Archive for January, 2012

Hello, Libya (Libyan archeology) orig. pub. Jan 23 in The Weekly Standard

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Hello, Libya
Does the fall of Qaddafi mean the rise of tourism?
Ann Marlowe
January 30, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 19


Thirty years ago, few Americans were aware that Turkey has nearly as many classical Greek ruins as Greece. Today, Libya’s Greek and Roman remains are similarly unknown to Americans.

It’s understandable: Americans were banned from visiting Libya from 1981 until 2004 under sanctions that eventually led Muammar Qaddafi to give up his weapons of mass destruction and partially open the Libyan economy. Relations began to be normalized in 2006; the U.S. embassy opened in Tripoli that year. Group tourism, under strictly controlled conditions, was begun; but Qaddafi’s initial embrace of tourism proved fickle, and after some charter groups were turned away at the Tripoli airport for not having Arabic translations of their passports, numbers dwindled. The last year of revolution brought many more foreign visitors to Libya, but it is safe to say that very few American tourists were among them.

Now, in 2012, as it prepares for its first free, universal-suffrage elections, Libya (especially eastern Libya) would make a fine destination for the adventurous lover of classical civilization. And as Libya stabilizes, Americans will have a new country to discover—with nearly a dozen important sites, most within sight of the striking Mediterranean coastline.

As I write, the western part of the country, home to the best-known sites, Leptis Magna and Sabratha, is significantly less stable than the east, known as Cyrenaica. While a visitor should see both areas, the coast between the Egyptian border and the revolutionary capital of Benghazi offers more variety than the west, including the unique Berber site of Slonta. The ruined cities of Cyrene, Apollonia, and Tolmeitha, and the Christian site of Qasr Libya, compare favorably with any Mediterranean destination—even Greece itself.

Libya has been isolated for decades, and culturally marginal for centuries, but it was central in the classical world. Benghazi, the capital of Cyrenaica (and from February to August 2011 the capital of Free Libya), was the ancient Euesperides, named after the Hesperides, the women guarding the golden apples given to Hera when she married Zeus. The Hesperides are supposed to have lived in a sunken garden, which Richard Goodchild, one of the main mid-20th-century researchers on Cyrenaica, identified with one of the sinkholes that still exist about 10 kilometers from Benghazi. The inland area around Benghazi is supposed to have been the location of the legendary Greek river of the dead, Lethe.

Greek settlers arrived from Santorini to found Cyrene—the namesake city for Cyrenaica—in the 7th century b.c. The city that would later be known as Benghazi, Euesperides, set up a republic around 440 b.c. Alexander the Great tossed the Persians out of Egypt and Cyrenaica in 332 b.c. before founding Alexandria. A few years later, Cyrenaica came under the control of the neighboring Egyptian Ptolemaic dynasty, and was ruled by the Ptolemies or their successors until it was made a Roman province in 74 b.c.

In the Roman years, the Libyan and Roman populations coalesced, and distinctive forms of local architecture sprang up. Libyans sent numerous senators to Rome and gave her an emperor, Septimus Severus, born in Leptis Magna. Inscriptions mingled Latin with Punic, which is related to Phoenician. Christian communities emerged in Cyrenaica relatively early since there was a substantial Jewish presence. Simon of Cyrene carried the cross at Calvary, and St. Mark was a Jew of Cyrene: Local legend holds that he wrote his Gospel in a cave still known as Wadi Marcus near Derna in the Jebel Akhdar Mountains, before going on to become bishop of Alexandria.

Vandal and Arab invasions led to deurbanization and the abandonment of some of the cities of Cyrenaica. Two years after Cairo fell to the Arabs in 641 they entered Libya, and Barca, today’s Al Marj, became their administrative seat. One of the Companions of the Prophet, Rawevfi ben Thabit, was an early governor of Barca. He was buried in 663 at the Great Mosque of Barca, but was later moved to Bayda and a mosque called Sidi Rafa. (Non-Muslims are welcome, but nothing remains of its original construction.) Cyrenaica lapsed into a sleepy irrelevance during the Fatimid period, and when locals rebelled against Cairo in 1040 the Fatimids sent the nomadic Banu Hilal against them. The destruction and desertification they caused ended Libya’s cultural significance.

Indeed, it was not until seven centuries later (1705) that Europeans noted the existence of Cyrene again—and the consequences of European attention were far better for the Europeans than the Libyans. In 1861 two Britons, Robert Murdoch Smith and Edwin Porcher, transported nearly 150 statues to the British Museum. Cyrene was systematically explored, beginning in 1913, when Italian workmen accidentally unearthed a masterwork that was then displayed in Rome’s Campidoglio Museums but returned to Libya in 2008. The colonial government performed a primitive sort of restoration in Cyrene—indeed, across the Libyan littoral—while simultaneously killing as much as a third of the Libyan population.

Because of the intervening world wars, little additional work was done anywhere in Libya until the 1950s, when Libya gained its independence. Then, after just 18 years under King Idris, the Qaddafi era began. And because the colonel viewed the classical sites as artifacts of a hateful colonial past, he was disinclined to take care of them.

The Cyrenaican sites can be approached from the Egyptian border, or by flying to Benghazi and driving toward Egypt. Either way, it’s best to spend at least one night at the seaside hotel in Apollonia, which is built next to the ruins. (Both the four-star Uzu and five-star Tibesti hotels in Benghazi are comfortable, the latter even luxurious.) Benghazi itself is a spirited but badly rundown port, though with the cobalt-blue sea always in the background, and a way of life centered around drinking endless espressos and smoking endless cigarettes, it feels as much Mediterranean as Arabic. Its classical buildings fell victim to a fourth-century earthquake and nomadic, Vandal, and Arab raids in the early Middle Ages. Extensive bombing during World War II, when the city changed hands five times, finished off most of the Ottoman-era buildings. The oldest structures are from the Italian occupation of the 1920s and ’30s, so the lover of antiquity will want to make a speedy getaway to the ruins nearby.

Beginning from Benghazi, the first significant site is Tolmeitha. These ruins may be the largest of any Roman provincial capital, and they are barely excavated. Yet while Cyrene is a world heritage site, the Libyan government’s request to obtain the same status for Tolmeitha was rejected by UNESCO. It was certainly the poorest place I saw on the eastern coast, but also potentially the most beautiful, with palm groves next to the sea and acacias a mile inland near the ruins.

The major part of the ruins of Tolmeitha are about a mile-and-a-half inland on a dirt road that leads back from the sea toward the main highway but does not connect with it. In a scene that can have changed little from classical times, shepherds grazed their flocks and a group of rural women strode happily through the groves of pines and acacias. The not-very-evocative remains of the Arch of Constantine are to your left walking uphill away from the sea, but the first major group of ruins at Tolmeitha is the Villa of Columns. This looks from a distance like a public structure, but it was a private home that included a large pool. The renovation here seems to have been minimal, and so the site is much more interesting than Cyrene or Apollonia. Endless scraps of red, sometimes black, pottery everywhere suggest the vast remains still below ground.

After a short walk southwest the small (four-tier) theater faces not the sea, as is more usual, but the pastoral landscape. And near the theater is the most spectacular part of Tolmeitha: On a small rise is a football-field-sized Greek agora, later a Roman forum. Just a handful of pillars are still standing, but these are much taller than the ones at the Villa of the Columns, and, once you see them, the contrast between private and public spaces is clear. The star attraction, though, is underneath the agora: A huge, well-preserved Roman cistern, the largest in Africa, extends the full size of the forum.

Since Tolmeitha had no fresh water supply, the Romans built a 15-mile aqueduct to provide the cistern with water. In the period of insecurity during the fourth century the aqueduct broke, leading to depopulation; it was repaired by the emperor Justinian. Down a flight of stone steps is a series of linked rectangular rooms, dimly lit by openings to the agora above, and almost as impressive as Istanbul’s underground cistern, though not nearly as lofty.

To reach Qasr Libya, literally “Castle Libya,” a church built in 539 that houses some of Libya’s finest mosaics, I left the coast road and turned in to the mountains. Qasr Libya was known in Roman times as Olbia, then renamed Theodorais to honor Justinian’s wife, Theodora, who grew up in nearby Apollonia. The site was rediscovered by Libyan laborers in 1957. Fifty panels of Qasr Libya’s mosaics—which include a scene showing the lighthouse of Alexandria, about 500 miles away—are housed in a small museum, opened in 1972. A voluntary guard proudly showed me that the front door had been welded shut, to prevent looting, shortly after the 2011 protests began. Unfortunately, the tin roof above the sixth-century “western” church is leaking, with damage to the mosaics below. The “eastern” church next to the museum was firmly shut at the time of my visit, but by an easy climb to the roof you can see the severely elegant stone-block interior.

Tolmeitha can be seen in two or three hours, Qasr Libya in another couple of hours if the mosaics are open. From Qasr Libya it’s almost an hour’s drive east and then inland to Cyrene. Though the original colonists of Cyrene arrived in obedience to a dictate of the oracle at Delphi, much of what can be seen at Cyrene is Roman and dates from the second century a.d. The town had to be rebuilt after the Jewish revolt of 115 to 117 a.d., in which the large Jewish population destroyed huge swaths of Cyrene, focusing particularly on the pagan temples.

About a half mile from the main Cyrene site the Temple of Zeus, built between 540 and 450 b.c., is the most important Greek monument in Africa, bigger than the Parthenon. Sandro Stucchi points to its “optical refinements .  .  . the columns all have different diameters, and their inclination is different” to produce a uniform impression on the viewer from any angle. But the temple’s staggering size makes it difficult to focus on these details; it seems more aimed at impressing than inspiring the viewer. But its absence of soul may be the result of crude restoration: The post-revolt construction was mainly destroyed by an earthquake in 365 and the temple savaged by zealous Christians. Many of the statues were cut into pieces.

Another fascinating aspect of Cyrene is the enormous necropolis, one of the largest in the ancient world, which lines the winding road to Susa/Apollonia. Some of the tombs are huge, many are finely worked, but visiting requires some caution when the road is busy. The tombs I was able to get to were filled with litter and graffiti, but others further from the road are more pristine.

Apollonia has the most beautiful site of any of the pentapolis, with some buildings just yards from the sea. The star attractions are the theater, three sixth-century Christian churches that incorporate earlier architectural elements, and a Byzantine governor’s palace discovered by an American team in 1964. (There’s a small prison underneath, which can be entered by those immune to claustrophobia.) Apollonia today lies much closer to the Mediterranean than it originally did: After the 365 earthquake, the sea reclaimed portions of the town. Some ruins are visible in what’s now the modern harbor. A French archaeological team picked up the challenge in 1954 and have worked there, intermittently, ever since. It isn’t clear who did some of the very sloppy restoration work, or when: Crude mortar joins masonry blocks and even half-columns laid on their side. Cement is slathered in what may have been an effort to prevent water damage.

The Greek theater, renovated under Domitian around 92 a.d., still has its 28 tiers of seats—the biggest Greek theater in Cyrenaica—and a spectacular location looking out to the sea. The Eastern Church, which in its unroofed state looks purely classical and may have been a Temple of Apollo, is the only church where the pillars were still standing when the British began excavations in 1952. There are finely carved crosses in its 18 tall marble pillars—and on their backs, more crudely written bismillahs (the opening verse of the Koran) from the early Arab period. Close to the sea, to the left of the altar as you face it, there is a lovely baptistery, with a cruciform sunken font and a section of marble flooring and baseboard.

But the most mysterious site in eastern Libya is pre-Greek, with connections to Berber art in other North African countries. Slonta, or Aslonta, a dismal market town, contains a ruined grotto temple with 25 feet of bas-relief carvings of tremendous force and freshness. First mentioned in print in 1886, and documented in 1911, it was restored as recently as 1993.

Afghan Noir: review of Michael Hastings’ “The Operators” in The Daily

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Opinion: Afghan noir

Atmospherics stand in for solid reporting on America’s effort to stop the insurgency

By Ann Marlowe Sunday, January 8, 2012

“The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan”
by Michael Hastings
Blue Rider Press, $14.99

Selfishly, I wish “The Operators” were a better book. Though we come from different places in the political spectrum, Michael Hastings shares many of my views on Afghanistan and has the notoriety to bring them to a wide audience.

Was the surge a mistake, increasing levels of violence? Yes. Has the American effort to train the Afghan army and police been an unbelievably expensive boondoggle? Check. Did the American military’s toleration of thugs like Ahmed Wali Karzai and Border Police Gen. Raziq help fuel the insurgency? Yes. Was former commanding Gen. David Petraeus more concerned with managing perceptions than reality? Check. Was his predecessor Stanley McChrystal an amoral mediocrity in way over his head? We agree there too.

Furthermore, Hastings has the guts to let the chips fall where they may — as he did in the June 2010 Rolling Stone profile of then-commanding general McChrystal that quickly led to his firing.

But “The Operators” is a mess. Someone came up with the bad idea of having Hastings interlard an expanded version of the McChrystal material with a potted history of the Obama administration’s deliberations on the Afghan war. This was made worse by putting the McChrystal sections in the past tense and the history in the present tense — a stale device often advocated by bad editors to bring “immediacy” to dull narratives. The end result is likely to confuse anyone whose bread and butter isn’t Afghan policy — and even they won’t learn anything here.

It would be reasonable to buy “The Operators” for more of the juicy details that made Hastings’s Rolling Stone piece so compelling. Though there’s a lot more verbiage in this 379-page book — Hastings says he taped 20-plus hours of interviews with McChrystal and his team — the nuggets are lacking. Hastings gives us details we don’t need — how the computers were set up in a command post in a hotel, a meeting with a terribly boring hotel hooker-spy, even that he was third off the plane landing in Kabul — in place of those that might have enlivened his characters. As in the Rolling Stone profile, McChrystal himself remains a shadowy figure, as the legendary special-forces operator doubtless intended.

The book’s silly subtitle — “The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan” — isn’t Hastings’s fault. But anyone who is really interested in the Obama White House debate on the war will have read Bob Woodward’s “Obama’s War,” and Hastings’ two dozen or so interviews don’t offer any new insights. Hastings strings together others’ reporting — and seems to take it all as gospel, even after correctly condemning the mainstream media’s uncritical acceptance of the military’s views — for want of having logged much time in Afghanistan himself. He might have interviewed the very knowledgeable experts at the Afghanistan Analysts Network and International Crisis Group instead.

Ironically, Hastings is guilty of the same disdain for the facts as the war boosters he justly skewers. Where they wave away statistical measures that suggest more U.S. troops cause more violence, Hastings would rather write off the whole Afghan war as a bad trip than try to explain why some tactics work and some don’t, why some parts of Afghanistan are doing well and others are horrific.

Hastings’ tone edges unhelpfully toward the hysterical when he discusses Afghanistan — he repeatedly mentions his security detail, which will only make experienced visitors smirk, and he speaks of his last trip in the fall of 2009 as one of “extreme violence.” Witnessing the aftermath of a suicide attack on an American base and being present in Kabul when a suicide attack occurs on the Ministry of Culture isn’t actually so extraordinary for a month in a war zone. “Extreme violence” is more rhetoric than accurate observation.

Hastings doesn’t specify the American base where the suicide bombing took place, but he should. It was in a district in Khost Province; I recognized the name of an officer he mentions, because I was embedded in the same district around the same time. Nor does he explain the specific reasons this suicide bombing took place — mainly because the commanders of the 101st Airborne and of the Khost Provincial Reconstruction Team made bad decisions and undid much of the good work of their predecessors. They mismanaged tribal politics, and despite some very brave Afghan leaders who died for their pains, Khost has never really recovered.

Hastings also makes confidence-diminishing mistakes. The January 2008 Taliban assault on the Serena Hotel he discusses killed six people, not two, as he claims, and he seems not to know that one was an American, Thor Hesla. This assault, also, didn’t just happen because Afghanistan is a randomly dangerous place. It may have occurred because the Norwegian Foreign Ministry was stupid enough to publish the fact that their foreign minister was staying there. WikiLeaks even suggests that the International Security Assistance Force knew months in advance that plans for an attack were in the works.

Hastings spent a short embed at what he — and no one else — calls “the Kandahar Airfield.” But he somehow messes up his description of the most famous landmark at KAF (as everyone else refers to the base). The Boardwalk isn’t a “pavilion” but a huge, four-sided wooden deck surrounded on its perimeter by stores and restaurants. McChrystal ticked off a lot of soldiers by threatening to close the fast food outlets on the boardwalk — something worth exploring because it suggests an indifference to the needs and pleasures of the lower enlisted ranks. For the reporter who ended the general’s career, Hastings hasn’t dug very deep on McChrystal. I heard that he was just as callous in Iraq, where he wanted to remove TVs from the dining facilities at U.S. bases — never mind that for those without computers or Internet access, TV was the only way for them to get the news. And since we may not have seen the last of McChrystal in the public world — he waltzed right into a Yale teaching job and corporate board memberships — it would be fair to look harder.

This could have been a much better book. Hastings can write, he’s smart and he’s not afraid to stick his neck out. But there is no substitute for spending time on the ground and getting the facts. Hastings advances various good explanations for the press’s failure to “write honestly about people in power,” but he forgets one: They’re lazy. If you’re going to call the military on their facts, you have to know the material better than they do. Most journalists would rather hang out with each other than immerse themselves in whatever country they’re supposed to be covering. Hastings seems to know better than this. But he would rather cloak the war in hipster noir than detail what went wrong. Like American commanders in Afghanistan, he is punching below his weight.

Native Son: How could David Galula have so misunderstood the Berbers?

Friday, January 6th, 2012

Native Son

A Tunisia-born Jew and French officer who fought the Berbers in Algeria pioneered the counterinsurgency warfare still used in Iraq and Afghanistan

By Ann Marlowe|January 5, 2012 7:00 AM

David Galula, a Tunisia-born Jew and French military officer who has been dead more than 40 years, was the greatest single influence on American counterinsurgency practice in Iraq and Afghanistan after Gen. David Petraeus. The idea that winning the population’s loyalty, not winning territory, is the key to quelling an insurgency has roots dating back 200 years to the Prussian theorist Carl von Clausewitz, but Galula was the conduit through which the U.S. Army learned it. The notion of active patrolling of hostile cities, of dispersing U.S. forces in small groups rather than stationing them on large bases, the insistence on getting to know the local culture—all these are Galula’s ideas.

His precepts, developed from his two years as a company commander in Algeria between 1956 and 1958, became American doctrine through two books. The authors of the U.S. Army counterinsurgency field manual [1] FM 3-24, of whom the most famous is Petraeus, cite one: “Of the many books that were influential in the writing of Field Manual 3-24, perhaps none was as important as David Galula’s Counterinsurgency Warfare.” But Galula’s other book [2], Pacification in Algeria, written for the RAND Corporation in 1962 and classified until 2005, is the more useful book for the soldier and the more interesting for the military historian.

Pacification gives a nearly week-by-week account of how Galula implemented his theories in a tiny, mountainous area of Algeria’s Kabyle region. The Kabyle is 100 percent Berber, to use the old word—or Amazigh, to use the word Berbers call themselves—and it was a hotbed of the insurgency. Galula admits that the two officers who followed him in command were both quickly killed by the insurgents. Yet he suggests that his ideas were taken up by French generals and resulted in tactical successes in the Algerian war. Of course, France lost that war, but in Pacification Galula emphasizes, correctly, that the Algerian revolutionaries had largely been defeated when Charles de Gaulle decided for political reasons to give Algeria its independence. Given Galula’s importance in recent years, it was only a matter of time before someone would try to revisit the historical record and assess his actual achievements.

Galula in Algeria [3], by Grégor Mathias, takes a deep dive in the French military archives to examine, almost day by day and village by village, what Galula accomplished and how his area fared after he left. (It is such a deep dive that only military historians will want to join in.) Unfortunately, the book is marred by what may have been unclear syntax in the French original, which I haven’t seen, and a sloppy translation. The reader’s confidence is undermined by small errors throughout (“it was to Galula to conduct counterpropaganda,” reads one). In the crucial “Conclusions” chapter, there are sentences that make no sense: “The main criticisms of Galula’s tactics, having never been compared against the archival record and are more focused on the simplicity of its methods with respect to other, more elaborate French counterinsurgency doctrine thinkers.”

Sadly, Mathias is also cavalier with extrapolations from material I know well. He frequently cites a magazine article I published on Galula and my biographical study [4] of Galula for the Army War College, but he loosely interprets and re-transmits the details. To take one case, where I wrote that Galula “apparently met” Samuel Griffith, a translator of Mao: Mathias has “Galula knew Griffith well.” This does not inspire confidence in his use of other sources.

As to the larger points—Was Galula effective? Did he report his results accurately?—Mathias finds that Galula was just as likely to gloss over his failures and trumpet successes as most of the rest of us. He also convincingly suggests that despite some military successes and an impressive decrease in violence, Galula never eradicated the political substructure of the insurgency in his area.

I would suggest that Galula’s inconclusive results stem from an obvious error that the French officer made that neither I nor Mathias noticed. I understand it now because I recently spent a lot of time among Berbers in Libya, where tensions with the Arab majority are similar to those in Algeria. Put simply, the Kabyles don’t like the Arabs very much—and the best way to get them to go over to the French side might have been to capitalize on the ethnic, religious, and linguistic tension between the two groups.

Galula, along with every French commander in Algeria I’ve read about, missed the elephant in the room: If the French had been able to drive a wedge between the roughly 30 percent of Algerians who are Berbers and the Arab majority, they might have stopped the insurgency in its tracks. The potential of this idea is confirmed by the fact that the newly independent Algeria quickly set about oppressing its Kabyle citizens. One of the first acts of the new Algerian government was eliminating Berber studies at Algiers University in 1962. It was forbidden to name children traditional Tamazight names, and the Berber radio station was limited to four hours of broadcasting daily. In a country 30 percent Berber, the study of the Berber language was banned [5] at the national university.

While the Kabyle produced a disproportional number of revolutionary leaders—and casualties—many were marginalized or slain by the Arabs in the 1960s. Meanwhile, the Algerian government built mosques throughout the Kabyle in towns that had never had them, including some that were and are Christian. This campaign was so unpopular that some Kabyle separatist leaders, like the exiled Ferhat Mehenni, openly support [6] recognizing Israel.

Continue reading: Born and bred in North Africa [7]

The “Berber Spring” of 1980, which culminated in a bloody government crackdown, was the point of no return for the Kabyle. In 1994 and ’95, 10 million Kabyles kept their children out of school to protest the Arab-only curriculum. Since 1981, autonomy or even independence for the Kabyle has been a popular, if not successful, cause.

There are at least three obvious points of tension between North African Berbers/Amazigh and Arabs. The first is over the historical fact of the Arab conquest. Every Berber I have met has told me that Amazigh were the original inhabitants of North Africa and that all of that land was once theirs. As one Libyan Amazigh told me, “I’m tired of hearing about the Palestinians and how the Jews took their land. What about how the Arabs took our land?”

There is also the fact that the official language of all the North African countries is Arabic—yet in Morocco 60 percent of the population are Tamazight or Berber-speaking, in Algeria 30 percent, and in Libya perhaps 10 percent. In most of North Africa, the Arabophone majority has suppressed or (in the case of Qaddafi’s Libya) outright prohibited the use of Tamazight, a language that is estimated to be anywhere from 2,200 to 3,000 years old; its tiffinagh script has more than 30 letters, differing somewhat from region to region, and some of them look like ancient Greek.

The third clear point of conflict is religious. Many Amazigh are at pains to distinguish between their moderate Islam and the intolerance sometimes found among their Arab neighbors. This Galula recognized [8] in Pacification:

Of all the people of North Africa, they are the least influenced by Islam. They do observe the main religious rites such as the annual month-long fast, but not in a rigid way. The local Moslem priest has little moral or temporal authority.

Almost all Berbers will readily acknowledge that their ancestors were either Christian or Jewish before they became Muslim. Galula hints at this in a footnote, “St. Augustin was a Kabyle. Kabylia was Christianized before the Arab invasion.”

The French should have pressed hard on all three points of tension. They should have told the Berbers that they would be trampled in a new, professedly Arab and Muslim state, as in fact happened. They should have encouraged identity politics to alarm the Arab Algerians. They should have told the Berbers that the Arabs were fundamentalists and told the Arabs that the Berbers were secularists, both of which are exaggerations with a strong kernel of truth. (Even today the Kabyles accuse [9] the Algerian military dictatorship of covertly supporting jihadi groups within the country while simultaneously telling the West that dictatorship is necessary to keep a lid on al-Qaida.)

Furthermore, Galula had an advantage over most of the other French field commanders in having been born and bred in North Africa. How could he have ignored the ethnic composition of the country in which he was fighting a fierce and protracted counterinsurgency campaign? In part, I would chalk it up to the tendency of French governments to downplay regional differences, to standardize language, and to cultivate a national, secular identity. France had fought a centuries-long battle to eradicate the use of regional dialects—a battle won only around the time of World War I.

Galula himself was not primed to value minority cultures or encourage cultural balkanization. He was an assimilated Jew whose family had embraced the possibilities of metropolitan France and its dominant secular culture. And he grew up in a time of growing anti-Semitism, when Judaism was best kept quiet. What is particularly ironic, and sad, is that Galula was also more or less a Berber himself by ancestry, a fact that he also did his best to efface.


David Galula was born in Sfax, Tunisia, to a Jewish family that claimed to be original to North Africa. One of Galula’s paternal first cousins, Magda Galula, told me that the family was from a town called Galula near the Libyan border, whose residents converted to Judaism 2,000 years ago. In other words, the Galulas were Berbers, or possibly a mix of Roman and Berber blood. They could have been nothing else if they were indigenous to North Africa.

But the Galula family had begun their emergence from centuries of traditional life in David’s grandfather’s time. Galula’s grandfather had been the doyen of the Jewish community of Sfax, and while his family spoke Judeo-Arabic rather than French at home, he sent his sons to French lycées, rather than the traditional Jewish schools common at the time. Galula’s father went out of his way to register David as a French citizen in 1924, when he was 5.

During Galula’s adolescence, anti-Semitism gained force in North Africa as in Europe. It was a time to keep one’s Judaism discreet. There were anti-Jewish riots in Sfax in 1932 and a pogrom that killed 23 Jews in Constantine, Algeria, in 1934. Galula went to the small, insular French military academy at Saint-Cyr, half of whose cadets were themselves the sons of officers, not exactly a philo-Semitic group just a generation after Dreyfus. Shortly after he graduated in 1939 all Jews were expelled from the French officer corps by the Vichy government. Later, Galula ignored his mother’s plan to arrange a marriage with a rich, attractive Jewish girl and married a Christian American he fell in love with while they were both working in China.

Re-reading Pacification in Algeria with Berber identity in mind, Galula’s willful blindness leaps out:

The Kabyles are aborigines belonging to the same Berber stock as the Schleuhs in Morocco.

They have their own language, quite different from Arabic, but it is only a spoken one, for they never developed a writing system.

How could Galula not know that the Berbers had a written language? His home town of Sfax is the nearest big city to Djerba, which is Berber, and to the Libyan coast inhabited by Berbers. (There was of course no “Libya” when Galula was a child.) Galula spent his teenage years in Morocco, a majority Berber country that has been the first to encourage a revival of the written language. Galula repeatedly refers to the Kabyles as illiterate: It is possible that the Kabyles he met had lost their ancient script, but it is also possible that they were literate in Tamazight—the written language Galula seemed to think didn’t exist.

Galula’s attitude toward the Kabyle whose loyalty he was trying to win was ambivalent: contempt leavened with grudging admiration for some features of the culture:

In spite of some intermarriage with Arabs, they have generally retained their distinct physical and intellectual features. Kabyles have a primitive yet definite talent for organizing, which puts them far above the Arabs in this respect. They have also an amazing sense of dialectic, which often put to shame some of my young officers when they thought they could press a fuzzy propaganda line on the villagers.

Perhaps, like the minority group Galula was a part of—the Jews—the Kabyles had had plenty of practice in arguing for their dignity and their rights. But perhaps because Galula was not given to emphasizing his Jewishness, he did not get the Kabyles’ passionate sense of their own identity.

The French blindness to Kabyle identity was tragic. It is arguable that the Algerian revolution worked out badly for all of Algeria, but still more so for the Kabyle. Meanwhile, Galula spun a brilliant theory that resonates with military strategists to this day—yet he ignored obvious facts about his particular area of operations that he was uniquely equipped to exploit, had he been open to seeing them plain. The lesson of Galula and the French in the Kabyle may be: Whatever a leader or a nation tries hardest to suppress in itself is likely to rise up and defeat it. It is too soon to diagnose the parallel issues for the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they are surely there.