Language, ideology and belonging, the Algerian paradigm III


This post comes a relatively long time after parts one (I) and two (II) of this series, but it is not going to be the last. So before I conclude on the topic in a fourth and perhaps last part, I thought it would be useful to share here a paragraph from Noureddine Boukrouh’s “Algeria between the bad (for the Pouvoir) and the worse (for the FIS)” book.

Boukrouh was the leader of the tiny Algerian renewal party (PRA), and I had some affinities with him, politically speaking. But then he joined the crowd and became the minister of small and medium enterprises under Ahmed Benbitour and the minister of trade under Ahmed Ouyahia. I don’t know if it was because, like many Algerians, he had hope in the newly elected 1999-Bouteflika, or because he became a “realist” like many of our politicians (“realist” here is opposed to “idealist” with the definitions Malek Bennabi gave to these two words in his “Mémoires d’un témoin du siècle” memoirs). I heard Boukrouh became an ambassador and then I don’t know what happened to him. If someone has some information, please do let me know.

Back to the topic. In the text below, which I translate into English, Boukrouh gives his vision on how two political groups opposed each other. These groups being the Berberists (RCD and the likes) and the Islamists (FIS and the likes). There’s a lot to say on the below text and on Boukrouh’s book as a whole but I am posting this paragraph only to illustrate how  some francophones (the Berberists being usually from this group) and some arabophones (the Islamists here) acted in Algeria when they brought their ideologies into the political field.

The Islamist and Berberist currents had made the fatal mistake of considering the “alternative” problem in a cultural rather than a political scope. Both had focused on the redefinition of the Algerian identity, which was neither necessary nor urgent in the light of the objective difficulties besetting the country. The former wanted to expurgate it from the modern elements at the risk of returning the country into the Middle Ages, the latter wanted to amputate it from the Arabo-Islamic elements and project it into secularism, a perspective completely alien to the Algerians’ mental representation. Anyway, whenever an idea is locked in an “ism” it is to announce its slide towards extremism.

Both posed the problem of the past instead of the present, each referring to a period of the Algerian history: the Islamic period for one, the Numidian period for the other. The assabiyates (عصبيات) which they had thus revived in the era of globalization could only be a source of division and conflict, whereas they were up to a certain stage of Algeria’s evolution a kind of coagulation factors. But that was before the French culture took place in the land and the minds of the Algerians.

The two opposing currents did not seek to amend the power to improve it, but they wanted to take it in order to impose the Islamic or secular state. Their electorate’s importance was not due to their programs’ quality, but to the attraction power these themes had on the people. Neither did offer a national solution or a workable project, but both targeted the people’s emotions, their religiosity or their parochialism to mobilize them, record their votes and use them for purposes unrelated to the social problems raised by the Algerian youths in October 1988.

4 thoughts on “Language, ideology and belonging, the Algerian paradigm III

  1. Thanks. I haven’t read any book by Boukrouh.
    Boukrouh was not convincing as a politician. I hope he is a good essayist.
    Can you rate the book /10?

    The excerpt you provided and this one are quite interesting.

    «Les Etats qui ne reposent pas sur des valeurs civilisationnelles, sur une morale, sur des institutions, sur la rationalité, mais sur des fictions et des hommes faillibles, ne peuvent que s’écrouler. On peut les retenir un moment par la force, mais la force n’est pas éternelle et génère immanquablement sa réplique, car il n’y a rien de plus facile que de s’armer d’une hache et de la lancer à la tête de son prochain. Il fallait peut être le vivre pour s’en persuader. Voilà qui est fait».

    • The book is good for an Algerian politician but I would rate it as average. It’s ok for those with little knowledge on Algerian history and recent political life.

      Boukrouh tried to analyse the current situation through four components: the Algerian people, the “Pouvoir”, the Islamists and the Secularists; and I felt 250 pages were not enough to go deeply into the topic. Plus, he re-used some of Malek Bennabi’s theories (as he was one of his “students”) and, I guess you agree, it’s better to read the original.

  2. This is a good series of topics on a very important issue MnarviDz. I would like to read your opinion/ analysis of a similar issue: that pertaining to the supposed Arab-Kabyle schism which the regime uses to justify some of its oppressive policies. I have no idea about the scale of the ‘problem’ or indeed if one could consider it a problem in the first place.

    Could the spectre of separatism really be concretized in reality should the fraction of Kabyles who have a strongly different perception of what it means to be Algerian have their way? What is the proportion of Kabyles who want to split the Algerian territory for these identity issues? I think that this issue is never discussed overtly in Algerian society and it is a shame.

    I am not a Kabyle, but I know that there is a feeling of distrust toward some Kabyles over this issue. It is possible that it was fostered by the regime, but making a taboo out of it is not going to make things better I don’t think.

    I hope you will have time to write about this issue in your future posts.

    Thanks in advance!

    • I would like to read your opinion/ analysis of a similar issue: that pertaining to the supposed Arab-Kabyle schism

      I was going to write about this a long time ago but then some ignorant comments I received here, here and here without even treating this topic kind of changed my mind🙂

      The topic has indeed been a taboo for too long and therefore people usually lose it very quickly when they try to deal with it… But I’ll think of something inshAllah if I have time!

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