A few days ago I read an article written by Natalya Vince in the Journal of North African Studies (Natalya Vince (2013): Saintly grandmothers: youth reception and
reinterpretation of the national past in contemporary Algeria, The Journal of North
African Studies, 18:1, 32-52). The researcher carried out a survey on 95 ENS students (history, philosophy, Arabic literature, French and English trainee teachers) to understand how Algerian youth interpreted national history (official and non-official versions) and “explore what image students have of the mujahidat and how this image is formed through the filters of school textbooks, family stories, films, books and current affairs.” The article is interesting because of the empirical method used in the research and because it doesn’t look at the different versions Algerians get from their political elites but concentrates on how these versions are perceived/mixed in the Algerian mind. It is also interesting because, unlike many so-called experts, the analyses Natalya Vince makes are not clueless.
I had planned to write my comments on the article but realised that this would mean to dedicate several longish posts to the many aspects it raised. So, lazy as I can be and seeing that today is IWD, I decided to take a little further the answer one of the surveyed people gave during Vince’s study. The question was “Do [you] think that the mujahida is a role model for women today?” and the man, from whom I borrowed this post’s title, answered negatively and explained that “There is a big difference between women who participated in the revolution and women today. Women today serve no purpose, only to destroy society, apart from a minority who are God fearing“.
I wrote here that many Algerians have a clear definition of what an Algerian is or should be. The big confusion on our identity (read this article by Prof. Chitour) paradoxically created some certitudes such as the ones I mentioned in my two comments. And some of the certitudes Algerians have concern the glorious freedom fighters. This blog’s readers must know that Algerians hold these fighters in the utmost respect, especially those who died during the war. And as if respect wasn’t enough, these men and women are idealised and perhaps even sacralized, just like the revolution itself. And when it comes to female fighters, Natalya Vince rightly writes that “they [female combatants] have already been sanctified in both the sense of glorified consecration and moral purification. The notion of purity seems particularly important because these are women – in the written questionnaires there was often a very strong sense that women were expected to be sexually ‘pure’, unadorned – the ideal, constructed, example of the ‘pious ancestors’.” And looking at things from a perspective similar to Hocine Bellaoufi’s here, she adds, “for many students, it is simply beyond the realms of imagination that there might have been people in the independence struggle who were not practising Muslims, even less non-Muslim. The moral righteousness and legitimacy of combatants is measured in their
presumed levels of religiosity. The mujahida in particular is reinvented as a saintly grandmother to admonish younger generations who are perceived to be wayward, but who in many cases are more ostentatious in their religious practices than older generations.”
The above excerpt alone calls for different posts but let us look at why Algerian women
would serve no purpose.
Algerian women are considered to be materialistic and shallow at the same time. They
spend waste most of their free time watching Turkish, Korean, Mexican and what not TV soaps, and when they are not sitting before the telly they gather to comment on the previous episode and exercise their neurons on trying to guess (the obvious) content of the next one. Watching these series is a way for them to escape their lives and responsibilities which tells a lot about how they handle difficulties. The only real life issue they care about is how to get married, which they think of 24h/day since high-school.
Many Algerian women do work, which means fewer jobs left for Algerian men. And where do you think their gatherings I mentioned above take place? At their workplace of course. One can forget about the soaps analyses but nobody can neglect the time they spend exchanging recipes, etc. especially during Ramadhan. That is to say their efficiency at work is close to zero. The money they make is all spent on useless stuff and shoes (which means there’s no woman serving a purpose on earth). Them being active means they spend less time at home, they are therefore unable to take care of their families and correctly raise their children.
The only books Algerian women read are about cooking or… dreams interpretation. They also read stupid magazines and spend too much time on Facebook. Their interest in serious matters such as national/international politics is null. They actually care very little about Algeria and they are not proud of being Algerian: Don’t we see them switch to middle-eastern accents whenever they meet an Arab (I read this recently in a blog post on Ahlam Mosteghanemi)?!
The above is just a small part of a longer list of the “issues” one can read/hear from fellow Algerians. And when anyone compares a woman with the above characteristics to the way Algerians picture female freedom fighters (such as Hassiba Ben Bouali, Ourida Meddad, Fathma N’Soumer or Djamila Bouhired), there is no doubt today’s women serve no purpose.
But let’s look at things from a different perspective.
It is common in most countries to hear older people complain about younger generations; Algerians often say “djil takher zaman“. But in Algeria, such criticism, also mentioned by Natalya Vince, also comes from the younger generation, from men and women alike targeting their peers. I believe the men said women serve no purpose only because the question was about yesterday’s women vs. today’s women. I am quiet confident the man would have said the same about today’s men had the question been about comparing men such as Larbi Ben Mhidi, Emir Abdelkader or Mustapha Benboulaid to today’s men.
And this is where the problem resides. Back in 1954 and even before, young men and women had ideals and dreams and they fought hard to achieve them. Today, the young generation seems to be… just living, dully. Many, including the young generation itself, feel it is not capable of take up challenges and achieve important things. The people have been put into a sort of degenerative state which is difficult to leave. And it is the same state most Arab, Muslim and Southern countries are. The latter being tightly related to the former.
Algerian women may serve no purpose but then so do Algerian men.
[Update 13/03/2013]: Read this blog by Prof. Chitour on some of these “saintly grandmothers”.