« We are the children of an illusion that consisted in believing that the independences of our countries signified the end of colonization. » — Interview with Houria Bouteldja, spokesperson of the decolonial movement in France known as the « Mouvement des Indigènes de la République » (MIR — Movement of the Indigenous of the Republic).1
Why do you assert yourselves as indigenous?2
Well, because we are living a neocolonial reality. We are the children of an illusion that consisted in believing that the independences of our countries signified the end of colonization. In reality, it was a matter of the first act of decolonization. We see it as much in the metropolis as in its relations with its former colonies: decolonization has yet to be finished. Its ideological and cultural bases still exist. We thus continue to live a different colonial phase. We, who experience diverse regimes and systems of oppression, recognize ourselves in this name because it demonstrates to all the oppressors, precisely and in a crude way, the reality of the state in which they want to confine us.
Why do you reject the notion of integration?
In effect, the abstract republic, so celebrated everywhere, refuses to recognize as citizens with full exercise of rights all those who have an origin in Africa or in the Arab-Muslim world. To integrate yourself, you have to deny the fundamentals of your culture and adopt what is the common representation of the ideal citizen according to the television or Alain Finkielkraut.3 But even then, it is not enough. Look at the history of the Harki4 and the discrimination they have faced in France since the end of the War of Algeria. It demonstrates the absurdity of this negation of one’s self, which, nonetheless, is proposed as the ideal option. At minimum, it seems we would have to resort to cosmetic surgery to try and get rid of our indelible differences. . .
How do they act against the MIR?
It is not easy to dispatch us by saying we are Islamists, terrorists, because we are also a movement of Africans, of Antilleans, of the French. . . . That’s why their attacks on us are indirect: constant defamation, the spectre of fear of marginalized suburbs,5 of Islam. . . . The ruling elites can no longer say openly that we are inferior, so instead they let it be understood in various ways. What appears to them as most efficient is to showcase « diverse » people who represent, for them, successful integration. The major sign of this success, of this dissolution into what they call « the French society » are people, above all women, who publicly manifest the abandonment of all references to their origins (it is what we call « integration via ham »6), or better yet, who adopt a very offensive posture against their community of origin. This posture, which translates, among other things, into the systematic stigmatization of the youth of the suburbs, is the one that results in the hegemonic political consensus. This is illustrated, for example, by the association « generously » supported by the state whose name perhaps your readers find shocking and I prefer not to mention.
You are referring to the association « Neither Sluts Nor Submissives. »5 The name of the group is notorious and is not going to shock anyone in Algeria. But, even so, these people equally stand up against a very real problem, that of the status of women and young girls in the marginalized suburbs. . . .
In all societies there exists a problem of masculine domination: the disadvantaged neighborhoods are not the only ones that have mistreated women. To designate the youth of the suburbs as a specifically violent category is a strategy aimed at confining us, Maghrebians and Blacks, in a representation that paints the foreigner, especially the Muslim foreigner, as retrograde and dangerous.
What is it that makes the « indigenous » a politically pertinent category?
The triptych of « colonialism, imperialism, superior ideological norms that should be imposed on all » continues to exist. It has been made fashionable again by the arrival of « neo-cons » to power in all of Europe. The word « indigenous » works as a painful reminder of this truth and our declaration of resistance to it, in terms of political thought, because it is a right slogan that challenges people. The word « indigenous » is a destroyer of myths: the myth of the universal and egalitarian republic. Moreover, it establishes the link with the status that our parents had in the colonial era and it teaches us that the struggle for liberation continues to this day here (in France) as it does there in the neo-colonial countries].
Why is this reality denied universally, from the right to the left?
Naturally, the centers of Western propaganda themselves feel they are being alluded to. These centers are of the left as well as of the right — the right that is always colonial and capitalist, the left that is ideologically dominating and paternalistic. Let’s remember the position of the SFIO and of the PCF8 during the War of Algeria. The left has not broken with its heritage. The historical mechanisms are still there, and, therefore, the use of the word indigenous is justified. Added to that is Zionism, which is today very powerful and which would have us believe that the truth is uttered only by the old propagandists of « new philosophy. »9 It is the unceasingly repeated thesis of the war against the politically un-submissive Muslims and their ex-colonial allies who are not effectively brainwashed, designated nowadays as « islamo-leftists. »
You are very much involved in the issues of international politics.
Yes, in the first place with respect to the Palestinian tragedy. In this drama, Westerners are making Palestinians bear the weight of their own demons. The negation of the Palestinian national fact is a crime. The genocide of Jews does not justify this denial of rights. The cause of these people is at the heart of our fight. We live in a world where representations are inverted: Israel is always painted the victim whereas it is a colonial state, violent and despoiling. One notices that the foreign policy of Westerners aims always to impose this state on the Arab peoples and on the international community. Look at the UPM (Union for the Mediterranean); the entire world clearly sees that it is a question of admitting the Israeli wolf in the Mediterranean sheepfold.
What are the « indigenous » doing and what are their prospects?
We are a political group that is not ideological, undivided by the false ethnic and religious conflicts, critical of the historical and sarkozyst republic, critical of the tendentious interpretation of secularism, etc. . . . The more we advance towards the assertion of ourselves, towards the possible formation of a political party, the more we become objects of criticism, particularly of the left that would like to recuperate us within a logic that considers that our struggle is in the end secondary compared to what they define as the principal questions that differentiate them from the right. In addition to underlying institutional racism, one of the principal obstacles is the Palestinian question and — one sees it clearly – the current political consensus on the Israeli ideas.
What is your relation to Algeria?
Emotional. It is my country of origin and I am very attached to my roots and our culture of resistance and solidarity. The libratory struggle of the Algerians belongs to my history. I have been interested in its political evolution over the last several years; I have observed with sadness what could happen there. Moreover, I am anxious about the role that the Maghreb states are playing in constituting the « gendarmes of Europe » against our brothers of Black Africa. They betray the spirit of independence and anti-imperialist struggle. But I have great confidence in the Algerian people. I am sure they will succeed in winning their rights, their liberty, and that they will know how to remain on the side of the oppressed.
1 This movement is composed principally of French youth of African, Arab, Caribbean and Asian origin, born and raised in France, that live the experience of colonial racism and its consequent marginalization and social exploitation.
2 The notion of indigènes (indigenous) used here has a particular referent in French colonial history. The French empire used the term indigènes to refer to the colonial subjects in all its colonies across the world.
3 A very mediatic French philosopher whose discourse is characterized by the shameless defense of Zionist crimes and racism against Arab-Muslims without timidity or any sense of shame.
4 Harkis are Algerian combatants of the French army during the French colonial war in Algeria whose rights as war veterans and citizens were never recognized by the French state. In fact, upon their arrival in France after the victory of the National Liberation Front, they were segregated and interned in military camps for many years. Nowadays the survivors and their children are a discriminated population much like the great majority of the Arab-Muslims in France.
5 In France, the ‘suburbs’ are home to the marginalized neighborhoods of African, Arab, and Antillean communities that one would refer to in the U.S. as the ghettoes, barrios, or slums.
6 « Integration via ham » is a metaphor that makes reference to the assimilation of Muslims to a French identity by means of leaving their own culture, identity, and epistemology. The metaphor comes from the fact that Muslim religious practice entails not eating pig meat. Many Arab-Muslims who try to assimilate to a French identity, to be able to demonstrate their high degree of assimilation, resort to eating ham in public space. This is reminiscent of the « celebration of the pig » in the 16th century Imperial Spain following the conquest of Al-Andalus and the Americas, where many Jews and Muslims held the celebration of the pig as a public act in their municipalities to hide their origins or their religious identity, with the purpose of eliminating any suspicion on the part of the ecclesiastical/statist authorities of the Catholic Spanish monarchy.
7 This organization was formed by some women of the marginal districts of France who organized activities, marches, and demonstrations against the use of the veil on the part of Muslim women, generalizing the idea that the majority of Muslim women did not « self-veil » but that men in their communities forcibly veiled them. They were party to the French state and the French political elite in favor of the law passed on March 15, 2004 that prohibits the use of the veil in public institutions of the state, among them, the state schools. The law establishes that any young Muslim who uses the veil will be expelled from the school system. In a number of studies, it has been demonstrated that the majority of the young people who use the veil do so out of their own volition, spiritual conviction, or as an anti-state response against French assimilationism, and not by imposition of their spouses or parents. In fact, in the majority of cases the Arab/Muslim-origin parents are against their daughters’ use of the veil in the schools. This debate divided French feminism in irreversible ways. French feminists, such as Helene Cixous and Julia Kristeva, supported the state law prohibiting the veil, while other feminists such as Christine Delphy sided with the Muslim feminists against the law of the veil.
8 This is in reference to the collaboration and support, over several decades, that the French Left, and the Communist Party of France in particular, provided to the colonialist politics of the French empire, above all in favor of the Algerian War,
9 This refers to a well-known group of French ex-Maoists and ex-Trotskyites who veered to the right in the mid-seventies. The best known among them are Bernard-Henri Lévy, André Glucksmann, and Alain Finkielkraut among others. These intellectuals are still very important in the French public debate supporting Bush in Iraq, the crimes of Israel, and their colonizing policy in Palestine and the Middle East. During the invasion of Iraq in 2003, they publicly criticized Chirac for not supporting the trio of the Azores (Bush, Aznar, and Blair) in their plans to invade Iraq.
Interview conducted by Saïd Mekki for Algerie News (8 June 2008). Spanish translation by Claire Liénart y Ramón Grosfoguel: