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Chapter Fifteen: Ideas and Bilingualism

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Chapter Fifteen: Ideas and Bilingualism

Amongst the many phenomena concerning the social, economic and administrative structures of the colonized countries, colonialism has generated a particular phenomenon that pertains to their mental and cultural structures, that is their ideas; this phenomenon is bilingualism. Even those Muslim countries, which have not experienced the actual— administrative and military - presence of the West, have not, however, been immune to the more or less intensive impact of its culture. For them, such influence is perceptible even at the linguistic level though to different degrees and varying measures according to each country. It can be said that such influence was almost nil in the case of a country like, for example, Yemen. However, we cannot deny any such influence that would have affected it via another Muslim country that is more exposed to that influence.

Egypt, where the foreign language—being English—affects a particular sector of the intellectual activity, can be singled out as the type of country facing the problem of bilingualism at the university level. On the other side of the continuum, we can single out Algeria as another type of country exposed to the said influence. Here, not only does the foreign language - namely French - respond to the needs of the intellectual activity, but it also fulfils the ordinary needs of daily life. Consequently, we face the problem of bilingualism at the level of the masses.

The sociological consequences of such a situation are by no means similar. In one case, bilingualism can be a starter that resets the cultural universe in motion. Thanks to a more or less accurately translated message of another culture, the impressed ideas, which previously had no echo, no dialogue with life and no influence on its course, would regain their efficacy. Thus, they start anew generating expressed ideas that may be more or less confused owing to their twofold origin. However, such expressed ideas will remain original in their relationship with the impressed ideas.

While writing his treatise on Islamic theology, Sheikh Muhammad 'Abdu was undoubtedly inspired by that pseudo-classicism which stamped al-Azhar's cultural milieu in his time. But, he succeeded, thanks to the new form and manner of expression he adopted in his Risalat al-Tawheed, in inaugurating a neo-classicism. This classical framework has been at times somewhat shaken as was the case with 'Ali 'Abd al-Raziq[1]. He intend to get rid of that Islamic pseudo-classicism, when he called into question its ideas and fundamental values as he disputed, for example, the notion of khilafah.

Here the alienation caused by bilingualism in the cultural universe of a Muslim country is not only aesthetic, but it is also of an ethical and philosophical nature. Nonetheless, it may take more radical forms in some other Muslim countries where bilingualism does not only serve as a mere starter resetting in motion a cultural world whose rhythm of intellectual life had stopped beating. In Algeria for example, even after independence, it is not a question of a mere starter but rather of dynamite hurled into the midst of the cultural universe. Although this dynamite has not destroyed everything, it has, however, generated the most peculiar cleavages in society.

First, in terms of the leadership, two groups have come into being in the ranks of the elite. The first would speak Arabic and strive with Sheikh 'Abd al-Hamid ibn Badis[2] to recover, in the Islamic sources, an authentic idea which has for good escaped from it after the failure of the islah movement whose followers took flight in the civil service, after the revolution. The second group would speak French and wear all kinds of masks such as Kemalism. Messalism, anti-Messalism, Berberism, Progressivism, pseudo-Existentialism, false Marxism etc., to serve, according to each of these labels, the gods of the age and mascots of the day, nay, in fact to serve their own interests under all these masks.

The interlude has been growing for half a century within a motley cultural universe in which no sufficiently self-assured idea could arise to lead the Algerian people along the straight path to its destiny. The first group has failed to reestablish the genuine contact of the Algerian soul with the authentic tradition of the forefathers (salad) due to the lack of a genuine contact with its archetypes. In contrast, the second one has not succeeded in establishing any real contact with modern civilization because of its failure to understand its pragmatic spirit.

Due to the lack of genuine ideas on the one hand, and of efficacious ones, on the other, we have been marking time, making no headway! Betrayed on both sides, the archetypes have only had to take revenge. Thus, a half-century has elapsed in time marking.

It was the Algerian people who at last broke the silence of that interlude. In 1954, it, indeed, abandoned all its 'spiritual leaders' to undertake on its own the launching of the revolution. The foe-brothers immediately became 'friends' so as not to be outstripped by the people over whom they intended to resume control. Thus, they apparently rallied to the revolution, but they actually rallied to the zaims who were distributing grants and rewards in Tunis and Cairo.

We should mention for the sake of history that as soon as its first leadership - known as the nizam - was decapitated in the Auras Mountains, the revolution no longer had a leadership. It only had a bursar's office (intendance) catering for ceremonial rather than combatants' needs.

Whatever is the case, as the curtain is raised anew on the Algerian scene, it is easy to see the effects of bilingualism in a clearer situation relieved of the shadow projected on it by the presence of colonialism. The issue is a deep rooted one and one that effects both the top and the bottom.

Thus, the country does not only comprise two 'elites' but rather two super-imposed 'societies' one representing the traditional and historical aspect of the country and the other wishing to start making its history from the zero-point. The impressed ideas of the former and the expressed ideas of the latter could not co-exist in one and the same cultural universe. The two societies speak two different languages. If all that is being expressed on the radio, in the press or even in textbooks is able to reflect the expressed ideas of one of the two 'societies', it has, however, no significance with regard to the impressed ideas of the other.

It should be mentioned that we do not intend here to study the etiology' of this phenomenon, for its causes belong in one way or the other to the domain of ideological struggle. Here, we are only concerned with its consequences.

In pre-revolutionary Algeria, which was not ignorant of this phenomenon that it denounced by the voice of the islah, these consequences were but more or less hidden by the shadow of colonialism and by the 'sacred universe' of the country that reacted unanimously to this as well as on other aspects. But as soon as the early years of the revolution had gone by, one could perceive the phenomenon under a new light. In fact, its consequences had started manifesting themselves from 1956 in the new style of the revolution. And from 1958 onwards, they began taking shape in a debate concerning the very language of the revolution itself; certain terms were being discussed so that new ones could replace them.

Thus, people started speaking more and more of the jundi who had earlier been al-mujahid. The debate went beyond the terminology to include the structures themselves. Consequently, the nizam disappeared and was replaced by prefabricated structures that had been carefully baptized in the Soummam Congress[3]. Similarly, the 'Executive Committee' (C.E.S.) and 'the National Congress of the Algerian Revolution' (C.N.R.A.) came into existence!

In the beginning, al-Mujahid used to obey a leader called the sheikh, but towards the end the revolution had its 'colonels'! Ever since, an entirely new vocabulary has come into existence conveying ideas that are totally alien to the cultural universe in which both the revolution and its motivations were born. Since independence, there have been two clans opposing each other at the top and two super-imposed societies that form the bottom of society.

It is at this level, at the roots that this phenomenon has to be examined. We need to draw a binary diagram of two columns to put side by side the factors that concern each society.
On the one hand, we have the ideas of the post-Almohad society where the impressed ideas are confused like a blotted out film or disc. On the other hand the expressed ideas are actually meaningless; they would be like a disc that has only preserved the harmonics separated from the fundamental ideas which are from another cultural universe.

On the one hand, we have the stiff society that imposes its customs, prejudices and superstitions as being authentic traditions. On the other, we have the self-styled revolutionary society, which in fact does not rebel against the false but rather against the most authentic values. On one side, there is the idea that has lost its social radiation. On the other, there is the idea that has rather a deadly radiation. On one side, there is inertia and stagnation; on the other, there is pseudo-dynamics and screaming anarchy.

No matter how schematic it may be, the balance sheet of bilingualism does not stop here. It extends far beyond these limits to include even the domain of the most serious creative efforts. Its complexes do not seem to have spared even Arab arts and letters, this special field in which the talent of Tawfiq al-Hakim who is certainly the best Arab playwright at present, has radiated. It is, indeed, both distressing and surprising to see a talented author compromising himself into interestingly very indicative attitudes, thus showing how our most original works betray the archetypes of our culture out of complacency for a badly assimilated alien culture.

For example, in a remarkable theatrical adaptation, Tawfiq al-Hakim has admirably succeeded in knotting the drama around the dilemma of the truth-power conflict. However, the character through whom the problem is posed is far from being any ordinary one. It is al-'lzz ibn 'Abdul al-Salam, the qadi who will always remain the model example of the magistrate who never compromises as to the requirements of his task and obligations.

Moreover, Islamic jurisprudence has its own terminology whereby every word is loaded, besides its literal significance, with all the emotional and moral charge it has acquired throughout the history of a culture. Accordingly, the notion of law, especially on the lips of such a qadi like al-'lzz ibn 'Abd al-Salam, has to be expressed by the term shariah in order to acquire its real weight in a moral issue. However, it is surprising to notice that the actor assigned to play Ibn 'Abd al-Salam's role in Tawfiq al-Hakim's play expresses the idea under question by the word qanun like any ordinary magistrate or small barrister in the Cairo or Algiers of our time!

This aspect of bilingualism, which has generated the most unexpected effects even in the Arabic expression of thoughts, is not the least significant one. As for the expression of our thoughts in a foreign language, it sometimes takes the form of total ignorance of our national culture, if not a neat betrayal. For instance, one can read in the first sentence of a book entitled L’ Architecture Algerienne "In the past, architects were called work masters. They would be called on to construct palaces, temples, churches and fortresses!"

It is distressing to notice that the architectural nomenclature of such a book published by the Ministry of Information has omitted the term "mosque". It is a question of a characteristic term of Islamic architecture, were one to study it in France, in England or in Germany! The least one could say here is that bilingualism can generate the most inconsistent and bizarre effects with respect to our national culture.

[1] 'Ali 'Abdul Raziq, an al-Azhar graduate who later studied at Oxford University. He claimed in his book al-lslam wa Usul al-Hukm that Islam was only a religious, spiritual and moral message that had nothing to do with the questions of politics and government.
[2] 'Abdul Hamid b. Muhammad Ibn Badis, born an Algerian reformist Islamic scholar. He influenced the Jam'iyat al-'Ulama and the Algerian revolutionary movement to reasserting its Islamic cultural and historical identity and promoting the teaching of the Arabic language and Islamic studies.
[3] Soummam Congress: A meeting held by the leaders of the Algerian Revolution on August 1956 in the Soumman Valley, the Eastern Algeria. This congress was critical in establishing an organization structure and ideological foundation.
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