Thursday, May 24, 2012

Kabylia/Kabyle You've Heard Of?

Did you know that the Kabylia national leader Ferhat Mehenni is currently on a visit in Israel?

First of all, you should know that Kabylia is the most important Berber-speaking area in North Africa. It is a compact mountainous area, approximately the size of Israel (26,000 square kilometers). Its 7 million population is ethnically and linguistically homogeneous. There is an additional Kabylia population of 3 to 4 million in Algeria proper, and a diaspora of 2 million in Europe (France, Germany, Belgium, the UK) and North America (Canada, the United States). The global Kabylia population in the world is close to 12 million.

Like other Berbers, the Kabyles were gradually islamized over the centuries, but retained many pre-Islamic traditions or fusioned them with esoterical (Sufi) Islamic devotion. Some Kabyles claim Jewish or Christian roots.  In fact, several fully Jewish enclaves existed until the 19th century in their territory. From the 20th century on, the Kabyles have tended to be more secular than most other groups in North Africa.

A tough warrior nation, the Kabyles frequently rebelled against the French colonial rulers in the 19th century, and were the spearhead of the Algerian insurrection in the 1950's. In 1963-1965, shortly after Algeria achieved independence under the panarabist and islamist FLN government, Kabylia was brutally «pacified» by the the Soviet-backed National Popular Army (ANP).

Kabyle nationalism was revived some fifteen years later, in 1980, as a cultural movement known as «Berber Spring» (Printemps Berbère), that resisted the forced Arabization of the Berber-speaking regions. In the 1990’s, when the FLN regime desintegrated and Algeria descended into a bitter civil war between ANP and radical islamist guerillas, Kabylia became virtually independent from the central Algerian government. It is still the case today. Kabylia quitely ignores Algerian legislation in many respects, and boycotts most Algerian elections ; its day to day administration has been largely taken over by informal village councils. There are only two remaining links between the two countries : the Algerian army that still controls Kabylia from a strictly military point of view ; and the Kabyle diaspora in Algeria proper.

Ferhat Mehenni is the son of a Kabyle freedom fighter fallen in the Algerian war of independence. Ferhat graduated in political science at the University of Algiers in 1973. At about the same time, he became a national Kabyle figure as a poet and singer, along with Matoub Lounès and Idir, and engaged in militant Kabyle activities. He was arrested and jailed by the Algerian authorities on several occasions.

In the 1980’s he became one of the leaders of the Berber Spring movement and the ensuing Coalition for Culture and Democracy (RCD) that he cofounded with Saïd Saadi. Upon the assassination of Matoub Lounès in 1998, Ferhat took over as the national bard of Kabylia and created the Movement for Kabyle Autonomy (MAK). For about fifteen years, he has advocated «full autonomy» for Kabylia, something to be compared to the present statute of Catalonia or Quebec. In 2010, he finally established a Kabyle Provisional Government (KPG or Anavad) in exile, in order to achieve « overeignty», if not outright independence.

Ferhat Mehenni has constantly held the view that Kabylia and other Berber nations have no part in the Israeli-Arab dispute. He has constantly expressed his interest in Israel as a free and democratic country.

I hope his visit was educational and one of stirring him to succeed.

I have always subscribed to the thinking of AG Horon who held that the Arab Muslim Middle East is neither Arab or Muslim but actually made up of many minorities subjugated by Islam and the conquering tribes of Saudi Arabia, and that alliances could be created (although he formulated together with Yonatan Ratosh, a Canaanite/Semitic Middle East * with no Jews, but Hebrews.


When Ratosh rejected the traditional Jewish view of history and its Zionist interpretation, he needed another view of history on which to ground the new national identity he proposed. He found such a view in the historiosophical ideas of A. G. Horon, whom Ratosh heard lecturing while he was studying in Paris in 1938-39. Horon claimed that the ancient Israelites before the Babylonian exile were Hebrews, who formed a part of a greater, unified Canaanite culture. The Israelites were the leading group among the many Hebrew tribes and were distinguished by their adherence to one God and their rejection of other "Hebrew" gods. Armed with an ideology and a quasi-historical justification for it, Ratosh returned to Palestine in 1939 to convince other people of his idea and to inspire a vast political-cultural movement. This effort was far more successful in its cultural than its political ambitions.


1 comment:

Jaya Prentice said...

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