The Algiers Bombings: A Media Perspective

June 7, 2007

 

It is incumbent upon us, we Algerian watchers and intellectuals, to take a pause and cast a careful look at the recent bombings in Algiers which targeted, among other significant political symbols in our capital city, the headquarters of the Prime Minister.

 When one reads through the massive corpus of commentaries and analyses written on the grim developments in Algeria, one can easily see that these “theorists and political analysts” fall into two distinct categories.   

The first group consists of subservient journalists whose primary aim is to please the men in power in Algiers and (so) glean whatever benefits they can from the regime.

In their daily writings these hack journalists insist that the terrorists’s days are numbered and that the country is witnessing the last gasps of those dying bombers. According to this group, the only possible way to tackle the desperate evil-doers is to tighten the noose around their necks and implement tight security measures against them. That, they claim, is the elixir which will guarantee peace and security in Algeria. 

  The second group consists mainly of those who firmly believe in the conspiracy theory. They allege that the perpetrators of the devastating terrorist operations are no other than the Algerian Intelligence and Security Apparatus.

They further claim that in so doing, the Algerian Intelligence Service seeks to inspire fear into the hearts of the ordinary citizen and, through perpetuation of the state of emergency, the regime will then be able to harden its grip on the nation and continue to deprive the Algerians of their basic rights to freedom and democratic rule.

 Chief among those who uphold this view are independent opposition figures and remnants of the banned Islamic Salvation Front, especially Murad Bin Dhina, the Islamist leader who is now living in exile, Switzerland.  

Between these two groups, a raging battle is now being fought on Satellite Arab channels. I find both positions to be off the mark. To me, the whole situation, which was brilliantly and perceptively outlined in a cartoon published in Al-Khabar daily (April 15th 2007)    seems to be crystal     clear and quite     comprehensible. 

 We all know that the Algerian youth make up 85% of the total population. Tragically however, they are the most marginalised group in our society.

 Despite their skills and high academic achievements (many with post-graduate degrees), they are poor, out of work, oppressed by the regime and unable to express themselves or voice an opinion even on matters that are organically related to their own future and well-being. 

 We need no angel to tell us that these hard realities have had an immense negative impact not only on the lives of our youth but also on the lives of the Algerians at large. 

 The Algerian youth feel neglected, cornered and compelled to take all sorts of risks in order to break free from the inclement trap in which they find themselves.

They have no choice but to either emigrate (my own experience), indulge in drugs and alcohol, or seek unlawful and dangerous ways of earning a living such as smuggling, robberies, forgeries, trading in contraband goods, etc. 

Some of course will resort to suicidal protests; either through setting themselves alight in front of a government employment agency, or taking some form of toxic material or poison to end their suffering once and for all. 

A last resort for some would be to seek refuge with terrorist organisations, especially with the fundamentalist Salafi groups.  Those misguided youth take this desperate and destructive measure in the belief that, having failed to find peace on earth, they will finally secure a place in Heaven.    


  

Sound the Alarm: A Terrorist in our Midst

May 22, 2007

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In one single month I went through three agonizing ordeals: 

1)

When the Eurostar train arrived at Waterloo station in London,  the journey from Gare du Nord in
Paris had come to its end.

Luckily, the Police and Immigration offices were closed. To the experienced traveller, this means the hundreds of arriving travellers can now make a faster exit as they are spared the customary entry formalities. 

 But appearances can be deceptive. The prying eyes of British security officers in plain clothes were everywhere.  The discerning can distinguish those secret agents strategically positioned along each side of the exit passageway. 

 As I was making my way out, a plain-clothesman stopped me to ask for my british passport !.

 He then started firing salvoes of questions about what I do, where I come from and how long I was away from
Britain, etc. He then “ordered” me to follow him to his office, where he and his colleague kept investigating my past for a whole hour. They wanted to know everything about me: my education, work, my family, my friends, why I have visited so many Arab countries, what I did in each of these visits..
 

 When I proved to the police officer that I was indeed a journalist and that I was returning to base having covered the French elections, one of his colleagues then asked me to hand him all the credit cards in my possession.  Having failed to prove me guilty of any terrorist links, the officer endeavoured to prove I was a conman, perhaps a forgerer.   

Contrary to UN Charter and all Human Rights conventions which forbid discrimination of any kind on the basis of race, religion or colour, the British officer callously detained me in his office for a whole hour.

 When he finally ordered me to “dismiss”, he did not find it in his heart to utter a single word of apology for singling me out from amongst hundreds of passengers for no reason at all other than the colour of my skin and  my Arab features.  

2)

I was at Hasi el-Raml airport going to Algiers when the policeman who was checking the passengers’ ID cards discovered I was a journalist. Upon this realization, he immediately turned into a master interrogator.  

He asked about the specific job I had in this part of Algeria, which lies on a massive reservoir of natural gas, and whether I had beamed any reports or interviews from  there; if so who, what, where etc.

 I responded politely and told him that I was no stranger to the area and that I had grown up there. I also added that I was on holiday and had spent few days with my friends and family.  

Unwilling to assume responsibility for “acquitting” me, the policeman then asked a colleague of his to double-check my ID papers.

 The second police officer spent a few minutes gazing at my papers and decided in the end to refer the matter to yet a third party. Deciding what to do with me had become a collective responsibility.

 No single officer was willing to take a risk! I do appreciate and understand the pressures and difficult circumstances under which the Algerian Police perform their duties, especially in the sensitive oil and gas producing region in our country.

But carrying the matter too far can backfire and lead to unnecessary inconveniences and embarrassments.  

However, when I finally headed for the gate and waited for the boarding announcement, I felt that I was being closely watched by a every one in the waiting area.

I was probably considered a terrorist leader, perhaps a repentant emir of a fundamentalist armed group into whose hands lies the fate of all the passengers about to be on that flight.  

I went through the same unpleasant scenario at
Algiers airport.

The passport officer there wanted me to put down the whereabouts and details of where I stayed in my own country as well as all the addresses of my residence abroad.

He then asked for further details such as my job title, my mother’s maiden name and my paternal grandfather’s name before seizing my passport and rushing to consult his colleagues and superiors.  

Although I did not in point of fact mind spending a long time waiting and answering questions like a suspect in a police station, I must admit that what  aggravated me most was the question:

Why did you come to
Algeria?

 In other words, the right honourable official wanted to know what I, or indeed any fellow Algerian for that matter, did in our own country! 

3)

Every time I take the London Underground with a rucksack, duffel or a backpack, the eyes of every passenger in the carriage get glued to me, watching every move I might make.

These people obviously fear that I might be a terrorist carrying hidden explosives, and intent on destroying them, the way my Muslim co-religionists did, not long ago.

 Every time I go with an Arab friend to a café or a restaurant in London, customers become wary of our presence, start reaching for their handbags and hasten to pick up their  mobile phones from the table and start to look constantly over our shoulders, lest we nick them, the way youths bearing similar countenance and appearance to ours have done so. 

These are only glimpses of the mental and psychological oppression suffered by the Arab youths of today, inside and outside their countries.   It is to be regretted that young Arabs, especially the educated and well groomed, have become victims of  both Arab and western security apparatuses.  In the west, this targeted group has fallen prey to presupposed notions and misconceptions created by the ever wily media, which has perpetuated and deeply etched these stereotypes into the western national conscience. 

People here and elsewhere seem to forget that, like their counterparts everywhere,

Arab youths also fear terrorist attacks on the transport system.

Like other human beings, they too take precautions lest they become victims of pickpockets and thieves in public places and above all else they passionately hate to be detained or sent to prison because of their ideas, religion or the colour of their skin.       

acoustic Phenomenon « World Affairs

May 22, 2007

acoustic Phenomenon « World Affairs

sarkozism « World Affairs

May 22, 2007

sarkozism « World Affairs

The Mutawa* are in London !

May 20, 2007

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One of the favourite pastimes of the Arabs in London (residents and visitors alike) is to head for Hyde Park and enjoy the sight of the greenery, admire the beautiful faces and physiques, and of course delight in the  waters of the Serpentine.

They do this by “picnicking” at or strolling across the famed Park, situated as it is at the heart of London, where the main “Arabs’ street” (Edgware Rd), is just across the road, literally only a few yards away.

 Besides its wide expanse of lush green trees and flowers, its beautiful lake, its playgrounds and  invigorating fresh air, Hyde Park is also home to Speakers’ Corner. 

 Speakers’ Corner, for those who do not know, is the north-east area of Hyde Park, adjacent to Marble Arch, which has for decades served as the favourite site for public speeches and debate as well as protest and assembly.  

This location, which has come to symbolize British respect for free speech and democratic rights has always been quite popular with zealots and moderate reformers alike.

 Among thinkers and revolutionaries who spoke there were the engineers and propagators of socialism: Karl Marx, Fredrick Engels and Lenin. 

 Speakers may freely discuss and espouse any subject at all: homosexuality, black power, Islamism, atheism and much else.   

 Unlike their Middle-Eastern counterparts, British police provide protection to the fiery speakers, intervening only when  they sense trouble or spot some threatening and reckless behaviour.  

Anyway, the sight of Arab men and women traversing the green lawns of the Park in their intimidating outlandish garb is considered by many to be quite antisocial if not outright distasteful. and uncommon to say the least.  

But why do Arab women cover up themselves with long flowing robes, masking veils, hijabs, niqabs, chadors, long black gloves?  

Do they fear that the lascivious British “unbelievers” might  lust for them if they were to uncover their faces and their hands?

But if they really want to distance themselves from all that is unholy,  sexual, hedonistic, etc.,

 why then come to a place that has traditionally been a uniting ground for many a lover in its long history.  

The Arab men accompanying them or rather leading them, as it is not quite manly to walk shoulder to shoulder with women, look somewhat angry despite the fact that their faces too are also masked behind thick moustaches, stubble, long beards and quite frequently by dark glasses.

These designer glasses conveniently enable our brethren to cast lustful looks in any direction they may desire although they are by tradition enjoined to lower their gaze in the presence of women! 

 The men whether accompanied by females or on their own normally spend hours on end, just sitting and gazing into nothingness while sipping sweet tea or smoking the hubble-bubble, the only invention introduced by the modern Arabs to the West.  

I have no problem with the way people dress, eat or spend their time.

To each his own, as they say, and Britain is a democratic country where people’s rights and free choices are not only enshrined in the unwritten constitution but also highly respected and regarded as sacrosanct by all British citizenry.  

But I do feel quite irritated when such people who look down upon other cultures and  refuse to integrate into western societies should abandon their place of abode where morality and ethics rule supreme, etc.,

only to come and live in an ungodly country and in the midst of  what they deem a decadent society, where women are scantily clad, where carousing boys and girls boisterously indulge in the consumption of alcohol and what is perhaps even worse, and where unclean dogs jump up and down everywhere, leaving their mark here and there in the Park while playing around sportively with their owners.

 It is strange that these same conservatives and fundamentalists should not raise an eyebrow, or voice criticism, let alone rise up in rebellion against debauchery  and start whipping  the naked women, breaking the bottles of alcohol, destroying the stray dogs and zipping up those who bear the standard of conversion to Christianity by stoning them or burning them alive! 

 What I find baffling and incomprehensible, and indeed irritating is the fact that the so-called fundamentalists accept in London what they utterly reject in Algiers, Cairo Amman or Jeddah.  Or, could it be the mercurial nature of our men? 

 ______________

* In Saudi Arabis, the mutawa are agents of the Committee to Prevent Vice and Promote Virtue  

Why intellectuals are detested in the Arab world? « World Affairs

May 18, 2007

Why intellectuals are detested in the Arab world? « World Affairs

An acoustic Phenomenon « World Affairs

May 18, 2007

An acoustic Phenomenon « World Affairs

Sarkozism and DeGaulism in the Arab Media

May 17, 2007

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Arab analysts and students of Franko-Arab relations commonly attribute Sarkozi’s rise to power in France to the suburban riots which swept across the country in 2005.

They often stress that the violence which characterised the angry protests in the suburbs had influenced the general attitude of the French citizens (the electorate) towards the Arabs and Muslims, who increasingly came to be viewed with suspicion and apprehension.

The ultimate outcome of the riots, they claim, can be seen in the shift from the left and centre towards the right and extreme right in French politics.

These analysts and commentators also view Sarkozism as the end of DeGaulism, which was in their view sympathetic towards the Arab cause, sought to introduce multipolarism on the international arena, stood against the war in Iraq and was always also supportive of the rights of the Palestinians. 

But such views have been repeatedly proven to be founded on emotional bases rather than reality. Incredibly, these experts seem to be of the opinion that great democratic nations, even in the 21st century,

would change course and alter their international policies and strategic priorities, simply because the

presidency changed hands in their countries and a new head of state was sworn in. Let us at this juncture remind ourselves of the fact that the French position on  Israel has not and will not change.

 The French attitude is in line with that of its partners in the EU, which has imposed sanctions against the Palestinian people, following Hamas victory in a democratic and internationally supervised election. 

 All this happened during the presidency of Chirac, who is often described as a friend of the Arabs!   France has furthermore often stressed that Israel’s security is a nonnegotiable long-held axiom, and both rightists and leftists in France have expressed their support of the two-state solution in the region.  

Let us also remind ourselves and those commentators that the Demona nuclear reactor in Israel was built with French support and finances when DeGaulism, not Sarkozism, was dominant in France..  As for the opposition of France (and Germany, for that matter) to the US war in Iraq, it is nothing but a self-serving Machiavellian ploy.

 Both Paris and Berlin are now doing all they could behind the scene to win oil contracts and wrestle at least some of the reconstruction projects in Iraq from rival British and American consortiums.  

 Need we mention that France, under Chirac, not Sarkozy, resisted all calls to admit its colonial crimes inAlgeria

An acoustic Phenomenon

May 16, 2007

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The Arabs are an acoustic phenomenon”. I have often wondered about the implications and sarcasm which lies behind this phrase, which I have heard quite often. 

 However, it was not until the day the last local elections in  Britain were held  that I discovered how true these words were.  To cover the recent local elections I headed for the municipal borough of
Acton, where a sizable Arab community live.
 

I went straightaway  to the headquarters of Mr Atallah Saeed, the Labour Party candidate. It was hardly one o’clock in the afternoon, but our Arab candidate was already experiencing intense agony and frustration.  

Atallah had been sickened by the total apathy of the Arabs who never extend a helping hand to their fellow Arabs.

They never listen to his cries and arguments that the Arabs ( London is the favourite haunt for the richest Arab billionaires) should financially back him and other Arab candidates such as Dr Wafiq Mustafa of the Conservative Party. 

It is indeed nauseating that while there is lamentable scarcity of Arab funds for election campaigns, a shamefully huge amount of money is wasted each day in the  London casinos and in the extravagant and yes debauched night life of the big city.   

The Arabs, alas, are incognizant that British decision makers may be influenced by all sorts of  lobbies and pressure groups except an Arab lobby.

   There was yet another cause for Atallah’s distress. Of  all the large Arab electorate in his onstituency, only a scant few normally bother to vote.   

No less distressing for him is the fact that in and around the street where his office is situated, dozens of Arab businessmen, journalists and intellectuals live and work. 

It is tragically ironic that those same journalists and intellectuals appear on daily basis on Arab satellite channels to “educate” their viewers and pontificate  about politics, ethics, public behaviour and  how best to rise above challenges and achieve Arab glory !  

Why intellectuals are detested in the Arab world?

May 15, 2007

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Statistics show that the population of the Arab world is somewhere between 280 and 300 million.

 Of these, UN experts estimate that at least 70 million are illiterate! This staggering proportion represents twice the number of all illiterate men and women across the globe. 

We are of course referring here to alphabetical illiteracy, The figures quoted show only those who cannot read and write.  

 Perhaps even more catastrophic is the fact that there are 200  million Arabs who are culturally illiterate. Indeed, these Arabs can read and write, but the vast majority have in point of fact never read a book or paged through a newspaper since their schooldays. 

But the fact that 90% of All Arabs are illiterate in the ways of the IT and use of the Internet, Is a tragedy of apocalyptical proportions. 

In searching for the factors or causes which have led to this abominable situation, one cannot but point, above all else, to the responsibility of  Arab rulers, most of whom seem determined to keep their people ignorant in order that they may continue to manipulate them. 

The Arab individual is no less culpable, Sociologists have for long identified crippling traits among the Arabs of today, who have grown unmindful and quite blasé about the rapidly changing world around them.

Gratification of basic instincts, worship of consumerism and  total preoccupation with material wealth seem to the pillars of  their social culture. 

Then comes the responsibility of the Arab intellectuals, who have failed to crystallize their ideas  into a popular movement for change.

They continue to stand aloof, content to live in their own world of haughtiness, although they, of all social strata, hold the key to a better world. 

This perhaps explains why the Arab intellectuals are hated by their authoritarian regimes.,For it is the intellectuals who are capable of influencing and mobilizing the masses against their rulers. 

On the other hand, the populace have no sweet words for the intellectuals, simply because of the intellectuals’ arrogance towards what they regard as illiterate rabble.