I, Nadia, Wife of a Terrorist By Baya Gacemi (trs. Paul Cote and Constantina Mitchell) (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006. 160 pages.)

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Alexandra Izabela Jérôme



At the “Al Azhar” Association in Algiers, Algerian journalist Baya Gacemi
recorded the story of a woman displaced by the country’s surge of Islamist
violence during the 1990s. Nadia, widowed, destitute, and alienated from
her community, weaves her own story and those of other women against the
backdrop of a wave of terror instigated by Islamist guerilla groups. Her
story is perhaps the singularly most terrifying story of bastardized religiosity
and a testament to the human spirit. Yet despite the hardships that Nadia
narrates, she never asks for pity or sympathy; rather, she is wary of her
pride, speaks candidly, and retains a dignity that makes her an extraordinary
Unlike other testimonies from women in the Arab world, Nadia’s story
is different in that it is inclusive of her community and lacks the familiar formula
of journalistic accounts from “stereotypically oppressive” Muslim
nations. In her story, the optimistic details of her upbringing and first experience
of love transition into the horror of the Islamic Action Group’s (GIA)
germination in the wilderness surrounding her village. She marries her first
love, Ahmed, a local thug whose sole intention in life is to compensate for
his decided lack of a masculine role model.
On the day of their marriage, Nadia engages in bridal rituals that include
the use of cosmetics and henna, much to her husband’s dismay. At this
moment, we see a familiar Islamist tableaux unfold in the microcosm of the
household, when Ahmed declares: “From now on, you won’t be going to the
hammam anymore, or the hair dressers. And this is the last time I want to see
you wearing makeup” (p. 32). Their marriage is not consummated on their
wedding night, but rather spent engaged in extensive prayer and recitation
of the Qur’an. Married for only a few hours, Ahmed disappears back to his
spiritual brothers in the mountains. At this moment, Nadia begins to realize
that Ahmed has not married her as a wife, but as a GIA (from French Groupe
Islamique Armé) investment. Thus begins the cycle of her life as a wife of a
GIA terrorist: She cooks meals, waits on her husband’s fellow reprobates,
and reaps the material and social benefits of the GIA’s intimidation and thirst
for blood.
Although Nadia could continue her story as a series of abuses and a testimony
of her existence at the hands of a husband who abused her, she
instead constructs the story of the GIA and its abuses as a central part of her ...

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