The worst massacre in Paris since WWII was the 1961 police killing of Algerian protesters

November 22, 2015
French police attack an Algerian demonstration in Paris, 1961.

If the horrific attacks in Paris, France have taught us anything, it is that some tragedies matter more than others.

For example, look no further than these headlines:

120 Dead in Paris Attacks, Worst Since WWII (ABC/AP, November 14);
Paris Wakes Up Under Siege After Deadliest Attack Since WWII (The Daily Beast, November 14);
120 dead in Paris attacks, worst since WWII (Yahoo News, November 14);
Paris horror: Worst attacks since World War II leave over 120 dead in France (The Indian Express / AFP, November 14).

From these headlines, you may have begun to suspect Paris had seen its worst massacre since World War II. Indeed, it was not just the media echoing this claim.

“The events in Paris are the worst acts of violence in France since the Second World War,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said in a statement released just hours after the attacks began.

While the events in Paris were indeed horrific, they were not the worst violence in France, or even just Paris, since World War II.

In 1961, French police violently dispersed a rally in support of Algeria's independence movement. The protest was intended to be peaceful, but was met almost immediately with a police crackdown. Police opened fire with live ammunition on a crowd of mostly Algerian immigrant families, including children.

Police chased fleeing Algerians through the streets, beating them to death with clubs. In the aftermath of the massacre, bodies were dumped in the Seine, and around 11,000 survivors were rounded up and detained. In the subsequent days, many of the detainees were beaten and deprived of food.

While the French government long claimed just a handful of protesters died, historians now believe as many as 300 may have been killed.

Unlike the latest massacre in Paris, the 1961 killings did not tug the heartstrings of the world. Rather, for decades they remained little known. Even in France, details of the massacre were swept under the carpet. The French government acknowledged only 40 deaths — in 1998 after nearly four decades of denial.

When comparing reactions to the 1961 and 2015 massacres, it is hard to avoid a few basic facts: one tragedy was about the West being attacked, the other was about Arabs being attacked. One massacre stopped the world, while the other remains unknown in our collective psyche.

If you think this is an excessively harsh conclusion, then think about this: imagine if nobody cared about the latest Paris massacre. Imagine if July 7, 2005 was a forgotten date in London. Imagine if 9/11 had gone unnoticed.

Memory matters.

[Reprinted from TeleSUR English.]

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