November 2015
Boualem Sansal

“The Islamistophobe”

By Loraine Adam
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Since the publication of “2084. La Fin du monde” we can talk of nothing else but this former high-ranking civil servant. Inspired by Orwell’s “1984”, it tells the tale of a dictatorship where fundamentalism has infiltrated all levels of power.

In this new literary season, his name is on everyone’s lips because the author of “2084. La Fin du monde” is in contention for six major awards: the Goncourt, the Renaudot, the Femina, the Médicis, the l’Interallié and Flores Prizes! When you ask this French-speaking Algerian novelist-essayist what effect these nominations have on him, he smiles and says: “I’m really happy, but if I don’t win, I’ll think about it for a few days, then I’ll get over it.”

His voice is friendly, his writing is melodic and refined, but behind the dreamer’s facade lies an angry man, because his life and that of his family has been “devastated” by Islamists: he has always been an atheist, and the “infidel” writer, as Boualem Sansal calls himself, now lives “in exile” in Algeria. “Each one of my books incites a torrent of insults, some are censored and happen under the radar, my telephone is tapped and my mail is read. But the government allows me to move freely so I give lectures in places that are often infiltrated but which are left alone so that people can relax. I also travel the world thanks to the many invitations from literary salons”. He argues “against the cult of the martyr and against religious power where nothing can happen because everything is forbidden” and objects to “this Arabic language overloaded with piety, the falsification of Algerian history and forced Arabisation”, but Algeria is his country, the crossroads of his French, Berber and African origins, and he thinks that artists like him are needed to pave the way for peace and democracy. Boualem Sansal regrets that neither philosophers nor writers are of any help, and political bankruptcy leads to helplessness, as principles remain compromised. “Religious people think only of transcendent things while we have to deal with the here and now. Fundamentalism is everywhere, from the National Front to economists. It is an integral part of modern society that is complex, incomprehensible and difficult to manage. We cannot cultivate doubt in today’s society, we need clear answers.”

His seventh novel, “2084. La Fin du monde”, is a direct literary descendant of Orwell and depicts the coming of a theocratic, fundamentalist planetary-wide empire, close to totalitarian Islamism. Clearly this is a parable on Islamic State, but also on modern-day Algeria: “the dark future that I describe is already present in Iraq, Syria and Iran, we are seeing it expand, get organised. Like Orwell, I wrote a novel, but it’s up to us to make this eventuality impossible. The danger of this kind of radicalisation is severely underestimated. The Islamic world is young, bubbling under, aggressive, while the West is amorphous and aging. Religious people have imposed themselves on the political scene, they are becoming more numerous and we have to deal with them. They have a great capacity for mobilisation in a world in total confusion, particularly young people affected by the crises and anxieties which civil society has not been able to provide answers for.” When asked how he thinks things will pan out, he answers in his oh-so-soothing voice, despite his anxiety-laden words: “Violence begets violence, we must find a way of breaking this vicious circle, but we don’t know how. When I’m in France and I see all the security at airports, I’m more worried than when I’m in Algeria. You’d think that the state of war was here, in Europe. France will intervene in Iraq and that will make things worse as there will be even more migrants. We must calm things down, build bridges and links to develop satisfactory answers.”

The only solution would be, according to him, to reinvent thought, “to find a philosophy, a policy that would polarise forces, as happened in the Enlightenment, and then move forward. We need cultural people like writers to put themselves in danger and for them to ‘hyphenate’ together. Violence, vindictiveness and vengeance take root; it’s not like love, which remains superficial. Everyone stands on his own hill, watching the others from afar with contempt. So, I put myself at the centre and I try to force open the debate.”

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