Colonial Ethnography Alive and Well at Fox


Signs in Arabic, Tamazight and French outside of Tizi Ouzou, Algeria.
This post originally appeared at The Majlis Blog.
A recent Fox News blog post advertising the possibility of a “new ally in the war against al-Qaeda” stopped me dead in my tracks. The article suggests that the U.S. government ally with Kabyles in Algeria (a Berber people with their own language and culture) in order to fight off al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
In particular, the author cites terrorism analyst Walid Phares’ view on why the Kabyles would be good allies in the fight against al-Qaeda. Phares makes a few rather egregious claims to support this idea, noting that Kabyles, “are mostly secular and believe in democracy, and could become an efficient ally against the Jihadists.” He also calls the Kabyles, “Indians of North Africa” and said that in order to fight al Qaeda and maintain our commitment to “democratic values and fundamental rights,” we must support Kabyle desires for autonomy.
There are more problems with this post than I can deal with at the moment, but several jump out at me.
For one thing, Phares’ statements on the Kabyles are disturbingly neo-colonial. The assertion that Kabyles are inherently “secular” or “pro-democracy” are buzzwords employed by certain Kabyle leaders playing to a western audience, that also smack of the historical “Kabyle myth.” This term denotes the view held by many colonial-era French leaders and officers that Kabyles were more secular and open to republican values than Algerian Arabs, and thus would prove more accepting of French “civilization.” Of course, Kabyles living in France were some of the first to agitate for independence or autonomy for Algeria during the 1920’s and 30’s, and Kabyles played key leadership roles during the Algerian War of Independence.
Kabyles make up a sizable portion of the Algerian population, not only in the mountainous region to the east of Algiers, but also in the capital itself. While they have had serious problems with Algeria’s central government since independence and have also faced brutal oppression, the movements preaching Kabyle autonomy are not broad-based and hardly represent a Kabyle majority view. The Berber language Tamazight is an official Algerian language, and Kabyles are a part of Algeria’s social and cultural fabric, rather than isolated “Indians” living in mountain strongholds.
The next question is whether or not an autonomous and supported (I assume this means “armed”) Kabylia would be an ally against al-Qaeda. AQIM in the north (separate from the Sahel AQIM wing) has for the last two years operated almost entirely in Kabylia, sometimes in the country but sometimes in populated cities like Tizi Ouzou. I have seen no indication that Kabyles are particularly fond of AQIM, but it is doubtful whether the group would be able to operate there at all without at least passive acceptance from locals. And as the anonymous Algerian blogger The Moor Next Door noted in 2008, some Kabyles accept AQIM because of their dislike for the central government that AQIM is ostensibly fighting.
And while there are signs that Kabyles have grown weary of al-Qaeda’s presence in Kabylia, interfering in Algerian affairs would make dislodging AQIM more, not less, difficult. In the original article, former Ambassador to Algeria Ronald Neumann points out that the Algerians would regard any attempt to grant Kabyle autonomy as a fundamental threat to the government, one that would endanger our relationship with Algeria. Moreover, increased Kabyle autonomy could remove many of the very security forces confronting AQIM in Kabyilia, leaving the region more open to terrorism on the basis of flimsy and ill-informed ethnocentric arguments.
To be clear, this post is not meant to pass judgment on Kabyle autonomy, or whitewash the terrible post-independence history of interaction between Kabyles and the central government. But if we are going to seriously discuss security issues in other countries, it must be done with care towards the nuances of a country’s internal political and ethnic dimensions, and not based on reductionist ethnographic theories.
— Andrew Lebovich


3 comments on “Colonial Ethnography Alive and Well at Fox

  1. MASSINISSA says:

    Mr John, I’m A KABYLE I can be sure with 100% that you’re Arab, this is the reason why you sow your misinformation and your lies against the Kabyles and Berbers in general on this site, everyone knows that Berbers are colonized and occupied by the Arabs, the Arabs helped by France established states on the territories of the Berbers, the Berbers today have no right to their ancestral land All north africa: from Libya to Morocco no right even to speak their language “Tamazight ” or KAbyle in Kabylia ; that is forbidden by the Arab states that comprise the Thugs of north africa .. do not lieby a western nickname as John …. the only region that Berber is still homogeneous without Arab is KABYLIA , it is surrounded by the army of the Arab state of Algiers, while the economic project are sabotaged by the Arab power in Algiers, ..this Arab Terrorist State was released mercenaries and repented terrrorists Muslims FIS and GIA, who have blood on their hands, they were sent to terrorize kabylia land and the Kabyle people and justify the occupation of Kabylia territory by “fighting against terrorism”..there is no terrorism in the Kabylia People We Are Laic and Democratique People , we dont like Islam it’s our right we are in our land … .. everyone knows that ALGERIA made ALqaeda in “Maghreb” AQMI and support them and all other state terrorism, all are pardoned by the law of national reconciliation! President Bouteflika designed by the clique of generals Arab opened the door of their prison and are all free and all pensions and apartments free … victims? nothing they despise and are forbidden to speak …. the word Kabyle does not mean “tribes” in Arabic it means KABAL in Hebrew means the recipient or host …. the Kabyle people is not tribes, unlike your propaganda this is the Arabs who are tribes like Banu Hillal happened in the year 1000 for north africa invading Berber and Christian historical Land …. .. not saying that the Berbers are fine and at peace ,you are a liar, the Berbers are terrorized by the Arab populations and government and occupying their country and their land …..Stop Lie we are in 2012 …we don’t forget the black spring in Kabylia in 2001 132 Kabyles young murdered by Arab policeman of the Government to the Arab State and colonial , and 2000 disabled for life ..


  2. Akli says:

    I am a Kabyle living in the UK.
    First the picture reads “Signs in Arabic, Tamazight and French outside of Tizi Ouzou, Algeria.” This is not outside of Tizi ouzou (Kabylia’s capital city) but inside the University of Tizi-Ouzou, they clearly say: Rectorate, Library, Faculty of Arts…Signs such as these are extremely rare outside the University, home of the Kabyle linguistic and cultural demands.
    Second, Tamazight is a ‘national’ language not official, i.e. after many years of brutal and bloody repression, it is now claimed as an Algerian distant heritage on paper, meaning you won’t find it on our ID cards or any official documents, in school, TV or anywhere else if not to symbolise that distant heritage, I think you will agree that we deserve better.
    Third, Kabyles abhore islamism let alone islamic terrorism. It is a well known documented fact. You only need to look at the results of the 1991 Algeria-wide legislative elections which saw the massive rise of an islamist party seeking to establish sharia law: this party had got Zerro (0) seats in every one of Kabylia’s provinces. AQMI is active in Kabylia because Algiers wants them there, period.
    I debate Arab Algerians daily who don’t want us to be free and I understand them. But I must say I didn’t understand where you’re coming from as a free American. If this is only to be ‘against’ Neocons it isn’t fair to do so at the expense of a just cause.
    Anuway Kabylia has it’s own provisional government here’s its website where you might learn a thing or two:


  3. JohnH says:

    The “Kabyles” are what is more commonly known as Berbers. Yes, the same Berbers the Marines fought and enshrined in their hymn over 200 years ago.
    Kabyle means tribe in Arabic. Because of historical tensions between the Arabic central government (Algiers) and the mountainous Kabilya areas, Al-Qaeda found some willing recruits among the Berber populations. Most of these recruits joined for grievances having nothing to do with Al-Qaeda’s global agenda. They were more concerned with their poverty and government neglect and abuses in the Kabilya region. Moreover, matters have been largely settled for most of a decade. Al Qaeda is Algeria is virtually a non-entity.
    So why all the mis-information? Why is Fox stirring the pot?
    My guess is that this is nothing more than US government or defense industry propaganda targeting Algeria for buying gobs of Russian arms. OR, it could be Israeli agit-prop, because Berbers have been known to support Israel against the Arabs.
    Arming Berbers would have significant, destabilizing effects not only in Algeria, but in all countries where Berbers live peacefully today. The treat could be most acute in Morocco, where Berbers also have long standing historical grievances with the corrupt, US allied king. It boggles the mind to think that neocons would undertake a cause that might result in civil war next to the Strait of Gibraltar.


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