At a gathering in Paris, French intellectuals conclude that they must support the Algerian government's "armed solution." Michael Ignatieff considers what, if anything, Europe can doby Michael Ignatieff / March 20, 1998 / Leave a comment
Yasmina walks shyly on to the stage at the Mutualit? auditorium in Paris in her headscarf and traditional red robes. She is so tightly veiled that only her eyes-dark and timid-are visible. She is a shepherdess and she has been flown all the way to Paris to tell her story to the 1,000-strong crowd.
The meeting has been called by French intellectuals-Andr? Glucksman, Bernard-Henri L?vy-and political figures-Brice Lalonde, Robert Badinter and Jacques Lang. They want Europe to do something to stop the killing in Algeria. The speeches are eloquent: crimes against humanity are being committed on the borders of Europe; Europe must stop saying the Algerian government is as bad as the terrorists. It is the armed Islamic groups, not the government, who are responsible for the massacres. They are all eloquent, but the one whose words carry most conviction is Yasmina.
The men, she said, swooped down on her one afternoon when she was alone in the fields with her sheep. They ripped her hejab off her head and tied her up with it. She asked, “Have you no fear of God?” and they dragged her away into the mountains. When they brought her to their emir, he said: “Why did you bring this one to me? She has grey hair.” In the three following days, every single man in the camp-50 in all-raped her. The emir did too.
After three weeks, she slipped away in the darkness when her captors were asleep. “I ran for eight hours. My feet were bloody. Only God was with me.” When she reached the nearest police station, the police took her for a madwoman because her head was uncovered and her garments were in filthy tatters.
The men who did this to her, she insists, were not the government but the armed Islamic group, the GIA. They claim to speak for Islam, but Yasmina says: “This is not our Islam.” Her faith cannot be responsible for this abomination-it is not bearable to think so. When she finishes, she leaves the stage under armed escort. She is being protected against reprisals. The GIA have cells in Paris, Berlin and London.
The Algerian government admits that 26,000 people have been murdered in the past six years; human rights groups in Algeria fear that the number may be as high as 80,000. No one knows the exact total because the government will not allow…