This is a follow-up and synthesis of the comments posted in response to my previous post. I quite enjoyed the various comments which were posted and I think that, together, they do depict a multidimensional structure of what ‘independence’ means to us as Algerians in light of what happened afterwards. Obviously, every single Algerian will have a different answer to this question and different factors will enter into play (age being perhaps the most important). But I think the themes that emerged from the contributions of our readers do span at least a portion of how ‘independence’ might be constructed within the Algerian psyche (I guess of a certain age-group). I think that all Algerians agree that independence was (is even! ;)) a good/ positive thing. As Chatnoir put it, independence put an end to the slaps directed at the Algerian face. An end to a 130-year humiliation. The Algerian people awakened to freedom and snatched back their dignity. It is too bad they lost much of it afterwards, through bad governance and a political class which makes ‘Stalin look like a choir boy’ (as Tahar put it), but at least they didn’t lose it to the French or any outsider. The dirty business of the family must stay within the family. And being slapped by one’s own is less humiliating than being slapped by an outsider. Right?
But hang on a minute, what do the generations who have never been slapped on the face by an outsider think? What do the generations who have only ever experienced being slapped on the face by their own Big Brother think? Independence has no meaning to them! True independence, as far as they’re concerned, is to throw oneself in the sea and row and if need be swim as far away from the ongoing slaps as possible. Indeed, how come young Algerian people today prefer death to staying at home? Perhaps it is to do with the Algerian identity that is still under construction, 50 years on (as Adleine put it). Adleine’s comment is interesting in many ways. I bet Adleine is in his twenties, perhaps younger. Adleine is right of course, independence is meaningless when one doesn’t know who one is. Oumelkhir touched on many similar cultural aspects: a lot of things which we hate about ourselves were in fact dumped on us by the French. Perhaps this is why we feel, subconsciously, the need still to go against anything that is French whilst not being competent enough to do things differently or should I say ‘independently’? (rejecting ‘moukhallafet el isti3mar’ as Chatnoir puts it). Because, don’t fool yourselves brethren and sisteren, we’re still as helpless (perhaps even more so) as we were in the 19th century against a nation that is in every way ahead of us by modern standards.
Is 50 years not enough time to address at least some of these issues? Oumelkhir thinks so, I do not agree. I will take the example of national education to illustrate: within 50 years, we have not budged an inch forward. Worse still, we have regressed dramatically (and I agree with Tahar in this regard). Chatnoir says that independence means that every Algerian child, regardless of their social background, has a right to schooling and university. Politically, this is indeed significant – the Algerian government’s stance with respect to education is that it is a right for all citizens. The educational system in Algeria is still completely free. Anybody, and I really mean anybody, can get a university degree. I can’t help but think that this stance is largely about countering the French colonial and discriminatory policy. In independent Algeria, we distribute university degrees on all fellow Algerians because, hey, we can damn it! But while this started off good and the system was producing good quality students and graduates, there has been a U-turn in recent years. Now you need to have a French professor’s name on your list of jury members to add value to your PhD thesis. So maybe 50 years isn’t enough to build a grand nation, but it should have been enough to at least preserve and consolidate what few good things we had.
But freedom is a tricky business. The euphoria has long worn out. There’s only so much you could do while screaming from the top of your head ‘Am freeeeeeeeeeeeeee, I can do whatever I want! La la laaaaaa!‘. As Abe pointed out, freedom is good but it also means struggling to work out how to govern ourselves. It is a shame we didn’t have a George Washington moment (I wonder why and I have always wondered why we never had our own founding fathers). Or to be more precise, we did have a few, but it’s a shame they never came together for the common good in the way those Americans did. Some of them lived in different time eras and never met. But for those who were contemporaries, am not saying there haven’t been attempts, but none of them succeeded. Why? Why? Ah, I know! Israel! They’re always conspiring against us.
But, when all is said and done, one fact remains: ‘Algeria is not France and France is not Algeria’ as ilfdinar concisely put it. That at least is true politically. It is not enough. It was enough in 1962, but not now. It is nevertheless a source of hope – I don’t know who said once that freedom is that ability to dream and make plans for the future. I think this is true, independence means we can dream and make plans for the future for a better Algeria. Our future is in the making and only us are responsible for it.