Algerians’ invisibility

In a previous post I spoke of some Algerians’ desire to be acknowledged by the world. But a more urgent wish for Algerians is to be seen and acknowledged by their rulers, representatives and their compatriots in their country and abroad.

Invisibility is not just not being seen by the other. It is also not being considered and respected; it is being ignored both in terms of rights and duties. Being invisible makes one feel useless and, as a consequence, irresponsible. I tend sometimes to blame our people for their wrong-doings, the fact they do not care of the cleanliness of their cities, etc. but I know that it is because most of them feel they are invisible that they do it. Invisibility also deprives the person from their morals, hopes and dreams, from their future.

Ralph Ellison wrote this in his Invisible Man

I am one of the most irresponsible beings that ever lived. Irresponsibility is part of my invisibility; any way you face it, it is a denial. But to whom can I be responsible, and why should I be, when you refuse to see me?

Being seen by the other is just a first step in becoming visible. When you are seen only to be put in jail, insulted or despised, you tend to regret this visibility of yours. Hogra is the most despicable sign of invisibility. Someone who is mahgour is made to understand that although he/she is seen by elhaggar, he/must know that he/she is powerless, useless and worthless.

I might be stating the obvious here but most Algerians are invisible in a way or another. Let me give a few examples.

People in South Algeria are among the least visible. When “we” think of Southern Algeria, it is oil, gas, minerals, dates, camels and sand that come to our mind before realising there are actually people living there. The people are considered as calm, not wanting much, happy with their simple life, not complaining and not causing any problem. These considerations lead to their invisibility which is therefore caused by “us” who are holding them (considerations).
Some unemployed men in the South started demonstrating a few months ago. They want jobs and justice. They want to be visible. The government has finally seen them. Ministers and deputies were sent to meet with them and state TV and radio are allowed to speak of them. A decision was taken to open training centres for them and police and army were encouraged to hire more people from the South. Even Khalida Toumi said she’d open a theatre in Ouargla. One may think this is good and it might indeed be a good first step. But, at the same time, some of them are jailed then released, they are accused of being separatists, a movement is created to counter theirs. A TV channel is going to be created for them so that they stop going on the street (it is not a joke!)

Youths are also invisible. I don’t think I need to write a lot here. Whether as students, workers of unemployed, they are not considered by the rulers. They are thought of us useless and unable to take care of themselves. Just look at the average age in our government and parliament to understand that Algerian youths are not represented (I know nobody is represented by our parliament). The Tab Jnanhoum generation is still ruling the country and is not ready to let go.

Algerians abroad are invisible. There are some exceptions but our diplomatic and consular representations are doing nothing for us who live abroad. I travel a lot, and sometimes in not very stable countries, and I can tell you I always pray I wouldn’t face any serious problem where I go as I am convinced I cannot rely of any Algerian consulate or embassy.

Disabled Algerians are invisible. You may want to read this previous post.

Women are invisible. I’ll make them even less visible as I am not going to say more.

A young disabled woman who is unemployed and living in the South… May God be with her.

I have to go so I will leave it at this. But I cannot resist sharing this long and very interesting excerpt from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Enjoy.

I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination – indeed, everything and anything except me.

Nor is my invisibility exactly a matter of a biochemical accident to my epidermis. That invisibility to which I refer occurs because of a peculiar disposition of the eyes of those with whom I come in contact. A matter of the construction of their inner eyes, those eyes with which they look through their physical eyes upon reality. I am not complaining, nor am I protesting either. It is sometimes advantageous to be unseen, although it is most often rather wearing on the nerves. Then too, you’re constantly being bumped against by those of poor vision. Or again, you often doubt if you really exist. You wonder whether you aren’t simply a phantom in other people’s minds. Say, a figure in a nightmare which the sleeper tries with all his strength to destroy. It’s when you feel like this that, out of resentment, you begin to bump people back. And, let me confess, you feel that way most of the time. You ache with the need to convince yourself that you do exist in the real world, that you’re a part of all the sound and anguish, and you strike out with your fists, you curse and you swear to make them recognized you. And, alas, it’s seldom successful.

One night I accidentally bumped into a man, and perhaps because of the near darkness he saw me and called me an insulting name. I sprang at him, seizing his coat lapels and demanded that he apologize. He was a tall blonde man, and as my face came close to his he looked insolently out of his blue eyes and cursed me, his breath hot in my face as he struggled. I pulled his chin down upon the crown of my head, butting him as I had seen the West Indians do, and I felt his flesh tear and the blood gush out, and I yelled, “Apologize! Apologize!” But he continued to curse and struggle, and I butted him again and again until he went down heavily, on his knees, profusely bleeding. I kicked him repeatedly, in a frenzy because he still uttered insults though his lips were frothy with blood. Oh yes, I kicked him! And in my outrage I got out my knife and prepared to slit his throat, right there beneath the lamplight in the deserted street, holding him in the collar with one hand, and opening the knife with my teeth – when it occurred to me that the man had not seen me, actually; that he, as far as he knew, was in the midst of a walking nightmare! And I stopped the blade, slicing the air as I pushed him away, letting him fall back to the street. I stared at him hard as the lights of a car stabbed through the darkness. He lay there, moaning on the asphalt; a man almost killed by a phantom. It unnerved me. I was both disgusted and ashamed. I was like a drunken man myself, wavering about on weakened legs. Then I was amused: Something in this man’s thick head had sprung out and beaten him within an inch of his life. I began to laugh at this crazy discovery. Would he have awakened at the point of death? Would Death himself have freed him for wakeful living? But I didn’t linger. I ran away into the dark, laughing so hard I feared I might rupture myself. The next day I saw his picture in the Daily News, beneath a caption stating that he had been “mugged.” Poor fool, poor blind fool, I thought with sincere compassion, mugged by an invisible man!

Most of the time (although I do not choose as I once did to deny the violence of my days by ignoring it) I am not so overtly violent. I remember that I am invisible and walk softly so as not to awaken the sleeping ones. Sometimes it is best not to awaken them; there are few things in the world as dangerous as sleepwalkers. I learned in time though that it is possible to carry on a fight against them without their realizing it. For instance, I have been carrying on a fight with Monopolated Light & Power for some time now. I use their service and pay them nothing at all, and they don’t know it. Oh, they suspect that power is being drained off, but they don’t know where. All they know is that according to the master meter back there in their power station a hell of a lot of free current is disappearing somewhere into the jungle of Harlem. The joke, of course, is that I don’t live in Harlem but in a border area. Several years ago (before I discovered the advantages of being invisible) I went through a routine process of buying service and paying their outrageous rates. But no more. I gave up all that, along with my apartment, and my old way of life: That way based upon the fallacious assumption that I, like other men, was visible. Now, aware of my invisibility, I live rent-free in a building rented strictly to whites, in a section of the basement that was shut off and forgotten during the nineteenth century


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