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  • Published: 15 December 2021
  • ISBN: 9781635421804
  • Imprint: Other Press
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 452
  • RRP: $39.99

I Was a French Muslim

Memories of an Algerian Freedom Fighter



This engaging memoir provides a vivid account of a childhood under French colonization and a life dedicated to fighting for the freedom and dignity of the Algerian people.

The son of a butcher and the youngest of six siblings, Mokhtar Mokhtefi was born in 1935 and grew up in a village de colonisation roughly one hundred kilometers south of the capital of Algiers. Thanks to the efforts of a supportive teacher, he became the only child in the family to progress to high school, attending a French lycée that deepened his belief in the need for independence. In 1957, at age twenty-two, he joined the National Liberation Army (ALN), the armed wing of the National Liberation Front (FLN), which had been waging war against France since 1954. After completing rigorous training in radio transmissions at a military base in Morocco, he went on to become an officer in the infamous Ministère de l’Armement et des Liaisons Générales (MALG), the precursor of post-independence Algeria’s Military Security (SM). 

Mokhtefi’s powerful memoir bears witness to the extraordinary men and women who fought for Algerian independence against a colonial regime that viewed non-Europeans as fundamentally inferior, designating them not as French citizens, but as “French Muslims.” He presents a nuanced, intelligent, and deeply personal perspective on Algeria’s transition to independent statehood, with all its inherent opportunities and pitfalls.

  • Published: 15 December 2021
  • ISBN: 9781635421804
  • Imprint: Other Press
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 452
  • RRP: $39.99

Praise for I Was a French Muslim

“Mokhtefi was able to reconstruct the sights and sounds of life in his village of Berrouaghia and the constant pressure he felt to be [a ‘French Muslim’]…moving.” —The Nation   “Mokhtar Mokhtefi’s autobiography holds an original position in the panorama of increasingly abundant memoirs of veterans of the war fought by the Algerian Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) against France between 1954 and 1962…For freedom of tone, irreverence, assumed subjectivity, as well as for the elegance of a swift and precise style, the work is also an anomaly.” —Journal of North African Studies “Dashing and charismatic, Mokhtar Mokhtefi dedicated himself to the liberation of his country, French-occupied Algeria, only to become an exile in France, then in the US, because the post-independence government could not tolerate a man of his integrity and democratic principles. Instead of succumbing to bitterness, nostalgia, or vanity, the sanctuary of many political exiles, he remained faithful to the ideals of self-determination and freedom that had led him into the liberation struggle. And at the very end of his life, he wrote this powerful memoir of his revolutionary years, lyrical in its evocation of the Algerian independence movement, yet keenly aware of the tragic dimensions of that history. I Was a French Muslim—fluently translated by his widow, the writer, artist, and activist Elaine Klein Mokhtefi—is more than a chronicle of one man’s life; it is the story of a generation, a bildungsroman of the Algerian freedom struggle.” —Adam Shatz, contributing editor at the London Review of Books “Mokhtar Mokhtefi’s singular memoir of Algeria’s War of Liberation has something for every reader—a vivid portrait of a young man’s rise to political consciousness under the French colonial system, a blow-by-blow account of military training and combat that will be of great interest to historians. A gifted storyteller, Mokhtefi communicates an infectious love of country, yet he firmly dispenses with the pieties of official nationalism by depicting infighting, internal purges, and political ambitions within the nationalist ranks. I Was a French Muslim has been brilliantly translated from the French by the person closest to the author—his widow, Elaine Klein Mokhtefi, in her own right a talented writer and veteran of the Algerian Revolution.” —Madeleine Dobie, Professor of French & Comparative Literature, Columbia University “Mokhtar Mokhtefi and I met and became friends in the last year of his life. We spent hours discussing the manuscript of his memoir; it was his reason for being. He had two essential objectives: one was to remind today’s youth that under colonialism one was never a citizen but a ‘French Muslim,’ a subhuman being, treated as such. His second goal was to display how independent Algeria, as other former colonies, became the continuation of colonization, in the form of dictatorship. The colonialists departed but would be replaced by Algerians who in effect colonized fellow Algerians, and it is not over.” —Amara Lakhous, author of Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio “Mokhtar Mokhtefi’s autobiography holds an original position in the panorama of increasingly abundant memoirs of veterans of the war fought by the Algerian Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) against France between 1954 and 1962. For freedom of tone, irreverence, assumed subjectivity, as well as for the elegance of a swift and precise style, the work avoids any eagerness of edifying narrative or systematic theories; what emerges is, in contrast, almost a social history of Algeria during the colonial era.” &mda

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