This post continues in the same theme of my previous posts here and here, but it is concerned with a section of Algerian society: women. It is about the role Algerian women played in the revolution and the social and cultural tensions which were experienced during the revolution and then after gaining independence. A while ago, MnarviDz sent me an interesting video about this issue. Here it is:
There are many more on YouTube (all in French though). The interesting thing about this video and many others, is that one gets the sense that very little has changed since (this video was filmed in 1962). It is an eerie feeling indeed. Actually, one has to be careful with expressions like ‘very little has changed’, because implicitly we are comparing two things with respect to some predetermined reference point. I suppose many would say that a lot of things have changed for women since. Take the recent governmental initiative to give quotas for women representation in politics for example or the promotion, in 2009, by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Pr. Ardjoun Fatma-Zohra (a hematologist) to the rank of general in the national army. Surely, these are good signs that things are changing (for the better or worse is irrelevant, the point is things are changing for women). Or are they? It certainly looks like they are.
But what use for a woman to be general in the army if the Algerian civil law makes her inferior to her male counterpart? Whereas the religious law regards this promotion as illegal, as mainstream Islamic jurisprudence deems it forbidden for women to take up influencial political roles. What significance does a woman general in the army has if her testimony is worth half that of a male sergent in her regiment? We all know that these ‘changes’ are really dictated by high-above don’t we. From the West (gotcha! I bet you were thinking much higher above 😉). It is so obvious. These ‘changes’ do not reflect an evolution of the Algerian society in any sense. They reflect the will of those powerful nations who rule the World today.
Much like what this young Algerian lady in the video above is advocating. She may be filled with all the noble intentions in the World and the most fervent nationalism, but she seems oblivious to the fact that her discourse is fundamentally Western. Indeed, even ideas like freedom and self-determination are Western – although one might argue that there are equivalent concepts in our own culture. Yet it took us 130 years to (re-)discover them. That is because it took 130 years for the Western mindset about cultural domination and supremacy to start shifting. Philosophical and political debates never ceased in the recent history of the West you see. Whereas in our part of the World, total stagnation. Even now we are incapable of talking and listening to each other. So even the awakening of the Algerian people was driven in part by what Algerians who were exposed to the Western education and culture brought back with them. These concepts were then translated into our own language, into a discourse we could identify with – a religious discourse. It is no surprise that as long as this convoluted and tortuous way of doing things persists, we will continue to get ourselves entangled in all sorts of incoherences. But perhaps there is no other way, perhaps part of maturity is to accept that incoherence is a part of life and that it is not the end of life.
Nevertheless, I find this to be a curious personnality split. I get the sense from the way the young lady speaks, in the above video, that she was disappointed by what happened after the independence. That somehow, the revolution had failed the women, especially those who militated side by side with men and sacrified their lives for this country. Being disappointed means you had expectations which somehow did not come true. So I ask myself: “What did she expect?!”, to kick the French out and then carry on living in fundamentally French (Western) ways? And how representative is her view of that of the majority of Algerian women back then?
So when I say little (not to say nothing) has changed, this is what I mean: a fundamentally incoherent discourse that still permeates all levels of Algerian being. As if the devastating effect of colonialism wasn’t enough, now we are submerged by the relentless onslaught of globalization. Even the most established and rooted grand nations are struggling against this ruthless phenomenon, so you can imagine the state of frail nations such as ours (if there could be such a thing as an ‘Algerian nation’ that is). Even those who vociferate about Islam and 3ourouba, or the Berber identity or whatever, they are all doing so because they are confused about who they really are and they reject what it has all come to. All of them share with this young lady, whose voice and ideas have travelled 50 years to reach us today thanks to modern technology (another Western creation), all share with her that unbearable sense of bitter disappointment.
I have written a long post, and yet I still feel like I have not yet finished all I wanted to say. I shall leave it to another occasion, where I will continue to address this theme but from the perspective of literature.
Note: The name of the young lady in this video is (the late) Zohra Sellami.