In the Givors district within the boundaries of Lyon, France, there is a small street named “Malik Oussekine”. Today, this name has become normalized to the point that it may not hold any significance even for those living there, but it belongs to the hero of one of the most tragic events in recent French history. Malik Oussekine was born on October 18, 1964, in the Versailles suburb of Paris, as the child of Algerian parents. His father, Miloud – originally Mevlüd, named after the day of Mevlid-i Nebevi (the birth of Prophet Muhammad) – had fought in the French army during World War II and returned to his country to get married before going back to France to work. Miloud Oussekinestarted working in the coal mines in Lorraine and later made a living as a mason and truck driver. In 1953, his wife Aisha and their children joined him, and the family started living in one of the suburbs of Paris. Malik was the seventh and youngest child of Miloud and Aisha. His father passed away in 1978 when Malik was only 14 years old.
Since his childhood, Malik Oussekine had a talent for music, particularly playing the guitar. On the evening of December 6, 1986, he left his home to attend a concert of a jazz band he loved. Paris was experiencing intense protests by university students at that time. As Malik left the concert around midnight, his path crossed one of the streets where the demonstrations were taking place. Despite having no connection to the protests, two police officers suddenly chased after Malik. The exhausting pursuit ended at the entrance of a building, where the police officers forced the unfortunate 22-year-old to the ground and beat him with batons for several minutes. A French witness tried to rescue Malik, but he also fell victim to the beatings. Malik’s last words were the repeated phrase, “I didn’t do anything!” Although the Paris Public Prosecutor’s Office initially stated that the cause of death was a “heart attack” in their report, further investigations revealed that Malik had died as a result of police violence.
The death of Malik Oussekine turned the streets of Paris, already echoing with protests, into a battlefield. Despite his father being deceased at the time, the accusation by Robert Pandraud, the French Minister of National Security, blaming Malik’s father for “letting his child out on the streets,” fueled a new wave of anger among the protesters. Within a few days, the number of people flooding the streets of Paris to commemorate Malik exceeded 200,000. Alain Devaquet, the Minister of Higher Education who was the architect of the university reform that triggered the protests, resigned immediately after Malik’s death was revealed, and the then Prime Minister of France, Jacques Chirac, had to withdraw the controversial bill from the agenda. The police officers who killed Malik managed to escape with laughable sentences, not even leaving a mark on their records.
Malik Oussekine’s death sparked numerous debates in France. As expected, it caught the attention of the art community and academia, and Malik’s tragedy has been extensively explored in documentaries, films, articles, and books. A plaque was placed on the street where Oussekine was killed, and the street in Givors was named after him. Films and series made in his name received awards.
“But then, what changed?” you might ask. Well, there has been no significant change in the negative perception towards “Algerians” in France based on their religion, skin color, and culture. Paris has only calmed down a bit for now, until a new drama unfolds with “dark-skinned Maghrebians” at its center, followed by street incidents…
The uninterrupted French colonial rule in Algeria from 1830 to 1962 left multifaceted and deep scars in the lives of Algerians. Not only were their countries, cultures, and histories plundered, but also a chain of tragedies that extended to Europe emerged. Malik, Nahel, and other victims are the visible faces of this tragic chain in the media. And there are also the unseen, unheard faces that get lost in the backstreets of Paris and fade away.
Looking at the matter from this perspective, it is difficult to claim that Algeria has achieved “true” independence. We are faced with a country and a oppressed people that are still fighting for independence and continuing to suffer as victims of this tragedy.