Algerian author sparks uproar with Israel visit (JERUSALEM POST) By OREN KESSLER 05/17/12)
JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-Top
An Algerian author participated in a literary festival in Jerusalem
this week, defying censure at home and across the Arab world for
Boualem Sansal shared a panel discussion on Wednesday with Daniel Ben-
Simon, a Moroccan-born Labor MK, at the third International Writers
Festival at Mishkenot Sha’ananim.
The festival, which ends on Friday, brings together writers from 12
countries to meet with their Israeli colleagues.
On Tuesday, Sansal participated in a public reading at Jerusalem’s
iconic Tmol Shilshom cafe with writers from the Netherlands and
“When I accepted this invitation I became the target of condemnation,
but I decided to come because it was important,” Sansal, sporting a
ponytail and dressed casually in jeans, told Wednesday’s panel. “I
talked with my wife and she said I’d have problems. But to me it was
important to come to Israel to prove my autonomy from the government.
So my wife said, ‘Great – go for it.’”
Sansal, 62, was raised in a Berber mountain village 200 km. southwest
of the capital, Algiers. His résumé is that of a renaissance man: a
certified engineer with a doctorate in economics, he began writing
novels at age 50 after a long career in government.
Wednesday’s discussion – held in French with simultaneous Hebrew
translation – ranged from politics to history and art.
“I discovered Israeli literature in 1988, but only as the literature
of Mr. X or Y, who happened to be Israeli. I went to a literary salon
in Paris, and when I got there I was told there were Israeli authors
there. Then too there was a big uproar,” the author recalled.
Turning to Ben-Simon, he said, “It began with you guys in Morocco,
and was then followed by the Tunisians, Iraqis and the Arabs living
“I said, ‘What are we boycotting? This is a country with a flag that
flies in the institutions of the international community,’” he
Today the novelist is a vociferous critic of Algeria’s authoritarian
government as well as the country’s Islamic extremists, and since
2006 his books – all of them written in French – have been banned.
(Sansal was introduced at the following year’s International
Literature Festival Berlin as a writer “exiled in his own country.”)
In a speech opening the festival on Sunday evening, Uri Dromi, the
director-general of Mishkenot Sha’ananim, applauded Sansal, and other
writers who defied pressure to visit Israel.
“Some of our friends from abroad confronted some, how shall I say,
unfriendly criticism,” he said.
Sansal published his fifth novel in 2008 and it was the first to be
translated into English. It was published in the US as The German
Mujahid and in the UK as An Unfinished Business.
It tells the story of two Algerian brothers who discover their father
had been a Nazi SS officer who had fled to North Africa after World
War II. The book explores the links between Nazism and Islamism, two
movements the author sees as sharing totalitarian visions.
“There is the concept of conquering – the conquering of souls, but
also of territories. And there is the idea of extermination – the
extermination of all those who do not submit to the ideology of
Islamism,” he told the Muslim-oriented German website Qantara in
2009. “I certainly do see parallels, and I believe we have to analyze
National Socialism if we are to keep Islamism in check.”
On Wednesday, Sansal, a staunch secularist, reiterated his warnings
about the rising tide of Islamism in the wake of the Arab revolts.
“I feel we’re in the 1930s in the last century – then, no one
responded properly. Today Islamism is becoming fascism,” he said. “If
there’s no democracy, people will look for religion to be their
parliament, their government and so forth. There’s a lot of work to
“Let’s not delude ourselves that this will take 10 or 15 years – this
will be very difficult work,” he added.
Sansal said reactions in Algeria to his Israel visit were mixed.
“On my website it was 50/50 – half said they should do to me what
they did to Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. The other half said it’s great,
that it’s wonderful and we can learn from Israel’s experiences.”
In the wider Arab world, reactions to Sansal’s visit were
“This Orientalist tendency to meet ‘locals’ as colonialist subjects
for show, through colonialist mediators, should be condemned and
strictly boycotted,” the General Union of Palestinian Writers
said. “They have to choose whether to stand by occupation or freedom.
There is no place in between.”
Hamas blasted the author’s visit as a “crime against the 1.5 million
Algerian martyrs who sacrificed their lives for freedom under the
French occupation,” and said he was legitimizing “crimes perpetrated
against the Palestinian people.”
Writing in the leftist pro- Hezbollah daily Al-Akhbar, Lebanese
columnist Najwan Darwish described Sansal as Israel’s “token Arab.”
“Salsal will be a ‘guest of honor’... at Zionist festivities on the
64th anniversary of the occupation of Palestine – centered around
Israel’s ‘Declaration of Independence!’” she wrote.
“Worn-out cliches about dialogue and peace do not fool even the
idiots,” Darwish continued.
“The game is open. The colonialist fascist regime is aiming to clean
its hands of the blood of its victims using arts and literature.”
Sansal said he would explain the reasons for his visit once he
returned to Algeria. “I will have to explain myself through articles
I will write in France that will be read in Algeria,” he said. “I’m
listened to a lot in Algeria, even if I’m not allowed freedom of
speech there.” Rachel Marder contributed to this report. (© 1995-
2011, The Jerusalem Post 05/17/12)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY