The year is known: 2001.
The month is given: July.  
The day is 13. 

The imam had said on he previous day that the area should be cleansed of women who were loose women. He said it in this small oilboomtown in the desert of Algeria. Three hundred, maybe uptill five hundred, men were unleashed on that horrendous night.  They attacked women in three areas of that town, areas were many women lived. Women with children, women who worked at international oilcompanies, women who traded, women who cooked meals.

Under shouts of ‘Allahu Akbar’ the men started their local holy war. Women were attacked, beaten up, killed, raped once, raped twice, from man to the other.

A policeman across the street from the house of one of the women under attack stood silent and did nothing. Later he said that he was off duty and off duty he was not allowed to use his gun. He used nothing. He stood there. Silent. And the women were raped.

We follow the lives of two women. One of them is Rahmouna, she was born in Oran in 1966. Already at a young age he suffers from the terror of men, especially her brothers. Her parents break up, when her father leaves to set up a new family with a married woman. Her mother travels to Mecca for hajj. Rahmouna marries a relative in 1985. He is orthodox, and that makes life hard for her. A divorce is settled.  A son Hamid was born and now the former in-laws want to take charge of Hamid. A second marriage follows, in this marriage she is very much restricted. Her husband is very violent and even sticks a pair of scissors in her back. Her daughter Hassina is born in 1992 and a second divorce follows in 1995.

Rahmouna is on the search for a job and a place to live.  In the end she moves to Hassi Messaoud in the desert to find work and a house.

The other women is the young Fatiha, her husband died when she was only 19 years young. She also moved to the deserttown to find work. She moves in with Rahmouna. When the attackers come on that disastrous day in 2001 they find her. In the end she is left for dead in the mortuary. 

From here on the story unfolds for both women. A story of promises like butterflies, they do not last long. Promisies by politicians, by the president, by organization, by lawyers. In the end the butterfly of promises dies a lonely death. And the two women fight on in the face of the winds of injustice. Only 39 women have the courage to go to the police and the courts. It is an uphill battle. The attackers are seen as innocent. They have fought for the honour of mankind (male-kind). In the courts the victims have less lawyers than the prosecuted. Officials try to give foodpresents to quell the thirst for justice of the women.   

At first three attackers get each three years of imprisonment, 16 attackers get 1 year each, 10 attackers return to freedom. The Attorney continues his case. In 2005 the case is in court again. Now there is more support for the female victims. The guilty men get longer sentences and have to pay damages to the women.  In the street people demonstrate for the sake of the guilty men.

The government is very slow in supporting the women in building up a new life.

At the end of the book a survey of the political situation of those days is given. But, political context or not, this book, and more offcourse this history is devastating and mindblowing. A society that takes the life of a woman as less valuable than that of a man. The cruelty of people (men and women!) who think they defend their honour and their religion. The long and stumbling way towards justice. Justice delayed is justice denied, is made true here. And the courage of these women to continue their fight against this injustice, against this male ruthlesness, against a second-class humanity. 

Rahhmouna Salah / Fatiha Maamoura – Laissée pour mortes – Paris 2010

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I enjoy reading about Africa. New books. Old books. By African writers. By non-African writers. Novel. History. Travel. Biographies. Autobiographies. Politics. Colonialism. Poetry.

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