In this article, the devout Muslim youth incline toward violent jihad. It is noteworthy that the Islamic revivalism is taking place among the young people, who know more about Islam than their elders, and that it causes them to listen favorably to the jihadist message. The Times, of course, does not explore the implications of that.
“Generation Faithful: In Algeria, a Tug of War for Young Minds,” by Michael Slackman in the New York Times, June 23 (thanks to all who sent this in):
ALGIERS “” First, Abdel Malek Outas”s teachers taught him to write math equations in Arabic, and embrace Islam and the Arab world. Then they told him to write in Latin letters that are no longer branded unpatriotic, and open his mind to the West. […]
The confusion has bled off the pages of his math book and deep into his life. One moment, he is rapping; another, he recounts how he flirted with terrorism, agreeing two years ago to go with a recruiter to kill apostates in the name of jihad.
At a time of religious revival across the Muslim world, Algeria’s youth are in play. The focus of this contest is the schools, where for decades Islamists controlled what children learned, and how they learned, officials and education experts here said.
Now the government is urgently trying to re-engineer Algerian identity, changing the curriculum to wrest momentum from the Islamists, provide its youth with more employable skills, and combat the terrorism it fears schools have inadvertently encouraged.
It appears to be the most ambitious attempt in the region to change a school system to make its students less vulnerable to religious extremism.
But many educators are resisting the changes, and many disenchanted young men are dropping out of schools. It is a tense time in Algiers, where city streets are crowded with police officers and security checkpoints and alive with fears that Algeria is facing a resurgence of Islamic terrorism. From 1991 to 2002, as many as 200,000 Algerians died in fighting between government forces and Islamic terrorists. Now one of the main terrorist groups, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, or G.S.P.C., has affiliated with Al Qaeda, rebranding itself as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
There is a sense that this country could still go either way. Young people here in the capital appear extremely observant, filling mosques for the daily prayers, insisting that they have a place to pray in school. The strictest form of Islam, Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia, has become the gold standard for the young.
And yet, the young in Algiers also appear far more socially liberal than their peers in places like Egypt and Jordan. Young veiled women walk hand in hand, or sit leg to leg, with young men, public flirtations unthinkable in most other Muslim countries.
Malek says he hopes to graduate from high school next year and now wants to join the military, just like his father. He is a long way from being the person who had accepted what he says the terrorist recruiter told him “” that soldiers, like his own father, are apostates and should be killed. His resolution lasted for three days, until his imam found out and persuaded him not to go.
But the call to jihad still tugs at him. In his world, jihad, or struggle, is a duty for Muslims, but as Malek explains, the challenge is who will convince young people of the proper form that struggle should take.
“They really convince you,” he said of the extremists.
Then later, with great sincerity, he asked: “Can you help me? I want to go to New York and rap.”
In Algeria, your sense of identity often depends on when you went to school.
Hassinah Bou Bekeur, 26, enjoys watching the Saudi satellite channels and the news in Arabic. She watches with her mother and four younger sisters in one room. But her father, Nasreddin, 60, stays in another room so he can watch in French, the language of his education.
“He is not very strict,” she said of her father, with a touch of affection and disappointment in her voice. “We have more awareness of religion now.”
She took the veil when she was 20; one sister did so at 17, and another sister at 15. The youngest, Zeinab, is only 12 and does not yet wear the veil. The veil is a symbol of the distance between father and children. While Mr. Bou Bekeur studied the Koran, Islam was not the cornerstone of his identity. He says he even drank alcohol “” which is prohibited by Islam “” until 1986. “I never knew that,” said Amal, his 17-year-old daughter, and then with a smile, she waved her fist at her father and said, “I will kill you.”
“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.
Four years ago, Amine Aba, 19, one of Malek’s best friends, decided it was time to take his religion more seriously, to stop listening to music, to stop dancing, to stop hanging around with Malek “” most of which he accomplished most of the time.
“Muslim countries have been influenced by the Europeans,” Amine said, explaining why he thought he had not been religious enough for most of his life. “We have neglected our religion,” he said.
“Like us,” said Malek, who was nearby with a new buddy, Muhammad Lamine Messaoudi, a baby-faced 18-year-old with a bit of a paunch and a constant smile. The two burst into nervous laughter.
Malek, Amine and Lamine are each dealing with the forces shaping their world in slightly different ways. Amine has chosen religion; Malek, who has gelled hair and a slight stutter, has taken a middle road of religion, girls and rap; and Lamine appears a sentry of the left, interested in beer, girls and, he hopes, a life in France.
Each has felt the push and pull of the political-ideological fight going on in Algerian schools, between those who want to maintain the status quo and those who hope to reopen a window to the West. The messages the young men receive through teachers and the curriculum are still, almost uniformly, aimed at reinforcing their Arab-Islamic identity. But that is changing, slowly, and not without a fight.
“We would never have imagined Algeria could one day be faced with violence that would come from Islam,” said Fatiha Yomsi, an adviser to the minister of education.
Students go to school amid subdued tension because many educators do not like the changes that are coming.
“He is an Islamist. He would not shake my hand before,” Ms. Yomsi said as she introduced an Arabic teacher during a morning tour of Al Said Hamdeen high school here. Then as she walked around, she pointed out the front line in the struggle, keeping boys and girls together in class.
“You see, all these classes are mixed,” she said. “It is very important. We fought for this. That is why I am targeted for death.”
After he left, Lamine was asked how he felt about Amine. He has frequently teased him, suggesting that they go together to the bar for a beer. Lamine does not go with Malek to pray, talks often about drinking alcohol and said that two years ago he was arrested trying to sneak onto a ship to get to France.
“He’s O.K.,” Lamine said. “I’d like to be like him. I’d like to be religious someday, too.”