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  • Identity as a Cause 1
  • Fethi Benslama (bio)
    Translated by Salah Khellaf (bio)

How is it possible to write about Algeria today? This is neither an abstract question nor a stylistic clause. First of all, I believe that there has been a deterioration of the will to speak, a loss of the power to think in the face of what is most crucial in the terror of this civil war: the dead, the suffering, and the heartless manifestations of violence and daily destruction. An ardent question incessantly haunts the mind, as if robbing one of even the possibility to beseech: Why all this hatred which literally grabs one by the throat, like a vengeance, the rage of which has been for so long contained? There is also this defiance in the face of words that have become weapons in the service of salvations, each of which affirming itself more cruelly salutary than the others. There is especially this fatigue before a language that spews debris of explanations that only demonstrate that they belong to the very catastrophe of which they wanted to be a theory. In whose name and about what am I to write? In other words, should I manifest this will, this power in the powerlessness which supposes that I still have to formulate something that sheds some light on what is happening over there? Could there be a duty to write and think without foresight but without despair? To write in the direction of ulterior motives?

For a non-Algerian such as myself, if I search for the motive that led me to surpass so many obstacles, I believe I can find it in this very clear perception that I belong to this catastrophe, that this catastrophe belongs to me, and that I am genealogically linked to it through a mythical and historical filiation. This catastrophe, drama, or whatever the approximate label upholding it today, which is the Algerian name and space, is imbedded in a series of world events, the common denominator of which was the collapse of communism: the Gulf war, the end of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bosnia.

What caused Algeria to fall, however—and we are certain that one Algeria is bygone and another one is arising—though it is partly inscribed in a logical sinking of communism, can be discerned in the day of reckoning of another idealistic construction, one that is broader and more complex, one of an Algeria wanting to be the exemplary representative, the site for a world gathering. It is that which Algeria enumerated under all modes and on all fronts: the anticolonial rebellion, socialism, development (Third World), Arab nationalism, nonalignment. If, however, this ensemble formed an ideal, or more precisely an admixture of synchronized ideals and values, it was because all its components pursued the same objective: the emancipation of the non-European of the second half of this century.

I am not contending that the time for emancipation for all humanity has ended and that, henceforth, humanity will have to submit to the various dictates of the rich powers of the world. Such affirmations, which have, for a while now, been propagated under more or less disguised forms, emanate from a trumpeted political despair that can only engender resentment and blind violence. The game is not over yet, at least so long as there [End Page 36] still is a world. The expression day of reckoning announces well what it is aiming at: the expiration of a deadline, the coming of the term to pay some obligation, generally of a financial nature. It is, thus, neither the end of times nor the closing of what often accompanies the proclamation of such ends, the news of an upcoming advent. Here, the day of reckoning does not bear any messianism, nor does it hold a promise of a future emancipation. It signals that the time of emancipation has reached its term and we must go to the cash register, metaphorically and concretely, morally and materially. It bespeaks that from now on, we are detached from the idealistic form that Algeria, at a precise epoch, had welcomed and incarnated; and we are undoubtedly called...

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