El haik and debates

I am one who likes everything Algerian, I am even capable of finding positive aspects in the worst among us and the worst of our traditions. And being abroad is not the only reason for this as it is not nostalgia for weqt zman, it is deeper in me: I love my people, I love my country, I like wearing the Kabyle Burnous and I’ve always liked seeing men (young and old) in the high plateaus wearing their Qechabia.

This is why I welcome events such as the Haik Day which took place two days ago in Algiers. It doesn’t cost money and creates some change in the capital while reminding the people of a past we all share in our memories.

But my positive stance doesn’t mean I become blind whenever things are related to Algeria and its traditions. It’s our Algerian tradition to criticize after all and this is what I am going to do here.

In the above video, at 1’19”, a woman says, in French, that el haik is beautiful and sensual, that it is the symbol of Algiers and Algeria, because the white colour is us and the black colour is not us, it is Saudi Kharabia (Kharabia is my word) and the Gulf countries. Another one, at 1’38”, says, again in French, that el haik is an honour and that it’s a pity only a few women still wear it.

This article mentions the event and reports what some participants said. You can read things such as “We want to sweep away these clothes which come from Saudi Arabia, black, sad and stifling under the sun, to return to our traditional ‘haik’ which is the pride of Algerian women“, “It is unfortunate that we’ve had the hijab imposed on us since the 1990s, it is not a part of our tradition“, “Sure, the haik has Turkish origins, but it was with us for centuries” or “The hijab and the niqab are not a part of our tradition“.

The above statements lack consistency. One thinks it is a pity that most Algerian women do not wear el haik any more, and she doesn’t wear it herself. The other says white is us and black is KSA but she seems to forget the black mlaya that is was worn in Eastern Algeria. The fact they “want to sweep away these clothes” because “they are not part of our tradition” would be acceptable if they didn’t only target the clothes they think come from the Middle-East forgetting about what they wear in they daily life. I came across a photo of some of these women on Facebook with tags so I could check their profiles and, none wore the hijab… nor the haik. So is “western dress code” us just like el haik is us? Or, another question, what makes things part of our tradition? One says she knows el haik has Turkish origins (is it true?) but it’s ok since our women have worn it for centuries; does this mean the hijab, niqab or whatever outfit will be part of our tradition in a few centuries? And speaking of niqab, I am always amazed by those who abhor it while finding the 3jar sensual.

My point has to do with the fact many think that using “our traditions” is the best way to make a point or… win an argument. It is usual to hear Algerian feminists and secularists speak of our traditions and the way our grand-parents lived in their argumentation against what they like to call the Islamo-Baathism (a very odd association if you ask me) influence in Algeria. It is like those who speak of our ancestors’ understanding of Islam, the North-African Islam, which would be a more peaceful and tolerant one. They are actually a kind of salafists themselves 🙂
And the worse is that more and more people use our traditions in almost every topic. Only a few days ago, an Algerian minister said that raping and killing children was not part of our traditions (cf. previous blog entry).

Do they not know that societies evolve, whether we like it or not. They progress and they regress. Some traditions are forgotten and others are created.
It seems like we’re unable to have arguments/debates without getting emotional. Perhaps it’s an Algerian (and more generally an Arab) trait, a tradition. I know I just used our traditions to make my point; I hope it worked 🙂
Seriously, when are we going to have serious discussions based on consistent facts? That day we might finally be ready to move on.


26 thoughts on “El haik and debates

  1. Indeed, invoking local traditions by secularists is not a good argument… but it is a legitimate counter-argument. Since they are accused, by islamists, of moving away of traditions, they answer by saying these are not our traditions. But I agree that this may lead to some ridiculous ways of expressing this counter-arugment like the one you describe for the Haik coming from women that would not have given a damn for Haik if there were no Hijab and Niqab.
    I subscribe to the idea that changes have always been and are occuring in every second of the life of the nation so forbidding changes in some direction or concerning some supposed fundamental principle and in the sole argument of tradition is as illegitimate as inefficient .

    • but it is a legitimate counter-argument. Since they are accused, by islamists, of moving away of traditions, they answer by saying these are not our traditions.

      Even if all agree that ‘traditions” is a valid argument, they cannot use it since what they call for is all but in our traditions. Also they try to look smarter than the obscurantist Islamists and such arguments just prove they are not.

      Anyway, if secularist/islamist debate was intelligent we would’ve noticed it.

    • Yep. Read this new article in Elwatan on another haik day in Jijel this time. It’s funny how the girl says the below and the journalist reports it without seeing the contradictions and fallacies it carries 🙂

      Notre jeune étudiante regrette, d’ailleurs, de voir nos mères et nos filles abandonner cet habit traditionnel. «J’ai discuté avec des femmes pour qu’on se réapproprie cette tradition, mais elles hésitent, car le poids du conservatisme est là pour empêcher tout retour à notre culture et, personnellement, je suis prête à porter le haïk si l’occasion se présente», confesse notre jeune étudiante.

      Selon elle, les plus jeunes femmes qui portent encore cet habit ont, au moins, 52 ans, sinon les vieilles femmes qui ne sortent que très rarement de chez elles. «Remarquez que parmi celles qui s’habillent en hijab, certaines mettent laâdjar, ce qui explique qu’elles ne sortent que rarement de chez elles», soutient Hanane. Cela dit, il est vrai que l’islamisme pur et dur qui s’inspire de la doctrine obscurantiste wahhabite et de habit traditionnel propre aux Afghanes n’est pas étranger à la disparition du haïk, de la m’laya et bien d’autres choses.

      • Oh dear !
        Graduated straight from the school of journalism of “big foot found urinating on a ufo spaceship”
        How about that sheikha mouza is behind the conspiracy that led to the extinction of our beloved hayk?
        Too much to handle these days .

  2. Hi, thank you for liking my Isabelle Eberhardt translation. Your writing is educational and provocative. I haven’t been reader of blogs in the past, but I am coming to understand the value of learning about other countries from the inside, rather than New York times journalism. It is also interesting to read contemporary reflection on clothing and custom I’ve only read of in Eberhardt’s stories. I will be returning to read more of your posts. Thanks!

  3. Hier, synonyme de sous-développement (selon le colonisateur) le haïk représentait l’identité musulmane de la-dite “fatma” que la France coloniale n’a cssé de combattre. Sous prétexte de vouloir la libérer, et sous les conseils d’une Nafissa Sid Kara, la femme algérienne se devait, afin de s’émanciper, bruler son haïk sur la voie publique.
    Aujourd’hui, le jeu est plus subtil, et on oppose un voile à un autre sous prétexte qu’ils serait plus “sensuel”? Est-ce là l’objectif du hidjab? Bien au contraire… donc, à ce jeu-là les adeptes du haïk sont perdantes d’avance, d’autant plus qu’elles n’ont aucune réelle ambition de défendre leur “conviction” ou de démontrer leur attachement à cette dite tradition. Porter le haïk pour un évenement ponctuel, pour une manifestation culturelle, c’est bien mignon, mais le porter tous les jours, c’est une autre paire de manches…

      • Thanks Anonyme for the video. I hope nobody’s surprised by the minister. He’s a member of the RND after all… The fact everyone laughed, though I see nothing funny, just proves they are “binathoum” and the contempt they have for those who do not share their opinion.

  4. It is a desperate attempt to counter the regrettable proliferation of various forms of hijabs if not the hijab itself. Is it to late? In any case le Hayek Mrema was an outfit of females of cities and at a time where women were confined indoors rather. It was hard to put on and not practical at all for a working person nowadays. Now seriously, how does it come that our moroccan sisters have also abandonned their Djellaba (very handy and handsome in my opinion) to the veil imported form the middle-east? No doubt there has always been hard pressure on women and this event shows once more how some are giving in pitifully.

    • Welcome back eljin, long time no see!

      You are right to say that most women were confined indoors back then. And the funny thing is el hayek itself is, in my opinion, a form of hidjab… One shouldn’t forget the Western (and down to the South) hayek bou3wina which makes it quite similar to the burqa.

      Agreeing that el hayek is a form of hidjab, saying that the hidjab is proliferating becomes questionable. And whether the alledged proliferation is regrettable or not is another question. One thing is sure, women have always been pressured and still are, in too many different ways, not just the dress code.

      • Thank you. One sometimes needs to keep silent for a while.

        I might add, bou3wina is worse: arms were kind of tied to hold the thing tight.
        I wonder however how Saudis or Qataris would react if a noticeable number of their citizens (men or women) start to dress like traditional Moroccans, Lybians etc.?

        • Les saoudiens, les qataris ont une “industrie” du vêtement, chinoise certes, indienne aussi, pakistanaise certainement, mais ils font en sorte de fabriquer les vêtements qu’ils continuent à vouloir porter. En même temps, les saoudiens, les qataris, etc… portent aussi des jean’s et des chaussures à talons hauts, tout comme les algériens, les marocains, les libyens et même les chinois tiens! ça s’appelle “la mondialisation”.
          Elle est valable dans tous les sens et pour tout le monde comme son nom l’indique, enfin…. normalement. Parce qu’il semblerait que tant que la mode vient du nord ou de l’ouest ça va, mais dès qu’elle vient du sud ou de l’est, là rien ne va plus….
          Au fait, est-ce que vous savez combien coute un authentique haïk mremma?
          Regardez comment, et malgré la technologie, les choses ne peuvent pas disparaitre tant qu’elles sont nécessaires…

  5. @Anonyme
    Je crois que l’objet de cette discussion concerne l’identité puisqu’il est question semble-t-il de vouloir faire revivre une chose de ‘’notre?’’ passé. Le Us et le NOT Us. C’est précisément pour cela que j’ai limité ma question au champ vestimentaire masculin ou féminin, traditionnel surtout, et à une zone géographique qui s’étendrait disons du Maroc à Oman. J’avais en effet la crainte de voir resurgir le débat (Nord-Sud, Occident-Orient) devenu selon moi un cliché bien usé et qui a été mené ici même et de façon aussi étendue que passionnée: https://vivalalgerie.wordpress.com/2012/03/09/islamic-feminism-blue-bras-and-lollipops/.

    Cette crainte s’est avérée fondé selon moi puisque malgré mes précautions vous ramenez la discussion sur ce même terrain et vous concluez en nous pointant vers une vidéo. À mon avis la vidéo montre plutôt que la technologie n’a pas toujours réponse à tout et non que ‘’les choses ne peuvent pas disparaître tant qu’elles sont nécessaires…’’ ce qui est probablement vrai je vous l’accorde. Étrangement la vidéo nous place d’entrée de jeux dans un contexte où même la femme occidentale semble avoir gardé se trait un tantinet inférieur à l’ère des tablettes électroniques.

    Mais puisque vous abordez ainsi le sujet, je vais donner mon opinion: Il est un nombre incalculable de produits et de services qui ont disparus justement parce qu’ils ont été remplacés par d’autres, nouveaux, plus pratiques voire même plus fashion ou tout simplement moins chers. Il en est ainsi aussi de la burka qui semble céder peu à peu la place au Hijab. Des vendeurs de burka à Kabul se sont carrément orientés vers d’autres produits par ce que les chinois font moins chers. Je n’aime pas trop utiliser des liens externes mais les raccourcis sont pratiques parfois, pour ce qu’ils valent: http://www.lepoint.fr/monde/journee-de-la-femme-a-kaboul-la-burka-n-a-plus-la-cote-08-03-2013-1637557_24.php

    Alors? Maudite globalisation? Peut être! Je regrette de dire ce qui me paraît être une évidence, mais Notr Avenir(*) est dans les projets du futur et non ceux de notre passé. Pour le meilleur et pour le pire, le futur est depuis un certain temps en train d’être façonné par le Nord-Occident et pas uniquement. Nous n’y échapperons pas sauf à demeurer insignifiants.

    (*) (https://vivalalgerie.wordpress.com/2013/02/06/elle-est-ou-notr-a-venir/) avec ce passage de MnarviDZ qui a retenu mon attention. ‘’…They [the politicians] do not even try to fake one [project]. 1, 2, 3 viva l’Algerie and “Islam is the solution” are not projects’’.

  6. its covered it beautiful if women are happy to wear it where;s the problem , black white green I am not aware thatislam specifies a colour , would love to see it not just in Algeria but other muslim countries as well unshallah

    • Trying to be funny can be tricky sometimes. The Colour was my metaphor for embracing tolerance and inclusiveness. My black Burnous another metaphor for cherishing one’s own legacy 🙂

  7. Hello Mnarvi, hadi moudda 🙂
    Hier, j’étais à la recherche d’un souvenir, et j’ai trouvé ce film, j’ai pensé à ce vieux débat. Je crois qu’il mérite d’être mis en lien ici. Voir à partir de 1h22′

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