This video comes from Abu Nawas, the semi-underground LGBT group in Algeria. They write:
We consider the 10th of October a very important date in Algeria since [for] four years, it honours the national anniversary that stands for defending and legitimizing LGBTIQ rights … Abu Nawas is faithful to that date and we present it each year for this unique struggle of rights. Our dream is to have the Algerian society to legitimize our existence and our equal rights, but our current reality faces the two penalty articles 333 & 338 of the Algerian Penal and Criminal law, that criminalize homosexuality and all acts that are relevant to it.
This year, like every year, we are celebrating for the 5th time on a row our national day for LGBTIQ rights as a decision of an actual manifestation to our hopes to confirm our existence and self determination. It is the right of each person to live his\her differences and orientations and with total freedom. …
Today, “Abu Nawas” association calls for solidarity under the slogan: Together To Make Life Better, this step goes along with the logic of the revolutions in the Arab World … Like every year, we are asking you and each person to do a symbolic gesture that shows his\her belief, his\her belonging and support to our struggle. Light a candle on Monday October tenth around eight in the evening, to be the light for all those who suffered in the past or are still suffering this moment because of his\her difference.
To be clear, then, this is a “national anniversary” they have made up. Last year they explained the significance of the date: October 10 was the birthdate of Selim I, the first Ottoman Sultan to proclaim himself Caliph, over five centuries ago. He also wrote homoerotic poetry.
Thus, we chose the October 10 for its historical and religious symbolism, to maintain our Arab Muslim identity. We do not follow a particular wave, not a Western model. We do not believe in the logic of mimicry and dependency, in which our opponents accuse us of in many cases. They are ashamed of this subject which is taboo, so completely degrade its value to the level of worthless phenomenon; a minority which no need to talk about.
I can’t comment on the historical rightness of claiming Selim (sobriquet “The Grim”): is he the kind of imaginary progenitor one wants, or another J. Edgar Hoover? And the ritual folding-of-the-rainbow-flag in the video is the kind of thing that would (will) drive Joseph Massad crazy. Like the synthetic national holiday itself, they are symbols intruding into a regime of symbols: an attempt to insert one’s self and demands into a historical narrative and a national space, respectively.
Both story and space, in Algeria’s case, have been scarred in the past few decades by violent exclusions.
As it happens, this “holiday” comes exactly one week before another charged date. October 17 is the fiftieth anniversary of the massacre of up to 200 Algerians in Paris. In 1961, French police — under the orders of the prefect, Vichy collaborator Maurice Papon — attacked a peaceful pro-FLN demonstration. Some protestors were taken to police headquarters and shot; others, tortured to death in a stadium; still others, beaten and drowned in the Seine. The French government covered up the killings, claiming only two had been shot — though bodies turned up along the river’s banks for weeks after. Only 37 years later did it admit the crime.
There have been plenty of Algerians massacred on Algerian soil since then: secularists and feminists by Islamists, Islamists and other civilians by government death squads. The question of who belongs in a divided and contested space has again and again taken the accents of life and death. One can’t blame colonial violence simply or unequivocally for the cycle of violence that followed. But French colonialism in Algeria was a regime of particularly brutal exclusion: the effective exclusion of all Algerians from the national space (the whole country was, remember, turned into a department of France) was simply reinforced, or rewritten in blood, by the Paris massacre, which expunged them from the colonial metropole itself. The colonial system was the sufficient cause for the brutalities of revolution. It was not the cause but the necessary condition for the brutalities that followed, in a horrible delayed reaction, decades after.
There’s no link between the makeshift October 10 commemoration, and the monstrous memory of October 17. Putting them in explicit parallel would only enrage many of the partisans of the latter. Still, the unfinished post-colonial project in Algeria (as in so much of the rest of the tiers monde) is one of building a society capable of genuine inclusion — neither striated into in-group and outcast, nor integrated in a fake patriarchal hierarchy of enforced togetherness. The challenge has only been imperfectly admitted, much less met. If one can wish for anything upon an ad-hoc holiday, it might be this: let October 10, for those who know about it, be a moment both of remembering and of imagining new possibilites of belonging; for the sake of those living, and for the murdered and unmourned.