This Land is My Land. This Country is My Country
Par: La Septieme Wilaya
I do not feel like analyzing today. I do not feel like talking softly, moderately, objectively, and rationally today because I want to talk from the heart. I want to let my most primal voice howl into the night my deepest and darkest anger, my furor, and my murderous rage. For years, this anger, this rage, and this furor have been fueled by this thuggish regime of ours—i.e., the Algerian regime—by a bunch of mobster-like generals who enslaved an entire nation for almost half a century. For what? So one would be called “general sugar”, the other “general coffee” and another “general tires.” So, they could fight like famished hyenas over the resources of this poor tired country and forget their primary duties. And forget, they did.
Almost 50 years since our independence, I can safely say that if we objectively measured the progress we have made politically, economically, socially, scientifically, culturally, and humanly as a country, we would probably measure it in months, not years. That is the real yardstick by which all Algerians must judge these generals and this leadership that drove this country into the ground.
Every week our country sinks deeper into total despair, mediocrity, and oblivion. Every week brings its lot of somber and gloomy news. The weight of the depressing news was so heavy these last couple of months that they felt like centuries. It started with the masquerade ball wrapped into a charade of the so-called constitutional reform commission. What a joke that commission was! Are they kidding us? Do they think we are a bunch of morons? Apparently, they do because unsurprisingly this regime thinks that it could sell that horse manure to the Algerian people; and undeniably, it would do so. Do you know why? Because our education system is as good as the madrassas during the Taliban reign. Our education system has been a sham from grade school to graduate school. And when you have an educational system like this, you could shovel horse manure all day long, and it would be eaten like caviar.
The crown jewel of any education system is its university, and the scientific and intellectual accomplishments cooked in the halls of that august institution, which shine and pave the way of the future for any given country. Well, don’t get your knickers in a twist folks. Our university system is a glorified madrassa. It was ranked among the last universities in Africa by the Shanghai report. And to add insult to injury, it turns out that our university is dead last in innovation according to the latest Global Innovation Index.
What does it mean to be “last in innovation”? It means that our university is brain-dead, in the coma, muerto, rigor mortis. It means that our students cannot formulate an original and scientifically structured thought. It means that the basic research methodology—i.e., scientific method—is nonexistent in our universities. It means that we are years—sorry I should have said we are decades–behind in every field you can think of. It means that our students do not have any critical thinking based on scientific reasoning. It means that our students (and you can add faculty to the lot) cannot absorb, understand, and analyze the latest research produced in the top-tier universities in the world. It means that the mediocrity that rises to the top and permeates our universities’ halls would eventually settles down and permeates the entire society. It means that conspiracy theories, spurious relationships, correlational mambo-jumbos are rampant among our youth, elderly, men, women, educated and not-so-educated people. You don’t believe me? Well, go on youtube and listen to our dear Algerian compadres talk about the economy or the Arab revolutions or globalization or the situation in Algeria or any other topic. If you think that youtube is not representative of the whole Algerian population, I grant you that, and probably you are right. Well then, go to any coffeehouse in Algiers or Oran or Annaba or Constantine and listen to our educated elite talk about any of the aforementioned topics, and you would feel like shooting yourself in the head with a howitzer cannon.
See, I travel quite a bit, and have met many people from many countries. Over the years, I have talked to several people from the Arab world and from other regions, and I have never encountered such a solemn belief in conspiracy theory like in Algeria. It has become a science. It is a way of thinking. Why and how did we arrive at this situation? The how is easy and can be summarized in one sentence: decades of failed educational policies. Period. There is no more or less than that. The why, however, is more complicated to explain.
To understand the why, you have to understand the role and the impact of an educated population on the direction of a country. To understand the why I call upon a North Korean man whom I briefly met and had lunch with a couple of years ago. This North Korean man was born in the early 1950s, worked for several years in the ministry of education in North Korea during Kim Il-Sung reign, before he fled the country to China, and made his way to the United States. The motto of the ministry of education during those years was “Teach them to Read and Write, Not to Think.” This motto was not an official policy of course, but it was the desirable objective. It was forcefully inspired from the wisdom of the Dear Leader Kim, who had one goal: to keep the population in check so they don’t question the system and believe that the Dear Leader was a godsend blessing. And even if they questioned the system, as my North Korean interlocutor explained that day, they would not be able to imagine alternatives to the system they live in; and even if they did imagine some, they would feel overwhelmed, powerless, and quickly abandon those serendipitous and subversive thoughts.
Of course, Algeria is not North Korea, you may say. I agree with that. We do enjoy some liberties that the North Koreans do not. Nevertheless, the unintended or intended failed education policies since 1962 have led to accomplishing the exact same goal so dearly desired by the Dear Leader Kim. A population that is incapable of imagining another path for itself than the one chosen by the thuggish generals. You might think I am exaggerating a bit, but this is exactly the objective sought after through the implementation year after year of those utterly failed policies: an educational system that is not based on science, but on filling up the brains of generations of students with useless, unchecked, and unchallenged information resulting in a docile population that does not critically think anymore.
This system has produced a population that massively believes that “a ruquiya” is a valid medical treatment. Yes folks, you read it right: “ruquiya.” The charlatanism of performing “ruquiyas” or “exorcisms” or “spells against the devil” or “spells against the evil eye” or “love potions” or “amulets for good fortune and wealth” has become a normal practice in nowadays Algeria. People would prefer going to a charlatan to get a reading from the holy book, Al Qur’an, or an amulet against some illness thinking that holy verses whispered in the right ear or written on a small piece of wood would magically cure their illnesses rather than going to a physician. Even more dangerous or should I say more depressing is that physicians themselves perform “ruquiyas” in their medical offices these days. Just pause for one second, reread the last sentence, and meditate on its dreadful seriousness. Yes physicians. Yes, those students who went to medical school for years, studied hard, pulled all-nighters, and have a license to practice medicine have become just like any other charlatan who believes that reading a couple of verses from Al Qur’an on a patient would cure his illness. Folks, this is not an isolated phenomenon. It is everywhere; it is rampant. I witnessed it with my own eyes. I thought that I was in the 13th century during the heydays of the dark ages and the inquisition. When I saw a physician reading verses from the Qur’an on a bottle of water, a thought came to my mind: this physician does not believe in any basic scientific facts, and he is not convinced by them or by scientific inquiry. He would rather call upon some dark magic or good spirit (it doesn’t matter to me) than use his scientific knowledge and training. When I arrived at that conclusion, I felt deeply saddened, depressed and sick to my stomach, and a wave of dark pessimism overwhelmed my being. I wanted to vomit and cry at the same time, but I quickly got angry; angry at our leadership who for years pushed, cajoled, nurtured, favored and even institutionalized ignorance via failed policies. This medieval thinking has been caused by our government. It is the direct result of this and previous governments failed policies.
Where the hell are we going like this? Are we going to open Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry next?
This is the essence of the medieval mindset—i.e., interpreting natural phenomena through mystical and metaphysical explanations. Half century after our independence, physicians in Algeria perform “ruquiyas” in their medical offices! When you have a population that believes in that, that population is ready to believe in any crazy theory about any political, economic, cultural, or social event. It is a population that is easily manipulated. It is a population that thinks Khaddafi is a great leader and Saddam is still alive; Osama is a blessed martyr and probably is alive somewhere; the CIA with the Mossad flew planes into the World Trade Center and killed 3000 of their own people; Tunisians and Egyptians are brainless people who were manipulated by some kind of pro-democracy NGO–aka CIA–to topple their regimes; women are intellectually inferior, women can be beaten as long as you don’t hit them on the face; women cannot be judges; Ali Belhadj could have been a great president; Boumediene was a great president; Arabisation is a successful policy; the Algerianization of the managers and leaders is to further our independence from the west; Algeria is a rich country; Algeria is a crucially important and powerful country geopolitically; Algerian people are the greatest people in the history of humanity; Bouteflika walks on water, and so forth and so on. It is a population that acts solely through its emotions without using its cognitive power. And to make matters even worse, it is a population without a thinking elite whose role, every once in awhile, is to make sure that the societal train does not derail completely. Briefly stated, it is a leader-less, elite-less uneducated population that is ripe to live under a dictatorship, and does not know how to get rid of it.
This is what this regime has done. Witness the greatest crime this regime has ever committed! Behold this population that is sinking into oblivion and does not even know it! Witness how this regime has glorified and elevated charlatanism to the highest spheres of power! Behold the greatest bankruptcy of all, the intellectual bankruptcy of an entire country!
I really do not care much about the billions of dollars they have embezzled throughout the years. Material loss can easily be replaced. However, intellectual and human bankruptcy would take decades, if not generations to fix. And because of this greatest and gravest crime committed on this helpless population, I call from the bottom of my heart with every fiber of my being for this regime to collapse; for these generals to leave; for this pestilence to disappear. To those who say that I wish to bring death, destruction and chaos upon my people and shed more blood, I respectfully respond: is there a greater destruction, chaos, and crime than the total intellectual and human bankruptcy of an entire nation? In my book, there isn’t.
Algeria is my land and the land of my forefathers. This is the land for whom members of my family shed their blood for its liberation. This land does not belong to these back-door-dealing, price-fixing, bride-taking, murderous generals. It belongs to me and to every Algerian, and as long as these generals are in power, and as long as I have one breath left in my body, I will yell and scream over and over and over “Yasqut Al Nidame.” And one day soon, I will watch in jubilation this regime collapse like a sand castle swept away by a rising tide. That day, the hard work begins anew.