The Battle of Algiers

While commenter Lilith and Trent put ‘paid’ to modern Islam in the comments to the post criticizing Henley’s Grand Scheme below, it’s important to note that there are signs of hope.

In today’s L.A. Times, Walter Russell Mead has a column on Algeria.

It’s important to note that it was in Algeria that the roots of modern anticolonial theory took hold – Fanon wrote from his experience as a psychiatrist in Algeria. The film ‘Battle of Algiers’ brought the brutal reality of counterinsurgency home to us, and the French policy toward the Arab world was shaped in Algeria.

And now, some good things are happening there.

Algeria just completed the freest election in the history of the Arab world, it has lots of oil and gas, it wants to work closely with the United States against fanatical terror — and, as a special added bonus, it still doesn’t like France.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has played a leading role in the reforms that are changing the country. First elected in a 1999 contest widely regarded as rigged, Bouteflika has lifted controls on the press and on the opposition. He was reelected earlier this month. A brash and independent press criticizes the president daily — and as long as it remains free, Algeria’s institutions will continue to gain international respect.

Reality is complex, and a very smart (and rich) fellow once told me that he’d made most of his money on the simple assumption that things are seldom as bad or good as people think.

Advice well worth taking.

31 thoughts on “The Battle of Algiers”

  1. OT:
    My theory is that the recent dust up with LGF has brought a whole new batch of interesting commenters to WoC. Keep it up!

  2. Indeed Lurket. Of course, some of us have been here for while…

    Back on topic, thanks for the find AL. News like this is what keeps the optimist in me alive, and tells me that there is hope yet for the Arab world. Does this mean now, though, that Algeria is the first democratic Arab state? Or is it proto-democratic? I think that the latter is more the case, as Algeria has yet to see a really contested election, one which will test its institutions.

  3. Definitely the latter, FH. I’d say that a state like ours – where you can have a brutally contested election and nothing gets burned down – qualifies as democratic.


  4. A.L.: You say: “While commenter Lilith and Trent put ‘paid’ to modern Islam….”
    OK then. I take vehement exception to this statement. On which thread should I place my argument?

  5. A.L.: Perhaps you are busy. I’ll expand my thesis here then.

    Trent’s conclusion that tribalism is incompatible with modern society is very true. But kill’emall is not a solution.

    Lilith’s conclusion that Islam and democracy are incompatible is largely based on her (questionable) interpretation of the Qur’an, and her solution is the failed policy of isolationism.

    I argue that neither solution will ‘put paid’ to modern Islam.

  6. Part of the problem, twisterella, is that there is no single entity that goes by the name, ‘modern Islam’. Instead, there is a war going on now, in the Middle East and across the globe, to define exactly what “Modern Islam” will be. Bin Laden is fighting against other Islamic systems as much as he is fighting against the West.

  7. twisterella –

    I meant “put paid” in the sense of saying “it’s over”. And I do believe that modern Islam, as presently constituted is on the brink of change – but not that it’s over.



  8. twisterella,

    A.L. is having one of his periodic “Liberal Mr. Hyde” personality take overs like he had in the comments section of my Iran’s Spoiling Attack post here:

    Except this time, rather than nukes turning off his brain, A.L. cannot face up to the reality of America as an unstoppable revolutionary power destroying the status quo world wide.

    As for Mead, he has lost all credibility on the Middle East by demonstrating that he has been captured by conventional thinking in this NT TIMES op-ed:

    Why They Hate Us, Really
    Published: April 21, 2004

    Drezner took that op-ed up here:

    There was much back and forth on Mead and the best one liner I saw said something to the effect that “Mead had drunk the conventional wisdom Kool-aid.”

    Yet for all that these two posts by Tom Holsinger cut to the heart of the matter on the subject of Arab tribal culture malfunction and America’s reaction to it:

    The Palestinians are and have always been used by other Arabs as a means of deflecting attention from their tyrannies at home. Mead’s latest book is disappointing and his conclusion here is ludicrous.

    There is nothing, nothing, we can do concerning the Palestinians which will in any way change this situation save turning them into radioactive debris. The problem lies elsewhere – the Arabs’ loser tribal culture and its political consequences – tyranny, backwardness and mass psychosis. The Palestinians’ particular homicidal psychosis was created and fostered by non-Palestinian Arabs, as well as Palestinians, as a means of controlling the Palestinians and obtaining political influence over other Arabs.

    Mead’s proposal would foster the Middle East’s status quo. Our security at home requires that this status quo be utterly overthrown. That will happen. Awful lessons in what power really is are coming. The only question concerning America’s victory over terror is how many Arabs survive the experience.

    Mead’s preface in his latest book refers so favorably to the Council on Foreign Affairs that his co-option here is obvious. He and they are trapped inside the box of conventional thinking. They can’t see outside it.

    A rotation of America’s foreign policy elite is coming too. They have failed to deliver security. They cannot restore security. They are part of the problem, not part of the solution, and they will be replaced by people who can do the job.

    posted by: Tom Holsinger on 04.22.04 at 02:48 PM [permalink]


    It isn’t just the Palestinians. The other Arabs don’t want a solution here – they want the problem to fester as a means of distracting their people from domestic issues.

    Most any Arab with influence here is out to obstruct progress, and doing their best to make things worse rather than better.

    So the Palestinians are merely a vehicle by which the dysfunctional & rather psychotic Arab culture can perpetuate its dysfunctional psychosis.

    And it isn’t just the Arabs. Lots of Europeans, notably the elites who have seized control of the EU, are using this mess as a means of attacking the US as well as Israel. EU funding of the Palestinian Authority is overtly serving this end.

    There is no flipping way anything the U.S. does concerning the Palestinians which can break this vicious circle up. A solution here will come either as a result of success in the Bush Administration’s grand strategy for remaking the whole Middle East, or forcible breaking of the Arabs’ tribal culture overall.

    posted by: Tom Holsinger on 04.22.04 at 06:19 PM [permalink]

    Maybe the loser Arab Tribal Culture “horse” will learn to sing.

    Maybe it won’t come down to the final show down between it and America.

    I wouldn’t bet that way.

  9. A.L.: No, not better! What does put ‘paid’ to modern Islam mean then? Does it mean they defined it? Solved the problem? Reached a consensus?

    Trent: I agree with you, that Wretchard’s Third Conjecture may be the end-game, but the problem with kill’emall is I can’t accept the collateral damage.

  10. FH: Are you saying there is no “Modern Islam”? Then what did A.L.’s entry mean? Did Trent and Lilith put paid to the concept of Modern Islam? I am confused.

  11. Sorry guys, but I must reluctantly agree with Wretchard’s Third Conjecture. I wish there were some way the Arab Man on the Street can cut through the poison their respective governments feed them and see those governments as the problem, not the US or Israel.

    Islam, IMHO, has reached the point in its history where Christianity and Judaism were five centuries ago, to ADAPT or DIE. Christianity and Judaism chose the former. Now it’s Islam’s turn.

  12. “Lilith’s conclusion that Islam and democracy are incompatible is largely based on her (questionable) interpretation of the Qur’an, and her solution is the failed policy of isolationism.”

    There you go again Aurelia. [sigh]

    I said nothing about isolationism! I said cut them off. That is ostracization not isolation. We get to be “engaged” or not— on our terms.

    Again, I have no “interpretation” of the Qur’an. What’s there is there!

    “EU funding of the Palestinian Authority is overtly serving this end.”

    They want money from us too. *Palestinians Expect Large Aid Package*

    I say let’s cut the ALL off—Israel included. ;-)

  13. Macker: This is true. But what if we can understand the mechanism well enough to cause adaptation? Or at least enable it? That’s what I am most interested in.

  14. “Islam, IMHO, has reached the point in its history where Christianity and Judaism were five centuries ago, to ADAPT or DIE.”

    Judaism was not in that position 5 c. ago. Or rather, Judaism has been in that situation repeatedly since its infancy, and could write the book on adapting as an alternative to dying. The most pivotal time was c. 70 CE, but there have been many others as well, each accompanied by much fretting and dire predictions, such that there is a joke about “Jews, the ever-dying people . . .” But not 5 c. ago that I can think of.

  15. Yehudit, this is also true. Judaism is spectacularily adaptive. And Judaism does not proselytize to acquire converts! My hypothesis is Judaism’s adaptive strategy is to replicate superior genomes through reproduction, constrained by the fierce section gradient that the Jewish population has nearly always operated under.

  16. My hypothesis is Judaism’s adaptive strategy is to replicate superior genomes through reproduction….

    Forgive me…but I find this amusing in a way. Is that why a lot of Jewish women marry outside their faith? I’ve dated a couple….

  17. Macker: That probably is more related to the time-honoured tradition of outcrossing, or leavening the local gene pool with “hybrid vigour”. This practice has been widely studied in cultural anthropology. Evolutionary psychobiologists say, “there is a little bit of the tribe in all of us”.

  18. twisterella,

    It is the nature of Democracies that they always get to the correct solution, _after they have tried every other solution first._

    Wretchard’s world will not come in one apocolyptic orgy of destruction. It is going to be Vietnam style “sending messages with firepower” incrementalism all the flipping way.

    There will be several rounds of megadeath with mass refugee movements and spiraling death counts. The fact of the matter is that people who don’t want to die and know someone is out to kill them are really hard to kill, even with nukes.

    Either the Arabs tribal culture will be destroyed by this or they will.

    My preference here is to be more brutal at the beginning to get Arab cultural attention rather than kill them all in the end, but that option has been closed out by the soft headed among us.

    Just as they don’t want to believe in their guts that nukes are on the table for what amounts to religious reasons. They don’t want to do what is necessary to prevent us from having to deal genocide at the end of this path.

    My name for this process is “Incrementalism on the road to hell.”

    What is worse is that you can’t really tell people about this before they are made ready to listen by events. It will only get you marked as a monster. Just look at Joe Katzman’s and A.L.’s response to the logical reality of an Israeli nuclear preemption of Iran in my “Iran’s Spoiling Attack” post. Both of them are pro-war and neither of them could go there.

    What would people have thought of Wretchard’s Third Conjectures prior to 9/11/2001. Wretchard being written off as a raving lunatic would have been the best outcome.

  19. Trent – Well said! The problem here is that the folks who don’t want war now will have an even harder time dealing with the consequences of their short-sightedness in the future than your or I will.
    Another sad point is that a lot of people are going to have their first intimation that they have screwed up when a large bright light appears over a city nearby and they are introduced to Siva upclose and personal.
    And those of us who are trying to find a way to avoid this are the bad guys!!!

  20. Oscar, Trent: But what if there is a way to avoid Apocalypse, if we are really really clever about understanding the mechanism?

    OK, this is kind of crude, but here goes. Cultures are made up of memes, or copy-me programs. The analogy is a simple virus, generating reps. What if we change the code just a little, and make an antivirus out of the popular meme? Try this “It is good to watch Al-Jazeerha tv, because it is about arabs like me”. This is probably not a useful meme from our point of view, we might even say it is “bad”. So do we stop it by forbidding Al-Jazeerha to be watched in Iraq? No, we change the coding, just a little. We’ll change the meme to read “It is good to watch Al-Jazeerha tv, because it is about arabs like me, but it is better to watch Spirit of America tv, because it is about my local relatives and my local village.” See, we can exploit memetic transmission structures already extent in the target population. That’s why I think Spirit of America is such a brilliant idea.
    Sadly, there are some memes that have to be expunged in blood. A popular meme originating in GulfI is “The Americans will desert us as soon as it gets too hard”. Every soldier that gives their life is changing this meme to read “The Americans will finish the job”. I just hope we can stick it out.

  21. “Cultures are made up of memes, or copy-me programs. The analogy is a simple virus, generating reps.”

    If you want to use the virus analogy then you should use a mutating one. Because, culture is always “mutating” into a similar but different form— especially Western culture. Islam keeps the mutations down. But, every once in a while it produces a “killer” virus like al-Qaeda, that replicates and mutates into more virulent forms.

    Al-Jazeera may not be “liked” by the U.S., however, they do expose a lot that goes on in the M.E. The Saudis have even banned it and Al-Arabiya, for a time, as being “too Western.” It is unfortunate that the U.S. always gives al-Jazeera ammunition.

    “The Americans will desert us as soon as it gets too hard”.

    The Americans have a short attention span. It is already getting “too hard” and the cost is much too high.

    The way to avoid the apocalypse would be through “education” via media and any other means, as I have said before.

  22. twisterella,

    The issue here is that Arabs are using oil money to replecate their dysfunctional and psychotic culture across Islam and in the anti-Christian Secular West.

    This will keep going on as long as the Saudis are in business. It will be five years or so after we conquer Iran before the USA takes out the Saudis. That is, some time after a reelected George Bush leaves office.

    This brings up an interesting point about Saudi demographics — only 500,000 of 18 million Saudis work according to Saudi government statistics. Everyone else is on the El-Saud clan’s unearned oil income dole. This makes them less of a threat to the regime, but it is also the logical outcome of the Arab ‘honest work is dishonorable’ meme.

    What happens when the Saudi oil income is cut off, all the guest foreign workers go home, and less than 5% of your population knows how to work?

    The result will be something that approaches genocide as the Saudis are far to numerous for their environment without modern cities, modern transportation, electric power and industrial scale desalinization. None of which they can have absent their oil money and foreign workers.

    This is another of my ‘scenarios for mega-death’ that pro-war people like A.L. and Joe Katzman don’t want to go anywhere near prior to events.

    Living out on the edge of the future has taught me that there are none so blind as those who do not wish to see. There are none so deaf as those who do not wish to hear.

    Education by events is required and education by events we will get. God save the Arab world’s souls.

  23. Trent: Sorry for taking so long to reply, but WofC was down last night, as I’m sure you know. By the way, I LOVED “Spoiling Attack”, it was awesome.
    Everything you say is absolutely true, and more. For example, employers are reluctant to hire young Saudi husbands as engineers because of “unreliability”– the Sauds are always having to rush home to drive their wives to the doctor or store, because women can’t drive (source: CSPAN BookTV). What if we can somehow program the meme that says “women can’t drive” to read “women can’t drive, except to better my job position”?
    That is where my interests lie, in being able to exploit the memetic transmission structures already in place in the population.
    None of this means that I am an apologist for Islam– like the poet says, “hate makes you stupid, but anger makes you strong.”

  24. One problem with the “many mega-deaths” possible last resort…
    Does it get you what you want?

    Certainly it can deal with hostile states, and may be imperative to deal with such if they acquire hardened nuclear production/stockpiles.
    But, you still have the problem of Muslim minorities in non-Muslim states.

    Suppose an appreciable minority of such take up the cause and are smart about it (layered organisational recruiting, strict cell systems, rigid communications security, long term planning, much more intelligent operations planning analysis, total disconnect between propaganda/preaching and operations, no overt ‘charismatic’ leadership).

    Even absent nukes, that could be a very nasty and hard to eradicate threat.

    Think a cross between the medieval Assasins and the recent Provo-IRA, focused on periodic, anonymous mass-casualty attacks.

    That prospect strikes me as another very good reason to ensure action before large scale nuclear strikes become the most likely outcome.

  25. Trent:
    Yes. Wipe them out when you find them.
    But finding them may be the problem.
    Especially if there’s a radicalised Muslim diaspora.

    Assasins had a known base, and the Thuggee were not too security conscious.
    (IIRC a British officer cracked their fanaticism by convincing prisoners he was the divine agent of Kali, then rolled up the whole system. Now I’m going to have to try and find something I read years ago about it :)

    I’ve been thinking about the Raj as one possible example of major (but limited) externally imposed modification of culture. Of course, there was the Mutiny…

    If worst comes to worst, we could do it. But as I say, I want to avoid the nastier scenarios (nukes, empire) by prompt action. If possible.

  26. John,

    Americans are unwilling to do what is needed now to prevent the worst from coming to pass.

    A real leader of Reagan’s, Truman’s or FDR’s caliber could push us off this trajectory.

    Bush isn’t that leader and Kerry wants to pretend that 9/11/2001 can be dealt with by law enforcement and wishful thinking.

  27. John,

    I have a very simple solution to that (that being “Suppose an appreciable minority of such take up the cause and are smart about it …”):

    Make them watch “Galaxy Quest” re-runs until they all turn inside out and explode.

    My solution is more likely to occur than your problem.

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