A tribute to Katia Bengana, assassinated by a young Islamist on 28 February 1994 in Meftah, Algeria.
I. In “Women’s Bravery” –
Those were the days of lawlessness and faithlessness; the country plunged into strife and bloodshed as the Islamists who had been deprived of their leaders spread into the cities and the mountains like a metastatic disease, frenziedly sowing death. Under the pretext of their submission to God, they slowly turned into unrecognisable monsters before our incredulous eyes. They formed death squads, imposed their own authority and spread terror. Deprived of their electoral victory, the Islamic Front of Salvation (FIS) and its partisans set about slowly but surely unveiling their hideous disposition.
The country was plunging into civil war, neighbours and brothers killing each other. The pain and the fear overpowered the gaze of our mothers and our lives headed towards barbarism to the sound of heavy boots and the cries of “Allahu Akbar”. Death spread in every corner and the stench of gloomy clouds filled the air.
It was 1994; the walls were littered with posters released by the GIA, the armed wing of the FIS, threatening young girls and women with death if they failed to wear the headscarf in the streets, schools, offices, hospitals, parks, homes, in front of the mirrors and even in bed if they could. The GIA would only tolerate women, from the age of puberty to menopause, in service of their fantasies.
1994 culminated the horror and the unspeakable. Women became the target of collective violence exacerbated by their fragile bodies and panicky gazes. The inebriated sexual instincts of the assassins gave free rein to human barbarism ensued by a long list of unspeakable crimes with the stench of femicide.
We all lived under this menace simply because we were women, or even children and adolescent girls. Up until then, the Islamists would pick their victims for what they did, be it writing, filmmaking, thinking, or singing, and women had already been assassinated for such an ostensible reason.
However, in 1994, the religious fanatics set about assassinating, raping and enslaving women and young girls indiscriminately, veiled or otherwise. Had those women, girls and young girls in these villages, where serial acts of barbarism were perpetrated, including rape, kidnapping, torture and disembowelment, not all been veiled?
Those barbarians found in the religion that nurtured our childhood under the benevolent guardianship of our fathers what made their hatred of women sacred; or their hatred of the female gender should we say, since they denied us any act of compassion. They wanted to force us to wear a distinctive and segregationist sign, namely a headscarf to cover our hair; in other words a veil to unveil, mark and designate our gender before all and sundry, in a manner that reduced women to their erotic bodies and dehumanised them. Dehumanisation is the first step towards barbarism.
But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man…
Saint-Paul Apôtre, Letter to the Corinthians.
Those who dished out the orders sunk to the dark abyss of time. They blindly embraced the dogmas of the most reclusive sects. Acting like disciples of Saint Paul rather than their prophet Mohammed, they would erect their hair as a totem, drone out and issue fatwas on women’s hairs and secretions in order to subvert the most natural laws and allow their predatory and bestial sexuality to run riot.
At the entrance to the opulent Mitidja Valley, Blida, the city of Roses, turned into a hotbed of barbarism. God’s madmen spread their dominion over the surrounding areas they claimed they had liberated. This is where Meftah was, so far a trouble-free small town less than 100 km from Algiers.
However, on 28 February 1994, it was a very young Islamist, surrounded without a doubt by a mob that looked alike in every aspect, hardly older than yourself Katia, who shot you and then fled…
You refused to wear the headscarf and you used to shout out loud and clear why. Those creatures with a deranged spirit and a barbaric soul had been convinced of their right to dictate your way of life Katia and the way of life of all those who came under their control. They were shamed by this unqualified truth that glorified their archaic sexual instincts and their rapacious desire in the name of a bloodthirsty and ruthless god, a god who would loathe women, and yet they alleged him to be the God of Islam.
All it took was for one woman to stand up to them to make them plunge into a world of infernal ideas with the reek of blood and death that came from the hereafter, from under the living world. They were tightly knit with same the obsession, blindly serving a reinvented god and drawing from a book they did not perceive. They have sacrificed you according to their demented order.
You defended until death the way you dressed despite the delirium of these creatures. You knew them; you used to come across them in the streets, outside the school and the shops where they would harass you. These young men had been roaming the streets for days, getting more and more persistent and menacing. “Hooligans” your dad would say. Alas, they were more than that; they were monsters indoctrinated to kill and they were biding their time to ensure the total success of their chore by starting to instil fear among the masses. They invented and imposed laws on the city and the locals chose to believe that this state of affairs would soon come to an end and all they had to do was wait and keep a low profile.
In all the cities and all the districts, people kept a low profile. The whole country kept a low profile. Thousands and thousands kept a low profile, while those who refused to give in were soon dealt with. They would be slain as they tried to stand up and pass on to us a bit of their courage and their hopes. In Meftah, like elsewhere, men chose to lie low and leave the field clear for barbarism. In the small town of this huge country, which was known as “the country of freemen”, where did the claimed courage stop after it had made its escape? On your childlike face and your slender shoulders Katia; and in your eyes, which looked danger straight in the face and which will stay wide open as if they were a perpetual castigation for those who had seen nothing coming, who had chosen not to see and not to do anything to stop the tragedy that had been long before heading towards that town and all the other similar towns. Meftah, an inconsequential town, which your death threw into our faces on 28 February 1994.
I have never been to Meftah and I will never go to Meftah lest I should see nothing, lest I should be once again witness of the work of time, which bit by bit smoothes our daily life, turning it into a slack sea and making us fall again into a grim and hideous “normality”, whereas we ought to keep the episode of barbarism seared into our memories, lest we should relapse.
Your assassin shot you at point blank range with a sawn-off shotgun. I do not exactly know what sawn-off really means; nevertheless, he fired and fled, leaving you lying on the pavement in a pool of blood, red like the carnations of the wreath of carnations and white daisies that the four young men sombrely laid at your grave. They walked close to your father in this BBC documentary that circled the world and which I watched on a TV screen in the corridors of the United Nations where the diplomats were lost for words in attempting to condemn the crimes perpetrated in the name of Islam. It was the wretchedness of politics, the subjection before the inextinguishable sorrow and the victory of barbarism.
“Prayer for Disaster”: Chapter from Fadhila Al Farouq’s novel Taa Al Khajal
Translated by Anissa Daoudi
“Time is the Arab’s wound, they would retreat to the past” and Constantine speak only the language of the past.
I cross the street of Abanne Ramdane and the past is dispersed around me with the call for the Duhur prayer.
Minerets seem in a dream, hugging the violets in the sky, like they were in love, people shouting: “Allah Akbar”
People here do not disagree with what the Minarets say, even when these said:
“Please God, prostitute their daughters”.
People said: Amen
Even when they said:
“Please God make the children orphans”
People said: Amen
And even when minarets said:
“Please God widow their wives”.
They said: Amen
They were all struck down with FIS fever, they all sang with blinded eyes the Prayer for Disaster.
And that’s why Amina sleeps, bleeding at the University Hospital, carrying traces of change.
And that’s why hundreds of flowers are raped, blessed by the people prayers. It should befall the people…and no one else!
I noticed that the car nearly ran me down, and I’m trying to cut.
Retreated back horrified, as for the driver’s insult, it had penetrated my ear sharp like a knife.
I was almost angry, but my journey of sadness is in its early days, gazing towards the driver with a look of indifference, and merely echoing something between me and myself “poor thing. He is without moral. ”
We can’t be poor unless we were without moral.
Reduced traffic from the road.
Two birds flying in the sky hugged each other, and Yamina’s singing in my head with her breath, she’s tired, and dreaming of seeing her family.
And I’m all her family for now! And what a strait that caught me?
Here’s the surprise that I didn’t wait for her, to enter the world of victims of rape not as a journalist, but as a family member, what am I going to write about Yamina? Her, laying down on a hope called ‘me’. Sleeping in the hope of receiving no more than a radio, which I will get her, for I am the family, and I am the relatives, the daughter of the tongue that united us in unexpected, and in unforeseen circumstances.
I was thinking all the way about how to write about the topic, in which way, with which heart, in what language, with what pen? The Pens of kin don’t like to transgress.
Pens the same blood, don’t cheat!
So how could I betray those happy breaths of my presence? How could I betray those eyes filled with confidence?
How can one write about a female whose virginity was stolen from her by force?
I don’t know how to write, I no longer know colors
I don’t know the color of the paper.
Everything became like delirium “a novel” and “bleeding” of Yamina.
Everything turned red. Blood. Blood. Blood.
-I won’t write it. It’s over.
Two leaves flew off.
Two friends split up: Bye, Rasheed…
Bye my dear. See you later my dear.
I noticed that in her eyes a glimmer of hope.
I noticed that Constantine became more beautiful.
And the pine trees started babbling, and the air flirting with the girls’ hair. Stories here and there, among school children jogging to their homes.
All I wanted was to be a kid. To be carried by the wind the girls’ school in Ariss, to run on that small bridge, to listen to the whispers of willows, to throw a paper airplane off the bridge and to clap when it goes higher and higher, while avoiding branches.
My favorite game was to make pretty things with paper.
The paper is still necessary in my life, I still make from it my beautiful stuff, and that’s why I won’t write on Yamina and won’t allow the photographer to take a picture of her grief, and covers her eyes so that nobody knows.
There are issues that are not resolved by the cries of the newspaper.
Issues which can only be solved through Justice, law and conscience.
Here, … Justice is made through men’s narrow perceptions. Article 336 of the Algerian Penal Code for defilement “punish anyone who commits rape crime with imprisonment from five to ten years, and if the indecent assault against a minor who is under sixteen years old, then the penalty would be temporary imprisonment from ten to twenty years” law is not strict enough, compared with French law, which provides stricter circumstances lies in infringing on the victim of sexual assault, the penalty is 20 years. Men here, tailor Islam to their tastes.
So, who among those know the mercy of Islam?
Some rape women in his name. And some ostracize from his name too.
And some give women compensation “trivial” from the municipality, which equates 2000 dinars ($ 20)
And some deny that they are victims in his name, and women’s associations denounce and scream. And associations of victims of terrorism also condemn and scream.
Only raped women know what it means to violate the body, to violate the self/ego.
Only they know shame, homelessness and prostitution
and suicide; only they know fatwas which have permitted ‘rape’.
The ‘Amir’ is the one to offer her.
Only the one to whom she was offered, who can kiss her and with the Amir’s permission.
She would not be naked in front of brothers.
Not be viewed with lust. Not to be hit by the brothers but only the one who to whom she was offered to, he can do as he pleases, within God’s limits.
If a captive (sabiyya) and her mother, and you have intercourse with the mother, then it is not permissible to have intercourse with her daughter.
If there was a sexual intercourse with a woman, it is not permissible to have an intercourse with her until she has her period. Flirting and caressing are permitted.
Father and son cannot have sexual intercourse with the same sabiyya.
It is not permissible to combine a sabiyya with her sister with the same with Mujahid”
(This document was found after Bentalha and after the arrival of the army to the region of Ouled Allal, a document that regulates the rules of sexual intercourse, delivered on the 5th Muharram 1418 Hijri and the source is anonymous.
Somehow I knew all these things, following a previous investigation. And people know, and law enforcement people know, but who knows the horror of the experience, except those flowers, living today among thorns of shame and madness?
Will I expose Amina? Will I expose myself?
Tomorrow, family and relatives and everyone who knows my name will say: this is Abdul Hafeez Mokran’s daughter who exposes one of us. ”
How did things have gotten me here? How did I think this way?
I chased all those thoughts away from my head and sat in front of the editor silent, him speaking and I don’t hear it, then approached and shouted at me:
What’s wrong with you today?
I stormed off and nearly said:
How did I get here?
Since I no longer remember how I came all the way from downtown to the press.
I looked at him with eyes missing, he told me, pulling out a cigarette and trying to start one:
Where are you with the investigation?
I came back to my reality and I asked him: why don’t people pray as they used to pray before the days of “FIS” and ask for forgiveness and mercy and peace?
(FIS: acronym for Islamic Salvation Front Party)
He stopped moving around a little, blew out his cigarette before smoking it, and returned to his place and then said:
What happened at the hospital?
I came back to a more realistic world and I answered: It is a tragedy!
-Write it then.
-No. I won’t write anything about them?
-You are not yourself, apparently, are you sick today? I smiled and said to him:
-No, not sick.
Shook his shoulders wondering:
-I’ll write about prayer.
-Frayer of ‘FIS”, do you remember it? It was echoed in every mosque during days of strikes. The one that says “Please God, prostitute their daughters, Please God make the children orphans, widow their wives to the end of the prayer”. I will ask the people that repeated it, I will ask their conscience, I want to know their level, and did they know what they were saying? Why were they led behind the “FIS” Immams and altogether they asked a strange request as that of Allah.
The editor interrupted me:
Khalida, I want you to write about the experience of these girls?
But I wrote previously, provided statistics, five thousand raped woman since 1994, said that a thousand and seven hundred woman raped outside the circle of terrorism, said that the Ministry doesn’t care, said that the law doesn’t care, said that parents don’t care, they have not accepted their daughters after their return, said they contracted madness, turned to prostitution, committed suicide. Has anyone acted, except Khalida Messoudi and her like (Khalida Messoudi is a feminist militant in Algeria has a book in French entitled “standing woman”?
He interrupted me loudly:
We are not the law. We are the press. I interrupted him too shouting:
We are ridiculous.
Hitting his fist on the table:
-What happened to you today?
Imagine that your daughter was kidnapped one night, raped and she conceived and gave birth to shame, and is now at the University Hospital, bleeding, and I come in as a journalist to say that this happened to so and so daughter, will you accept?
With a Mocking laughter, he approached me:
Since when did we mention people’s names in such cases?
-The truth is to reveal names and surnames, nobody will believe us if we don’t write the whole truth.
-Khalida, be brief, he said angrily.
And I replied quietly: I won’t write about them, I’ll write about the prayer.
He took a deep breath to restore calm and then told me, pressing on every word he says:
-Kidnapping and rapes have become a military strategy since 1995 and an instrument of armed conflict between armed Islamic groups and the defenseless community how will the world understand what is happening here, if we don’t write about?
I laughed with all my heart:
You look funny. (Continued sarcastically) the world will read our newspaper which doesn’t distribute ten thousand copies at home, and does not reach up to our neighbors in Morocco and Tunisia, and doesn’t enter the Internet “come on man, focus with me,” I said it in an Egyptian accent, more sarcastic and left.
Unpublished Poem by Iman Bioud
She (Feminine ‘She’)
On my lips
يبس الحزن على شفتي
كالثلمة في بتل الورد
نام البتل على ثلمته
أتلوى من فجر الليل
إلى عصر الفجر
أتفرس وجها أعرفه
انفرط كحبات عقيق
وبات الموطن مهجورا
يلفظ حرفا ملويا
يا ذاك الإعجاز اللغوي تفصح
تتوجع همزتها فوق الألف
هذي امرأة إعربها
(اسم ناقص مصلوب)
تاء التأنيث بآخره
تاء التأنيث بداخله
تقطر مزجا شهديا