An ambiguous profile at the BBC

In 2001 the government agreed to a series of demands by the minority Berbers, including official recognition of their language, after months of unrest involving Berber youths demanding greater cultural and political recognition.

From “Country Profiles: Algeria,” from the BBC.

At one level, this is as false as false can be. On another it is true. In any event, it is ambiguous, and could use cleaning up.

First, why it is false: Berber is not and never has been an official language in Algeria. A dreadfully misinformed president Boutefliqa, as recently as September 2005, proclaimed that

« Il n’y a aucun pays au monde possédant deux langues officielles et ce ne sera jamais le cas en Algérie où la seule langue officielle, consacrée par la Constitution, est l’arabe »

The linguistic concession that the Boutefliqa government actually did make was to recognize Berber (“Tamazight” constitutionally) as a “national language.” Arabic remains the only recognized official language of Algeria.

Secondly, why it is true: This passage could be interpreted to mean that the government has recognized their language at the official level in any capacity (that Berber has been granted recognition by officials), not necessarily that it has been made an official language. However, the ambiguity in the phraseology gives the reader the sense that Berber (re., Kabyle) activists’ demands were actually met. The BBC’s 2004 Q&A on “the Berbers” notes that

In 2003 the Algerian authorities also made Tamazight a national language. But Berbers there want it to have equal status, as an ‘official language’, alongside Arabic.

Since this page is specific when it comes to the actual legal status of Berber/Tamazight, why is there ambiguity on the country profile page? Why not simply state that Berber was given recognition as a national language, and that tensions between Algerian officialdom and Berber activists have persisted since 2001?

9 thoughts on “An ambiguous profile at the BBC

  1. It is ironical (and sad), in a way, that a nation and a regime which hates its former colonist so much actually copies its most unfortunate mistakes. France is just as dumbly centralized, anti-regionalism, backwards and chauvinistic as Algeria. Sometimes, you wonder if some “magical” curse has not followed both countries after their bloody separation…😦

  2. Sometimes, you wonder if some “magical” curse has not followed both countries after their bloody separation…

    It is called colonialism … many (if not most) of France’s former colonies adopted its models in terms of bureaucracy, attitudes towards ethnicity, educationally, and otherwise. It is part of why Francophone Africa has has had so many problems with language and ethnicity.

  3. I would argue, though, the Algerian colonial experience was a bit different than some of the other French-African colonies that were treated as little more than cash machines. No doubt you’re right that Algeria’s adoption of French institutions has aggravated language/ethnic problems, but I would go even further in saying the French experience and subsequent fractured connections have affected Algeria more deeply than, say, Central African Republic or Niger or one of the countries that ended up developing very little in the way of governing institutions at all.

    Not to downplay the effects of colonialism elsewhere, but very few colonies were groomed as true extensions of the colonizing country, and few fostered the intense nationalistic backlash found in Algeria’s bitter independence and subsequent identity crisis.

  4. Yeh, Algeria was “France away from France”, or the new French Riviera. Although, i think something must be said about Fanon’s study on Algeria’s excessive mental hospitalization/institutionalization rates among males during colonization/

    I have my thougts, anyon else have opinions?

  5. Not to downplay the effects of colonialism elsewhere, but very few colonies were groomed as true extensions of the colonizing country, and few fostered the intense nationalistic backlash found in Algeria’s bitter independence and subsequent identity crisis.

    That is certainly true, and I would not dispute any of what you wrote.

  6. I am sorry to say that I have to disagree here (for a part). Colonialism is certainly the cause of most of the state Algeria was in, in 1962 (the ravage of war and the infighting between Algerians themselves being the cause of the rest). But there is also, I believe a strong factor which is inherent to the Arabic world for some part and to the Socialist world in general for another part. The Arabic ideal of one nation is clashing straightforward with the various local and regional identities. After the independence war, Algeria chose to follow the whole Nasserism movement. I believe it didn’t help Algeria build its own identity by integrating the non 100% Arabic elements of its population. The whole debate Nouri brought up about the Arabic identity vs. or linked to the Muslim identity played in full there too. But the worse factor in post war Algeria has been the whole “socialism” idea and its application by corrupt statesmen and the FLN clique.

  7. “The Arabic ideal of one nation is clashing straightforward with the various local and regional identities.”

    Certainly. I see a host of factors playing off each other and kind of creating this dense web of actions and reactions, especially with respect to identity. There’s Algerian nationalism; there’s the French influence; there’s pan-Arabism; and there are Berber and other ethnic identities within the country that factor in too. These are both unifying and dividing forces at different times, so disentangling them from each other and isolating their effects is a difficult proposition to be sure.

  8. Algeria is in such a state today that most would like the return of France. I remember reading in a forum at the time America invaded the Iraq, Algerians calling America to invade them instead and will garantee it free access to petrol for 15 years.

    Arabisation of Algeria
    was started by France and zealoustly continued by the FLN.

    It does not make sense to arabise an Arabe country.

    Have you heard of arabisation in Yemen or Saudi A?

    Arabization is in itself a testimony that Algeria is not arab.

    “Fanon’s study on Algeria’s excessive mental hospitalization/institutionalization rates among males during colonilization”

    I can only tell that, Algerians, today call Algeria ” The open psychatric hospital”

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