Algeria, in contrast to many other North African countries, had engaged in a distinct Arabization policy after its disastrous war of liberation from France. The guiding idea for the victorious rebels was to turn back the clock, and reverse the impact of over 130 years of enforced French language and cultural training on a captive and sometimes not so captive population. The Algerian war of liberation bequeathed to Algeria the dubious title of “The Country of a Million and a Half Martyrs.”
After the war of independence ended with the Evian Accords in March of 1962, and culminated with the French President Charles de Gaulle proclaiming Algerian independence on July 3, of that year. The Algerian conflict was considered to be the birthplace of systematic torture techniques used by French counter insurgency forces against a civilian population. It has been further alleged that special operatives from the French Army formed a so-called “French School,” whereby French Intelligence agents taught their Chilean and Argentinean counterparts on the finer points of torture and disappearances, which were expansively used during those countries’ dirty wars against leftists. In Algeria, torture was utilized, not to gain short term intelligence, but to systematically break the morale of the populace.
The fissures that the Algerian conflict caused in French society have been blamed for everything from the riots in the North African banlieues (suburbs) outside of Paris during 2005, and torture techniques directed against suspected insurgents in Abu Gharib. Even President Bush has been keen to pick up on analogies with the Iraq war. There is still much study that needs to be conducted to fully understood the migration paths of torture techniques emanating from Algeria to South America, and the alleged role that they had in the formation of the then named School of the Americas, now the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.”
Roger Trinquier, the principal French Theorist of modern counter-insurgency warfare, made his imprint on the French Army in its Algerian operations. The influence of Trinquer’s theories on modern warfare techniques cannot be understated. His robust support of stripping prisoner of war status from those who are accused of terrorist actions, and the right to subject them to torture, has had a not insignificant impact on modern Western armies.
The Algerian conflict defined a whole generation, presaging the introspection that the Vietnam war induced in many American students and young people. Many notables such as Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Franz Fanon cut their literary teeth on the Algerian conflict. In fact, Fanon developed his psychopathology theory of colonialism based on his time in Algeria during this tumultuous period.
After the French departed, the Algerian revolutionary leadership sought to erase the vestiges of French rule by orienting the culture to the Arab world, and Islam. This process was called Ta’reeb (lit. to become Arab or Arabization). However, Algeria did not have enough local teachers to teach Arabic or Islam, so the leadership imported many teachers from Egypt and many other Arab countries that supported the more austere form of Islamic belief, which was something new to Algerian culture. Add to that potent mix, high unemployment, and a geriatric and autocratic leadership, the stage was set for the Algerian civil war to break out in 1991 after the Government canceled the first election round when the Islamist backed parties made a particularly strong showing. The conflict is still festering in the hinterlands despite the surrender of the main opposition group, the Islamic Salvation Front, in 2002. In this conflict between government forces and various Islamist factions, up to 200,000 lives have been estimated to have been lost. The article explains the creation of two Algerias, and how these two Algerias have split the society. One looks towards France, and is militantly secular; the other gazes to Saudi Arabia, and seeks to return to its Arab/Islamic origins. The Algerian leadership, in attempting to undercut the allure of the radical element to the young, is introducing some elements of French education into the society and educational system.
by Helene E. Hagan
The Berbers (The People of Africa)
Michael Brett and Elizabeth Fentress-Blackwell Publishers 1998
Presented as a collaboration between an archaeologist and a historian, (Fentress and Brett respectively), this book is an overview of the history of the Amazigh people of North Africa, known as Berbers. The authors precede their review of this history with the comment that no such "general book on the Berbers is available in English, "and a peculiar observation on page 7 of their introduction that "the role of Berbers as protagonists in their own history has been lost in the process." This remark prompted the incorporation of biographical details of my own story as a Berber scholar which are essential to the question of a Berber voice in history and anthropology.
The general review of materials relative to Berber culture is, in my opinion, the overwhelming value of the book's contribution. The presentation is an overview of the existing literature on a group of people ignored by most British and American anthropologists and historians. Most of their references in the extensive bibliography are French.
As a Berber of Kabyle (Algerian) ancestry, born and raised in the interior of Morocco around the time of World War II, I found myself soundly dissuaded from pursuing a Berber Project at Stanford University when studying for my doctorate degree. It seemed no one on my Ph.D. Committee, (or in the whole anthropology department of this major American university), knew anything about Berber people. My 1981 Spring Paper, which was supposed to precede my dissertation, was entitled Tazz’unt: Ritual, Ecology, and Social Order in a Valley of the High Atlas of Morocco. In my paper I explained that the Berbers were a sizeable indigenous population of North Africa and that they exist in segmentary tribal structures as a politically important maraboutic cult. I explained that the Berbers are an important group as they act as a powerful factor in preventing tyrannical rule and maintaining order in the tribal context. My spring paper additionally addressed the Spring Berber ritual of the region (Tazz’unt) as one specific instance of a rich context of living Berber traditions. This element, interestingly, was not found in the book, The Berbers by Brett and Fentress.
My own research paper was skeptically reviewed and dissmissed by commentators who admitted their ignorance of some of the same issues presented in it. By their own admission, the reviewers of my Spring Paper declared they could not weigh the value of such works as the History of Ibn Khaldun, the theory of checks and balances advanced by Robert Montagne, or other numerous French and North African reputable sources which I amply presented (all used, incidentally, by Brett and Fentress). There was even a suggestion, to my intense dismay, that I could have invented some of the symbolic aspects of this tradition as my reviewers could not check the inside view of the ritual presented which involved Berber informants of the High Atlas village (Hassan Jouad and others). I was advised to contribute to American Anthropology through other research.
In Morocco, during preliminary fieldwork, I encountered deep antagonism on the part of the representative of the Moroccan Minister of Culture to whom I introduced myself in 1981. The message he conveyed to me in clear language was that there were no longer any Berbers in Morocco and that I had been misinformed. Of course, the Arabic gentleman knew nothing of my birthplace or genealogy, and of my personal ties to the Berber community. Upon my remark that I would rent a car and travel through the High Atlas of Morocco to see for myself, he replied that I would be kept under surveillance, and if I tried to do that, I would have the option between imprisonment or deportation. These unveiled threats were made in the privacy of our interview in his office of Assistant Minister of Culture in Rabat, and I can still vividly recall the glacial stare of that Arab across his desk. I spent the summer of 1981 in Casablanca in the relative safety of my brother's home (it was a time of riots in five Moroccan cities), learning from friends, chance encounters and the majority of taxi drivers (all Berbers) that they were indeed very much alive but denied official existence by stringent politics of Arabization. Upon my return to Stanford, I switched specialization and worked thereafter with Oglala Lakota people of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. While never forgetting my life-long determination of keeping alive the flame of my Berber culture, I submitted a paper on the Oral Tradition of the Lakota for a Master's Degree, knowing that a doctorate dissertation focused on my Berber culture was doomed, despite the fact that all other academic requirements for a Ph.D. degree had been met.
After devoting a number of years to the work of human rights, ecological and social issues of American Indians in South Dakota and California (I served as Historic Preservation Officer for the Federated Coast Miwok of Marin and Sonoma Counties for a few years), the computer and the internet broadened my horizon and furnished me with the exhilarating experience of linking with a network of Berber activists and the International Berber Movement. The Movement was founded in Europe by a majority of Algerian Kabyles, at the very moment I was walking the beloved mountains of my native land again. This time I proceeded on my own and went with video camera in hand to record landscapes, music, and people of the High Atlas and the pre-Sahara regions of Morocco-without the academic obligation to notifiy the Moroccan authorities of my whereabouts or my work.
I am now an active member of the Amazigh Cultural Association in America, joining my brothers and sisters, Kabyles, Shawya, Chleuhs, Riffi, Tuareg, Canarians, Siwans, and others grouped in cultural associations springing throughout Tamazgha from Egypt to the Canary Islands of the Atlantic Ocean. This Berber territory of North Africa is the topic of the book under review.