Messali Hadj Archive

Ben Bella on Messali Hadj

Source: Messali Hadj, Les Memoires de Messali Hadj. J.C. Lattès, Paris, 1982;
Translated: for by Mitch Abidor.

That which is transcribed here is a testimony and an act of faith. A testimony whose imperious necessity I felt a while ago during the long night that was my last detention. It was during the silence of that interminable confrontation with myself, far from the noises of life and the din of words, that the thought of such a testimony imposed itself on me. While playing back in reverse the film of my life, the memory of Messali imposed itself on me, and I decided that we had to render him justice. This life so rich and full that was mine, I owed much of it to my having met this man.

The occasion was given me when I recovered my freedom of movement and went to Tlemcen to visit his grave at the beginning of November 1980, in that same month of November that was so decisive in the destiny of our country and our people, and which constituted one of the great moments in the recent history of all men.

The noises of life, the din of words; these are certainly what separated me from this man for a moment, sometimes leading me to go so far as confronting him.

It is true that Messali was a man and, as such, fallible. It can be added that his errors were the measure of his grandeur. History will one day judge of this. But the truth is much more rich, more real than all this noise and din. It seized them in order to surpass them. It is the heart that should speak, and that should make all the rest remain silent.

That seed, it was first in the spirit of Sid el Hadj; and finally it was in an entire country, an entire people and, beyond them, a multitude of other men who were fecundated and enriched.

That seed, it was first in the spirit of Sid el Hadj that it germinated before any other. It was in him, at least, that it found the loam that made it fecund. Many winters, many storms, much sweat and blood were necessary before that seed, which saw the light of day in 1926 in France and then was transplanted in our soil in 1937, truly grew. Seventeen more years were needed in order for the seed to blossom into the multi-colored flowers of that day, which for others was that of the memory of the dead.[1] 28 years had passed since 1926.

I leave to others more talented the task of establishing the balance sheet of this long gestation. For my part I would like to situate myself beyond the immediate contingency of history and only retain that fact.

That fantastic blaze of November 1954, that was to upset our destiny and that of other enslaved, is owed in large part to that man. In order to be convinced of this, it’s enough to make a leap back and return to that date of 1926. In truth, they were very few, those who believed that our country could one day recover its independence. Years afterward that was still the case. It is thanks to that man and a handful of partisans that what appeared a mad utopia could become a reality.

There are few countries, few peoples who were, as much as ours, denied and subdued; there exist few examples in history of so infernal a machine as that which persecuted us. Elsewhere it also happened that the land and its products were taken over; with us, it was our souls, systematically and, in the spirit of too many of us, irremediably.

It was in the midst of the shipwreck of successive abandonments, and when entire sections of our hopes collapsed, when all seemed done for forever, that the hand of God, through the voice of a man, that of Sid el Hadj, posed itself upon us; the national idea was born. Not a nationalism like that born in the West, guarding its distance from God, but a nationalism haunted by our beliefs and irrigated by our faith in Allah, irrigated by Islam.

Our path to Golgotha was to last 28 years, and many obstacles, many treasons were to make it even more painful; but one day the first link of a long chain of shame and servitude broke. Algeria, a fact which hasn’t been sufficiently noted, was not a simple colony, but a settler colony, like Rhodesia and South Africa. With Algeria, it was the first link of the chain that broke; others followed: Rhodesia and one day, without the least doubt, South Africa, Israel, etc.

It is this path among the peaks, made of honor, courage and dignity, that it is fitting to stress here. And that is the testimony.

When the stormy seas of history retreat and the ocean will again become calm, it is this that will remain engraved in people’s memories.

The act of faith, nourished by that same testimony, is the faith in truth, and the capacity and genius of our people in seizing it.

The time will come when we will have to reconstitute the torn fabric of our memories, our solidarity, of what makes up the very texture of the life of peoples and renders it incommensurably rich in potential. Then that verity will impose itself on us, if we take up again our anchorages and our values, and if we lend an attentive ear to their thin but clear and obvious voice. Perhaps then the memory of Ali, of Zoubeir, of Talha and the battle of the camel will impose themselves on our spirit.[2]

They are shouhada [martys], said Ali, who had gone to say the prayer over the dead, all the dead: those who had fought with him and those who had fought against him. And responding to those of his partisans who were surprised by this he said” all those who were sincere were shouhada, those who were with me as well as those who were in the enemy camp.

How far we are from this, some will say. To be sure, we are still far. But this reconstitution from within by which obligatorily passes any reconstruction of our society, and which is felt as a burning need by a youth thirsty for more purity, and tending with an irresistible impulse towards the realization of this goal: this is the price of that reconstruction.

Yes, we are still far from this, but it is necessary that this example inspire our acts; that in our ardent quest it appears to constitute the norm that it is fitting to imitate. Then, once again, everything will be possible.

A real reconstruction is at this price. There can be no reconstruction though falsification and injustice. Our people, with so rich a genius, and who for a time was admired by the whole world, can carry out, must carry out, this fundamental undertaking and restore to each what is his due, and in the first place on the moral level. Which in one word means that there is no real reconstruction without the moralization of our history.

And this is an act of faith.

Then a new, serene gaze will be cast on all things and, in the first instance, on the acts of men. Many will appear under a new light. Messali, for the Algerians, Sid el Hadj for us, militants of the P.P.A., will appear as a man who played an immense part in our destiny. This is the homage that he is due, that an entire people and, through them, all other peoples, will one day demonstrate to him.


1. November 1,1954, the date of the unleashing of the war of liberation.

2. Ali was the cousin and son-in-law of Mohammed. Zoubeir and Talha his companions. All were involved in the succession battle after his death.