I think that identity politics, Arab for some, Berber or Islamic for others, defines today’s Algeria. In the first years after independence the focus was on development, higher education, employment and unemployment. Now the main focus is on appearing rooted in one’s identity.
Is this phenomenon widespread in the population?
Yes, it is quite widespread. However, some people are trying to leave the country in search of new hope, which does not mean that they are worse Algerians or Muslims than the others.
Does this situation have any repercussion on Christian-Muslim relations?
Sadly relations are influenced by the global situation which tends to create two separate camps, a Western camp seen as the enemy of Islam and the Islamic camp. However, in real life there are situations in which Christians and Muslims are very close to one another and have developed strong ties of friendship.
Thus there are actual examples of real dialogue in Algeria!
Yes, there are. Our future is unimaginable without a possibility of dialogue. However, for dialogue to continue we must show that Muslims are respected at a global level. Otherwise, our situation becomes difficult. There is a high degree of interdependence between what happens in Europe and what occurs on the southern shores of the Mediterranean. We live in a context of globalisation and we must envisage Christian-Muslim relations from this perspective.
What can the Algerian example teach Europe?
I don’t know whether Algeria can be an example for Europe. It is true that for more than a century relations between many Muslims and the Church have been based on trust and this despite the country’s colonial experience. These relations have survived in spite of the negative political situation. However as I said before, some examples cannot be reproduced elsewhere. Christian-Muslim relations must be developed at a global level.
As for the topic of this year’s Oasis Scientific Committee, tradition, can it be a basis for dialogue or is it rather an obstacle?
Over the years the situation has changed considerably in Algeria. A non aggressive tradition existed in the past. For example, it was possible to celebrate with Muslim friends, invited at the breaking of the fast during the month of Ramadan or share a meal during the Festival of Sacrifice. Now a foreign tradition of Middle Eastern origin has come to prevail. It aims at separating Muslims from non-Muslims. People are split over these two traditions, one that is open, based on a grassroots form of Islam that Algerians of my generation could understand spontaneously, and another, more inward-looking that pushes Muslims to be suspicious of non-Muslims.
Which one will prevail in your opinion?
It is hard to say. We must keep in mind that inwardness does not only affect Muslim-Christian relations but also relations between Muslims open to dialogue and those who reject it. What I can say is that we must do all we can so that the tradition of friendship and openness prevails—otherwise this country has no future.
* Interview by Michele Cisco