Book Talk: Algeria's leading novelist says time for change

ALGIERS Thu Apr 14, 2011 11:53am EDT

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ALGIERS (Reuters Life!) - Novelist Mohammed Moulessehoul (pseudonym: Yasmina Khadra), Algeria's biggest literary export, has strong views on his native country's cultural life, and on the urgent need for political change.

The author of acclaimed novels including "The Attack", and the "Swallow of Kabul" spoke to Reuters about politics, society, and how the Arab world is perceived in the West. The following are edited excerpts from his answers:

Q: Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika spoke about the necessity to launch political reforms, but he did not elaborate. What is your comment?

A: After 30 years of bad habits, muddle, and empty slogans which have driven the Algerian people to doubt themselves, then to lassitude aggravated by 15 years of drama and barbaric violence, a convalescent Algeria is trying to get back on its feet. The delay, in fact the backward movement accumulated during these tragic years makes one dizzy. There are so many emergencies that we don't know what should be our priorities ... The social and economic malaise continues, purchasing power has tumbled, inflation is growing dramatically, the justice system is in a bad way, and corruption has discovered that it has unbelievable room for maneuver.

Q: Do you think the Tunisian virus could reach Algeria?

A: The situation prevailing in Algeria has nothing to do with other Arab countries. Our uprising, launched in 0ctober 1988, did not reach its goal. And the fundamentalist war has traumatized the minds. The Algerians do not wish to live again the horrors of the 1990s.

Q: What is your formula for solving Algeria's crisis?

A: It is not formulas that we are short of. It is enough just to get down to work...We need the political courage to work exclusively for the good of Algeria. One does not negotiate over the destiny of a people by giving in to the directives of an alliance. A choice should be made: Algeria or nothing. Since 1962 we have been trying to rear goats and grow cabbage while losing sight of the whole nation. The result: the goat has died of hunger, the cabbage has rotted and we find ourselves with a nation on our hands. It is very hard to settle down clans which have helped themselves without shame since independence, and which continue to satisfy their morbid bulimia. It is time to stop with these practices and to start doing things seriously: to help a country raise itself up into the concert of nations. The formula I propose is this: to have the courage of one's convictions.

Q: Do you believe you have a responsibility toward your Western readers to explain the Arab world to them?

A: I don't have any responsibility, just a duty as a citizen. Western authors have created stereotypes which the public have raised up to the level of truth. My twin cultures allow me to put everything in its context. In any case, I do not write for Westerners but for readers of the whole world.

Q: What do you think about the two films about Algeria which have had a big impact this year, "Outside the Law" and "Of Gods and Men"?

A: Rachid Bouchareb (director of "Outside the Law" has made an action film. There was no ulterior motive behind it. The cretinous controversy around his film has torpedoed it. As for "Of Gods and Men," I found this film moving and horribly tendentious. Which is unfortunate for the monks whom we exhume like fairground freaks."

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