‘Nif’ is an Algerian word which literally means “nose” but metaphorically, it is used to signify many things and is often translated as ‘pride’ (English) or ‘fierté’ (French). However, I am not sure if this is an accurate translation of this word and I am going to give examples of situations which recently arose in the world of sport, where Algerians justified such or such attitude/ behavior as symbolic of the ‘nif algérien’:
– When Zidane head-butted Materazzi after he provoked him in the 2006 World Cup Final. Zidane was sent off and France lost the game. Zidane later admitted that he’d rather die than apologize to that loser Materazzi.
– When Raouraoua refused to shake hands with his Egyptian homolog in the aftermath of the pelting of the national football team’s bus in Cairo.
– When, as a response to the attack which took place on the national football team in Cairo and the disgraceful Egyptian denial of any responsibility, Bouteflika sent a fleet of planes (including military ones) to Sudan in order to transport 10 thousand fans to attend the World Cup qualifying playoff match against Egypt. The Algerian government also negotiated with its Sudanese counterpart to come up with special visa arrangements for Algerian fans. This is probably quite a good example of what Algerians call ‘nif’ because organizing such a mass transport in a couple of days is not an easy task at all, and the ‘nif algérien’ worked wonders to motivate Algerians at all levels to work together towards this common goal.
– When all football players unanimously considered that winning the playoff in Sudan was a question of ‘nif’.
– When 1.61 m high Ziani punched 1.91 m high Dzeko in a training session with his Wolfsburg club.
It would appear that ‘nif’ is related to ‘dignity’ and ‘honor’ and often, it is externalized in violent ways. Either that or we as Algerians are so sensitive to the concept of ‘nif’ that we tend to approve of violence more easily when it is justified by ‘nif’ considerations. The latter seems more likely because our politicians often justify their actions by resorting to the ‘nif’, when in fact their only motivation is keeping power. If they really cared about the ‘nif Algérien’ this wouldn’t be the state of Algeria or the Algerian people. Having said that, I think that it should not be overlooked that where others see ‘violence’, we Algerians only see ‘hot bloodedness’.
For the average Algerian however, the ‘nif algérien’ is a concept that is engrained very deeply in the collective psyche and many Algerians believe that it is distinctive of Algerians as a people. But the problem is, all that we have to show for it are past heroics. Today, Algerian arguments to ‘prove’ the ‘nif algérien’ tend to be speculations and interpretations of real events so that they fit within a ‘nif’ narrative. For example, during the football crisis with Egypt, the Algerian attitude towards Israel was contrasted with the Egyptian one and the conclusion was that thanks to the ‘nif algérien’, Israel can never hope to entertain friendly relations with Algerian whereas the lack of ‘nif’ on the Egyptian side was stated as the reason for their friendly relation with the same country. What does Israel have to do with the Algerian ‘nif’ exactly? And why is the ‘nif algérien’ absent when it comes to sending Algerian patients (all the way up to the Algerian president himself) for medical treatment in French hospitals? This is just to illustrate the incoherence of this ‘nif algérien’ concept and how it is rationalized at various levels within the ordinary Algerian population.
Of course the ‘nif’ is part of every people, not just the Algerian people (this might come as a surprise to many Algerians; oops!). As a concept, it is so authentically human, and in fact quite primitive too. Every society takes pride in something, every society has values and a sense of dignity and honor. No society approves of injustice or discrimination (what is known as hogra in Algerian). The only difference is how different societies express these values, to what degree and where they come within the scale of priorities. In that sense, what characterizes us as Algerians is our violent, tribal and primitive way of expressing this ‘nif’, or rather that we perceive it as a source of pride to defend the ‘nif’ by all means necessary even violent means if it comes to it (and it often does not only come to it, but start by it!). It is about image more than any real philosophical conviction or even comprehension of what ‘nif’ really stands or should stand for. Take the Brits for example, their value of fairness is exemplified by their obsession about queueing, the fact that they value both ‘pride’ and ‘humility’ has made them appreciate self-deprecation (which is in fact a tortuous way of boasting one’s achievements whilst showing modesty). What examples do we have as a society of actual behavioral patterns which illustrate that we do really value the ‘nif’, whatever we might feel it means or stands for? All the examples I can think of show that ‘nif’ translates in Algerian reality as intransigence, a teenage-like rebellion and an uncompromising nature. Algerians find it difficult to even be polite and that too is justified by our ‘nif’!
I don’t know what the Algerian ‘nif’ means in terms of values it is supposed to embody today, but I know that it is not about pride, nor dignity because Algerians are throwing themselves by the hundreds in the sea practically every other day. It cannot be about intolerance of injustice because injustice happens everyday in Algeria and is perpetuated by Algerians themselves and in some cases is taken as a source of pride at some sense of achievement or having managed to cheat the system. It cannot be about honor either, because there seems to be no code of honor anywhere in Algerian society (except when it comes to women).
So what is it about? I say it is about image and it is a painful and embarrassing display and confirmation of our chronic inferiority complex. Whether we are prepared to acknowledge it or not (nif-permitting), the way we express what we understand by ‘nif’ exposes our deep inferiority complex; they’re two sides of the same coin. Things might have been different in the past, but today is a different story. Some might say that Algerians have proved that they can do great things when they feel under pressure (like the mass mobilization for the football match against Egypt), but even if we accept that what was achieved was a ‘great thing’, how does that prove that our ‘nif’ is capable of motivating us to unite around even greater things than football and for much longer than a few days? Because building a civilization is not exactly the same thing as winning a football match, is it now? If only building a civilization had the same charming power as football has, the face of the Earth would be totally different today. What we ‘achieved’ had more to do with football passion than with the mythical power of the ‘nif algérien’ to accomplish miracles.
We cannot let go of our nif, our nif wouldn’t let us, but sadly, it has let go of us long ago and the ironic thing is, we didn’t even realize it! (too proud to realize it probably). We still feel it is there though, stuck somewhere in the middle of our face, but that is how people who’ve had limbs amputated feel also. It is a psychological trick, a mirage.