June 23, 2008
Algerian Youth arties in New York Times
I shall try to generate some commentary on this.
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From the picture, Young unemployed men known as hitists, meaning "those who keep the wall up," hung out on a corner in Algiers.
Now has that phrase travelled from or to France?
Posted by: Klaus at June 23, 2008 08:56 PM
It's a Maghrebine phrase, who the fuck knows which side of the Med it came from, but I would think South side.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at June 23, 2008 10:35 PM
I skimmed in a hurry the article, and disagree with some of its content.
First, the assertion that the non-Algerian teachers who were brought were importing islamism, that's a ridiculous anachronism. Most were utterly incompetent (Algeria in its ill-managed arabization policy didn't look into the skills of the teachers it imported at all, and many Arab governments, including Nasser's for those who might have illusions about the fucker, seized the opportunity to screw them and dump some of their own unskilled unemployed youth there), but definitely had nothing to do with religious extremism.
Second, that the schools were a source of radicalism is also nonsense. Algerian schools' curriculum is an incompetence generator, like many others around MENA, but definitely not a source of radicalism. The recipe was communism-led total economic failure, coupled with an unusually toughened and scared mentality resulting from a *really* bloody independence war (I don't remember the exact numbers, but out of a population of 15 millions at independence, you had hundreds of thousands of orphans, and all those others left with the bitterness of the fights and their deads).
Then, there's the dichotomy between arabization+islam/radicalization vs west/open-mindedness, which is the post 9-11 pop-intello crap à la mode. Algeria's arabization of its education was very poorly managed, which is why it has so many failures. It doesn't mean it wasn't (isn't) needed though. Education is much more efficient when done in the native language. That, and the wildly underestimated sense of ability to accomplish that comes with an identity you don't undervalue. I wonder how many "benefits" would the French derive from replacing their education language by English.
Shaheen -- Algeria's arabization of its education was very poorly managed, which is why it has so many failures. It doesn't mean it wasn't (isn't) needed though. Education is much more efficient when done in the native language.
I don't argue with your main points, all of which are very sensible, but as for Arabization ... it seems to me Arabization in the case of Algeria essentially meant introducing a third language -- Fusha, Eastern dialects and various bastardized derivatives of them -- that neither teachers nor bureaucrats nor students were truly familiar with, and which also often lacked the necessary scientific/economic jargon that was to be studied, not to mention schoolbooks, instruction manuals, etc. Probably beneficial for those populations that had little French, little need for it, and little previous education, but at the same time it seriously undermined the existing educational system, such as it was. And then the Berber thing, and so on. Sure it solved some problems, but it also created them at about the same pace.
I know this is an old gripe against Arabization everywhere, but in the case of the Maghreb nations, probably particularly Algeria, it seems to me it's so very true. Then again, I guess there was never a good way out of that dilemma. Whatevr they chose, they were fucked from the get-go, it was just a matter of how.
Posted by: alle at June 28, 2008 09:32 AM
that's a whole different debate. Several points:
1) In Algeria, Berbers are only 15% of the population, half of which are concentrated in Kabylie and speak different brands of Berber. Those Berber languages are minority languages - they should be protected for sure - but they shouldn't provoke the knee-jerk anti-arabization reaction that they provoke among outsiders anymore than the teaching of English vs. Spanish in the US does. For all the fantasies from outside, overall in the Maghreb, Berber speakers only make 20% of the population at most, from less than 1% in countries like Tunisia and Lybia, to up to 33-40% in Morocco.
2) Fusha (Modern Standard Arabic, MSA) vs. regional dialects: First that MSA doesn't have the terminology for sciences and other fields of expertise is illiteracy in MSA. It does, and is used around universities in the Arab World. MSA's problem, more so in the Maghreb, comes from the fact it's an outdated product of a Levantine 19th century reform. It isn't a third language - though I won't go in the technical linguistic debates, or even the popular, intelligibility based (as opposed to ideologically based) definitions of what makes a different language or not - but it definitely has a significant distance from most dialects. As such, it needs a new reform which would be more inclusive of spoken forms (Maghrebi ones in particular), i.e. integrate the biggest common denominator of spoken varieties or become a superset. Switching completely to vernaculars wouldn't make any sense, because, overwhelming political resistance aside, except for the most daily situations, a) *those* are not equiped for sciences, b) vary within each country thus inducing the same problems as MSA, c) and it makes no sense giving up on a very valuable asset which is MSA's universality.
3) You're right about Algeria not having been ready for Arabization. But then, it wasn't ready for anything after the war, not for French (which wasn't spoken by anyone except for a few colonial elites), not for Arabic, MSA not having enough trained people and vernaculars not being suited for anything as is, and even less ready for minority languages like Berber languages.
Arabization which was, again, the right choice, should have been planned with the expectations of more gradual results and managed alongside available competent human resources.
(1.) A bit more than 15%, no? Anyway, I agree with you about minority language status, but this didn't happen, and given the setup of Arab nationalism at the time, and of Algeria's successive idiot governments, I don't see how it could have happened. Besides, the question is not about outsiders. Of course Algeria shouldn't pay attention to uninformed critiques from abroad, but they should have paid some attention to the alienation of a significant part of their own population -- insiders, not outsiders. What happened was not just that Berbers were taught in another language than their own, but that the French lingua franca which had previously made up for the linguistic gap was also being eliminated from officialdom. This basically sent Berber communities off into total marginalization, and it didn't help that they (esp. the Kabyle) were facing political exclusion & cultural humiliation at the same time. So it was not just a repressive and exclusivist and poorly managed language reform, it was also the spearhead of a rather nasty political assault on a particular ethnic community in the country. Resentment to be expected.
(2.) As for MSA and technical vocab, you certainly would know that better than me, but it's my impression that they were missing a whole lot of ... well, if not actual terminology, then standardization of terminology, when Arabization peaked in the 1970s, both inside and outside the country. As well as decent teaching material and manuals and stuff. Engineers and others would be trained in Arabic, by people who had themselves trained in French, and then work in French AND Arabic, with the expected troubles. Your a, b and c, however, seems right. (But as for c, and to get back to the article, I do think there's something to be said for precisely "MSA's universality" as a factor in the spread of Islamist politics... which can hopefully be distinguished from the Daniel Pipes argument that Arabic -> murder.)
(3.) More or less agree, and also with your conclusion. My point is more that, what they should have done is a little bit beside the point. Yes, they should have been less ideological, more systematic, competent and careful, and also nicer to puppies and kittens. But given political reality, that wasn't going to happen. And thus it was a question not just about Arabization being right or wrong all things alike, but about mismanaged and intensely politicized Arabization in an already very messy educational environment being right or wrong. That's a bit harder. I'm still leaning towards yes, better than not, but it's not obvious.
Posted by: alle at June 29, 2008 08:30 AM
(1) Ah, you had me check - the ethnologue gives 14% of Berberophones: http://www.ethnologue.com/show_country.asp?name=DZ
First, there wasn't a strong sense of Berber identity at the time (and still not anything significant outside of Kabylie today). So Berber languages were not yet an issue then.
As for French, it was definitely not the lingua franca after independence. There was no education system worthy of mention: 80% of the population was illiterate (meaning no contact with French whatsoever), there were barely in the very low hundreds of university graduates among Algerians, and a wild guess of mine would be that little few among the mountainfolks that the Kabyles are were among those (French) educated (unlike the more urban Chaouia who ironically were strong arabization proponents). After independence, Maghrebi countries have managed to graduate every year more people than during the whole French period. In other words, everything had to be built from scratch. You can't speak of "outing French" at independence, you just had a blank sheet.
(2) Depends which field of expertise we're talking about. MSA has some inherited standard terminology, both from Classical Arabic or the Ottoman reforms. For whatever came afterwards, I'd say MSA suffers from the same problem French does. For the sake of illustration, take Computer Science in France. You'll be taught terminology set by old guys from the official language academy. Yet, 90% of CompSci innovation comes from English speaking areas, as does scientific litterature in the field, so English actually sets the terminology in practice. So you either go ideologue and speak funny in your ivory tower, or you go practical and speak Frenglish. What the old guys in the French language academy miss is that they fossilize formal French and further the distance between it and the actual spoken language when they try to keep it "pure" from those borrowings as opposed to simply ratify existing usage. MSA suffers from that ideological problem to an even greater degree. Plus you have six such official academies competing.
(As for the correlation between MSA's universality and islamism, it looks like Islamism in Pakistan and Afghanistan is doing fine without MSA).
I agree with you for the last point.
First, on Berber numbers, I stand corrected.
...there wasn't a strong sense of Berber identity at the time (and still not anything significant outside of Kabylie today). So Berber languages were not yet an issue then.
...but there is now, in a big way, and I'll be very surprised if that doesn't relate to the period of rough Arabization in between. Anyhow, you're absolutely right to distinguish the Berber groups. Perhaps one should rather view the repressive language policies as something that caught fire when they were combined with political marginalization -- Kabylie had its language stripped from them, AND lost out in the power struggles; the Chaouia communities I think did pretty well in the latter. But there's probably a million other factors to that too, so I shouldn't speculate.
As for French, it was definitely not the lingua franca after independence. There was no education system worthy of mention: 80% of the population was illiterate [...] You can't speak of "outing French" at independence, you just had a blank sheet.
Ah, no such thing as a blank sheet. First of all, I don't think literacy is much of a metric to judge French-speaking skills; these 80% didn't read Arabic either, but they sure spoke it. I don't have any statistics to bring up here, but of the male urban Muslim population, French was definitely pretty widely, though perhaps not fluently, spoken.
But the core issue is one of elites: politics & administration may have concerned much smaller numbers (of non-Europeans) before independence, but for them, the common language was French rather than Arabic. The massive broadening of the regime's social/political base after independence meant that loads and loads of people were coopted into a narrow, part-inherited, part-created structure that really couldn't handle their differences, with ethnicity being one factor among many in that. So it was this elite that fucked up its own growth- and reproductive process when it threw out French and thereby got rid of its most effective means of communication and group cohesion (for all the good it also did, as we both agree), not the ones outside of the whole thing. The real outsiders to the state were presumably hit over the head with modernization as they would have been anywhere else, whether it spoke to them in French or Fusha; but THEY never ran the state, so that was mostly their own problem.
Also, parenthetically, some variety of the Kabyle-Arab conflict was a factor of tension even in the pre-independence FLN. After independence, it blew up almost immediately, with the FFS/Aït Ahmed rebellion. So some form of Berber/Kabyle identity politics did exist, at a nascent stage, even if I agree with you that it was worlds apart from today. Arabization fed into that, for good or (I suspect: mostly) bad.
(As for the correlation between MSA's universality and islamism, it looks like Islamism in Pakistan and Afghanistan is doing fine without MSA).
Well, true, but still... easy access to Saudi and Palestinian politics strikes me as a more Islamism-friendly environment than one with easy access to Parisian politics. (Not that you can't combine the worst of both worlds, of course...)
Interesting MSA para, btw. Just because I'm too out of my depth to respond doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it.
Posted by: alle at June 29, 2008 02:12 PM
I -- of the male urban Muslim population, French was definitely pretty widely, though perhaps not fluently, spoken.
Let me add: some 300,000 mostly male Algerian immigrants in France already in the 1950s, plus untold more that had been there for a period and and returned, plus veterans of the WWs and various colonial adventures. Total pop then around 9-10 million.
On the other hand, many stayed after the war, and the Harki & Jewish exodus presumably cut French-speaking numbers a bit.
Posted by: alle at June 29, 2008 02:22 PM
re MSA's universality: Linguists distinguish two main areas of intelligibility, Eastern dialects and the Western ones (the limit is usually drawn on the Maghreb, but I'd say that's a common misconception, though in-between, Tunisian and Lybian dialects are probably closer to the Eastern areas than to the Western ones). Usually, given media exposure since birth, people in the Western areas do understand Eastern dialects perfectly.
Point is, Saudi and Palestinian politics wouldn't need MSA's universality to travel around the Arab World, Arabic vernaculars are universal enough for that.
re Berbers, you're right about Chaouia having done well in power. My impression from anecdotal evidence concerning Kabyles is that their nationalism has more to do with them being tribal mountain people than with language really, except for some very politicized minority among them.
For those outside, you have the additional layer of negative perceptions about being Arab (or Muslim, which are often seen interchangeably in the Maghreb), so actively stressing an alternative identity is a way to disassociate with it.
With regards to the Berber matter:
1)The population numbers are unreliable, from any source. The areas where Berber is most widely spoken, the Kabyle areas and the Chaouia speaking regions in the Aures, are often not counted so as to include language. So in regions where Chaouias, for instance, are numerous (Batna, for example) there are no statistics stating how many inhabitants speak Chaouia vs. Arabic. The Chaouia and Kabyles outside of the big Kabyle provinces are vastly under counted in official numbers. I have seen data stating that Berbers are around 25-30% of Algeria's population, others in the 15% range.
2) Many Berbers are bilingual, obviously, and some Arabs are as well. There are many dialects as well. It is difficult to say that "Berber" should be made official or be taught in schools; whose Berber is official? There is not an organized way of teaching the Berber dialects in Algeria, as the last few years have shown, where you have Kabyle being taught in the Sahara, because the only interested students are Kabyle transplants or because there are no teachers trained to teach Tamasheq. I have heard of Chaouia students learning Kabyle because there isn't a formal way of writing/teaching Chaouia yet. As Shaheen wrote, Algeria is not ready for Berber as an official language yet. There needs to be a stronger effort to standardize its alphabet and grammar and organizing its teaching before that is done. The same is true with Arabic; the educational system as a whole needs an overhaul.
3)As for "national" feeling among the Berbers, I don't think there is such a sentiment quite yet. Kabyle particularism is regionalism more than anything else, but is not as strong as its counterparts in Catalonia or the Basque country. The pan-Berber sentiment is even weaker. That feeling is only strong among Kabyles in Algeria. Chaouias rarely participate in those movements and from my own experience and anecdotally seem to be strongly committed to Algerian nationalism. But they are participating in the Berber revival, especially younger people. They seem to be more hostile towards French than Arabic though. The Kabyle sentiment, I think, comes more from their historic (relative) isolation, where as Chaouias have been in contact with Arabs and marrying them, speaking their language, and sharing religious customs with them since the Arabs arrived. They are also more religious and had religious instruction rather than secular/French instruction during the colonial period. The argument that Algerians are Muslims and therefore should speak Arabic, in addition to anything else, carries more weight among them than it does with the Kabyles. Their language was never written out like Kabyle was and Arabic was the only "native" language of literacy for them aside from French. Also, Chaouias were for a long time basically Arabs who spoke a Berber language (my grandfather's terminology, not mine) rather than an especially Berber people; their clans and tribes changed language over the generations and their life style was very, very, very similar to the Arab clans/tribes around them, though they obviously were conscious of their differences. If you talk to other Berbers in the south, they seem to favor having Arabic or French be taught to their children because they see Berber as useless, and someone who is primarily Berberophone as unemployable. That might be because the hierarchy of needs is different among Northerners and Southerners (though not the priorities, ie employment). But in any case, Berber identity is decidedly weaker outside of Kabylia.
Posted by: Nouri at July 9, 2008 10:19 PM
In Algiers, I've often -- I think daily, almost -- run into people who would make it their first thing to say after introducing themselves, that they are NOT ARAB. They invariably turned out to be Kabyles, but it always struck me as funny how the emphasis would be on them not being Arabs rather than them being Berbers. And interestingly enough, I've got exactly the same thing from a lot of Kurds in Syria, even when they were fluently Arabophone: Hi, what's your name, where are you from, (pointing to chest) you know, I'm NOT ARAB... and then follows a brief convo about them being Kurds and how Kurds are something ENTIRELY different, and so on, and then a secret wink and a special price, because of our shared non-Arabness...
It was obviously very related to my being a foreigner, and, occasionally, people would set off on a long litany about how horrible Arabs are, as if every non-Arab must naturally think that. Got that same reaction from some Syrian & Lebanese Christians, of various stripes, who would vent their Islamophobia (of sometimes quite grotesque proportions) and start listing every anti-Christian pogrom since the 1800s.
The point being that I never ever heard anything remotely similar about Berbers or Kurds from an Arab (well, once or twice), or about Christians from Muslims. In the last case, obviously, I'm Christan myself, so there's a reason, but I think the general thing going round here is a sort of anti-majority resentment (feeding on real grievances), rather than minority nationalism based on positive assertion of identity. Not entirely healthy, but probably not entirely avoidable either. And, I'm sure, not restricted to the Arab world, but there, it's so very much in the context of Arabization programs, or in the case of Christians, the neo-Islamization of the last decades.
Anyway, I'm rambling. Has there ever been any comparative studies on the Kurdish and Berber issues? Differences, sure, but the similarities are also there, and would be interesting to explore.
Posted by: alle at July 10, 2008 07:34 PM
I think the general thing going round here is a sort of anti-majority resentment (feeding on real grievances)
Except for Lebanese Christians who were pioneers in acute tribalism way before being an Arab/Muslim became such a liability, I wouldn't be so sure for others about the weight in factors of real (or imagined) grievances vs. disassociation. Your anecdotal evidence is just an illustration of the not uncommon assumption that you, a Christian Euro, also hold those prejudices, which is even more so of an incentive to emphasize disassociation in your presence and adopt the kind of speech they would expect you to agree with. If it was more fashionable being an Arab/Muslim today, I bet many of those Kabyles/Kurds you hear would like hyphened identities a bit more (if not switch completely).
Otherwise, my own experience matches that of Nouri.