At the height of the Algerian War (1954-1962), the competing forces of colonial reformism, indigenous localism, and revolutionary resistance converged on a single military district south of Algiers, the sparsely populated Zone du Sud Algérois
(ZSA). Here, French efforts to recruit and empower Muslim Algerians to fight against the rebel Front de Libération Nationale
(FLN) unearthed webs of inter-communal tension that proved impossible to contain. Starting in 1955, French administrators implemented a program of “integrationist” reforms designed to combat the structural racism in the colony’s legal system and win the battle for political legitimacy in the Algerian countryside. This paper argues that French officers’ subsequent attempts to exploit these reforms for military gain radically and unintentionally restructured power dynamics throughout the colony. Ultimately, integrationism created overlapping and contested zones of sovereignty in Algeria, not only between the government and the rebellion, but between civil and military authorities, the FLN, and the Algerian fighters ostensibly loyal to France.
This paper will focus on the wartime activities of two indigenous auxiliary (contre-maquisard) groups to demonstrate the unintended avenues for “native” autonomy and violence that integrationist policy opened after 1955. Using military records and the written testimonies of its members, this paper argues that the Forces Auxiliaires Franco-Musulmane and l’Armée Nationale du Peuple Algérien exercised a novel, semi-legal agency made possible by wartime reforms to build new political and social regimes in the villages where they operated. Neither treasonous collaborators nor French patriots, these bands exploited France’s need for indigenous loyalists with discourses and symbols derived from colonial law. With decolonization, the Gaullist state created a myth of timeless and colorblind republicanism that effaced the racially-differentiated citizenship categories at the center of the contre-maquisards’ experiences. Their stories, however, reveal the capacity of even the most “universal” republic to promote explicitly multiculturalist policies.