Jihad Watch Board Vice President Hugh Fitzgerald examines Algeria’s renewed Christianophobia:
Algeria is, like Egypt, a stratokleptocracy, a word that first appeared at Jihad Watch. It was invented to describe those regimes, in countries such as Algeria, where a thieving (kleptos) military (stratos) ruling class runs things for its own benefit. The FLN still runs Algeria; the tutelary spirits are Boumedienne and Ben Bella.
But in Algeria, along with the Arabs, a very large number of Berbers also live. And Berbers live in France as well. And those Berbers are keenly aware that before the Arabs arrived, this was Berber territory. And Islam encourages looking constantly backwards, for one is stuck in a rut, and that rut is what was said and done, or thought to be said and done, round about 620 and 630, and then 650 and 660 A.D., and then a century or two or three for Islam’s shakedown cruise, until everything was just as it should be in the eyes of the Qur’anic commentators, and the gates of ijtihad were shut, and the cry was “all thoughts aboard that are getting aboard.” No more thoughts were to be allowed on beyond the original. Those original thoughts were now codified, making for as rigid a creed as possible. E la nave va — the ship of Islam set sail, or rather, because there was no water, it simply sat there, stranded in a desert of its own choice, the desert it carried with it, a desert both inherited and of its own making.
Muslims, just like Japanese businessmen, or faddists at American business schools, look to Best Practices. And what are Best Practices in Islam? They are the practices, the acts, the words, the silences, of Muhammad himelf, uswa hasana, al-insan al-kamil. If he did it, if he said it, if he permitted others to do or say it by remaining silent and not condemning or contradicting, why then it was right for All Time, for All Mankind. That is what Believers in Islam mean when they talk about Best Practices. They abhor the new — bida, or innovation — but not in the trivial sense of new gewgaws, the products of others, which of course may and should be exploited for the wellbeing of Islam, the furtherance of Islam.
In a mental universe like this, where someone from 1350 years ago is the Perfect Man and there is an uncreated and immutable text (even if that text is in many places simply incomprehensible, or was until Christoph Luxenberg came along), Muslims will naturally want to look backwards. They will want to remember or summon up with greatest interest what happened in the days of Muhammad and the Four Rightly-Guided Caliphs, and for Shi’a, what happened to Hussein and Ali and woe, woe, woe, is us.
And in addition, whatever of civilizational interest was achieved in the first few centuries of the Islamic conquest, whatever products of the artistic or scientific impulse might have been created, must be harped on in a constant effort at self-reassurance. One must engage in a comical and exaggerated insistence on the greatness of “Islamic civilization” that does not withstand scrutiny or comparison with not just the West, but with China, India, and the pre-Columbian civilizations of America. All of these are more and more being revealed to have been more impressive than whatever was “Islamic” in Islamic civilization. At long last it is becoming clear that during the first few centuries of Islamic conquest, when there were still large numbers of Christians and Jews in the Middle East, North Africa, and Spain, that many of the most important achievements of that period, including the translation of Greek texts forgotten in the West, were entirely the work of Jewish and Christian translators. The handful of famous intellectual figures in Islam, when examined, always turn out to have been either non-Muslim, or a generation or two away from being non-Muslims (so still raised in an intellectual environment of some non-Muslim mental freedom), or if Muslim and from a Muslim family, than very likely a heretic or a freethinker, like ar-Razi.
Now we come to North Africa. Peopled once by Berbers, it is a land where the Arabs invaded. With Islam goes the cultural, linguistic, and political imperialism of the Arabs. As they islamized peoples, they also arabized them. For little Muslim children in Pakistan or Indonesia want desperately to be Arabs, to have an Arab lineage, but no Arab wishes to be a Pakistani or an Indonesian. No Arab wishes to be a Berber or a Kurd. In the past, a good many Kurds and Berbers were persuaded to drop their non-Arab identities and to think of themselves as Arabs. How many of those Algerian “Arabs” in fact are Berbers, and do not realize it, and would be furious to find that out? Yet it is possible to find out, for there are certain DNA markers that are linked to Berbers and Berber ancestry (see the results of genetic inquiries in Tunisia, by French investigators, including Dr. Semana, some years ago).
In Algeria, it is primarily the Berbers who are the converts to Christianity. It is the Berbers who, in France, most readily adapt to French ways, and who join small but significant groups such as “maghrebins laiques.” For it is at least possible for non-Arab Muslims to see islamization as Arab imperialism. They experience Arab contempt for non-Arabs, for their languages and cultures. Arab Muslims spend fortunes trying to prevent this intellectual awakening by non-Arabs tired of having their own local customs, languages, and pre-Islamic or non-Islamic elements in their culture (as in Indonesia) simply regarded with contempt by Arabs. The Arabs say: “Don’t listen to the Infidels when they raise this issue. They are only trying to divide us. They are whispering the whispers of Shaytan.” But we Infidels don’t have to say a thing. The more non-Arab Muslims can look at the treatment of the Kurds by Arabs, at the treatment of black African Muslims by Arabs, at the treatment of Berbers by Arabs, the more they will begin to realize what game is being played. After all, it was only recently, after decades of unrest, including riots in Tizi-Ouzou, that the right of Berbers to use their own language, Tamizight, was finally recognized, reluctantly, by the Arab stratokleptocrats.
Of course the Arabs in Algeria are worried about Christianization. They are worried about it in the same way that they worry that Berbers in France who start to read Kateb Yacine (the Berber writer who refused to write in Arabic, and denounced the Arab masters of the Berbers, the Arab supremacists, whenever he could) will get ideas. But some of them already have, and many more of them should. Why is there such a difference between the Berbers and the Arabs? Why do the Berbers, or some of them, actually integrate into French society when the Arabs seldom do? Is it not for the same reason that the Kurds have a chance to make a decent state for themselves, and to offer Americans unfeigned gratitude quite different from what the Arabs, both Sunni and Shi’a, in Iraq offer? Why does one know with a certainty that if American troops seized Darfur and the southern Sudan, in the only move that will save the lives of people in both places from the attacks, the deliberate starvation, the looting, rapes, and mass murders, carried out by Arab Muslims, that the Muslims in Darfur would, in numbers, if there were missionaries, throw off the belief-system of their Arab masters? And so would many of those non-Arabs upon whom Islam was inflicted a century or a thousand years ago, if things are done rightly.
And that is one reason why the government of Algeria, the corrupt generals and the handful of technocrats (also corrupt) they hire, are worried about the appeal of Christianity. They should be. Non-Arab Muslims in North Africa and elsewhere are becoming ever more keenly aware of the idea that Islam, whatever its universalist pretensions, is the Arab national religion.
And why should Berbers in Algeria wish to continue to believe in the Arab national religion, when it stunts cultural achievement, limits artistic expression, discourages free and skeptical inquiry, and offers nothing like what the French language, French literature, French “Que scais-je?” offers?
This week, all over the world, was la JournÃ©e de la Francophonie. Yes, if ever the French had a mission, it is to show the Berbers that between the poverty of Islam, the Arab religion, and the French language and culture, there is no contest. The “universal language” of Rivarol, with a universal vocation that makes the Arab Muslim enterprise look ridiculous, offers not only French, but through the French, all of European, and indeed all of Western culture — a superior culture.
French or Arabic? Christianity or Islam? World civilization, with at least the possibility of many kinds of artistic expression, and of free and skeptical inquiry necessary for science or, instead, the Total Regulation of Life, with its constraints on the impulse of art, and the inculcated habit of mental submission? No contest. None.