The Many (Im)possibilities of Contemporary Algerian Judaïtés
La Criée Theatre, 1 April 2012
On 1 April 2012 the final event of a three-day conference – ‘La Guerre d'Algérie: 50 ans apres’ [The Algerian War: 50 years on] – took place at La Criée Theatre in Marseille. It was hosted by Maurice Szafran, who chaired a discussion between Bernard-Henri Lévy and Zohra Drif. In her opening address, Zohra Drif, a moujahida [female resistance fighter] of the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) during the war of independence, introduced herself as a woman of Algerian, Maghrebi, Amazigh (Berber) and African origins, and of Arab-Islamic culture. Bernard-Henri Lévy – writer, philosopher, public intellectual, born in Algeria in 1948 – introduced himself as, above all, French. However, he also emphasized that he was the grandson of a Jewish shepherd from Tlemcen and in doing so seemed to implicitly declare an Algerian identity. Lévy's affective attachment and genealogical connection to Algeria are two factors that underlie an Algerian Jewish stake in the history and culture of the country beyond the question of juridical citizenship.
It is to France that the vast majority of Algeria's Jews went in the months prior to Algerian independence in 1962. And contemporary France has become an important site for a significant degree of Algerian Jewish- Muslim intellectual exchange and daily interaction. As with the positions adopted by Drif and Lévy, these forms of exchange are inflected by a broader politics relating to colonial historiography in France and in Algeria as well as transnational geopolitics – such as relations between Israel and Palestine and the ‘War on Terror’. These discourses shape relations between ‘Jews’ and ‘Arabs’ in France to some extent. The complex question of Jewish Algerianness cuts across these dichotomies in interesting ways and speaks to contemporary North African multiculturalism (particularly in France) as well as to the tensions around difference and the possibility of differing loyalties which came to the fore during the Algerian war of independence and have re-emerged as a result of events in Algeria between 1988 and 1999.
The debate between Zohra Drif and Bernard-Henri Lévy highlights the fraught nature of remembering Algeria in contemporary France and the memory of France in contemporary Algeria, what these occlude and how they render Jewish identification with Algeria complex. Whether consciously or not, Drif's list of self-describing adjectives corresponds to an exclusively Muslim definition of Algerian identity.