Thursday, January 27, 2005

Iraq and the Algerian Experience

On Monday, UPI published a brief, mostly unnoticed article, entitled "Age of Terrorism in Algeria Nearing End":

Algerian police chief Brig. Gen. Ali Tounissi said the terrorism that has plagued the North African country for more than a decade will end soon.

The government daily al-Mujahed Monday quoted Tounissi as saying 100 terrorists have surrendered in the last year and just a few remain.

Though ignored by the mainstream Western media, this is a major development. It means that Algeria's horrific decade-long civil war, which has claimed over 150,000 lives, is now finally coming to an end. It is also a substantial defeat for the global jihadist movement, as the main Algerian terrorist group, the GSPC, was one of al-Qaeda's major affiliates. Finally, as Amir Taheri pointed out in a January 15th column, the lessons learned in Algeria are of great relevance to the war in Iraq. In many ways, the parallels are uncanny:

The Algerian terrorists never came up with anything resembling a political program. They just killed people. They killed children on their way to school. They chopped the heads of Christian monks and Muslim muftis. They murdered trade unionists, political leaders, and journalists. They captured teenage girls and forced them into temporary marriages with "the holy warriors." They seized hostages, burned schools and hospitals, blew up factories and shops, and did all they could to disrupt the economy. At times they pulled off spectacular coups, for example by murdering the country's president, and its most prominent trade union leader.

As Taheri shows, the campaign of terror waged by the Algerian jihadists was a prototype for that of the Baathists and Wahhabists in Iraq. Just as in Iraq, the Algerian terrorists "pursued two objectives":

The first was to destroy the Algerian Army by killing as many recruits as they could in the hope that this would provoke masse desertions.

The second was to prevent the holding of any elections. "Democracy means the rule of the people," Antar Zu'abri, one of the most notorious of the terrorist chiefs, killed in action in the 1990s, liked to say. "Those who want the rule of the people defy the rule of God, which is Islam."

Democracy as an "infidel" institution, where have we heard those sentiments recently?

Sadly, the jihadist onslaught produced the desired effect:

Visiting Algiers in March 1994 I was struck by the mood of doom and gloom at almost every level of government. European ambassadors confided their fear that the terrorists might seize power at any time. A segment of the elite was urging negotiations with the terrorists, which meant discussing terms of surrender.

Finally, the Algerian regime adopted a desperate strategy:

They soon realized that the terrorists lacked a significant popular base. But it was also clear that a majority of Algerians had adopted a wait-and-see attitude, hating the terrorists in secret but too frightened of them to make a clear stand against them in public. The key, therefore, was to mobilize the "silent majority" to demonstrate the isolation of the terrorists.

The most effective way to do that was to hold elections. Few people are prepared to die, and even fewer are willing to kill in support of their political opinions. But almost everyone is ready to vote. The task of a civilized society is to render the expression of political opinions easy. The terrorists made it difficult because they demanded of the people to kill and died. The Algerian leaders decided to make it easy by asking the people to vote.

When the time came for the first elections to be held in 1995, the terrorists did everything they could to stop the "infidel" process:

They burned down voter registration bureaus and murdered election officers. Masked men visited people in their homes and shops to warn that going to the polls would mean death.

Yet, as Taheri notes, a surprising thing happened on election day:

(I)t quickly became clear that the terrorists, in the forlorn attempt at stopping democracy, were, as in so many other instances in history, facing certain defeat. Never in my many years of journalism had I seen such enthusiasm for an electoral exercise anywhere in the world. The "silent majority" spoke by casting ballots, not because it particularly liked any of the candidates but because it wanted to send a message to the terrorists that they had no place in Algeria.

(emphasis added-DD)

This is why Sunday's elections in Iraq are so important. The Iraqi people, just like the Algerians, have been subjected to a barbarous campaign of murder. Just as in Algeria, the terrorists are doing everything possible to deny Iraqis the opportunity to decide their own future at the ballot box. No, Algeria is far from perfect, and the parallel is not exact. The country lacks the sectarian tensions found in Iraq, for example. Still, as Taheri points out, "Algeria was the first major Arab country to be attacked by Islamist terrorists on a large scale. It is also the first to defeat them."

Iraq's elections will not be perfect, and they will not end the insurgency no matter how successful they are. However, they offer the Iraqi people the chance to deal the terrorists a decisive blow. If the Iraqis vote in sufficient numbers, their defiance of the Baathists and Wahhabists will be evident for the world to see. More Iraqis of all ethnic and sectarian groups will be emboldened to stand against the terrorists, and most Iraqis will identify much more with their government, having had a say in its creation. "The only way to defeat terrorism", Taheri emphasizes, "is by involving the mass of the people through elections." Hopefully, Sunday's elections will allow Iraq to begin this process.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Infidel! (If you ever hear M. Savage, you'll get the greeting)

I'm Kartoph, over at

Say, would you mind adding me to your list of heretical blogs in the library world? I know you don't know "me" yet, but I'm still looking for a job and don't want my name associated, publically, with my opinions, so that some administrator can run a google on me and judge my library work by my political opinions.

I was hoping my blog would "speak" for itself in terms of whether it makes the grade for inclusion on your page.

I bet some of the folks where you work don't have your blog on their friends list!

Anyway,let me know by posting a comment over at the blog.


2:06 PM  

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