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The emergence of the ID card of the “disappeared”

French-imposed bureaucratic controls were maintained after Algeria’s independence from France in 1962. Indeed, these techniques were carried over intact and deployed just as restrictively and punitively. In this essay, the techniques of identification - first, over the individual body, and then the family unit - form an intersection for complex twentieth-century histories of Algeria. In the aftermath of the Algerian war of independence (1954-1962), what linked the identification system, the criminalized body, and the criminal justice system? James Scott proposes the concept of a “legible people”, a metaphor for the emergence of writing as central to the creation of nationhood and to modern forms of national control.30 People come to legibility, can be “read”, when they are under the official scrutiny of paperwork, files, dossiers, archives, records, and identity documents. The formation of a centralized, authoritarian, postcolonial Algerian state in 1962 owed much to continuities with the bureaucratic French colonial state. Family passbooks and identity cards remain constituent elements of Algerian sovereignty even as they are administrative formalities of civil identification that extend control over the population, a surveillance that was at its most efficient and rigorous in large urban settings.

Currently, the power of the identity card reaches beyond the police station, the courtroom, and even the grave to determine who we are, what names we give ourselves, and how we reconstruct the past through narrative, storytelling, and photography. The identity card, an artifact born of colonial control and post-independence repression, has been transformed into memory devices, the traces of remembrance with which to conjure the dead and missing. More than

  • 6.000 Algerians are officially recognized as those forcibly disappeared, although international and national human rights groups estimate between 10,000 and
  • 20.000 missing Algerians during the bloody decade of the 1990s, which claimed over 200,000 Algerian lives. To this day, many Algerian families do not know the whereabouts of family members disappeared, and where, and if, there are victims’ graves. The identity card photograph is what remains. The photograph, regardless of its bureaucratic provenance, proves existence. An identity card photograph is an object that can be referred to and pointed at, the sole evidence to anchor the presence of the disappeared, as families grapple with absence. No one, especially the bereaved families, considers the photograph to be remotely related to the reality of their missing ones. The picture is all that remains.

An Amnesty International book of photographs entitled A Biography of Disappearance: Algeria 1992 - is filled with examples of identity card portraits that have been repurposed - some images are enlarged, framed, and pasted on the wall, while others resting in their frames are brought to the dinner table and seated in the owner’s former place. These images look out and speak to the audience, underlining the import of witnessing and testifying to the presence of visual likeness in the absence of the physical body31 (Figure 7.4). Why has the ID photo become emblematic simultaneously of the visible, the invisible, and the missing body? How do some bodies come to matter (to paraphrase Judith Butler32) or fail to matter? Bodies formerly and formally exhibited become bodies erased and bodies denied. In many cases, the bereaved parent carries or wears the portrait of the missing child, spouse, or family member.33

In Algeria, as elsewhere, when the right of relatives to bury their dead is absent - a right recognized cross-culturally, no less than legally34 - pictures represent the missing and unburied body as it was photographed when alive. In North Africa, complex funeral rites are prescribed both for the community and for the

Portrait of Amine Amrouche, brought to the table of his mother, Nacera Dutour

Figure 7.4 Portrait of Amine Amrouche, brought to the table of his mother, Nacera Dutour. Amine Amrouche, b. 1975, forcibly “disappeared” Thursday 24 October 1997, 4 p.m., close to home in Algiers. In Omar D, Tom O’Mara and Lahouari Addi, Devoir de memoire: A Biography of Disappearance: Algeria 1992-. London: Autograph, 2007, p. 78. Courtesy Omar D/Autograph ABP and Nacera Dutour. Black and white reproduction of original color image.

family unit. They begin at death with the command to wash, dress, and shroud the body, and then to lament and pray. Family and friends bear the corpse to the cemetery, and prayers are offered at the gravesite. A long period of mourning ensues, with specific ceremonial gatherings, for example, to mark the fortieth day and the first anniversary of the death. For the deceased and for the bereaved, it is considered among life’s gravest misfortunes to be deprived of the observance of mourning rituals such as a funeral, and obligatory visits to care for the grave. The loss of the ability to express mourning conventionally and individually, no less than the uncertainty whether family members are in fact dead, carries with it immeasurable grief and trauma. Certainly an unforeseen use for the French identity photograph that was maintained in post-independent Algeria is as a souvenir and memorializing image to a family member, a piece of paper rendered more poignant in the case of those forcibly disappeared, unburied, and grieved over.

 
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