience, Imperial Identity, and Torture 173
Chapter 8: The Christian Church and Antisubversive War 191
Chapter 9: Fanon, Sartre, and Camus 213

Part IV: Reflections on Torture
Chapter 10: Moralizing Torture 237
Chapter 11: Repetitions: From Algiers to Baghdad 253

Notes 271
Glossary 309
References and Selected Bibliography 311
Index 323

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