Staring out our open bedroom window at 4 a.m., I heard the haunting voices of the muezzin (callers) coasting over the early morning darkness. The call to prayer is a sound I've heard frequently during the time our family has lived in the beautiful country of Algeria, but at 4 a.m. with no noise in the house and no traffic on our busy street, it was pure serenity. That serenity was all the more marked because of its contrast to another day when I was again in front of an open window.
"Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh." (Prov. 3:25)
On Dec. 11, 2007, a suicide bomber detonated himself and his large truck in front of the UN building just 400 meters from our home. I had heard the first of two bombs, which had detonated in a nearby district, and ran to close our open windows. We had been in the country almost two months when Algiers city, on April 11, 2007, was hit with the first set of suicide bombs in many years. While they were relatively far away, I remembered the sounds and knew I had little time to close our shatter-proofed windows before the requisite second bomb hit.
As the driver detonated himself and his large truck full of explosives in front of the UN, I was standing at one of our open, 9-foot tall, front-room windows. I heard and felt the blast. The air around me pulled, as if in a vacuum, and then held for one moment of tangible silence as if time and sound had paused for a moment of mourning. Then that moment was shattered by a blast of returning air the erupting sounds of sirens and screams of pedestrians. The phones went dead, our power went out and we were left in an eerie suspension.
That day marked the second successful suicide attack in Algiers city by the newly formulated Al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb--a result of the recent merger of Algeria's long-standing terrorist group with the global network of Al Qaeda terrorists--and the first in the city's purported safe zone of Hydra where we lived.
"We believe that every man should be honored in his station, rulers and magistrates as such, being placed for the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty; and that to the laws all men show respect and deference, as without them peace and harmony would be supplanted by anarchy and terror..." (D&C 134:6)
|View of ruins in the Casbah where much of the battle between the FLN and the French government took place.|
Algeria has a violent history. Shortly after World War II in a group of Algerians formed the National Liberation Front (FLN) a political party with the goal of liberating Algerian from French rule. In 1951 the FLN launched a guerrilla-style war for Independence against the French government in Algeria. Thousands of innocent lives became collateral damage in the conflict. Algeria gained independence in 1962 and many of the former FLN fighters became leaders in Algeria's current government. (For a greater understanding of Algeria's recent history, I highly recommend three movies: The Battle of Algiers with the second disk of special features that includes interviews with various players in the battle; Bab el Oued City ; and Rachida)
Algeria's homegrown terrorist arm formed in the early 1990s after the government nullified the results of an election, which showed that the Fundamentalist Islamic party (Islamic Salvation Front or FIS) was on its way to power. Some from this fundamentalist group then formed a Gadianton-style terrorist group called the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) that hid in the cover of Algeria's thickly wooded mountains and came down into the villages and cities to commit "political" acts of violence.
In 2000 the government enacted the Charter for National Reconciliation granting amnesty to all but the worst among the FIS and GIA supporters. Nevertheless, splinter groups of the GIA remained and reformed, one of which was the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). This group continues its terrorist activity all over Algeria with bombs going off in the rural areas almost daily. However, the 2006 merger into Al Qaida meant a shift away from acts solely against the Algerian government to include acts against all foreigners. Thus attacks on the capital city were renewed and intensified.
|View of Algiers City coastline from hotel room where Eisenhower stayed and worked during WWII.|
While it is true that Algerians have been dealing with terrorism long before the word became a catch-phrase in the Western world, the last thing I would wish is to leave the reader with an impression that there is nothing else to this land, a fact that I admit that took me many weeks to accept as the heightened security measures left us feeling like prisoners in our home.
"But the LORD is with me as a mighty terrible one: therefore my persecutors shall stumble, and they shall not prevail: they shall be greatly ashamed; for they shall not prosper: their everlasting confusion shall never be forgotten." (Jer. 20:11)
My first sighting of Algeria was from our plane. I fell in love immediately with the beauty of its bluish-green verdure and Moorish architecture. The capital city, Algiers, sits on the Mediterranean coast and is built on layers that wind around in narrow, often one-way streets. Often called the "White City", Algiers, looks like an odd assortment of wedding cakes piled together and laced with rich vegetation. It is truly a storybook sight.
Home of the Moors, the Barbary Pirates, the Berbers and Touareg, Algeria is full of thrilling history. It houses some of the best preserved Roman ruins in the world. It was the capital of Free France during WWII and still has the hotel and the room where Eisenhower stayed and planned his counter assault against the Germans.
|Roman ruins in the city of Tipaza, Algeria.|
The people, predominately of Berber origin with a small mixture of Arabs, Turks, French and other Europeans are stunning. They are a proud people with a strong sense of family and a great affection for children. I have often been surprised at the gentle attention towards my children the Algerians have universally displayed. Rarely do they return home from an outing without some free gift. In fact, my tiny daughter has received more flowers from complete strangers in the short time we've been here than many women receive in a lifetime.
So while there have been moments of confusion, there have also been moments of great compassion. That 4 a.m. gaze out of our bedroom window reminded me of those beautiful moments. Gladly, only the wailing of my baby shattered the peace of that moment.
There is nothing sweeter than a sleeping child, for more reasons than one, and following the bombings, I took great comfort in watching my children sleep untroubled and unaware. I peeled away from the window to attend to the cause of my son's wails, and after watching him nestle comfortably back in his crib, I was gratefully able to get some much needed, peaceful slumber.
"And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children. In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near thee." (Isa 54:14)
Although we are isolated from the body of the Saints, in fact we are the only members of the Church that we know of in this country, we have tried to make our home a place where the Spirit can dwell and where our children can learn the gospel. We hold church services in our home every Friday. This simple service has been saving for our family in more ways than one. We drew great strength from holding the sacrament each week and studying from the scriptures and the manuals as a couple. We also held primary for our daughter and later nursery for our son. In fact, some of my most cherished moments came from those one-on-one primary classes.
At about the time I taught our daughter primary, the Imam from the nearest mosque broadcasted his sermon. The mixture of sounds from his sermon and our singing often amused me, but one Friday, my heart was touched with a poignant message.
As my daughter's sweet, off-key rendition of "Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam" weaved itself into the poetic cadence of the imam's sermon, my heart filled with joy. How profound was that moment where a message of Jesus, not as a prophet, but as the Son of God, was mingled within the Imam's sermon, a child's message of a loving Savior asking us to be a beam of light.
Only the healing light of the Savior will be strong enough to cut through the darkness that has haunted this country for so many decades. When that gospel message is finally accepted in this land it will be a miracle as fantastic as the fall of the Berlin Wall...