This is a time when a foul murderer by the name of Samir Kuntar is being exchanged for the bodies of two Israelis kidnapped and killed by Hezbollah in Lebanon. This is a time when the Iranian leadership regularly promotes genocide by boasting that Israel is about to be wiped off the face of the earth. But it is also a time when an Algerian intellectual by the name of Boualem Sansal can give an interview in the prestigious French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur and reveal that hope has not necessarily died.
I had never previously heard of Boualem Sansal. He is described in the interview as a former Algerian civil servant, and author of four earlier novels, and now a fifth with the title of Le Village de l’Allemand, or The Village of the German. He says he took his subject from a real-life discovery that there was a Nazi, a former S.S. man who had more or less colonized a village in Algeria, converted to Islam and was regarded as a hero locally. “The Hitler salute,” Sansal says, “has always had its partisans in Algeria.”
For a couple of decades now, Algeria has been in the throes of a brutish and murky civil war, costing an estimated 200,000 lives, most of them simple villagers caught and massacred either by Islamists or the military regime. Al-Qaeda in North Africa is presently establishing a base there, trying to colonize the country. The more he researched his novel, Sansal tells us, the more he saw “a substantial similarity between Nazism and the political order that prevails in Algeria.” Both are one-party states, with militarization, brainwashing, the falsification of history, the exaltation of the race, the tendency to claim victimhood and to assert that there is a conspiracy against the nation. There is glorification of the leader, an omnipresent police, mass organizations, religious indoctrination. Xenophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism, he adds, have been elevated to the status of dogmas. We all know, he sums up, that “the line separating Nazism from Islamism is a thin one.”
September 11 was “a terrible shock to all of us.” Then he understood that Islamism was far more radical than anyone had imagined. Islamism is the matrix of terrorism, and only Muslims and their theologians can engage with it, to recover the Enlightenment that long ago was theirs. His books are banned in Algeria, he thinks of packing his bags, but decides to stay because one day the country will rediscover its way, and he would like to be there to see it happen.
Which is more impressive, the truth and clarity of this man’s vision or his courage in expressing it so openly? And who knows what a free spirit like this may achieve?