“The main region of concern is Kabylia, but missionary activity is taking place also in other regions of the country.” — from this news article
There is no mystery as to why Christian missionaries might be having their greatest success in the Kabyle. In Algeria, that remains the Berber heartland. It is where the Berbers, that is, those who were not forcibly transformed into “Arabs” during the centuries of Arab rule (interrupted by 132 years of French rule) are concentrated. And how many of those “Arabs” who now persecute the Berbers realize that they themselves are a generation, or two, or five removed from their clearly Berber origins? (There is, by the way, a genetic marker that, in studies by French geneticists in Tunisia, shows that Berbers and Arabs can be easily distinguished.)
The cause of the Berbers is hardly known in this country. The writer Kateb Yacine, a Berber who refused to write in Arabic, but chose French, is celebrated in France, especially among Berbers — but unknown in this country. His anti-Arab rage is not likely to cause his books to be included in the syllabuses of courses on “Francophone” literature, given that so many such courses are now taught by French-speaking Arabs.
What is that Berber cause? In the first place, it is linguistic and cultural. In Algeria, where the French saw the Berbers as more akin to them than were the Arabs — one French general wrote a book about the “Europeanness” of the Berbers — the Berbers were not discriminated against. But as soon as the French left, the forced arabisation of the Berbers started up at once, as if the French interregnum, with the wider possibilities that French education made possible to both Berbers and Arabs, had never existed. Older people in Algeria speak and use French; the younger ones are forgetting. And meanwhile, the Berbers were forbidden to use their own language, the Berber language, Tamazight, in their schools, in their institutions. At times, they could even be punished for using it among themselves, on the street. Berber culture was officially ignored.
About twenty years ago, news of agitation began to reach the outside world. There were riots in Tizi-Ouzou, reported in France, but hardly anywhere else in the Western world. In America, of course, we had all been sufficiently subject to ARAMCO propaganda (performed as a “public service” by the big oil companies, as part of their propaganda payoff to the Saudis for allowing them to find, produce, and then pay exorbitantly for the oil that happens to lie under the malevolent sands of “Saudi” Arabia), to believe that there is something called “the Arab world,” and that in this “Arab world” there are no Copts, no Armenians, no Assyrians, no Chaldeans, no Turkmen, no Mandeans, no Maronites, and of course no Berbers, no Jews (no, there never were any Jews in North Africa or the Middle East — they all came to Israel, you see, from Europe). Everyone in the Arab world was an “Arab.”
The discovery or rediscovery of a Berber identity is or could be an important weapon in unsettling the world of Islam, and perhaps causing the Maghreb to see itself, as it should, not as “Arab,” but as the victim of Arab imperialism.
For what is Islam if not a vehicle of Arab imperialism, and what are the Berbers, if not the victims of that Arab imperialism, an imperialism far more potent and long-lasting than the European kind, for it attempts to efface the historic identity of whole peoples?
And it makes perfect sense that Berbers in the Kabyle would, having felt along their pulses the Arab imperialism of which Islam is the vehicle, be more open to the efforts of Christian missionaries. Or more likely, they are not so much responding to missionary activity, but to their own observations as to what Christianity is like, and what Islam has brought them.
In this respect, one should not underestimate the fact that Berbers now live in France, that they make up most of the membership of such groups as the “maghrebins laiques,” and that they, not the Arabs whose ethnic identity is so found up with Islam, are capable, in some cases, not of identifying with the Arabs, but more closely with the French. And those Berbers communicate with Berbers at home, or through the Internet. And sometimes they return to Algeria and Morocco to see their families, and bring with them their own observations on the relative merits of the Islamic world, a world suffused with Islam, and the non-Islamic world, the one they have experienced in France.
The more the non-Arab Muslims of the world, and 80% of the world’s Muslims are not Arab, come to realize — and it would not be hard to help them to realize, for they will not be able to deny the facts, having experienced so much of it themselves — that Islam is a vehicle for that Arab supremacism, the more likely it is that at least some of them will fall away. And others, who may stick with a kind of “non-Arab” Islam (as if such were possible) will, in so doing, at least help to divide, and therefore to weaken, the Camp of Islam and Jihad.
Ideally, one would wish this Total System, that has held so many hundreds of millions in thrall, and thwarted over so many centuries so much human potential (think of the art, think of the science, that might have resulted in the absence of the dead hand of Islam on so many people, prevented from so many forms of artistic expression, so many avenues for free and skeptical inquiry that are necessary for the enterprise of science, so much dull fanaticism, so much boredom, so much violence, in posse and in esse) would be seen in such a light by Berbers, by Kurds, and by people in the subcontinent. Why should Muslims in India not “rediscover” their own history, their Hindu, or Buddhist, or other non-Muslim roots? Why shouldn’t it be also seen as such by those in Malaysia and the East Indies, with its rich pre-Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist past?
Meanwhile, start reading those Berber sites. And hope that the French state, instead of Sarkozy’s folly of “integrating” its Muslims by government-supported mosques, will try to work on the Berbers, work to make them see the light, work to help them to achieve their own destiny. That destiny is different from, and superior to, that of the Arabs whose method of domination comes from, is supplied by, Islam, Islam, Islam.