The Language of Propaganda: French Army Representations of Muslim Women during the Algerian War of Independence

    Par Saira Sohail


    Propaganda, which has been defined as “the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired effect of the propagandist” (7)1 was a key element in the Algerian War of Independence, which took place from 1954-1962. The French army focused much of their efforts upon the production of propaganda, which was often directed towards or depicted Muslim Algerian women. These efforts came through various media forms, including radio, print and film and provoked a discourse between the French army and the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN). The materials were strategically designed to achieve certain French army goals and were meant not only to target messages to Algerian women, but also to destabilize and disrupt efforts by the FLN.

    Many of the posters, leaflets and brochures created by the French army during this period relied on a mix of visuals and linguistic messages to express the army’s ideologies. In this study, I aim to use Barthes’ semiotic theory and propaganda theory (Fraser) to examine how the French army used language to frame visuals in their attempts to shape narratives about Algerian women. As an example, I will share my analysis of one French army poster from 1958 and one French army leaflet from 1957, both found in French military archives. By examining the carefully chosen words along with each stylistic design choice (font, colors, size, etc.) within their historical context, I aim to analyze the use of language in the manipulation of images of Algerian women during this war. In thus doing so, I aim to address broader questions concerning the French army’s use of language in propaganda to exert power over the Algerian population during this tumultuous time.

    Bibliography: (3-5 main sources)

    Aggoun, Nacéra. “Psychological Propaganda during the Algerian War – Based on a Study of French Army Pamphlets.” The Algerian War and the French Army: Experiences, Images, Testimonies, by Martin S. Alexander et al., Palgrave, Macmillan, 2002, pp. 193-199.

    Barthes, Roland. « Rhetoric of the Image.” Image – Music – Text, by Roland Barthes. Fontana Press, 1977, pp. 32-51.

    Fraser, Lindley. Propaganda. Oxford University Press, 1957.
    MacMaster, Neil. Burning the Veil: The Algerian War and the ‘Emancipation’ of Muslim

    Women, 1954-62. Manchester University Press, 2009.

    1 Jowett, Garth, and Victoria O’Donnell. Propaganda & Persuasion. SAGE Publications, Inc., 2012.


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