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Context and Masculinities in “In the Name of God” – Lauren LaFontaine

11/20/2019 1:39 am

This map shows readers where Algeria is located.

In the Name of God takes place in the late 1980s to the early 1990s, over twenty years after France and Algeria’s war of independence. In 1830, France invaded and colonized Algeria, an overwhelmingly Arab country. By 1847, France had gained control of the entire region, determining that any leftover Algerian land that was not in use could be appropriated for French settlers. As the years continued, many Algerians wished for independence from France. The Algerian war of independence, taking place from 1954 to 1962 eventually ensured this, but not without a large struggle. The French had deployed hundreds of thousands of soldiers to the region, placing electric fences and minefields along the borders. In 1962, Algeria’s independence was declared. In the case of In the Name of God, readers see some lasting effects of this war and eventual independence from France. For example, Tej’s father known as “Issa-the-disgrace” gained this title by being a former collaborator with France. Much of Tej’s motivation comes from wanting to escape the shame brought upon his family due to his father’s actions and beliefs. The story itself takes place before and during the Algerian Civil War – an ongoing battle from 1991 to 2002 between the Algerian government and various Islamist extremist groups. As the economy was failing many citizens (as described in the novel), some groups took to violence in fighting back. Citizens from many villages would be kidnapped and murdered – men, women, and children alike. In the Name of God shows a close look into this post-independence Algerian Civil War from the perspectives of several men on each side, men that once were a seemingly closely-knit friend group.

            In this novel, the perspective often changed from one character to the next. Unlike Reflections of Loko-Miwa, however, In the Name of God did not use first-person language or chapter titles denoting the perspective of one particular character. Instead, each chapter usually focused on several characters and their experiences at a certain point in time. The book began much more peacefully than it ended, showing the audience the backstory behind some of these characters and emphasizing the importance of their friendship and how much it was driven apart by beliefs, emotions, and actions of each of them. This multiple-perspective focus of telling this story was a bit confusing at first, but eventually made sense in that the audience is to understand this civil war and its causes and effects from multiple sides and characters. If this story was written in the perspective of one character from a single side, it would not be as full of a scope of what this civil war entailed for each side and why.

            Gender, specifically masculinity, is explored heavily in this novel. Each main character is a man on either side of this civil war, with particular motivations that usually come from his own personal experiences. Overall, the importance of having sons that work to provide for the family, and later his own family, was valued in Algeria over having daughters even in this more modern time. For example, the mayor jokes with a farmer that laments having nine daughters rather than any sons – that in that case, he should find a new wife or “get a new pair of testicles” (pg 101-102). At the end of chapter thirteen, Jafer’s father also speaks to him regarding his grandfather’s strength and care in farming and maintaining land for himself and his family, and how Jafer should aspire to do so as well. Similarly, Allal’s profession as a police officer is respected at the beginning of the book, ensuring that he can provide for a family and plays a role in Allal “getting the girl”, a major catalyst for Kada’s actions in this novel. Kada, a schoolteacher who does not wish to be a schoolteacher, has always been in love with the mayor’s daughter Sarah. Sarah eventually marries Allal, and Kada’s intense jealousy and entitlement to Sarah and her body manifests in rage and revenge against Allal and his family with the help of Tej. Tej himself acts in revenge, revenge against those who continually put down his family due to his father’s political alignments and actions. Tej also wishes for power, eventually demoting Kada and becoming a leader of this Islamist extremist group. Rather than dealing with emotions of jealousy and shame in a constructive or even quieter sort of way, these men handle them with violence. Violence against each other and innocent citizens of the village with religion as somewhat of an “excuse” for their actions. Zane, or Zane-the-dwarf as he is often referred to, intersects this anger, wish for power, and toxic masculinity with disability as well. Zane is a character with dwarfism, referred to as “Zane-the-dwarf” throughout the novel – a dehumanizing title that reduces him to his disability rather than the often cunning and intelligent person that he is. Zane is dismissed and made fun of often for his disability and size, as strength and size are heavily connected to masculinity in this and many other cultures. Always keeping an eye on others, Zane states that his mother referred to him as a “frozen little sparrow” as he crouched on tree branches overhead, but he “wanted to be a vulture” (pg 208). Zane wished for others to see him as a bird of prey, an animal with power over weaker animals rather than Zane as the weak bird himself due to his disability. Masculinity and its intersections with power and revenge, religion, economics and financial support, and disability are large motivators for most of the characters in this novel. This novel, however, also shows the downfall of most of these men due to these actions. However, Allal and his family were killed while being portrayed as “good people” for the most part; although the portrayal of women through how these men talked about and treated Sarah showed them as secondary and more so as objects to feel entitled towards. The character of Sarah overall was more of an object of motivation for the male characters rather than any kind of fleshed out character herself.

            A related message that this book sends may center on the toxic masculinity that many of these men carry, and how dangerous it may be to allow your personal emotions and convictions to manifest against others in violent ways. In that base-level sense, I do agree with that point and this book may be relatable or helpful in that level. The entitlement and objectification of women, particularly Sarah, in this novel reminded me of Philippe Edouard’s treatment of Violaine in Reflections of Loko-Miwa. Overall, the book may be a bit much for some due to the brutality against others, particularly innocent villagers, but it may very well also be an interesting look into the Algerian Civil War that the author himself along with many others experienced first-hand.