End­ing ex­trem­ism with a just so­lu­tion

What the world can learn from Al­ge­ria’s anti-ex­trem­ism strat­egy

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Ab­delka­der Mes­sa­hel

When Ab­de­laziz Boute­flika was elected pres­i­dent of Al­ge­ria in 1999, it was at the height of a heinous civil war that car­ried the very seeds of divi­sion and rad­i­cal­ism that plague the whole of the Mid­dle East/ North Africa re­gion to­day. One fact notwith­stand­ing: Within months of the vote, the new pres­i­dent of­fered a way out to ex­trem­ists and was able later to rec­on­cile them into the po­lit­i­cal process. He knew that if he could build a broader con­sen­sus, one that could pro­vide an out­let for po­lit­i­cal ex­pres­sion to even those with rad­i­cal view­points — we could es­tab­lish a last­ing peace in a coun­try in which hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple need­lessly died for their dif­fer­ences.

This ap­proach was part of a com­pre­hen­sive strat­egy that the Al­ge­rian gov­ern­ment ad­vanced to put an end to ter­ror­ist vi­o­lence and rec­on­cile a wounded na­tion. We all hoped then, as we do now, that our strat­egy would also form a model for other lead­ers, some of whom think they can kill their way through ex­trem­ism.

In­deed, at a time when ex­trem­ism pre­dicts and fo­ments an im­mi­nent clash be­tween the Western and Mus­lim civ­i­liza­tions, and within Is­lam it­self, Al­ge­ri­ans in the main chose to see a world mov­ing to­ward for­give­ness and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. As Mr. Boute­flika said, “Our dream de­pends on our ca­pac­ity to un­der­stand each other, ac­cept oth­ers in all their di­ver­sity, which could be a source of strength and progress for hu­man­ity.”

In this spirit, Al­ge­ria in­tro­duced and passed a res­o­lu­tion in the United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly declar­ing May 16 “In­ter­na­tional

Al­ge­ri­ans in the main chose to see a world mov­ing to­ward for­give­ness and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

Day of Liv­ing To­gether in Peace.” The vi­sion of a tol­er­ant and an open so­ci­ety, rooted in tra­di­tions but for­ward-look­ing, may seem im­pos­si­ble to some coun­tries do­ing daily bat­tle with in­tol­er­ance and vi­o­lence. In­deed, it was hard to make this a re­al­ity in Al­ge­ria, as we were still emerg­ing from a tragedy that lit­er­ally bled the coun­try of lives and very nearly its hu­man­ity.

But we suc­ceeded. We fought an un­fath­omably bru­tal and destruc­tive war, amid the in­dif­fer­ence of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, against the evil scourge of ter­ror­ism at the hands armed ter­ror­ist groups. Their main goal was to de­stroy the gov­ern­ment and its in­sti­tu­tions by per­pe­trat­ing bar­baric acts of vi­o­lence against the pop­u­la­tion. They tar­geted, with­out dis­tinc­tion, men, women, chil­dren, in­tel­lec­tu­als and state of­fi­cials and de­stroyed in­fra­struc­ture, schools, pub­lic build­ings and even farm­ers’ crops.

For these rea­sons, amnesty was dif­fi­cult and po­lit­i­cally risky. But Mr. Boute­flika never wa­vered. Soon af­ter his elec­tion he au­thored and pushed to­ward a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion char­ter, of­fer­ing amnesty to those who laid down their arms. The vast ma­jor­ity of ex­trem­ists did just that. In a pub­lic ref­er­en­dum in which nearly 80 per­cent of the elec­torate took part, more than 97 per­cent voted to en­dorse the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion char­ter.

The grand les­son is that ex­trem­ism can be halted with a just, po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion rather than with vi­o­lence. Sadly, this con­cept of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and giv­ing ev­ery­one an op­por­tu­nity for po­lit­i­cal ex­pres­sion re­mains a rad­i­cal con­cept in a re­gion be­set by fac­tions and pro­found en­mi­ties. But there is hope for the ap­proach. In the last few years alone, Al­ge­ria helped con­vene peace talks be­tween war­ring fac­tions in con­flicts in Mali, Tu­nisia, Burk­ina Faso and Libya, and bro­kered agree­ments mod­elled on our ex­am­ple of restora­tive jus­tice and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

One can be proud that among Al­ge­ria’s achieve­ments is the May 16 des­ig­na­tion. Its aim is to pro­mote peace through har­mo­nious habi­ta­tion with no dis­tinc­tion be­tween na­tion­al­ity, gen­der, lan­guage or re­li­gion. The des­ig­na­tion calls upon all U.N. mem­ber states to pro­mote rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, and en­sure peace and sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment.

Al­ge­ria doesn’t al­ways get the head­lines, but we are ever-ad­vanc­ing to­ward a just and equal so­ci­ety. The pres­i­dent proposed and passed a le­gal re­quire­ment that women fill at min­i­mum of 1/3 of the seats in par­lia­ment. He in­sisted on the adop­tion of Ta­mazight as an of­fi­cial na­tional lan­guage and passed a law cre­at­ing an Al­ge­rian Academy of the Amazigh lan­guage, em­brac­ing our na­tion’s di­ver­sity and bring­ing recog­ni­tion and dig­nity to a long-marginal­ized mi­nor­ity.

Im­por­tantly, we have guided the im­ple­men­ta­tion of de-rad­i­cal­iza­tion pro­grams to en­sure that those who once em­braced ex­trem­ism are brought back into the fold of so­ci­ety and given the sup­port they need to thrive.

Mr. Boute­flika’s great­est hope, af­ter his long ca­reer in ser­vice to his coun­try, is that these sim­ple prin­ci­ples of dig­nity, jus­tice and for­give­ness come to pass for all the world. With­out them, the vi­cious cy­cle of in­tol­er­ance and vi­o­lence per­sists, loom­ing even among so-called de­vel­oped coun­tries. None are im­mune to or above the power of hate. But all are ca­pa­ble of tran­scend­ing it.

ILLUSTRATION BY LINAS GARSYS

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