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> "The Empire Strikes Back", European Colonialism and Today
post Mar 12 2006, 06:59 PM
Post #1

Century Mark

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Just recently, I came across this article on the Guardian. Although it is quite old, as a historian I found it very intresting:

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/elsewhere/journa...1669006,00.html



More than 1,000 historians, writers and intellectuals have signed a petition demanding the repeal of a new law requiring school history teachers to stress the "positive aspects" of French colonialism.


The law of February 23 2005, as it is known, was intended to recognise the contribution of the "harkis", the 200,000 or so Algerians who fought alongside France's colonial troops in their country's war of independence, from 1954-62, before being abandoned to a dreadful fate when the French withdrew - about 130,000 were executed as traitors.

But an unnoticed amendment, apparently tabled by MPs with close ties to France's community of former Algerian settlers, added a new clause to the bill. It reads: "School courses should recognise in particular the positive role of the French presence overseas, notably in north Africa." Opponents are angry in part because, in the words of one eminent historian, Pierre Vidal-Naquet: "It is not up to the state to say how history should be taught."

Now, the questions for debate are:

Is the law passed in France in February 2005 morally justifiable?

Should states pass laws to cover shady parts of their pasts?

Are people right to object such a law?

How do other historians across the world feel about this?
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Victoria Silverw...
post Mar 13 2006, 06:34 AM
Post #2

Millennium Mark

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Is the law passed in France in February 2005 morally justifiable?

This seems pretty objectionable to me in at least two ways. First of all, it's not a good idea for the government to dictate exactly how a certain subject should be taught.

(My understanding is that the French government sets out the schedule for all subject matters taught in all public schools in the nation. To an American, this seems like too much centralized power. It must be remembered, however, that France does not have the same concept of "federalism" as the United States. I don't really object to the French government requiring that, for example, history shall be taught at a certain time of day at a certain school level; I do object to the way that they are placing severely restricted limits on the manner in which it is taught.)

One problem is that there is some precedent in French law for this sort of thing. From the second link provided:

Laws governing how certain periods of history should be taught in French schools have been passed before: a 1990 law outlaws denial of the Holocaust, and a 2001 law dictates that the slave trade be described as a crime against humanity.

This all sounds fine and good, but it sets a very bad example. It should not be necessary to pass a law to teach students the simple truth. The fact that the Holocaust happened, and that slavery was a bad thing, are not exactly controversial, so these laws passed without much notice. However, whether French colonialism had positive effects is highly debatable, to say the least. Now the chickens are coming home to roost, and the troublesome aspects of dictating the exact way that academic subjects shall be taught become obvious.

Should states pass laws to cover shady parts of their pasts?

Obviously not. If for no other reason, sheer self-interest is served when a nation is able to show how it has progressed beyond the questionable parts of its history.

Are people right to object such a law?


How do other historians across the world feel about this?

Well, we don't know, of course, but I would imagine that most historians -- even those who might believe that French colonialism was a good thing -- would object to having the government dictate how their subject should be taught.
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