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  • The Phantom Mediators: Reflections on the Nature of the Violence in Algeria
  • Réda Bensmaïa (bio)
    Translated by Hassan Melehy

In order to justify himself, each person depends on the crime of the other. There is a casuistry of blood where an intellectual, it seems to me, has no place, except to take up arms himself. When violence responds to violence in an exasperating delirium that makes the simple language of reason impossible, the role of intellectuals cannot be, as we read every day, to excuse from afar one act of violence and condemn another, which has the effect both of angering the one condemned of violence to the point of rage and of encouraging the one who is not condemned to more violence. If they themselves don’t join the combatants, their role (a more obscure one, to be sure!) must be only to work in the direction of an appeasement so that reason may again have a chance.

—Albert Camus, Actuelles III

At a secondhand bookstore in Santa Monica, I found a story by Friedrich Torberg: “Mein ist die Rache” (“Vengeance is Mine”). The author describes the sadistic practices of a concentration-camp commandant in 1943 who drives a group of Jewish prisoners to commit suicide one after the other. It is almost unbearable to read. One reader, apparently an emigré German Jew, added some bitter marginal notes after the war. On the last page this reader penciled in, “America is full of Jews who love Germany and long for it.”

The night after I read this book, a question occurred to me that has stayed on my mind ever since and that I want to pass on to you: What would we all give, each one of us, each individual German, for this not to have happened? It’s a”pan-German” question. Perhaps we will know something more about ourselves if each one of us tries to answer it individually, as honestly and above all as concretely as possible. And doesn’t it lead to three other questions that are worrying us?: What was? What remains? What will be?

—Christa Wolf, “Parting from Phantoms”

A few weeks after reading Christa Wolf’s text, the same questions continue to haunt me. “Pan-Maghrebian” questions: what would we be willing to give, each one of us, each Algerian in any case, for what is happening now never to have occurred?

What was? What remains? What will be? These are the questions that have guided me in the different steps of writing the text I offer here.

In the very fine article he contributed under the heading of “The Intellectual and Society” to the Encyclopaedia Universalis, philosopher François Châtelet wrote, “If we confine ourselves to the three historical groups we have arbitrarily taken as examples—the Greek sophist, the ‘judge’ of the Russell Tribunal, and the eighteenth-century philosopher, it is clear that the would-be intellectual claims to be the teacher and the advocate of political [End Page 85] freedom, of the rights of the person, the architect of a transparent society in which the individual and the citizen coincide.

“Doubtless,” added Châtelet, “one aspect or another prevails on him, according to the circumstances; but a certain structure subsists, which may allow us to define, superficially and differentially, intellectuals as a group and an agency” [my emphasis].

Beginning with this definition, I would like to examine the following questions: What is the status of intellectuals in a country like Algeria? How can it be explained that they have been and still are the victims of the violence that strikes them today?

Given the current situation of international politics, the example of Algeria is inevitable, because in the opinion of numerous analysts what is happening in that country is a test case, a limit case that may serve as an indicator of what the future holds for the formerly colonized countries. For many analysts, the evolution of the political situation in Algeria may also serve as an analytical operator in the large ideological movements that are shaking not only the countries of the Maghreb but also the Arab-Muslim world in its totality. And in...

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pp. 85-97
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