Small American Town, Big Algerian Legacy
For the next time someone tells you all Muslims are sneaky, intolerant, merciless brutes whose beliefs are incompatible with democracy & the modern world:
UNTIL LAST YEAR, 17-YEAR-OLD VICTORIA MILLER ADMITS SHE WOULD HAVE HAD TO SEARCH ONLINE TO LEARN WHERE ALGERIA IS, LET ALONE DESCRIBE THE EXPLOITS OF ONE OF ITS MOST FAMOUS HEROES.
After reading diplomat John W. Kiser’s biography, Commander of the Faithful: The Life and Times of Emir Abd el-Kader (Monkﬁsh, 2008), for a class in human geography at Decorah High School, Miller now says she regards him as an international role model. Her new understandings, she adds, help her feel more comfortable talking to Muslims.
“Abd el-Kader’s legacy deserves to be remembered along with Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s,” Miller enthuses, “because they were all pursuing the same dream: to reach peace.”
Indeed, the Algerian prince (amir or emir in Arabic) united tribes in North Africa and fought for independence; later, during the 1860 Mount Lebanon civil war, he helped save thousands of Maronite Christians from massacre—an act for which President Abraham Lincoln lauded him. When the amir passed away in 1883, The New York Times eulogized him as “one of the few great men of the century. The nobility of his character won him the admiration of the world.”
Even decades earlier, in 1846, so widely admired was he that Iowa farmers named their new town after him, and today Elkader, Iowa, is the only us town named for an Arab. Since 2008 it has been reviving his legacy, thanks largely to the eight-year-old nonproﬁt Abdelkader Education Project (aep). […]
“The students’ stereotypes about Muslims and Arabs have been challenged, and their minds opened to the diversity of the Muslim world,” he observes. As a role model, he [Kiser] says, Abd el-Kader “is a uniﬁer … [whose] probing intellect, ethical courage, compassion, depth of knowledge … impress all who learn about him.” […]