The words not to say
Ghania Khelifi - 30/06/2010
Since the classification of their country for the World Cup in South Africa, young Algerians give a bored look when you talk to them about something other than football. Especially if it is a question related to the post-terrorism period. It is not only the strategy of avoidance that is also a national issue complicating exchange of ideas. It is also difficult to find the appropriate vocabulary to discuss the nearly 200 000 people dead and thousands of people becoming orphans over a period of a little more than ten years. The reason is that in Algeria, no agreement has been found on a generic name of this part of History. The expression “civil war” is the least consensual and is still used by foreign media and those that were called “peace-makers” at that time. Or by those who advocated dialogue with all parties in conflict to achieve national reconciliation. This reconciliation will be finally concluded officially in September 2005 by the current President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika under political and psychological conditions that were far from pleasing everybody. If the State has adopted the principle of “tearing brothers of the same nation”, it did not extend the analysis to civil war. The taboo is still well established.
So how can one talk about this period without lining up with the others.
Young people rather opt for “the terrorism period”, “irhab” in Arabic. It’s convenient and it avoids identifying the actors clearly. In the media-political jargon we prefer to call it the “black decade” or the “red decade”. This semantic holdall has been the emergency exit helping to avoid facing the horror and having to wind up the hank to the origins of pre-independence.
The dating is also problematic. Some consider that everything has changed in 1988 during the youth riots against the unique party’s regime, the FLN (the National Liberation Front)*. Brutal repression. The first Algerian youngsters killed by other young Algerian, the military. The purists go back to the Berber Springtime of 1980 that was also brutally repressed but there the limits of the back decade are no longer valid. We will therefore stick to the equally imprecise period between 1990 and 2000 since the attacks and killing continue up to today. 20 to 25 year-old youngsters were children back then and they still don’t make the difference between the “good” and the “bad”. Amine Ferhat, 19 years old, admits that he still has not understood “why people started to kill each other”, he doesn’t know very well “how everything started”. Amine has vaguely understood that “in the beginning they killed the people of the State and then they started to kill everyone”. “They” does not necessarily refer to the armed Islamists and nor to the security forces. It probably refers to all these adults that killed each other while he was still a child. Fella Jertsi, 23 years old and finishing her studies in psychology considers that “things will not come back to order as long as we don’t know the truth”. Terms such as GIA, FIS have disappeared from the youngsters’ language and the GSPC or the AQMI (Al Qaeda of the Islamic North Africa) are hardly integrated.
However, they explain very well suicide bombers’ motivations. They go out of their way to explain that sometimes death is not the only solution. Strangely enough young people don’t relate religion to causes of conflict. They were born and brought up in a context of triumphant Islamism and cannot imagine that there was a time in Algeria when only the elderly hardly attended mosques and when restaurants served clients during Ramadan. They are totally impregnated by religious practice and feel a little bit guilty when they don’t respect it. Djaballah Kader does not go to the mosque but he has the intention to start. “Prayer does not hinder anything, we can do everything on the side”. Like him, his friends refuse to be considered as products of the Islamization of a country because they clearly dissociate political Islamism and Islam. Fella, veiled “out of conviction” is wary of student associations that don’t stop proselytizing. Her father was killed in an attack. He was a serviceman and the bomb was under his seat in a train. Politicians, whether in power or belonging to the opposition “are all the same, they are only interested in their pocket and have never done anything for us”, recites in unison every questioned youngster. Yacoub Zineb, 29 years old, pre-employed lawyer with a local government makes an attempt to give an explanation to disqualify the idea of civil war “it’s between two parties fighting for power, isn’t it? In our case, all the population was massacred and used by two clans? You see, this was not civil war, it was a settling of accounts between them”. Fella, the young psychologist has accounts to settle herself: “If a terrorist appeared at the clinic, I wouldn’t take care of him”.
“We are all brothers, there is no hatred between us” proclaim the young Algerian football supporters at the stadium while supporting their football team. Vain incantation or a utopia to realise?
(*) - The National Liberation Front (Arabic: جبهة التحرير الوطني; transliterated: Jabhat al-Taḩrīr al-Waţanī, French: Front de Libération Nationale , hence FLN) is a socialist political party in Algeria. It was set up on November 1, 1954 as a merger of other smaller groups, to obtain independence for Algeria from France.
Translated into English by Elizabeth Grech