Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Fitzgerald: The old and new generation in Algeria

“‘The foundation of religion, I learned in school,' said Mr. Bou Bekeur’s son, Abdel Rahman, 25. 'We pray more than them and we know religion better than them,' he said of his father’s generation. 'We are more religious. My father used to drink. I never drank. My father asked me if it was O.K. to take a car loan. I told him, no, it is haram,' forbidden in Islam.

So his father did not take the loan. His father is a quiet man in a house of strong-willed people. He can barely help his children with their homework, because his Arabic is poor. And he worries about their future, and the future of his country." And the new generation in Algeria, raised in a society suffused with Islam, is told that the highest aim for a Believer is to become a "slave of Allah" and to fulfill all of the duties of a "slave of Allah." This generation will gradually unlearn to think as the older generation managed, in some small degree, to do -- the one that had some exposure to French schools and French non-Muslim ways of thought. That exposure also came, of course, from contact with the more than a million non-Muslims who once lived in Algeria, and gave it what civilizational advances it at one time enjoyed.

The secular classes, those who studied in the French-language schools or who travel back and forth to France, or the Berbers, have never been “slaves to Allah.” The Berbers, of course, are a special case, as they always have been in Algeria. Their non-Arab identity offers them a conceivable way out of Islam, and their resentment of Arab cultural and linguistic imperialism, which has been felt most strongly since the protecting French left, helps to make Berbers in Algeria and in France more accessible to the message of proselytizers, or of other forms of quiet apostasy.

Notice, in the excerpt from the article just above, how the father simply asks the son what the rule on loans is in Islam. He does not think for himself. He does not question the rule: "‘My father used to drink. I never drank. My father asked me if it was O.K. to take a car loan. I told him, no, it is haram,' forbidden in Islam. So his father did not take the loan."

Emd of story. His not to reason why, his but to do and sigh. This is Prohibited, This is Commanded. That's Islam. A society suffused with that kind of attitude will end up as torment for those capable of thought. It is a society that is living on lies, conspiracy theories, and inculcated and permanent hatred of Infidels. It manifests incuriosity about the world, limited means of artistic expression, and no free and skeptical inquiry -- without which the enterprise of science, and indeed all progress, becomes impossible. In short, it is a nightmare. If the secular class (to which the stratokleptocrats of the regime belong) properly apprehends that and is, for all of its misdeeds, nonetheless willing to ruthlessly suppress the enemies of mental freedom (who are more dangerous to Algeria's future than is the thievery of the rulers), something might be salvaged from what Algeria has steadily become in the last forty-six years since the French left.

The stratokleptocrats live well. There's all that oil. There's all that natural gas. Some is stolen by the rulers, but a lot is left over to support the state. Then there is aid from France, a country that keeps thinking, and keeps believing, that it "owes" Algeria and the rest of the Maghreb something, apparently because of all those hospitals, schools, and infrastructure that the French put in (along with some semblance of civilization too) during their brief periods -- about forty years apiece -- in Tunisia and Morocco, and the much longer period of 132 years in Algeria, which is still nothing compared to the long history of Islam's conquest of North Africa. That is not to mention the inestimable gift of the French language, which was once taught all over Algeria. But as soon as the Ben Bella junta came in, the first thing to go was the dominance of French schools -- which is why, in the article, the father has imperfect Arabic but, no doubt, good French, while for the new generation, it is Arabic, the language of the Qur'an and of commentaries on the Qur'an and histories of the Arabs and of so very little else, that supplants the French language, the medium of one of the world's great cultures, Chamfort's "perfected civilization." Not a good trade.

He -- the "confused" and "torn-between-two identities" Algerian "youth" -- asks: “Can you help me? I want to go to New York and rap.”

Not on your life.

And not on ours either, if we know what's good for us.

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