POLITIQUES D'ÉCRIVAINS : The principal objective of my new project is to gather pertinent material and information in order to write a new book on the evolution of democratic institutions in three North African countries as reflected in the works of Francophone writers and intellectuals during the last fifteen years. In
Experimental Nations or the Invention of the Maghreb
, a book published by Princeton University Press in April 2003, I explored the contribution of francophone writers of the Maghreb to the elaboration and revaluation of national identity after the independence of their countries. One of the premises of this new project stems from the observation that, in these countries (namely, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia), debates concerning democracy have taken place not in a public forum, but rather in the creative work of journalists, filmmakers, poets and novelists. In the short run my goal is to visit each one of the countries I have mentioned in order to gather material and to establish the contacts I need in order to achieve the goals I describe in the argument below. Considering that this year France is celebrating "The year of Algeria" -an event that will bring writers, journalists, and artists to participate in a number of cultural events-I think that it is of utmost importance to first spend some time in Paris this summer before visiting the countries of my study.
The recent history of the three countries of the Maghreb has shown that problems related to human rights, freedom of expression, the political and social status of women, and the rights of ethnic, linguistic, and cultural minorities have found expression primarily in literary, artistic works and communication fora. Indeed, it seems that what was impossible to express through official institutions has been forced to take refuge in the works of fiction, newspapers articles, films, songs and, increasingly, over the Internet. Because these works confront problems that have been branded as taboo, they are often censored or banned by the Government. This is the case with the novels by Algerian writers Kateb Yacine and Nabile Farès as well as Moroccan and Tunisian writers, including Mohammed Kheireddine and Abdellatif Laâbi. These writers have endured many years of exile and in some cases imprisonment for their "offensive opinions." Rereading their works, it is easy to see that the repression brought on them because of their ideas was aimed not so much at specific contents deemed problematic or "seditious," but rather at the fact that these writers and intellectuals have raised questions directly related to democracy--freedom of speech, freedom of publication, freedom of circulation and travel, etc. Although democracy may be inscribed in these countries' constitutions, it is only rarely manifested in concrete realities.
In this work, I have also chosen to study the impact of a newly "imported" ideology--namely Islamic fundamentalism--on the cultural and political institutions of the three countries of the Maghreb. I want to follow the construction and workings of this ideology in the borderlands of political science, philosophy and literary criticism. Political science, because the present conflicts are directly related to political events which occurred during the last ten years: namely, the liberalization of the laws pertaining to the freedom of speech, information, and association; the creation of several associations of the Rights of Man; and the creation of non-governmental newspapers and political organizations. Philosophy, because the major issues which are at stake in the present debates are essentially philosophical, particularly the status of the individual vis-à-vis the state, freedom of speech, gender, status of women in an Islamic society, education, arts, etc. And finally, literary theory, because the most important political and ideological debates stem from the production of newspapers or journal articles, literary studies, novels and poetry.