Language, ideology and belonging, the Algerian paradigm I


I am going to make some blatant generalisations in this post and I will therefore neglect most of the special cases which have little statistical representativity. I will also misuse the “intellectuals” word as I am going to use it every time I will refer to people whose voices are, or could be, heard in Algeria. So the “intellectuals” in this post would be the journalists, teachers, thinkers, politicians (I exclude the beggara here), novelists, poets, researchers, etc. And this means the “intellectuals” will be either genuine ones, intellectomans (as they were called by Malek Bennabi) or some other people who don’t have a clue. Finally, I will probably use some (many?) examples for illustration purpose.

I remember my Arabic language teacher (who obviously studied in Arabic and was what we call an arabophone) during my secondary school years who spent all his free time chatting to female pupils who didn’t wear hidjab and trying to convince them to put it on. On the other hand, my maths teacher (who studied in French and was a francophone) targeted the hidjabi girls and did his best to understand how they could wear such a thing.  Both teachers were obviously wrong as they weren’t supposed to discuss their pupils’ religious beliefs and practices, but never mind as school was everything but under control back then.  And I must say both teachers were excellent (they were obviously not hit yet by Benbouzid’s system) and I liked them very much.
What matters to me is the fact that it was the arabophone who was pro-hidjab and the francophone who was anti-hidjab and not the other way around. And this is one of the many differences one can observe when comparing the arabophone/francophone “intellectuals” in Algeria.

There is an Arab tradition which was widely used in the past centuries when it came to define things. Instead of saying what this thing was, they would rather tell what it wasn’t. I will kind of follow this tradition, and instead of saying what the Algerian francophone is, I will rather say what the francophone thinks the Algerian arabophone is, implying what he (the francophone) thinks he (the francophone again) is not. If you have followed me in this strange sentence (well done!) then you have probably guessed how I will define the Algerian arabophone.

The francophone “intellectuals” look down at the Arabic language and heritage. It is thus just normal that they look down at the arabophone “intellectuals”. They even are very reluctant at associating these two words (arabophone and intellectual). Anyway, the francophone intellectuals believe the present decadence of Algeria (they actually mean all the Arab World) is because of the Arabic language and Islam or to be more accurate a certain understanding of Islam. They see only three positive things in the past centuries (when the Muslim and Arab World had a civilisation): poets of the kind of Abu Nawwas and El Khayyam, philosophers of the kind of Ibn Arabi, Ibn Rushd and El Maari, and of course the great and lovely “tolerance” in El Andalus. Other than this they only see decadence, ignorance, violence and obscurantism. This leads me to how the francophone “intellectuals” consider their arabophone counterparts.

They actually divide them into two groups: I’ll call the first one the francarabophones’ and the rest would be the arabophones’. They tolerate the former group because they think they could be saved. They are indeed left wingers like them if not more (most of the francarabophone “intellectuals” would be commies) and advocate for a big liberality in the Algerian society. They want secularism too badly and believe Islam is a very (and only) personal thing. They can use words such as democracy, diversity and humanism without associating them with any negative values. But there are two things they don’t like about them. The first being the fact they are influenced by those Arabs in Syria/Lebanon and for some Egypt and pre-1993 Iraq; which means these guys believe in the strength of an almost-dead language (Arabic) and in a useless community (the Arab World). The second point is that they are not reliable because many of them could change sides at any time and become arabophones (cf. Tahar Ouettar‘s case).

The second group, the arabophone “intellectuals”, is more dangerous because, according to the francophones, not only do they cherish the Arabic language but they also value the present (or past if you want) understanding of Islam. These are the worst of all. They are mghandfine and are very narrow-minded. They know so little about the outside world and the tiny knowledge they gathered is only used to attack the West. So these people are ignorant obscurantists who are willing to do whatever it takes to drag us back into the dark ages, they can indeed not stand the word reforms. For many francophone “intellectuals”, arabophones, Islamists, Salafists, Wahhabists, Ben Laden are all synonyms. And they couldn’t be wrong since these guys are either influenced by the Gulf countries or, worse or better I don’t know, are the creation of the Algerian “arabised” (meaning mediocre) school.  The arabophones do also lack the ability to taste and recognize beautiful things and they probably don’t listen to Mozart (do they even know who he was?!). These arabophones are not even able to think by themselves (that’s why I said the francophones don’t think an arabophone intellectual can actually exist) because they apply the “naql (tradition) is more important than 3aql (reason)” rule not only when it comes to Islamic jurisprudence but in every aspect of their lives.

One important aspect the francophones don’t like in the arabophones is their unjustified belief that their past civilisation was great. They of course don’t deny the facts but they disagree on calling it Arab civilisation. They rather call it Islamic civilisation and they have evidence ready to prove their point: I did mention Abu Nawwas and El Khayam right? Were they are Arabs? No. Period. To them the Arabs are and have always been Camels’ riders and cannot be anything else. So obviously in Algeria, when the arabophones say Algerians are Arabs, the francophones just cannot take it.

This post is getting a bit long so I’ll talk on how the arabophones define the francophones along with other things in a separate post.

3 thoughts on “Language, ideology and belonging, the Algerian paradigm I

  1. While your definitions of arabophones, intellectuals, (Islamists???) are so wide and misleading, I cannot agree with any point you’ve mentioned so far.

    There is no objectivity in your post, and somehow you are twisting Islam and Arabic (though in the final paragraph you tend to differentiate them again!!)

    • I don’t think the generalisation I made on calling a lot of people “intellectuals” (between quotation marks) is misleading with regard to the aspects I am discussing here. Obviously there are exceptions but there are exceptions to everything and one needs to generalise at a certain point to make a general description of the majority.

      And as I said above, so far I am only reporting the way the francophones view the arabophones (mixing Islam with Arabic would be the francophones’ action not necessarily mine), so yeah it’s not objective, could be twisted or contradictory, etc. I plan to give my own opinion in the next part(s) so do come back🙂

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