The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Shatz on Khadra

Adam Shatz penned an excellent review piece on Yasmina Khadra's work in the London Review of Books. Khadra -- his real name is Mohammed Moulessehoul -- wrote several extremely successful books in French under his wife's name before being coming out openly to a massive fanfare in the French literary world. In his review, Shatz takes a look at what may have caused his books to be translated into English when so few Arab novelists are. Among the top causes are the current trend for what's-wrong-with-Islam? books, a category Khadra fits neatly into because he is virurently anti-Islamist. But that, Shatz says, is ignoring the bigger and more complicated picture:

Khadra is a talented writer, but he isn't a dissident. (As anyone who has spent time in Algeria knows, everyone there fancies himself a critic of the pouvoir, as they call their political system; the closer one is to the pouvoir, the more loudly one's dissidence is proclaimed.) Whatever troubles Khadra once had with military censors, they are now a thing of the past. In a recent interview he declared that Algeria has 'no political exiles', which will have been news to exiled opponents of the military government such as Mohammed Harbi, a former FLN leader and modern Algeria's leading historian. Though witheringly critical of Algeria's Islamists, and of its business and political elites (the 'political-financial mafia'), Khadra is notably indulgent of the army, which runs the country along with the Sécurité Militaire, the secret police, the regime's 'spinal cord'. Khadra's books are prominently displayed in every Algerian bookshop, while La Sale Guerre (2001), a scathing memoir by Habib Souaidia, a former officer exiled in France, is banned.

It really is worth reading in full as a quick overview of Algeria's recent history, and how the tragedy of the civil war has been manipulated by le pouvoir to create a group of anti-Islamist intellectuals who are quite mute when it comes to the military junta. It also applied to Algeria's myriad feminist movements, which in some cases have been mostly regime apologists. This type of problem is at the core of the tendency in the West to quickly support "cosmetic democratizers" in the Arab and Islamic world -- the Ahmed Chalabis and Benazir Bhuttos -- or simply pyt up with the military types who say that the only alternative is the Islamists.

And while you're at it, revisit this classic Shatz article on Fouad Ajami.

Spotted via Moorish Girl.