In Sartre’s political world there were only oppressors and oppressed: fascism stood for the former, communism for the latter. Likewise, in Algeria, since the native Algerians were by definition the oppressed, they were incapable of sin; conversely, the pieds noirs, the French colonists, were reprobate and irredeemable. Thus Sartre endorsed the decision of the Algerian FLN (Front de Liberation Nationale) to kill any and all French men, women, and children in Algeria whenever possible, a position he was still taking in 1961 when he wrote a famous and lengthy introduction to The Wretched of the Earth, the major work by one of this century’s greatest theorists of terrorism, Franz Fanon.
Camus, on the other hand, was himself a pied noir; his family’s roots in Algeria went back a century and a half. Members of his family, including his mother, still lived in Algeria and were endangered daily by the FLN’s random shootings and bombings. Yet Camus was not, nor had he ever been, indifferent to the abuses the French had inflicted on the Arabs of Algeria. Indeed, in the 1930s, at the beginning of his career as a writer, Camus had striven ceaselessly to call attention to these abuses, but he was generally ignored — by the French Left no less than the Right.
So he was not pleased to have a difficult and morally complex political situation reduced to an opportunity for French intellectuals to strike noble poses: to those who would “point to the French in Algeria as scapegoats (‘Go ahead and die; that’s what we deserve!’),” Camus retorted, “it seems to me revolting to beat one’s mea culpa, as our judge-penitents do, on someone else’s breast.”