Many people, particularly those who aren’t aware of or remember the history or the extent of French influence in Africa and the Middle East, probably wonder why there is such a large population of people from those areas living in France. Simple – they were former colonies; possessions and protectorates of France during a time when colonization was huge in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. World War 1 brought some of it to a close – although what it did was transfer protection and influence from one former warring nation (in the case of World War 1, Germany and Austria) to another. And later, the Independence movements after World War 2, when the countries possessing colonies were just too broke to put up much of a fight or the will of the people to preserve the status quo. The upshot was an influx of inhabitants of those former colonies migrating and settling in the towns and cities of their former colonial rulers, and letting the newly independent nations go through their growing pains. The downside was the growing pains often became civil wars – factions, long separated and kept peaceful by the influence of a colonial power, were now free to pursue their own destinies – and many of them clashed. Some of the colonies were independent in name only – free of colonial rule, yet very much under the influence because of resources or strategic positions, particularly during the Cold War (i.e. Iran). The influx of residents from former colonies, even by way of an obligation to the residents of these former colonies, over the years has created a simmering racial divide – one which manifested itself in anti-immigrant movements from extremists in recent decades and a complex series of situations, casting Moroccans, Tunisians, Syrians and other former French colonies in a kind of “us versus them” attitude – something which is not quite the same in America, since we really didn’t have any colonies (save The Philippines, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, etc.) to speak of, but one which has created a worrying stigma of late throughout Europe. If you look at a map of the Middle East and Africa just prior to World War 2, you’ll get an idea of the extent of colonial rule which pervaded the political climate of the time. It’s instructive as well as well informative and gives some indication why certain things are happening in certain ways in certain places today.
Tunisia was a French colony up until 1956 when it turned over the reigns of power to a newly established government headed by Habib Bourguiba, who became its first president in 1957.
Bourguiba remained Tunisia’s president from 1957 until his ouster by bloodless coup in 1987.
In 1968 there was a considerable amount of unrest, not only in France but also in the Middle East. The tensions with Israel and the other Arab nations had been a long-time simmering, culminating with the 6-day war in 1967.
But what was going on in 1968?
To get some idea of the history of a country, especially a former colony – and to gain some understanding as to why France, of all places, but not the only place, has been the target of some recent horrific terrorist activities, here’s a reminder of a long and, at times, complicated relationship between Europe and those countries whose citizens have become so much a part of current EU life who were formerly very much under their influence.
Here is that interview with Habib Bourguiba from Meet The Press, via NBC Radio’s Monitor Weekend Programming for May 19, 1968.