WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Having returned from London, in whose
gentlemen's clubs we are enjoined to wear "business attire or national
dress," I had the perfect explanation for my wife's sexy dress at the
Algerian embassy here in Washington the other night.
We were invited there along with hundreds of notables (and an
occasional rastaquouere) to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Algerian
independence. As Algeria is a relatively cosmopolitan country for Arab
Africa, the dress was variegated. In the receiving line stood the ambassador
in what I think all Americans would consider business attire. Next was his
wife, in a silk burka. Next came a military officer in crisp green military
uniform, his chest smattered with ribbons and medals. Then there was another
Algerian woman in traditional dress, and finally, a very soignee young
woman. But still her dress was modest.
The modesty reminded me that at my side was a woman in radiant
pastels -- her top garment a masterpiece of economy, her skirt abundant, but
practically molded round her. My wife looked spectacular, though possibly
too spectacular in this celebration of a society that is largely Muslim. A
diplomatic acknowledgement would not be out of place, and my recent
experience in the clubs of London helped.
"My wife," I apprised the Algerian dignitaries, "... in national
dress." They seemed pleased. There were no Islamofascists here to huff and
puff. In fact, the Algerians are engaged in a bloody fight with radical
Islamists who might breed Islamofascism.
Why radical Islam has not taken over the government of Algeria I
do not fully understand. The country is heavily Muslim. In fact, the state
religion of Algeria is Islam, though its constitution forbids religious
discrimination. Algeria is situated in northwest Africa along the
Mediterranean in an area accessible by geography and trade to Western Europe
and, for that matter, to the Americas, as shipping goes that way.
Algeria's economic relationship to the United States is strong.
It is the United States' fifth-largest market in the Middle East and North
Africa. Algeria exports $3 billion in petroleum and liquid natural gas to
the United States. Its daily export of 4 million barrels of oil to the
United States is scheduled to increase to 5 million shortly.
Aside from economic incentives for remaining moderate, the form
of Islam practiced in Algeria seems to be relatively reasonable. Unlike some
other Arab countries, women can vote in Algeria, hold office and engage in
business. They can enter into contracts and pursue the professions. In fact,
there are Algerian women in both houses of Parliament, and they compose 25
percent of the judiciary. Obviously with such achievements to their credit,
women have similar access to education as men.
Perhaps the major reason for Algeria's antipathy to radical
Islamists is that its government for over the last dozen years has been
engaged in bloody warfare with radical Islamic guerrillas, and a
considerable portion of the population is keenly aware of the grisly fate
that awaits it if the radicals win. In the reception line at the embassy, I
asked Ambassador Jazairy if he was familiar with the writings of my friend
Roger Kaplan, who has written vivid accounts of the grim war being waged
between the government and the Islamists in The American Spectator and
elsewhere. He knew of Kaplan and approved of his writing.
It is preeminently from Kaplan's writing that I know about the
struggle being waged in Algeria. Tens of thousands have died there, and more
have been casualties, many the casualties of torture.
Now after Sept. 11, Algeria has become an ally with us in the
war against terrorism. Indeed, the head of the State Department's office of
counter-terrorism, Francis Taylor, recently called Algeria "one of the most
tenacious and faithful partners of the United States" in opposing terrorism.
Well, perhaps the Algerians have no alternative. The radical
Islamists they face in their country have revealed their intent, and it is
not to liberate the country but to swaddle it in fanatical laws and customs.
Perhaps the future for Algeria is a secular Islamic state like that of
Turkey, complete with a variety of civic institutions. We shall see -- and
maybe the way I shall gauge Algeria's success against terror will be by how
the dignitaries at next year's Algerian independence celebration respond to
my wife's "national dress."