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Product details

  • Paperback: 114 pages
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press; Bison Books Ed edition (1 Sept. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0803259603
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803259607
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 13.8 x 0.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 482,615 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"[A] noble and in a sense ennobling book, the dominant impression it leaves is one of a progressive and finally an almost total degradation, a degradation both of persons--except for the tortured, the outlawed--and of social institutions. The Question is far more than an account of atrocities, however spectacular."--The Nation "Even more extraordinary is the manner in which [Alleg] tells his story: in its studied calm, its refusal to give expression to hatred, it nearly reaches a level of serenity and thus increases its effectiveness. This book not only might have shocked the conscience of France ... it should disturb the conscience of all men."--French Review

About the Author

Henri Alleg is a journalist living in Paris and the author of many works in French. Jean-Paul Sartre was one of the most influential writers and existentialist philosophers of the twentieth century. Ellen Ray is the coauthor, with Michael Ratner, of "Guantanamo: What the World Should Know." James D. Le Sueur is an associate professor of history at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is the editor of Mouloud Feraoun's "Journal, 1955-1962: Reflections on the French-Algerian War" (Nebraska 2000) and the author of "Uncivil War: Intellectuals and Identity Politics during the Decolonization of Algeria, Second Edition" (Nebraska 2005).

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Moonlight Shadow on 24 Dec. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read this as part of an LLM course, looking at France in Algeria in the context of torture. Essentially, this book is the basic, no frills and not "sweetened" account of a man being tortured. What makes it such a facinating resource is that it deals with the psychology, the mindset, of both tortured and torturer. Well worth reading alongside arguements justifying torture as a valid technique. See which argument you find stronger.

This is a short book, and can comfortable read in a couple of hours. That is not to detract from the easy of reading and the overall quality of the account. Worth buying for anyone interested in France, the Algeria war (1954-1962), Torture, Human Rights and the human mind.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is one man's unsentimental and powerful account of his time as a prisoner of the French paratroopers in Algeria in 1957-8. Marked out as a communist and agitator for a free Algeria, Alleg is hunted down, captured and tortured. The brutality of the paras and the complicity of the Govt. of the day, are now well documented. This fresh and elegantly written account, seized by the police on initial publication in France, tells of Alleg's incredible bravery and gave the world an insight into what was going on in Algeria, an account that could not be ignored. It is as relevant today because issues concerning torture and morality are sadly just as prevalent all over the world - note: Mohamedou Ould Slahi's recently published 'Guantanamo Diary'. The edition I read also contains an essay by Sartre on the themes raised by the text (this essay helps to put the context to the debate that Alleg raises. This book is a must read even nearly 60 years on.
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By Stig Rune Hansen on 14 Nov. 2014
Format: Paperback
Important book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 10 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Must read 3 Feb. 2009
By Jack Cade - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Henri Alleg (who has also collaborated in a 3 vol history of the Algerian War) is a hero. Unlike most French and Algerian Communists he supported the FLN without reservations and was willing to suffer the consequences usually reserved for the Arab militants--consequences which had their origins in Nazi concentration camps but were refined by the likes of Salan, Challe, Massu and others. The Gen-gene and other methods of peruasion (which I suspect are still used by our current rulers and I mean Obama not simply Bush) makes waterboarding look like watersurfing.
Read Alleg's book! Watch his interview in the splendid new Criterion 3 DVD set of "The Battle of Algiers" Listen to his interviews which are online.
Would that Alleg's complete history of the war were translated into English. Alastair Horne --an honorable man of the moderate right (I think he would agree with that description) has written a detailed history of the war--by far the best book about the war in English.
A final and personal note: My father--a man of no politics was stationed in Algeria uring WWII. He was there before the massacre at Setif and watched some of it in horror. The French racist brutality toward the Algerian people so branded him that he never set foot in France and discouraged others from going. Alleg's description of his own experiences really is a shorthand for the ratissages and rattonades that our current regime now indulges in. Horne's book begins with a preface denouncing torture--I wish that his book had gone into more of its horror; nevertheless I salute him. Read Horne and read Henri Alleg I beg you.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Beautifully Written, Brutally Honest 3 May 2008
By Jose C. Tejeda Jr. - Published on
Format: Paperback
The Question is, without doubt, the single best argument against torture under any circumstances. It is a brutally true and personal account of a man caught up under the circumstances beyond his control during the Algerian War of Independence. It was a time when the French, desperate to maintain control over Algeria, had allowed its army to use torture in order to obtain information about its main insurgent enemy, the FLN (Front Liberation Nationale). The author literally puts the reader into his shoes, and one can literally feel the pain of electric shock, the suffocating hell of water boarding, or the miserable mind warping experience of truth drugs.

In wars such as the current GWOT (Global War on Terror) as well as in Algeria, there is always the temptation by politicians to use acts like torture in order to gain an advantage over an insurgent enemy. However, make no mistake. Just as the revelations of torture had undermined the perceived legitimacy of the French cause in Algeria, the same danger also exist in today's struggle in the GWOT.

Regardless of one's opinion on the matter, one must read this simple book in order to gain an understanding of what a torture victim goes through. The book is beautifully written as well as brutally honest. One can easily read it in a day.

Finally, it is important to keep in mind that there is no politics in this book. It is just an account of the hard reality of man's inhumanity against man.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The Question of Torture 24 Mar. 2008
By Michael I. Goldman - Published on
Format: Paperback
If you are interested in what exactly waterboarding is, and the physical and moral impact on victim and torturer, you need to read this book.
The painful story of standing against inhumanity 11 Jun. 2014
By Ulas Tuerkmen - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is a short book, and it has a reason for being short; Henri Alleg
penned it on brown wrapping paper while still in prison, and had it
smuggled to France for publication. In The Question, he recounts how
he was tortured by the notorious Paras (the elite paratroop division
of the french military in Algeria) because he, as a communist,
supported the cause of the Algerian people. Aleg is taken to the
'centre de tri' after he is captured. He is beaten, water boarded,
savagely electrocuted, and burnt in sensitive places with fire. All
the while, his torturers want the names of the people who helped him
go into hiding, and provided him with safehouses. Although Alleg makes
it very clear in the beginning that he would not answer any questions,
even the simplest ones, the torturers keep on, with the hope that he
will break down at some point.

The episodes of torture described by Alleg are blood-curdling.
Especially his experiences with the electric shocks made me clench my
teeth with sympathy for his pain. The longer lasting effect on the
reader, though, stems from the way the french soldiers, only fifteen
years after their nation's experience with fascism, practice a racist
kind of fascism themselves, even telling Alleg at one point that they
are worse than the SS themselves. The torturers are not acting solely
to gather information, of course. They are acting out of their racism
and hate towards someone who dared to side with the "wogs" although he
was a Frenchman himself. This becomes clear from the way the torturers
talk to Alleg, and how they treat the Algerian prisoners even
worse. The experimental truth serum pentothal is also used at some
point. Alleg's description of this experience is very interesting; he
talks about dreaming that he was walking in the streets of a city he
didn't know, followed by the man questioning him, and finding it very
difficult not to answer his questions.

Sartre has written an introduction to the original publication in
French, and that introduction is also translated here. This beautiful
text on torture makes Alleg's story all the more lucid and relevant by
putting it into the context of racism and colonialism. As Sartre
observes, the fact that there are french soldiers all too ready to
torture others after occupation by the Nazis shows that who tortures
whom is merely a question of occasion; given the reasons, all nations
will find the torturers among them and put them to work. The invalid
conclusion from this is to think that we as humans are inherently
inhuman, and the descent into uncontrolled violence is
ineluctable. Alleg's --and of those who dare to stand to their
torturers and not betray their companions-- achievement is to show
what a sordid game the torturers are playing, and reclaim humanity.

Alleg has written another postscript for this edition, and the
publishers a foreword connecting his story to the revelations of
torture carried out by the US armed forces in Iraq (although
extraordinary rendition has been practiced a long time before that,
and should also be counted as active participation in torture). It's
interesting that the first method the Paras used on Alleg was
waterboarding, which the US American authorities called "enhanced
interrogation", and defended as not being torture. Judging from the
circumstances, Alleg's and Sartre's precious lesson that torture can
be done only when the victim is dehumanized is unfortunately still
bitter reality, and all the more reason to read this book.
Required reading for counterinsurgency operations 14 Dec. 2013
By Jack Stone - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The importance of this book cannot be understated. From a counterinsurgency perspective, it addresses the very large part of the war effort, which is the extraction of information from suspected and confirmed insurgents through interrogation. All counterinsurgency efforts are confronted with such an endeavor. Often, the government fighting the guerrillas resorts to the use of physical torture to acquire critical information about their enemy. This work is a graphic description of why such widespread employment of torture in fact has the opposite effect. Physical torture undermines the legitimacy of those employing it and is the fodder for further resistance and recruitment of new fighters. Although this work addresses the French effort to maintain their colonial conquest of Algeria in the 1950's and 60's, the lessons here echo across history and to modern times. Bottom line, those who employ physical torture of their captives are most likely doomed to fail in their counterinsurgency efforts and will be treated accordingly when they are captured, thus intensifying the wheel of violence and inhumanity. Overall, this is a superb book and required for anyone interested in the topic of counterinsurgency and counterterror, either in reference to Algeria or the post- 9/11 conflicts.
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