Tag Archives: Algeria

The Village of the German

Rachel and Malrich Schiller, the sons of a German father and an Algerian mother, are two brothers that are so different that it is hard to imagine that they come from the same family.

The two immigrant boys, growing up in France without their parents who stay in their home village in Algeria, are agewise just a few years apart but take a path in life that is completely different from each other.

There is Rachel, the older one, who is very serious about his education and studies and who embarks on a successful professional career that enables him to lead the life of a well-to-do middle class French citizen. His French wife makes the picture of a successful assimilation complete, even when the mother-in-law of Rachel, a sympathizer of the racist Front National that seems to become the dominant political party in France, doesn’t really accept this Arab – and even worse: German! –  husband of her daughter as a member of the family.

And there is Malrich, who came a few years later to France and who grew up in not so favorable conditions. His world is the banlieue, the soulless ring of suburbs that seem to be designed for the immigrants and socially weaker classes. A world without much chances for a regular job, but a world with criminal gangs and a growing number of violent incidents on the streets. (Mathieu Kassovitz’ movie La Haine comes to mind.) Malrich may be a bigmouth sometimes, but he is a genuinely sympathetic young man who sees very clearly what is going on around him. Especially the growing presence of the “bearded” in the banlieue, and the failure of the state authorities to deal with them, is noted very clearly by Malrich.

Malrich finally drops out of school most of the time  and is hanging out with other young lads from his neighborhood who share the feeling of belonging to a lost generation without perspective and without future. His meetings with his older brother who reminds him of the importance of being disciplined and of the necessity to finish his education are a nuisance, and the rare visits of his mother are a sad and mostly speechless encounter every time. Malrich and his mother literally have no common language anymore. His Berber mother doesn’t speak French and Malrich has forgotten almost all his childhood Arabic.

One day, the brothers receive devastating news from their home village. There has been an attack by terrorists – probably in one way or the other under the involvement of the Algerian State Security – on their village, and their parents are among the many victims of this gruesome act.

For Rachel it becomes soon an obsession to find out more about this attack and the reason why it happened. There are many unresolved questions for Rachel, one of them is the German origin of his father, who was a respected person and hero of the Algerian independence fight against the French, since he trained Algerian military that was fighting the French forces. After the independence, their father settled in a remote village, married a local woman and later sent his two sons to France. But who his father, a somewhat detached figure, really was, where he came from and what he did before coming to Algeria, Rachel and Malrich have no idea.

For Rachel this quest for the truth is getting more and more obsessive, an obsession that destroys in the end everything in his well-organized life. But it is surprisingly Malrich who finally visits the “village of the German” (the original title of the book) and learns to accept the terrible truth about his father.

This novel is a very touching reflection on guilt and personal responsibility. The Algerian author Boualem Sansal is advocating personal freedom in a world that is threatened by inhumane ideologies. An Unfinished Business (in the US published as The German Mujahid) is an admirable book with characters that no reader will easily forget. Despite it’s rather depressing subject, Sansal leaves the reader with a sign of hope: Malrich has grown up fast as a result of the circumstances, and it is a good guess that he will be able to come to terms with the haunting past and with the future as well.


Boualem Sansal: An Unfinished Business, transl. Frank Wynne, Bloomsbury, 2012

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Holy War – Holy Profit

The attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi in September 2013, the recent kidnapping of a large number of girls in Nigeria by the terror group Boko Haram, the mysterious assault on the In Amenas oil field in the Algerian Sahara, the destruction of the ancient culture of Timbuktu, or the disastrous bomb explosion just a few days ago in Mogadischu: terror business in Africa is booming. And to speak of business in this context seems to be completely justified, after you have read the new book of the journalist Marc Engelhardt “Heiliger Krieg – Heiliger Profit” (Holy War, Holy Profit).

Engelhardt is embarking on a journey that leads the reader from Somalia to Sudan, Tchad, Algeria, Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, and the Central African Republic. In all these countries armed groups are active that spread terror and destruction over this huge and strategically important region. The Sahara desert is not only having vast oil and gas resources, but also huge deposits of gold, diamonds, and uranium. These resources are particularly interesting for the big strategic players in the region: the US, France, and since a couple of years also China.

It is remarkable that the groups described by Engelhardt are so small and mobile. That al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar Dine, Mujao, Boko Haram, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) by Joseph Kony, or the Somali al-Shabaab militia are able to control huge territories with such a small number of fighters (the biggest of these groups have still not more than estimated 5000 “soldiers”) seems to be surprising at first sight. But the almost complete absence of a functioning state in their operating zone, together with the notorious extreme brutality of these groups – together with their ability to find and exploit very efficiently sources of funding such as piracy, kidnapping, contract killing, cigarette, charcoal or sugar smuggling, drug trafficking, human trafficking, or extortion make their success much less surprising.

All groups mentioned by Engelhardt use a very strong religious rhetoric and propaganda, some “Islamic”, some “Christian”. They say that they aim at a true caliphate, for the reign of “true” Islam – or of the Bible and the Ten Commandments, like the ultra-brutal LKA.

But let us not be deceived here, says Engelhardt. This is almost exclusively rhetoric, and it is to a certain degree useful for these groups (the “Islamistic” groups receive at least partly logistic support and training by al-Qaeda). But their almost exclusive aim is to collect money and more money. And they do it exclusively with means that are strongly opposed to the principles of those religions they pretend to promote.

Beside a detailed description of the historic and political background of the terror organizations, a big part of Engelhardt’s book is dealing with the business activities of these groups. In Somalia for example, it is beside the recently decreasing piracy industry, the smuggling of charcoal for the export markets and of sugar for the local market, that provides a nice profit to the gangster-terrorists. But even these enormous profits or the big money that is made from cigarette smuggling through the Sahara desert, are dwarfed against the exorbitant profits from cocaine smuggling. The drug for the European market (the demand is growing strongly) is arriving in Central Africa on board of old airplanes run by a dubious airline, which is locally known as “Air Cocaine”. The value of the cargo of one such flight might easily be at 7-800 million Euros – the last published state budget of Somalia was at about 150 million Euro. It is obvious that these profits (the smugglers receive usually about 10% of the value of the cargo) are extremely attractive to the criminal gangs that operate in the vast Sahara desert.

It is worth noting that beside the external powers already mentioned above, also Algeria is one of the key players in the dealing with this new terrorist challenge. Before 9/11, the Algerian regime was an outcast for most countries of the world, including the US administration. This changed dramatically in 2002, when the Bush administration was looking for new allies in the global fight against terror. Suddenly, the former outcast became a close friend, especially since also the Algerian junta showed a big interest in better relations with the US. The terror of an allegedly Islamistic group in Algeria was getting worse and worse. For the Algerian government this terror came just at the right moment – and strangely enough almost all terror attacks happened in the stronghold areas of the Algerian Islamists, a fact that was remarked by several analysts from the very beginning. Why should the Islamists bomb their own supporters? Engelhardt, like most experts in the region, assumes and provides a lot of evidence for it, that these so-called Islamistic groups were indeed part of the Algerian State Security Service. Also some other strange coincidences during several kidnappings of tourists, or the recent oilfield attack are only explicable by – at least – a kind of collusion between those groups who commit these terror acts and the Algerian State Security. A strong reason for that may be to keep the potential threat from revolting Tuareg tribes at bay.

Also the role of France in these conflicts is highlighted. France considers this region of former colonies still as a kind of natural influence zone, and the big hunger for uranium seems to be an additional strong motivation for the present President to break his previous promise to stop interfering militarily in the region. Additionally, many French companies (like Total) have huge business interests in the region, and as a result of this melange, France is very much willing to support even doubtful regimes with a devastating human rights record, as long as they guarantee that French business interests will not be touched.

What can be done against the rather depressing rise of gangster-terrorism in the region? Many experts, especially in the US, seem to think that this is a primarily military challenge. More efficient use of military technology, more drone killings in order to eliminate the truly “bad guys”, seems to be the main concept even of the administration of Nobel Peace Prize Winner President Obama.

But it is obvious that the military option is not sufficient to eradicate the terror in Africa. As long as the conditions are like they are now in this part of the world, even a massive unleashing of deadly weapons on terrorists (and very frequently innocent bystanders) will not decrease the problem. There will be always a fresh supply of fighters that have nothing to lose (or that are forced to be part of these groups, like the countless children soldiers), as long as there are not fundamental changes happening in these countries.

Engelhardt (and with him the reviewer) believes that a successful fight against terrorism in Africa needs mainly two things: economic development and institution building in these countries, in order to create stronger states, and also a drying-up of the economic sources of income of the terrorists (such as an efficient disruption of their money transfer systems).

News on this topic are regularly published on Engelhardt’s website: http://marcengelhardt.wordpress.com/

A translation of this very instructive book into English is highly recommended.


Marc Engelhardt: Heiliger Krieg – Heiliger Profit, Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin 2014

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


A Brief Introduction to Modern Arabic Literature


The Middle East is one of the most important geo-strategic regions in the world. This is due to its geographical position, its richness in oil and gas but also due the nature of the conflicts that are taking place in this region and that have a deep impact on a very big number of people even outside this region. It is therefore reasonable and even important to have an understanding of what is going on in this region that is again very much in the media focus after the Arab Spring and several armed internal conflicts.

What surprised me most when I started to live in the Middle East for several years was that the reality I was facing there is so much more complex and interesting than what an average informed citizen of a western country would expect if he would only follow the media reports in his or her home country. There is a comparatively small number of journalists or political analysts in the West that have the knowledge, the access to media and the ability to explain the complexities of life and politics in the Middle East to the public in their countries in a way that is free of a patronizing attitude and also unbiased regarding the “official” narrative that is always dividing the world neatly into the “good” and the “bad” one’s, i.e. those that are considered worthy to be supplied with the most modern military technology and those who are on the receiving end of this annihilation machinery. The reality is unfortunately more complicated than this Manichean world view suggests: there are no “good” one’s – it’s frequently just about which of the groups involved in a conflict is serving our interests better. Nothing personal, it’s all just about oil, gas and political influence.

In order not to leave the field exclusively to those “experts” who still perpetuate the Orientalist perspective about which Edward Said was writing long and controversial books, it would help already a lot if we would perceive the Middle East as a region where people live that are not really different from us. And what would be easier than to perceive them in the way they are expressing themselves, for example by art, literature, cinema and all other kind of cultural activities. There is a thriving cultural industry in all these countries and since I am dealing here in this blog mainly with literature, I just want to point at the fact that there is an extremely interesting contemporary Arabic literature that is to a growing part available in other languages (some of it is even written in English or French).

In my last blog I wrote up on an interesting novel by Ibrahim al-Koni. I am absolutely convinced that reading his books or the excellent books of Hisham Matar (he writes in English) can give a reader a much better understanding of what’s going on in Libya nowadays. The same is true for the writings of Algerian writers like Boualem Sansal or Yasmina Khadra. The Palestinian/Israeli conflict is presented in western media usually in a very partial and biased way. Those who read Ghassan Khanafani’s stories or the poetic books of Mahmoud Darwish, one of the greatest poets of our times will understand that there is also another side of the story. Readers of Alaa al-Aswany’s “Yacoubian Building” or Edwar al-Kharrat’s novels will have a deeper understanding of the problems of the Egyptian society.

And these are just a few examples. I am not saying that reading novels, stories and poems can replace the serious study of history, political science and other relevant subjects. But great literature can give you an insight in a culture that goes indeed very deep and sometimes much beyond rather dry textbooks. And beside from that it is just sheer pleasure to discover great works like the “Cairo Trilogy” by Naguib Mahfouz, the “Diary of a Country Prosecutor” by Tawfik al-Hakim, the autobiography of Taha Hussein, or the dark masterpieces of Abdurrahman Munif, especially his “Cities of Salt”.

Those who want to have a short overview about Arabic literature have now an excellent opportunity to discover this interesting literary continent. David Tresilian’s “A Brief Introduction to Modern Arabic Literature” gives on less than 200 pages a very reader-friendly overview on the history of Arabic literature. In several chronological chapters we learn about the main epochs in modern Arabic literature and are presented the main writers with a very short presentation of their major works.

Tresilian also pays special attention to poetry, the problems of the diaspora, and the development of a publishing industry in a surrounding where authors and publishers are always threatened by censorship or even worse (many Arab authors have been in prison at least once or have been threatened in one way or another for expressing themselves in their books). Book distribution is also a challenge that is hampering the outreach of contemporary Arabic literature in the Middle East, especially outside the capitals. On the other hand, publishing houses in Beirut (the main publishing place in the Middle East) and Cairo seem to thrive and there are a growing number of book fairs and bookstores that attract a growing number of readers. After the Nobel prize was awarded to Naguib Mahfouz, there has been also a (modest) translation boom in the English and German speaking countries at least.

Unfortunately the book is not covering the Maghreb region, although some of the most important Arabic authors origin from there. Literature that is written in other languages than Arabic is equally not considered, even when the authors come from the region. (That excludes for example the excellent novel “Beer in the Snooker Club”, by Waguih Ghali) These limitations were obviously necessary in order not to exceed the size of a “Brief Introduction”. Within these limitations the book is highly recommended to those who wish to discover one of the most interesting literary “continents”.

David Tresilian: A Brief Introduction to Modern Arabic Literature, Saqi, London San Francisco Beirut 2008

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.