A Friday the 13th seems like a good day to discuss Algeria, yet another front in the (A) War on Terrorism (B) War on Islam (C) War Against Weak, Powerless People living near oil (D) War to End all opposition to U.S. stupidity. Algeria was actually a very early victim of the United States and France, long before the invasion of Iraq, but it is hard to keep that in mind with all the recent military and CIA action in places like Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia.
The latest news from Algeria big enough to reach the ears of typical U.S. citizens came when bombs went off at a building that housed the office of the prime minister and at a police station in the city of Algiers on April 11. Twelve people were killed in each attack and the wounded totaled over 200. The attack was claimed by al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa, formerly known as Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC).
The region now known as Algeria, you will recall, has had its ups and downs throughout history. In what we think of as Greek times it was dominated by the city-state of Carthage (now in nearby Tunisia). The Romans grabbed it when they grabbed Carthage. When the Christians took over the Roman Empire, it became Christian. Arabs, under the flag of Islam and the Caliphate, grabbed it around 699 A.D. Various Islamic potentates, usually at least nominally under a Caliph; it was part of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire from the 16th century until 1830. In 1830 the French made Algeria a colony. The Algerians started a war for independence in 1954 and became independent in 1962. Estimates varied but the French probably killed well over 100,000 Algerians in their attempt to hold onto their colony. A one-party state was formed.
A new constitution adopted in 1989 allowed for the formation of multiple political parties. The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won over 50% of the votes in elections in 1990 and 1991. That was intolerable to the ruling class of Algeria, to the United States, and to European states. As usual, the U.S. and Europe that they only want democracy in non-white countries when it results in confirming the power of predatory militarists and capitalists. Religion is a side issue. Every religious party that has gained popular support - the Taliban, the Islamic Justice Courts of Somalia, the FIS, Hamas, Hezbollah - has had a strong element of justice, including compassion for the poor. In any case the Algerian military, backed by France and the U.S., set up a dictatorship in 1992. A civil war started by the pro-justice Islamic groups and the corrupt pro-Western, nominally Islamic government. It was a brutal war with a lot of casualties.
In 1996 Islamic parties were banned, and then in 1999 elections were held. Since then there has been an amnesty process and fighting has been minimal. For the most part the FIS has entered the electoral political process. But the underlying problems in Algeria remain.
So what to make of al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa? I am not a fan of religion (see my religion pages), particularly when sects try to impose their views by violence, as has been done throughout the histories of both Islam and Christianity. But my opposition to religious fanaticism does not obscure the more important issues of social justice and U.S. interference in other nations.
How long can U.S.-backed puppet governments maintain U.S. control of Algeria, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other nations? History would suggest that the U.S. is undergoing the kind of death by many cuts that Britain underwent between World War I and roughly 1950. When the British empire collapsed so did Britain's economy. It took decades to recover.
The Bush administration has made it clear it is not interested in economic justice in the U.S., much less in "third-world" nations. Poverty is the main driver of religious extremism. Civil war tends to create even more policy.
I think everyone would be happier if the Algerian elections of 1991 had been honored. No one can trust a government like that of the United States of America that only honors elections when the side it backs wins.
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