Ordinary Fascism, Fundamentalism and Femicide

by Mahl

(From Women in Black)

What started in Hassi Messaoud, Algeria on the night of July 13-14, 2001 is NOT one more crime/violence/violation in the war time situation that our country has now become famous for. A qualitative change has taken place. 

For the first time one has witnessed crimes committed not by the
organised troops of fundamentalist armed groups (GIA*,AIS* and the
like), but a pogrom conducted by ordinary citizens brainwashed by the incendiary speeches/preaches of a FIS* inspired Imam against another category of ordinary citizens. In other words we moved from violations committed by a fascist party, to mobbing by people inspired by the same ideology.

This damage, self inflicted by the people of Algeria on the people of
Algeria, will now take generations to heal and has laid the couch for
the coming back of the Islamists on the political scene.

The facts:
According to early reports from the independant Algerian press, during the night of Friday July 13 to Saturday July 14, after the Friday 13 preach at the mosk by islamist imam Amar Taleb in the Saharian city of Hassi Messaoud, the most ancient oil station in the country, a mob of 300 men attacked working women in the city area called Bouamama.Those were mostly cleaning personnel and a few secretaries and cooks (1), all employed by foreign oil companies. They had been imported from North-Western cities of Algeria, poverty being the reason for this emigration from within: their meagre salaries helped feed a whole extended family, not only the own children of widows and divorcees, but also the parents, brothers,
sisters, cousins, etc... (2)  Witnesses said that the Imam accused these women of 'immoral' behaviour and called on the men in the mosque to a 'djihad against the Evil' and to'chase the women fornicators out of the area'(3), on the ground that since they were living on their own by themselves, i.e. witout a 'wali', i.e. the male guardian of the Maliki tradition, - hence they could be considered as prostitutes. In this process of purification of the area, women were murdered, tortured, stabbed, mutilated and raped - including three young women who were virgins (indeed 'prostitutes'!) who claim they were gang raped (4). Their houses were robbed, looted and some were set on fire. Security forces intervened at 3 am.

The pogrom continued on July 14-15 in the area of Hassi Messaoud called 'area 136', and went on on July 16 in the area called 'area 200'.  On July 17 and then on July 23-24 similar events took place in the Southern city of Tebessa, where not only houses of single women but also shops owned by women were also attacked, such as hair dressing salons. In Hassi Messaoud, 95 women who have been attacked (5), plus some that 'could be attacked' have been locked up by the authorities 'for their protection' (6) in a youth hostel guarded by security forces.Till today, they are not allowed to leave the place, not even to regain their home towns. They are sequestrated without access to medicines and sufficient food(7). However, more and more women gather at the gates and plead in vain with the armed guards to be admitted inside: but the hostel is filled to the brim (8).
Independant journalists report that the Imam and, depending on the
reports, from 9 to 40 of the identified perpetrators (9) - that include
some of the owners of the poor shacks that were rented for very high
price to the working women - may have been arrested by the police and could be in the process of being tried.

Background:
The first reported case of an organised, collective and religiously
inspired attack on women took place in Ouargla, another southern city of Algeria as early as June 1989, i.e. long before the end of the electoral process that is often invocked as an explaination and  strangely enough somehow as a justification of the crimes committed by fundamentalist armed groups on ordinary people. The house of a divorcee, named Ouarda, who was living by herself with her numerous children, was burnt to ashes by a mob. In the process, the youngest of her children, a handicapped child aged 4 who could not escape the flames in the night, was burnt to death. The police did not intervene.

The Algerian feminist Khaleda Messaoudi gave a detailed account of this case to an  international audience on the occasion of the UN World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna in 1993,- at a time when it was crystal clear that the war against women was part and parcel of the FIS program of sexual apartheid in Algeria. This first reported case was followed by similar individual attacks in other cities (10).

However, it is in the early 70's that women employed in State owned
factories in Sidi Bel Abbès (north-west of Algeria) were stonned by men on their way to the plant and prevented to access their work place. At first the police had to close down the factories, then they reopened  but women workers had to be protected by the authorities on their way to work for several weeks. 

Throughout the nineties, AIS and GIA  killers attacked thousands of
women at random: the list of murdered women established by the Observatory of Human Rights in Algiers is eloquent: it ranges from veiled to unveiled women, working women to house wives... with a special mention for women who earned their living by 'beautifying' women (hairdressers, estheticians, etc...) The Algerian feminist Zazi Sadou gave testimony on these cases to the international audience of the UN World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1996.

In Hassi Messaoud, the assalliants went to war against women shouting 'Allah Houwa Akbar' (God is the highest); they were also shouting slogans against the state ('down with the hogra' - 'hogra' being the term the Algerians have been using for decades to stigmatise the despise and arrogance of the governments vis a vis the people); they were also shouting against the women 'foreigners' who came to 'rob the jobs' of the local population (11). All the ingredients of facism are there: from the blessing of God  and
religion ('Gott mit uns' 'God with us' was engraved on the buckle of the SS belts), to the identification and demonisation of a 'subhuman' category of citizens that can and should be physically eliminated (the'untermensch') and to the scape goat 'foreigner' who is held responsible for social disarray.

 It is NOT the first time in recent history that the extreme right
political groups and parties make use of people's discontent. Fascism has always built on the legitimate protest of the dispossessed classes, backed by middle class who fear that their share of the cake is not big enough or could be threatened. Fascism manipulates and subverts it and finally points at a scapegoat fragment of the population as THE cause of social disarray. There is no doubt that the successive governements of Algeria have 
progressively given up on the promises of independance to the people. The gap between rich and poor goes wider and wider (12). The mass of very young lumpen proletariat (13) grows more hostile to the privilegies of the New Class that not only ruled the country for its benefits for decades but now openly loots it. 

Social protest has been hijacked by the FIS party since the 70s, - long before the stop of the electoral process which could have taken them to power legally in 1991. FIS was the only political force that
successfully organized underground starting from independance in 1962. It is the party that manipulated the first public demonstrations and riots against the state in 1989 and long preceeded the democratic parties that sprung up after the political and economic 'liberalisation' of 1990 which led to the present enormous gap between rich and poor.

Recent protests, marches, demonstrations and riots that were initiated in the Berber areas and are now springing all over the country, have attempted, not with full success, to restate political protest in the class struggle context where it belongs, rather than on the religious terrain or the 'cultural' one. In wake of this danger of a real political awakening and popular organising, the fundamentalist parties are launching an all out new offensive - the incendiary preaches of the Imam of Hassi Messaoud being only a small part of it. To it, we must add the raging rise of killings and violence against the civilian population ( several hundres deaths a month for the past one year), the arrogance of the so-called 'repented' (i.e. ALL the former terrorists from AIS and GIA that were pardonned unilaterally
by the President Bouteflika and came back from the guerilla without
surrendering their arms, to their villages and cities where they, again,
threaten people who do not abide by their rules (no music, dress code, etc...) and women in particular (14). But their main offensive is on the diplomatic front: more and more people in Algeria are extremely worried at the prospect of an alliance of Bouteflika with one or the other of the fundamentalist parties, and even by a total legal rehabilitation of FIS - an alliance that has been indicated
by Bouteflika's speeches and attitudes in a clearer and clearer way in the past few months, after he pardoned the terrorists without investigation nor judgement and declared the 'civil concordia'. The President has even warned women that they should not 'provoke the islamists' by their behavior (15). This 'plot' is presently denounced all over the independent press in Algeria (16).

The overwhelming silence of international media on the pogrom in Hassi Messaoud and other cities speaks for itself: these events simply do not fit into the simplistic representation that they have given of the Algerian situation, hence they do not exist and cannot be reported. The international media have widely reported till the early nineties about the violations committed by the state against the fascist fundamentalists. Not that they should not have reported on these violations... But how come they did not report when the state was torturing and slaughtering the communists, the democrats and the secularists in the sixties, the seventies and the eighties? How come they barely reported on the violations and systematic crimes of the fascist fundamentalists starting from the seventies, then in the eighties. How come that, at the pick of the killings, in the nineties, when intellectuals, artists, foreigners, secularists and ordinary women were slaughtered and entire villages massacred, the media soon launched a campaign « who kills who? » in order to inculcate doubts about the actual responsibility of the islamists in  these crimes, - despite those being announced by their own identifiable«
communiques », then implemented and subsequently claimed by the armed groups? This campaign aimed at charging the Algerian state with the crimes committed by the islamists and making them appear as victims of the state, not as violators.Why? :the study ordered by the Rand Corporation and writen by Graham Fuller a few years ago crudely states that the USA need above all to protect their interests in the Algerian Oil, and that a FIS government will preserve those best. The failure to recognize that Algeria is facing a life or death struggle for or against fascism seems hard to believe, if one does not also remember that similar blindness was prevaling when the mudjahidin then the taliban were gaining power in Afghanistan.The same blindness and desire for conciliation unfortunately applied to the rise of Hitler. The myth of « moderate islamists » that need to be given legal recognition in order to bring peace in Algeria cannot survive the ordinary fascism of the pogroms in Hassi Messaoud. We are still to hear official protest from the fundamentalist parties and their clear statement on the rights of women to earn their living and the living of their families wherever they find a job in their own country, as well as their right to live without a male guardian. 


It is the responsibility of the fascist islamist project on the Algerian
society when brain washed mobs believe that they have the right and the duty to be the judges and executionners of working women. Their
'opinion' on the place and role of women in society is in total opposition with international law and humanitarian law, and thus cannot be protected as 'freedom of speach'. It is the 'freedom of speach' of the Imam of Hassi Messaoud that immediately provocked the pogrom.

We call on the anti fascists forces in the world to oppose the fascist
project in Algeria. We call on them to make a clear cut difference
between, on the one hand, the need to protect human rights of all citizens -including the human rights of the fascists and of their victims as well-, and the clear and final opposition with which their project of society and their political program needs to be met. A group of concerned Algerian democrats is presently planning to launch an
International  Tribunal on Fascist Fundamentalism that will also point
at the international linkages of fundamentalist groups from one country to the other - and the implication of European states and the USA in the backing of fundamentalist armed groups.


* FIS: Islamic Salvation Front
  AIS: Islamic Salvation Army
  GIA: Islamic Armed Groups

(1) « cleaning women, secretaries and cooks » Le Matin n° 2856, Tuesday July 17,  2001, p2 Youssef Rezzoug

2) Testimony of Fatima, quoted in L'actualité en Question, article by
S.L.:She earned 11000 dinars per month, for cleaning the appartments of the employees of the oil company she was working for, out of which she spent 4500dinars as her share of the rent of the room she shared with her cousin sister  who also worked for the same company. She commented: 'How could refuse (this work), I who have 18 people of my family in charge, including five nefews who have been orphaned?'. 'They used to come together, four or five women in order to rent one room from a family house, or even a garage, for 9000 to 10000 per month'. Le Matin ° 2856, Tuesdday July 17, 2001, p2 Youssef Rezzoug 

(3): « djihad against El Fassal », in La Tribune, L'escalade à Hassi
Messaoud, Youcef Rezzoug,

(4) »Among the 20 wounded women I saw there were 17 girls » Le Matin, idem « 'Three of them are in the intensive care of the city hospital. Houria is 25 year old. In the night of Friday to Saturday, she was gang raped. 'They were about 60 men to attack me and my sister' she shouts. 'I was a virgin and I never ceased pleading and begging them and shouting: 'Don't! I am a virgin!' . They penetrated me in all possible ways. One of the assalliants pushed his whole fist into my bleeding sexual organ' she cries ». « ' I have seen a woman who has been sodomised with an iron bar, while the police, under order, did not move' recounts Houria ». Le Matin, July 17 

(5) « Young women and old women, about one hundred of them, with about 20 children are spending the third night in a youth hostel where conditions of living are appalling » Le Matin,July 17

(6) « Women who could be targetted at by the youth of these areas have been placed in the youth hostel by the authorities ... 'in order to better ensure their security' »  Le Matin, idem

(7) After visiting the victims Deputee Khaleda Messaoudi states that the women ' have no use of speaches, they need medical and psychological care and to be rehabilitated through the legal persecution of the tortionnaries' Le Matin n°2859, July 20-21, 2001

(8) « The youth hostel is already full. The persons in charge of this
place have refused yesterday the right to enter it to several young women who begged for it. ' The situation is getting worse in area 200, I want to come in' shouted a woman to the person in charge of the youth hostel 'What can I do' said he, 'we are not equipped'» La Tribune idem « They cannot bare anymore with 'this prison' which gates are locked and guarded by policement » 'Le Matin, idem

(9) La Tribune, July 17 mentions the arrest of the Imam and of about 4O young men, and 4 to 6 women deceased. Le Matin confirms only 9 arrests and El Watan slightly more. Later reports mention that the Imam has not been arrested and that he denies having called for the attack on the women. The autorities deny that there were women who died in the attacks but witnesses testify that they saw several of them dead

(10) « In the name of moral order which foments punitive
expeditions, acid throwing at women in students hostels, criminal liting of fire in Ouargla, Remchi and  elsewhere, assassinations, rapes, harrassment of couples, the cowards always target women - women who are only guilty of being visible and dignified ». Statement of women's organisation RAFD (Algerian Assembly of Democratic Women), after the pogrom in Hassi Messaoud, published in Le Matin n°2857, July 18, 2001. 'The coming back of Inquisition': 'These two horrible nights unfortunately come to remind us of punitive expeditions organised by fundamentalist commandos who targetted women from 1989 to 1991 throughout the national territory, and far before this phenomenum extended to the whole society and was labeled terrorism. Thus from 1989 to 1991 all over, in Ouargla, M'sila, Bou Saada, Jijel, Annaba, Mostaganem, Mascara, Blida, Algiers, etc... widowed and divorced women
as well as female students in student hostels were submitted to moral and physical violence aimed at, according to these inquisitors, 'purifying sociéty' by the fire and by the blood. What followed demonstrated that, by attacking the feabliest part of society and submitting it to fear, it is the whole of Algeria that they are trying to condition by terror. For a society that is conditionned by terror is a paralyzed society to which the most totalitarian project can be imposed'. Statement by women's organisation RACHDA: Le Matin July 17.

Among the organisations which protested within Algeria were also: the National Association SOS Distressed Women who declared they will file a court case on behalf of the victims in Hassi Messaoud, the National Committee against Forgetting and Treason CNOT who protested against the unilateral pardon of terrorists by the President Bouteflika,  and the International Federation of associations of victims of terrorism - Algerian section.Le Mtin July 18

On the 18th of July, three women deputees including the well known
feminist Khaleda Messaoudi, went to visit the women who had been attacked in Hassi Messaoud. Le Matin n°2859, July 20-21, 2001

(11) « A youth states that he does not regret anything of what happened to the women for they are the ones who 'robbed the sons of the city (ouled el bled) of their daily bread (gagne-pain)' ».

(12) The population growth is still 2,28%. 32% of the population is
illiterate 

(13) 50% of the population is under 19

(14) Over the past two years, since the 'repented' or 'pardonned'
islamists are back to their homes, numerous reports came out in the independant Algerian press regarding shopkeepers harrassed, threatened and scared for having had a radio playing in their shop; young women being publicly threatened for being outside their homes without a male guardian. Clear allusions are madeby 'repented' islamists armed groups to the fact that fundamentalists will come back to power and that they will punish all those that did not abide by their rules now.

(15)Over the past month, President Bouteflika alluded in several of his public speaches to the fact that women should dress in a way that would not 'provoke the islamists', should not smoke in public, etc... 

(16) On the alliance between President Bouteflika and th FIS, see the titles of Le Matin n°2858, Thursday July 19, 2001 on p 1: 'THEY are back!:the islamist leaders reinvest the scene', 'The islamist army of Bouteflika'; And on p 2 and 3: 'The islamists gain ground', Bouteflika or the rise of FIS', 'They have shared the terrain'. In Le Matin n°2851, July 11, 2001 Front page:' Who wants the coming back of FIS?' In Le Matin n°2852, July 12, 2001, Front page: 'Bouteflika-FIS: the plot is getting more precise', and a full page on p 5 ' The Fis of the governement and the other FIS ( The ex-FIS offcialy banned, is being rehabilitated subrepticely without any reaction from the institutions of teh state and without the public opinion being informed)'

 

 

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