This blog has occasionally featured my half-baked ruminations on the symbolic power of tangible objects. I’ve always been puzzled by the extraordinarily high values that people can ascribe to non-personal items, as if those items’ absence or destruction might somehow affect the intangible ideas they embody. A great case in point is the developing spat over the fate of this cannon, currently a tourist attraction at the Arsenal of Brest in northwestern France. The weapon was taken from Algeria in 1830, and now the Algerians want it back. The cannon has deep sentimental value for both sides, as this pro-Algerian news item makes clear:
Merzoug Baba, a bronze cannon of twelve tons built in 1542, seven meters long with a range of about 5 km, defended Algiers for more than two hundred years, before being taken by the French in 1830 during the colonization.
The French have renamed it the “Consular”, in reference to two French consuls; missionary Father Jean Le Vacher, consul of Algiers, who was attached to the muzzle of the cannon and shredded in July 1683 (see painting above), in retaliation for the bombing of Algiers by Admiral Duquesne who claimed that all the Christian slaves be released, and the consul André Piolle in 1688 during a similar attack committed by Marshal Jean d’Estrees against Algiers.
For the Algerians, this gun is more than a symbol, it was the most powerful in the Mediterranean, and had defended Algiers for two centuries. It must find its place in Algiers by July 5, 2012 after 182 years of absence.
There’s clearly a lot of bad blood between these two nations, for screamingly obvious reasons. Yet I personally find it odd that the two former enemies would engage in such a heated diplomatic tussle over an antique cannon. This actually strikes me as a case where the vast majority of French and Algerian citizens could not care less about the matter, but jingoist voices are always heard loudest in the halls of power.
Good luck to them in sorting this all out. Might I propose a winner-take-cannon soccer match, with the loser getting the television revenues as a consolation prize?