BAGHDAD — Before war convulsed his hometown in Syria, Usaid Barho played soccer, loved Jackie Chan movies and adored the beautiful Lebanese pop singer Nancy Ajram. He dreamed of attending college and becoming a doctor.
His life, to say the least, took a detour.
On a recent evening in Baghdad, Usaid, who is 14, approached the gate of a Shiite mosque, unzipped his jacket to show a vest of explosives, and surrendered himself to the guards.
“They seduced us to join the caliphate,” he said several days later in an interview at a secret Iraqi intelligence site where he is being held.
Usaid described how he had been recruited by the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State from a mosque in his hometown, Manbij, near Aleppo. He said he joined the group willingly because “I believed in Islam.”
“They planted the idea in me that Shiites are infidels and we had to kill them,” he said in the interview, which took place in the presence of an Iraqi intelligence official.
If he did not fight, he was told, Shiites would come and rape his mother.
He soon found himself in Iraq, but he quickly had misgivings and wanted to escape. His best chance, he decided, was a risky deception: volunteer to be a suicide bomber so he could surrender to security forces.
The wars in Syria and Iraq have set grim new standards for the exploitation and abuse of children. Thousands of them have been killed or maimed through indiscriminate bombings, in crossfire and, in some cases, executions. Young girls from minority groups, especially Yazidis in Iraq, have been captured as sex slaves by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Young boys have been given rifles and told to staff checkpoints or patrol neighborhoods — or have been recruited, as Usaid was, to become suicide bombers.
In the areas it controls in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State has established centers for the military and religious training of children, in an effort to indoctrinate them and build a new generation of warriors.
One of the group’s videos, depicting a camp near Mosul, in northern Iraq, calls the children the “cubs of the caliphate.” At the camp — named for the brutal leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed by an American airstrike in 2006 — children are shown doing physical fitness exercises and reciting the Quran, while an instructor explains that they are being trained to fight “hate-filled Shiites.”
The United Nations wrote in a report last month that “ISIS prioritizes children as a vehicle for ensuring long-term loyalty, adherence to their ideology and a cadre of devoted fighters that will see violence as a way of life.”
The United Nations has released a catalog of horrors inflicted on children by the Islamic State. In Raqqa, Syria, the militants’ de facto capital, the group has gathered children for screenings of execution videos. It has forced children to participate in public stonings. And in many of the group’s grisly execution videos, children are seen among the audience. (Usaid said that his parents did not allow him to attend the public executions in his town, typically held after Friday Prayer.)
In the aftermath of one videotaped beheading in Deir al-Zour, Syria, children are seen playing with the victim’s head and mocking the corpse, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors the communications of extremist groups.
Referring to past wars and the role of children, Laurent Chapuis, the regional child protection adviser for the Middle East and North Africa for the United Nations Children’s Fund, or Unicef, said: “When it comes to recruitment, in the past, kids were predominantly supporters — messengers or spies. It seems now they are pushed to take a more active role.”
Mr. Chapuis said that all parties in the wars, including pro-government militias in both countries, were guilty of abuses of children. What sets the Islamic State apart, he said, is how “public and aggressive” they are in their exploitation.
Usaid’s account of how he went from a Syrian childhood that he said was not particularly religious to become a jihadist held in an Iraqi cell is one of the few firsthand accounts from an Islamic State child soldier turned defector.
The Iraqi authorities have increasingly showcased Islamic State detainees to the public, as part of a strategy to demonstrate that the government is making progress in the fight, although they have not typically made detainees available for interviews with journalists. The details of Usaid’s personal background could not be independently verified, but his surrender at the mosque gate was captured on cellphone video by a bystander.
First, after the Islamic State took control of his town, Usaid was drawn to the local mosque. “We started being taught that Shiites were raping Sunni women, and that Shiites were killing Sunni men,” he said.
He now says he was brainwashed. But he admitted that he willingly ran away from home one morning on his way to school and joined a training camp in the desert. For about a month, he was put through military training, and he was taught how to shoot an assault rifle and how to storm a building. He had two meals a day, mostly cheese and eggs.
Soon, though, he said, “I noticed things I saw that were different from Islam.”
Back home he saw the group inflict severe punishments on men who were caught smoking cigarettes, yet in the camp, he said, he saw fighters smoking. He said he saw men having sex with other men behind the tents in the desert night. And, he said, he was increasingly put off by “the way they are killing innocent people.”
At the end of the training, he was told his trainers wanted him to go fight in Iraq. He was driven, with other new fighters, in a minibus to Mosul.
There, the recruits were given a choice: be a fighter or a suicide bomber.
“I raised my hand to be a suicide bomber,” he said. That, he figured, would give him the best chance at defecting.
“If I were a fighter and tried to surrender to security forces they might kill me, with my gun in my hand,” he said.
Within a few days, he was taken, along with a German volunteer, on a circuitous journey to Baghdad. He said he was passed from one Islamic State operative to another and stayed at various safe houses along the way — including a photography studio and a house covered by reeds. He spent a week in Falluja, waiting. Finally, he arrived in the early morning at an apartment in Baghdad, where he had tea and kebabs for breakfast.
He was shuttled to another apartment, where he took a nap. Two hours later, he was shaken awake.
“Wake up, wake up, it is time to put your vest on,” he was told.
He was given his target: a Shiite mosque in the neighborhood of Bayaa.
A few hours later, at dusk, he walked up to the mosque gate.
“I opened up my jacket and said, ‘I have a suicide vest, but I don’t want to blow myself up.’ ”
The chaotic scene that unfolded, as a plainclothes officer snipped off the vest, was captured on cellphone video by a bystander and distributed over social media. “Keep the people away!” one officer yelled.
What happens now to Usaid is unclear. He said he wanted to be reunited with his family in Syria, but the Iraqi authorities have not tried to reach them. The intelligence officer who has been interrogating him said he needed more time to investigate the case.
During the interview, the officer playfully tapped Usaid on the knee and the top of his head, and urged him to eat baklava. “Eat more sweets, they are good for you,” he said.
Usaid said he still planned to become a doctor, and hoped to study in Turkey. He said that he missed his mother, and that the Iraqis had promised to return him to his parents one day.
Before the war, he said: “We were a normal family. It was just a normal life.”
Whether he has a chance at a normal life again depends, in part, on how the Iraqis treat him: as a terrorist or as an exploited child.
During the interview, Usaid was dressed in a gray sweatshirt and cargo pants, and he was not handcuffed. A few days later, though, he appeared on state television in handcuffs and a yellow prison jumpsuit. The television host labeled him a terrorist, and he was made to re-enact his surrender.
Yet Saad Maan, the spokesman for both the Interior Ministry and the Baghdad Operations Command, appeared on Tuesday on state television and described Usaid as a victim of the Islamic State.
And the intelligence officer who has been interrogating Usaid, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the secretive nature of his work, said he and other intelligence agents would oppose any efforts to prosecute Usaid.
“Even if he was brought to court, we would be on his side, because he saved lives,” he said.
Omar Al-Jawoshy contributed reporting
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Quand la jeunesse de France entre en guerre
FIGAROVOX/ANALYSE – Les terroristes qui ont frappé le vendredi 13 novembre étaient très jeunes. Leurs victimes également. Pour Alexandre Devecchio, ces enfants du siècle sont le miroir d’une France fracturée par un profond malaise culturel et social.
«J’ai pu regarder l’un des assaillants, il m’a semblé très jeune, c’est ce qui m’a tout de suite frappé. Ce visage juvénile, extrêmement déterminé.» Le témoignage de Julien Pearce, journaliste d’Europe 1 présent dans la salle de concert du Bataclan lors de ce vendredi 13 infernal, glace le sang. Il est à mettre en parallèle avec l’information de la chaîne i-Télé selon laquelle l’un des trois terroristes du stade de France serait âgé de 15 ans. Encore une fois, les Français constatent horrifiés que la barbarie islamiste ne vient pas d’un ailleurs lointain, mais a le visage de jeunes gens qui ont grandi en France. Ismaël Omar Mostefaï, le djihadiste qui a déclenché sa ceinture d’explosifs dans la salle de spectacle, n’avait pas 30 ans et était né à Courcouronnes, dans l’Essonne. Comme Mehdi Nemmouche ou Mohamed Merah, il appartient à cette «génération radicale», que Malek Boutih décrit dans un rapport choc. Comme eux, il est le produit des territoires perdus de la République. «Il y a un toboggan dans lequel on est installés depuis plusieurs années, et qui nous amène à l’irréparable, puisque maintenant, malheureusement, ces quartiers produisent des terroristes»,affirmait justement Boutih à propos des dix ans des émeutes en banlieue. «Dix ans après, ce ne sont plus des émeutiers, ce sont des terroristes», insistait le député de l’Essonne, prophétique.
Peu à peu, dans les anciennes banlieues rouges, sous l’effet conjugué de l’explosion des flux migratoires et de la désindustrialisation, l’intégration des nouveaux venus et de leurs enfants est devenue plus difficile, voire dans certains cas impossible. À ce phénomène s’est ajouté le choix de nos élites de renoncer au modèle traditionnel d’assimilation. Celui qui avait pourtant fait ses preuves avec des générations d’Italiens, de Polonais, de Portugais ou d’Espagnols. Ils ont penché pour la société multiculturelle et ouvert la porte à toutes les revendications particulières. Ghettoïsés, frustrés de ne pas avoir accès à la société de consommation, nourris d’idéologie victimaire, les enfants de la deuxième ou de la troisième génération ont fait sécession avec la nation française. Déshérités, déracinés, désintégrés, ils se cherchent une identité de substitution dans l’islam ou dans un ailleurs fantasmé. Certains se contentent de siffler La Marseillaise ou de brandir #JesuisKouachi comme un étendard. Les plus fanatiques partent grossir les rangs de Daech.
Longtemps la violence des banlieues a été circonscrite de l’autre côté du périphérique. On sait maintenant qu’elle peut venir percuter les quartiers branchés de la capitale. Une jeunesse enfiévrée par une mystique mortifère de l’islam radical en a visé une autre. Une jeunesse perçue comme privilégiée et qui avait les charmes de l’innocence. Ils étaient venus supporter leur équipe de foot, applaudir leur groupe de rock préféré ou savourer en terrasse les derniers jours de douceur de l’automne. Leurs parents n’avaient pas connu la guerre et rêvé d’une société où il serait interdit d’interdire. Cette jeunesse devait être à l’avant-garde d’une humanité «festive, plurielle et métissée», pionnière d’un monde sans frontières qui communierait dans le culte de la consommation et du vivre-ensemble. Après les attentats de janvier, elle avait cru que les marches blanches et les slogans suffiraient à congédier les ombres. Moins d’un an plus tard, elle découvre de la façon la plus épouvantable que l’on puisse imaginer que l’Histoire est tragique.
Bien avant «Charlie», une troisième jeunesse se construit dans l’angoisse: celle de la France périphérique. Une jeunesse silencieuse qui se considère victime de l’insécurité physique et culturelle liée à l’immigration. Celle des «petits Blancs» dont les parents ne sont pas assez aisés pour vivre dans les quartiers protégés des grandes métropoles et qui sont relégués dans des villes dortoirs où les barres de béton encerclent les quartiers pavillonnaires. Humiliée de devoir baisser les yeux devants les caïds et les petits ayatollahs, c’est cette jeunesse qui crie les soirs d’élections: «On est chez nous!» Le FN y récolte en masse des électeurs et même des militants. Il n’est pas impossible qu’elle bascule un jour, elle aussi, dans la violence.
Tous ces enfants du siècle sont le miroir d’une France fracturée par un profond malaise culturel et social. Au Bourget, François Hollande avait fait de la jeunesse sa priorité. En prononçant les prénoms des victimes à la tribune du Congrès, le chef de l’État avait du mal à cacher son émotion. La génération 68 voulait jouir sans entraves. Pouvait-elle se douter que ses enfants tomberaient sous les rafales de kalachnikovs tirées par des fous de Dieu haïssant les valeurs qu’ils avaient tant chéries ?
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« Nous vivons la fin de la fin de l’Histoire »
20 novembre 2015
INTERVIEW EXCLUSIVE – Une semaine après le carnage du 13 novembre, le philosophe exprime son accablement et son inquiétude devant la confirmation du retour violent d’une Histoire qui «n’est pas belle à voir». Il s’élève contre «l’ethnocentrisme de la mauvaise conscience de l’Occident».Sa parole exigeante trouve un écho profond dans l’inconscient collectif. Comme il est écouté, comme il est lu, il est régulièrement qualifié de «populiste», en tête de la nuée des «oiseaux de malheurs». Ces intellectuels que certains voulaient faire taire quand il fallait, plus que jamais, les entendre. Dans La Seule Exactitude*, son dernier ouvrage, Alain Finkielkraut intitule son chapitre consacré aux attentats de Copenhague (en février 2015) «Le tragique de répétition».Une semaine après les attentats du 13 novembre, le philosophe espère qu’un sursaut national permettra à la France de reprendre les territoires qui, sur notre sol, sont déjà entrés en sécession culturelle.
LE FIGARO. – Dix mois après les attentats des 7, 8 et 9 janvier, Paris et sa banlieue ont été le théâtre de scènes de guerre. Cent trente personnes sont mortes. On compte des centaines de blessés. Le pays est traumatisé. Le mot «guerre» est sur toutes les lèvres. Quel sentiment prime chez vous: le chagrin, l’inquiétude ou la colère?
Alain FINKIELKRAUT. – Ce qui domine en moi, c’est l’accablement et même le désespoir. Comme le rappelait dans ces colonnes Jean-Pierre Le Goff, la disparition des grandes idéologies avait pu laisser croire à l’avènement d’un monde unifié et pacifié sous la triple modalité de l’économie de marché, d’Internet et des droits de l’homme. Cette illusion se dissipe brutalement: nous vivons la fin de la fin de l’Histoire. L’Histoire fait son retour dans un pays et sur un continent qui se croyaient définitivement hors d’atteinte. Et cette Histoire n’est pas belle à voir. Ce n’est pas la réalisation triomphale de l’esprit décrite par Hegel. Ce n’est pas le grand récit palpitant de l’émancipation universelle. Ce n’est pas le progrès de l’humanité jusqu’à son accomplissement final. Ce n’est pas, entre guerre d’Espagne et 2e DB, la geste héroïque rêvée par Régis Debray et tant d’autres. Bref, ce n’est pas Madame H. (1), c’est l’Histoire avec une grande hache, qui, au titre de «croisés», d’«impies» ou d’«idolâtres», peut nous faucher n’importe où, à tout moment, quels que soient notre âge, notre sexe, notre profession ou notre appartenance. Les spectateurs du Bataclan et les clients de La Bonne Bière, de La Belle Équipe, du Carillon et du Petit Cambodge ne portaient pas d’uniforme. Ils ne militaient pour aucune cause, ils ne remplissaient aucun mandat. Ils buvaient un coup, ils partageaient un repas, ils écoutaient un concert: ils ont pourtant été tués. Nous avons beau vivre en démocratie, le totalitarisme de l’Histoire est désormais notre lot. Totalitarisme, en effet, car, loin d’accoucher de la liberté, la violence qui se déchaîne est une calamité sans échappatoire, un fléau auquel personne n’est libre de se soustraire. Envolée comme promesse, l’Histoire ressurgit comme destin et nous dépouille pour longtemps de notre droit à l’insouciance. Pour résumer le bonheur parfait, les Juifs d’Europe centrale disaient: «Wie Gott in Frankreich.» Selon Saul Bellow, cette expression signifie que «Dieu serait parfaitement heureux en France parce qu’il ne serait pas dérangé par les prières, rites, bénédictions et demandes d’interprétation de délicates questions diététiques. Environné d’incroyants, Lui aussi pourrait se détendre le soir venu tout comme des milliers de Parisiens dans leur café préféré. Peu de choses sont plus agréables, plus civilisées qu’une terrasse tranquille au crépuscule.» Paris était «la ville sainte de la laïcité», mais les massacres du 13 novembre ont fait le malheur de Dieu.
Une rhétorique antiterroriste rythme les discours de nos gouvernants et de nos politiques. Notre ennemi, c’est le terrorisme?
Nous avons voulu, avec l’Union européenne, instaurer le règne de la paix perpétuelle. Notre grand rêve helvétique se fracasse aujourd’hui sur la réalité de l’islamisme. De la haine qu’il nous voue, cet ennemi n’a jamais fait mystère. Il joue cartes sur table et pourtant nous avons longtemps refusé de l’identifier. Lâcheté? Non, mémoire. Du Juif, c’est-à-dire, selon l’expression de Jankélévitch, de l’Autre indiscernable, de l’Autre imperceptiblement Autre, Hitler avait fait l’ennemi, et même l’ennemi absolu. Pour ne pas récidiver, le parti intellectuel composé aujourd’hui d’universitaires, de journalistes et de personnalités du show-biz en appelle, quand surgit l’ennemi, au respect de l’Autre. Dans l’Europe posthitlérienne, l’antiracisme tient lieu de vision du monde et on expie le fait d’avoir pris l’Autre pour l’ennemi en prenant l’ennemi pour l’Autre. Ce contresens fatal a survécu au 11 janvier. Survivra-t-il au traumatisme du 13 novembre? C’est toute la question.
Avant le 13 novembre, le débat intellectuel était très tendu. L’unité nationale est-elle possible chez les intellectuels?
Les semaines qui ont précédé le carnage ont été occupées par une campagne de presse assourdissante contre les «néoréacs». Les éditorialistes dressaient des listes. Des historiens, des sociologues, des philosophes, des «humoristes» même s’inquiétaient des risques de contamination et préconisaient la plus extrême vigilance. Ma tête était mise à prix pour ce crime: nommer l’ennemi au lieu de dénoncer les humiliations infligées à l’Autre et de faire le procès du Même (c’est-à-dire de l’identité nationale). Contre cette pensée «nauséabonde» et «putride», L’Obs a battu le rappel des nouveaux intellos de gauche et promis sur une pastille jaune (oui, jaune!) en couverture «0 % de Finkielkraut, Zemmour et les autres», et Alain Badiou, sur le site de ce journal où soufflait naguère l’esprit d’Albert Camus, a expliqué le plus sérieusement du monde qu’il ne pouvait se rendre à mon émission «Répliques» (où je l’avais invité pour le mois de janvier prochain) du fait du «devenir central» dans ma pensée «du concept néonazi d’État ethnique». Le fils d’un rescapé d’Auschwitz nazifié alors qu’il puise son inspiration dans l’œuvre de Péguy et non dans celle de Barrès ou de Vacher de Lapouge! Cette impudence témoigne de la férocité de l’idéologie aujourd’hui en France. Démentie par les faits, elle se jette sauvagement sur celui qui les rapporte. On préfère anéantir le messager plutôt que d’entendre un message qui oblige à voir la réalité et à penser autrement.
Voir la réalité, n’est-ce pas résister à la tentation de l’amalgame?
Par la multiplication des attentats, l’État islamique veut provoquer des lynchages, des attaques de mosquées, des agressions contre les femmes voilées et déclencher ainsi une guerre civile. Ce serait donc tomber dans le piège mortel qu’il nous tend que d’incriminer l’ensemble des musulmans de France. Nombre d’entre eux se sentent pris en otages par les barbares. L’islamisme n’est pas tout l’islam, loin s’en faut. Mais ce n’est pas non plus un phénomène marginal ni une création de l’Occident. Nous n’avons pas, par nos politiques néocoloniales, nos guerres impérialistes et nos pratiques discriminatoires, enfanté ce monstre. Nous ne payons pas pour nos crimes. L’obligation du djihad, rappelle Bernard Lewis, se fonde sur l’universalité de la révélation musulmane: «Cette obligation n’a de limite ni dans le temps ni dans l’espace. Elle doit durer jusqu’à ce que le monde entier ait rallié la foi musulmane ou se soit soumis à l’autorité de l’État islamique. Jusqu’à ce moment, le monde est partagé en deux: la maison de l’islam et la maison de la guerre. Entre les deux existe un état de guerre moralement nécessaire, juridiquement et religieusement obligatoire jusqu’au triomphe final et inévitable de l’islam sur l’incroyance.»Bref, le djihad n’est pas un retour de bâton, c’est un projet de conquête. L’Occident doit se défaire de la croyance mégalomaniaque que, pour le meilleur et pour le pire, c’est toujours lui qui mène le bal. Il faut en finir avec l’ethnocentrisme de la mauvaise conscience. Les islamistes ne sont pas des corollaires, ce sont des sujets historiques à part entière. Aujourd’hui l’État islamique a une adresse. Le califat n’est plus un rêve mais un lieu. On peut donc et on doit répondre par la guerre à la terreur qu’il répand. Daech constitue une menace pour le monde entier. Mais ce n’est pas en bombardant Raqqa qu’on réglera le problème posé par la sécession culturelle à Molenbeek et dans de nombreuses cités françaises ou par la montée de l’intégrisme religieux jusque chez les chauffeurs de bus de la RATP.
Lutter contre l’islamisme, c’est se donner les moyens de reprendre les territoires perdus de la nation en reconstruisant l’école républicaine abêtie, abîmée et même saccagée par un demi-siècle de réformes démagogiques et en maîtrisant les flux migratoires, car plus il y a d’immigrés venus du monde arabo-musulman, plus la communauté nationale se fragmente et plus se développe la propagande radicale. Mais est-il encore temps?
Dans votre dernier ouvrage,La Seule Exactitude (Stock), vous méditez sur le sursaut du 11 janvier, les espérances et les déceptions que cette marche a pu faire naître. S’agit-il désormais d’histoire ancienne?
L’esprit du 11 janvier était un leurre. Mon seul et fragile espoir est que le 13 novembre nous ait enfin ouvert les yeux.(1) Titre du dernier ouvrage de Régis Debray consacré à la disparition de l’Histoire.* La Seule Exactitude (Stock). 20 €.
A propos de la polémique sur le drapeau français sur Facebook
RÉSEAUX SOCIAUX – Bleu, blanc rouge, un symbole national partagé. A propos de la polémique sur les réseaux sociaux.
C’était une idée simple. Facebook propose un filtre qui permet de mettre le drapeau tricolore sur sa photo, en signe de solidarité avec les victimes des attentats du 13 novembre 2015. Il y a bien un petit parfum de marketing à l’opération, mais l’intention est pour la bonne cause. Des personnes de toutes les générations et de toutes les conditions l’ont adopté. Et évidemment, les critiques ont commencé. Il y a l’écologiste prudent qui considère que le drapeau BBR a une « connotation agressive » et que, par conséquent, cela le gêne de le mettre en ligne, surtout vis-à-vis de ses amis étrangers. Un « ami » lui rappelle que les étrangers précisément ont utilisé le tricolore pour signaler leur amour de la France et leur solidarité face à la violence. Un pacifiste s’avise soudain que le drapeau français a une portée impérialiste. Il oublie que ses couleurs devaient manifester le retour de la concorde en un temps où le pays frisait la guerre civile, à l’aube de la Révolution. Plus radical, un militant d’extrême gauche déclare « effacer tous ses amis fb qui mettront le drapeau » et il conclut sans plus d’explication « Désolé, il existe d’autres symboles ». Une féministe extrême accentue l’attaque, tout ce bleu, blanc, rouge « donne une allure FN à Facebook ». Et voici peu à la télévision un ancien footballeur regrettait que l’on fasse le procès de ceux qui ne connaissent pas la Marseillaise et préfèrent un autre drapeau, comme s’ils étaient de « mauvais Français ». Etrange retournement que de se déclarer citoyen d’un pays et d’en rejeter les symboles, complaisance étonnante à un moment où le tricolore porte un idéal de solidarité et de paix à l’heure du deuil.
Le drapeau français n’est pas l’apanage d’une force politique. Depuis l’apparition de la cocarde, vers 1789, ces couleurs ont traversé tous les régimes, dans la peine ou dans la gloire, avant d’être adoptées par notre Constitution, en 1958. Ce symbole appartient à tous et à chacun. Ne pas le comprendre aujourd’hui paraît totalement décalé, tout comme ne pas admettre que la Marseillaise, l’hymne national depuis 1879, est, certes, un chant guerrier, mais qu’elle dit aussi l’espoir des dépossédés et que, pour cette raison, des révolutionnaires en ont fait partout dans le monde le chant de la liberté. Prétendre préférer des icônes bricolées en un jour à un signe fondateur de la République signale un raisonnement à courte vue et l’oubli que le contrat qui nous lie à la nation suppose d’en adopter les signes.
Sept heures d’assaut et 5000 munitions: le récit d’une opération d’une violence rare
VIDÉO – Plus de 110 policiers d’élite ont tué mercredi matin au moins deux terroristes dans un appartement «conspiratif». Le commanditaire présumé des attaques de vendredi dernier pourrait figurer parmi les membres du groupe islamiste.
Après l’épouvante, l’assaut final, puis la sidération. Depuis cinq jours, la traque hors norme menée pour neutraliser les complices des sept kamikazes qui ont frappé le cœur de la région parisienne, avec un bilan encore provisoire de 129 morts identifiés, devait déboucher sur l’interpellation de deux «cibles prioritaires» en cavale. À savoir Salah Abdeslam et un neuvième kamikaze, tous deux impliqués dans les fusillades qui ont ensanglanté les terrasses des cafés des Xe et XIe arrondissements. Il n’en a rien été.
C’est un extravagant nid de terroristes, l’un des plus venimeux que la France ait jamais abrité en son sein, qui a été mis au jour en plein quartier historique de Saint-Denis, à deux pas de la basilique des rois et à moins de 1 km du Stade de France, visé par trois opérations suicides. La cellule était composée de sept islamistes, vraisemblablement passés par les camps d’entraînement de l’État islamique, qui a revendiqué les attaques. Au moins deux sont morts, dont la première femme kamikaze à périr sur le sol français. Cinq ont été interpellés, après avoir été «extraits» de force par les unités d’élite ou retrouvés tapis dans les décombres de leur appartement transformé en Fort Chabrol.
Le commanditaire serait venu en personne s’installer aux portes de la capitale
Parmi eux pourraient figurer, à la stupeur générale, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, inspirateur ou commanditaire présumé des huit attaques coordonnées en 33 minutes que François Hollande avait présentées comme «planifiées depuis la Syrie». Cette hypothèse, si elle se confirme, administrerait donc la preuve inverse. Fossoyeur, puis sergent recruteur de Daech, avant d’être érigé comme une figure emblématique du djihadisme européen, celui qui s’affichait dans les images de propagande sous le nom guerrier d’«Abou Omar al-Baljiki» serait venu en personne s’installer aux portes même de la capitale pour superviser les équipées barbares.
S’il ne figure pas au nombre des gardés à vue, son empreinte ADN est en cours de comparaison avec les échantillons génétiques prélevés sur les cadavres et débris de corps des terroristes neutralisés mercredi. La chasse à l’homme s’est accélérée mardi, a révélé le procureur de la République de Paris, François Molins: «Beaucoup de travail a été effectué et a permis d’obtenir par la téléphonie, les surveillances ainsi qu’un témoignage recoupé par données bancaires, les éléments qui pouvaient laisser penser que le nommé Abaaoud était susceptible de se trouver dans un appartement conspiratif, à Saint-Denis.»Surplombant une rue piétonne du centre-ville, l’immeuble vétuste où sommeille la cellule islamiste est cerné dans la nuit. Le siège, tenu par 70 superflics du Raid pendant plus de sept heures, a été émaillé d’épisodes d’une violence inouïe.
Les policiers auraient «sous-estimé la violence qu’ils allaient affronter»
Sur place, le ministre de l’Intérieur, Bernard Cazeneuve, a évoqué «des conditions jusqu’à présent jamais rencontrées». Le chef de l’État allant même jusqu’à considérer, devant l’Association des maires de France, que les policiers auraient «sous-estimé la violence qu’ils allaient affronter». Alors que les unités d’élite progressent dans les étages sous la protection de leurs boucliers «sarcophages», deux hélicoptères survolent le quartier, qui se transforme en scène de guerre. Les façades blanches de l’immeuble assiégé sont balayées par la lumière de puissants projecteurs et les faisceaux des rayons laser d’une demi-douzaine de tireurs d’élite postés sur les toits. «Nous savions qu’il y avait trois personnes sans doute équipées d’armes de guerre, dont a priori Abaaoud et une femme kamikaze, retranchées dans l’appartement situé au troisième et dernier étage»,raconte au Figaro
À 4 h 16, l’assaut est déclenché lorsque les policiers tentent de faire sauter la porte. Mais le blindage de celle-ci résiste. L’effet de surprise n’est plus dans le camp de la police. Embusqués, les terroristes commencent à faire parler leurs kalachnikovs, ouvrant un feu nourri sur les colonnes des policiers qui ont lancé des grenades assourdissantes pour «sidérer» leurs adversaires. «Pendant des dizaines de minutes, des centaines de coups de feu ont été tirés coup par coup et en rafales sur mes fonctionnaires, poursuit Jean-Michel Fauvergue. Bien que protégés par leurs porte-boucliers, cinq d’entre eux ont été blessés par des balles, des éclats ou des ricochets, à la main, au bras, dans les jambes ou encore dans le bas du dos…» Vers 4 h 45, le Raid interpelle trois islamistes, dont l’un blessé au bras.
Les terroristes se sont relayés pour ne jamais interrompre le feu
Au terme d’une fusillade de forte intensité, les terroristes continuent de tirer de manière plus sporadique. Sans discontinuer, ils se sont relayés pour ne jamais interrompre le feu. À l’occasion d’une brève accalmie, un maître-chien du Raid reçoit l’autorisation de lâcher Diesel, sa chienne d’attaque de race berger malinois. Mais l’animal est mortellement fauché par un tir de gros calibre. Passé 7 heures, l’un des snipers avise dans sa lunette un des forcenés qui tire en rafales. Il le neutralise, sans savoir si cet assaillant est mort ou non. À ses côtés, la femme kamikaze tire aussi sans discontinuer. «Elle s’est fait sauter toute seule dans l’appartement, en espérant que la force de l’explosion nous touche, explique le patron du Raid. Le souffle de la déflagration fait voler les vitres en éclats et tomber un des murs porteurs. Un bout de colonne vertébrale passe par la fenêtre avant de chuter sur une de nos voitures.» Une vingtaine de grenades assourdissantes sont à nouveau lancées pour maintenir la pression sur les irréductibles.
«Pour mieux comprendre la situation, nous avions envoyé un drone de surveillance pour capter des images depuis les Velux, mais la visibilité était nulle, se rappelle encore Jean-Michel Fauvergue. On balance un premier robot muni d’une caméra pour faire une reconnaissance des lieux. Mais il est bloqué par les gravats. On emprunte un robot plus gros, celui de la sécurité civile qui sert au déminage, mais il ne peut pas non plus progresser.» Les policiers empruntent alors un appartement du deuxième étage, situé juste en dessous de celui où la bataille a fait rage, pour laisser passer une caméra télescopique. Là, ils tombent sur le cadavre d’un second terroriste au travers d’un plancher effondré. Criblé d’éclats de grenade et enseveli par une poutre, ce corps méconnaissable lui non plus n’a pu être identifié.
À la nuit tombée, la police scientifique inspectait toujours l’immeuble criblé de balles
Au prix d’une interminable progression méthodique dans les décombres, susceptibles d’être piégés, les policiers du Raid ont gagné jusqu’au plus près les lieux de la fusillade, avant de maîtriser les ultimes forcenés vers 11 heures. Au total, trois terroristes ont été interpellés dans les étages, deux autres ont été découverts alors qu’ils se cachaient sous un inextricable fatras de gravats et de vêtements, ainsi qu’un suspect blessé dans la rue. De leur côté, une quarantaine de leurs collègues de la Brigade de recherche et d’intervention (BRI, antigang) ont perquisitionné des appartements voisins pour débusquer des complices.
Jawad, le locataire de l’appartement assiégé, a reconnu avoir offert l’hospitalité «pour quelques jours à deux potes d’un ami qui venaient de Belgique». Placé en garde à vue, il avait été condamné pour «coups mortels» à huit ans de prison par la cour d’assises de Seine-Saint-Denis en novembre 2008. Il était sorti en septembre 2013. Une de ses connaissances, qui dit avoir dormi dans l’appartement la semaine dernière, a quant à elle expliqué qu’il s’agissait d’un logement dont son ami avait forcé la porte, «une sorte de squat». Toujours selon ses dires, les visiteurs belges étaient arrivés «il y a deux jours». La jeune femme est également en garde à vue.
Tandis que la police scientifique inspecte toujours à la nuit tombée l’immeuble criblé de balles et d’éclats et menaçant de s’effondrer, 830 limiers de la brigade criminelle et de la sous-direction antiterroriste, mais aussi ceux de la Direction générale de la sécurité intérieure (DGSI), ne relâchent rien de leur traque pour retrouver les derniers membres de la nébuleuse terroriste. Outre Salah Abdeslam et le neuvième kamikaze, un autre objectif est dans le collimateur des enquêteurs: Jean-Michel et son frère Fabien Clain, vétéran du djihadisme, qui apparaît dans un enregistrement de revendication des attentats par l’État islamique. «Grâce à une logistique d’ampleur minutieusement mise en œuvre, selon le procureur de la République François Molins, les terroristes étaient programmés dans une logique jusqu’au-boutiste. Tout laisse à penser que le commando neutralisé à Saint-Denis pouvait passer à l’acte» pour un nouvel attentat, a ajouté le haut magistrat. À l’instar de tous les responsables de l’antiterrorisme, il n’ignore pas que la guerre contre le djihadisme n’en est qu’à ses prémices.
Mouvements de panique dans le centre de Paris suite à une fausse alerte
VIDÉO – Plusieurs scènes de panique ont eu lieu dimanche dans Paris, sur la place de la République et près des Halles, après de fausses alertes.
En fin d’après-midi, une fausse alerte a déclenché un mouvement de panique dans le centre de la capitale. Des témoins et des journalistes ont rapporté des scènes de confusion dans plusieurs rues de Paris, près des Halles, dans le premier arrondissement, et sur la place de la République.
Rue Étienne Marcel, vers 18h45, les policiers ont demandé aux gens de quitter les terrasses. Les cafés ont alors baissé le rideau. Le même scénario s’est produit à la cantine de Belleville, où un mouvement de panique a eu lieu avec des personnes qui couraient dans la rue. Soixante-dix personnes se seraient réfugiées à l’intérieur.
Autre témoignage d’un journaliste du Parisien, qui se trouvait rue Saint-Denis: «J’étais en terrasse, trois types sont remontés dans la rue en courant et en hurlant qu’il y avait des tirs, ça a été la panique, il y a eu un mouvement de foule, toutes les tables ont volé, on s’est mis les uns sur les autres, mais on ne sait pas ce qui s’est passé».
La place de la République brutalement vidée de ses occupants
Tandis que sur la Place de la République, plusieurs milliers de personnes se rassemblaient pour rendre hommage aux victimes des attaques de vendredi soir, celle-ci s’est brutalement vidée. Après un jet de pétards et l’éclatement d’une ampoule ou d’un chauffage de terrasse, les gens effrayés par le bruit se sont rués vers le canal Saint-Martin ou se sont engouffrés dans les cafés à proximité.
«Tout le monde se bousculait, se piétinait, et les CRS nous demandaient de nous protéger, c’était horrible» raconte Rachida, 51 ans, présente au pied de la statue de Marianne au moment des faits. Eric, lui, était attablé à l’intérieur du café «Chez Prune» quand le mouvement de foule s’est déclenché. Immédiatement, le gérant a baissé les volets et les personnes attablées se sont couchées à même le sol. «Difficile de dire combien de temps» raconte-t-il. Avant d’ajouter: «Je me disais comme ça, si je reçois des balles, je les reçois dans le dos».
Présente également, Caroline Piquet, journaliste du Figaro, relate la scène: «Des gens se sont aplatis par terre à des terrasses de cafés, certains relayaient des rumeurs sur des hommes portant des kalachnikov». La reporter s’est réfugiée dans un magasin avec d’autres personnes. «Les gens étaient paniqués, certains ont laissé des valises, ce qui a interrompu le métro en plusieurs endroits pour vérification de colis abandonnés», précise-t-elle.
La station Hôtel de ville a été fermée quelques minutes «par mesure de sécurité», avant que le trafic ne reprenne normalement quelques instants plus tard. Vers 19h30, la place était toujours encerclée de CRS armés de fusils d’assaut mais le calme était revenu.
Voir par ailleurs:
Kamel Daoud and Algeria, caught between Islamist fervor and cultural flowering.
The New York Times
April 1, 2015
I first heard about the writer Kamel Daoud a few years ago, when an Algerian friend of mine told me I should read him if I wanted to understand how her country had changed in recent years. “If Algeria can produce a Kamel Daoud,” she said, “I still have hope for Algeria.” Reading his columns in Le Quotidien d’Oran, a French-language newspaper, I saw what she meant. Daoud had an original, epigrammatic style: playful, lyrical, brash. I could also see why he’d been accused of racism, even “self-hatred.” After Sept. 11, for example, he wrote that the Arabs had been “crashing” for centuries and that they would continue crashing so long as they were better known for hijacking planes than for making them. But this struck me as the glib provocation of an otherwise intelligent writer carried away by his metaphors.
The more I read Daoud, the more I sensed he was driven not by self-hatred but by disappointed love. Here was a writer in his early 40s, a man my age, who believed that people in Algeria and the wider Muslim world deserved a great deal better than military rule or Islamism, the two-entree menu they had been offered since the end of colonialism, and who said so with force and brio. Nothing, however, prepared me for his first novel, “The Meursault Investigation,” a thrilling retelling of Albert Camus’s 1942 classic, “The Stranger,” from the perspective of the brother of the Arab killed by Meursault, Camus’s antihero. The novel, which was first published in Algeria in 2013, and which will be published in English by Other Press in June, not only breathes new life into “The Stranger”; it also offers a bracing critique of postcolonial Algeria — a new country that Camus, a poor Frenchman born in Algiers, did not live to see.
What impressed me about Daoud’s writing, both his journalism and his novel, was the fearlessness with which he defended the cause of individual liberty — a fearlessness that, it seemed to me, bordered on recklessness in a country where collectivist passions of nation and faith run high. I wondered whether his experience might provide clues as to the state of intellectual freedom in Algeria, a peculiar hybrid of electoral democracy and police state. Late last year, I had an answer of sorts. Daoud was no longer merely a writer. He was now someone you had to take a side on, in Algeria and in France.
His ordeal began on Dec. 13, during a book tour in France, where “Meursault” received rapturous reviews, sold more than 100,000 copies and came two votes shy of winning the Prix Goncourt, the nation’s most prestigious literary prize. He was on a popular late-night talk show called “On n’est pas Couché” (“We’re Not Asleep”), and he felt, he would tell me later, “as if I had all of Algeria on my shoulders.” He insisted to the French-Lebanese journalist Léa Salamé, one of the panelists on the program, that he considered himself an Algerian, not an Arab — a view that’s not uncommon in Algeria, but that is opposed by Arab nationalists. He said that he spoke a distinct language called “Algerian,” not Arabic. He said that he preferred to meet with God on foot, by himself, rather than in an “organized trip” to a mosque, and that religious orthodoxy had become an obstacle to progress in the Muslim world. Daoud said nothing on the program that he hadn’t said in his columns or his novel. But saying it in France, the country that ruled Algeria from 1830 to 1962, got him noticed by people back home who tend to ignore the French-language press.
One of them was an obscure imam named Abdelfattah Hamadache, who had reportedly been an informer for the security services. Three days after Daoud’s appearance on French television, Hamadache wrote on his Facebook page that Daoud — an “apostate” and “Zionized criminal” — should be put on trial for insulting Islam and publicly executed. It was not quite a call for Daoud’s assassination: Hamadache was appealing to the state, not to freelance jihadists. But Algeria is a country in which more than 70 journalists were murdered by Islamist rebels during the civil war of the 1990s, the so-called Black Decade. Those murders were often preceded by anonymous threats in letters, leaflets or graffiti scrawled on the walls of mosques. Hamadache’s “Facebook fatwa,” as it became known, was something new, and uniquely brazen, for being signed in his own name. It provoked an outcry, and not only among liberals. Ali Belhadj, leader of the banned Islamic Salvation Front (F.I.S.), harshly criticized Hamadache, asserting that he had no authority to call Daoud an apostate and that only God had the right to decide who was or wasn’t a Muslim: a message, some said, that the F.I.S. saw Hamadache as a tool of the state. Indeed, although the minister of religious affairs, Mohamed Aïssa, a mild-mannered man of Sufi leanings, came to Daoud’s defense, the government otherwise maintained a strange neutrality, declining to respond when Daoud filed a complaint against Hamadache for incitement.
That neutrality reflects something deeper than political expedience. The principal lesson that the Algerian state drew from the decade-long war with Islamist insurgents was that Islamism could not be defeated on the battlefield: It had to be co-opted rather than crushed. In effect, Algeria is running a decade ahead of other countries where secular elites are clashing with powerful Islamist movements over the shape of new governments after the Arab uprisings. Now it is prosperous and has a growing sense of confidence that the Algerian model of power-sharing can and should be exported to neighbors like Libya and Tunisia. The Daoud Affair, however, is putting the Algerian model to the test.
By the time I flew to Oran, on Jan. 15, the war over blasphemy had spread to France, when the offices of Charlie Hebdo were attacked by French jihadists, brothers of Algerian ancestry. In Oran, Daoud’s supporters had been saying, “We are all Kamel Daoud”; now millions of people in Paris were saying “Je suis Charlie.” I wondered how the events in Paris would affect Daoud’s predicament. On my layover at Orly, I opened Le Monde to find an interview about Charlie with Daoud, who said he feared more “micro-9/11s.”
To be an Algerian writer is to be a student of political violence. Algeria won its independence from France in 1962 after one of the world’s longest and bloodiest wars of decolonization. Its political system, which people simply call the pouvoir, or power, is still strongly influenced by the mujahedeen, the “holy warriors” of the National Liberation Front (F.L.N.) who fought against France. Algeria’s 78-year-old president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika — who is now in his fourth term, and who governs from a wheelchair equipped with a microphone because his voice is so faint — joined the National Liberation Army in 1956. Rumored to be living in a villa outside Algiers, Bouteflika is able to work only a few hours a day. When Bouteflika was hospitalized in France in November, Daoud wrote of his regime, “Even the question of what comes after has become secondary: There’s no life before death, why worry about life after death?” Bouteflika is not the only senior figure in the pouvoir whose time is running out. The heads of the army and the intelligence services are both in their mid-70s. Algeria is facing a potential triple succession crisis at a moment of falling oil prices. A precipitous drop in oil prices could push Algeria toward a “violent rupture,” Daoud says.
Whether the pouvoir has a transition plan for the post-Bouteflika era is anyone’s guess, because its machinations are so obscure. This is deliberate: When the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy asked an Algerian minister why the government was so opaque, the minister reportedly replied, “Because that is our strength.” The code of impenetrable secrecy, like so much else in Algeria, is a product of the War of Independence. Secrecy was a necessity for an anticolonial insurgency fighting one of the most powerful armies in the world, but it has remained the pouvoir’s modus operandi ever since independence. Algeria is governed as if the war never ended. Every new crisis — bread riots, the civil war, Berber protests, the Arab Spring — has justified a permanent war footing. And every emergency has delayed the question of “what happens after liberation,” as Daoud puts it: “Is the goal to have enough food, enough housing? Why haven’t we made happiness one of our goals?” This is a young man’s question, but Algeria hasn’t been run by young men since the early 1960s.
Today, Algeria’s décideurs — the men who actually make decisions, as opposed to the politicians who bicker in its pluralist but impotent National Assembly — have two claims to legitimacy. The first is that they liberated Algeria from French rule. The second is that they defeated a wave of Islamist terrorism in the 1990s. In Daoud’s view, neither achievement is enough. Algeria will be truly free only when it has been “liberated from its liberators.” It is not simply a matter of overthrowing the government, which he believes was the great illusion of the Arab Spring. Society, too, needs to change if Algeria is to release itself from the fetters of authoritarianism and Islamic piety.
Daoud’s writing has attracted many well-placed readers. He regularly receives calls from members of the pouvoir. Manuel Valls, the prime minister of France, recently called to say how much he admired “Meursault.” “Men in power are fascinated by people like me,” he said. “I don’t have a state or an army, I’m just a guy with an apartment and a car. But I’m free, and they want to know, Why are you free?”
On Jan. 16, the day I arrived in Algeria, thousands of protesters, including Hamadache, marched toward the Place de la Poste in downtown Algiers after Friday prayers, in defiance of a ban on demonstrations in the capital. The Rally in Defense of the Prophet Muhammad had been called in protest against the Muhammad cartoon that ran on the cover of Charlie Hebdo after the massacre in Paris. Aïssa, the minister of religious affairs, opposed the demonstrations, but the anger over the cartoons was raw and easily fanned by Salafist preachers. “Je suis Muhammad” was a common slogan: a curious phrase with which to denounce blasphemy, because it is considered by some Muslims to be blasphemous to declare yourself the Prophet. (The slogan was promoted by the Arabic tabloid Echorouk, a platform for tirades against Daoud; it was later amended to “Je suis avec Muhammad” — I am with Muhammad.) Young men waved the black flag of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and declared the Paris killers to be martyrs. Like many demonstrations in Algeria, it devolved into a riot, with shop windows smashed in the name of the Prophet. Hamadache was arrested in Belcourt, where Camus was raised, and briefly detained for his role in the rally.
The protests in Oran, where anti-Islamist sentiment runs high, were much smaller than in Algiers, but still boisterous enough to hold up traffic. I was heading to my hotel from the airport with Robert Parks, an American academic who is a close friend of Daoud’s. Parks, who has run a research center in Oran since 2006, had been telling me that Algeria was slowly but surely recovering its confidence. Algerians, he said, were grateful to have avoided the tumult of the Arab revolts, thanks to which they had been able to make a more sober, judicious and favorable appraisal of their own conditions. But when a group of young demonstrators marched toward us, he swerved into a back road: he was worried that we would be mistaken for Frenchmen.
The boldness with which Islamists took to the streets was a reminder of the deal that Bouteflika had cut with them shortly after coming to power in 1999. His “reconciliation project” offered amnesty to those who fought in the civil war of 1992-2002, provided they laid down their arms. The pouvoir never negotiated with the political wing of the F.I.S., preferring to settle matters with armed rebels behind closed doors. Security forces who were responsible for extrajudicial killings and disappearances were never charged. Islamist fighters made out even better. They came down from the maquis, the resistance in the mountains, and returned to the mosque. Many were reportedly given jobs and property. The paradox of the recent civil war is that while the Islamists failed to overthrow the state, Bouteflika’s reconciliation project allowed them to increase their presence within it. Islamists are now, in effect, a wing of the pouvoir, which has not merely tolerated them but has allowed them to participate in the National Assembly. And their presence has the added attraction, to Algeria’s generals, the most influential décideurs, of warning other Algerians — and the country’s allies in Washington and Paris — about what might lie in store if the army and the intelligence services loosen their grip.
There’s no doubt that Algeria has made strides since the Black Decade. Although Bouteflika has hardly appeared in public since his stroke in 2013, he remains relatively popular, if only for lack of an alternative, and is widely credited with rebuilding Algeria after the civil war. When I reported from Algeria in 2003, a year after the war officially ended, it was a jittery, traumatized place, and people were still afraid of car bombs and fake checkpoints set up by rebels. Although radical jihadists are still active in the east and the south, today the country is largely safe, not only in the cities but on the roads connecting them. The new East-West highway, built with Chinese labor, has cut in half the drive from Algiers to Oran, once a 10-hour journey. The economy remains heavily dependent on natural gas and oil (more than 90 percent of its exports), but it has nearly $200 billion in foreign-currency reserves. Algeria has earned the admiration of Western powers, above all the United States, for its role in regional counterterrorism, for the expertise and efficiency of the intelligence services and for its resourceful diplomatic efforts in Tunisia, Libya and Mali. In the words of its energetic foreign minister, Ramtane Lamamra, Algeria is “an exporter of security and stability.”
The pouvoir has been shrewd in maintaining that stability. There were anti-government protests in early 2011, after the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia, but the pouvoir swiftly contained them in the usual ways: deploying thousands of police officers in the capital; cutting prices on sugar, flour and oil; and offering cash handouts to young people who want (or claim they want) to start their own businesses. “The Arab Spring is a mosquito against which we shut the door of our country,” Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal gloated in a speech, and then added a reference to a brand of insecticide: “If it ever tries to get in, we’ll fight it with Fly-Tox.”
The pouvoir is neither secular nor Islamist: it has pursued a policy of deliberate indecision, tolerating radical Islamists like Hamadache while at the same time turning a blind eye to what Parks described to me as a “fragile experiment” in cultural liberalization. The best place to witness that experiment is Oran, the birthplace of raï, an Algerian pop that fuses Arabic and Spanish music, disco and hip-hop. On my first night in Oran, only hours after the anti-Charlie demonstrations, I went to a nightclub with Parks and the poet Amina Mekahli, also a close friend of Daoud’s. A fan of Philip Roth, Mekahli quoted from memory passages from “The Human Stain,” Roth’s novel about Coleman Silk, a black college professor who passes for white; she said it spoke directly to the Algerian anguish of living a double life. Cabarets in Oran are basically speakeasies, but we had managed to talk our way in. A waiter brought us a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label, along with a plate of fresh fruit. Most of the clients were Algerians in their 20s and 30s. I was surrounded on all sides by leopard-skin pants, miniskirts, Louis Vuitton knockoff bags and lipstick. Mekahli introduced me to a friend of hers, whom she called Gigi, the “famous homosexual.” She explained that Gigi, a sweet, androgynous man in his 40s, plays matchmaker outside the bathroom; if a young man fancies a young woman, he tells Gigi, and when the girl emerges from the bathroom, he tells her of the man’s interest. “What’s interesting about Gigi,” Mekahli said, “is that he’s from a working-class neighborhood and accepted, though the word ‘gay’ is never mentioned.” I was less enthralled than Mekahli, but then I remembered Camus’s remark that Oran is a city where “one learns the virtues, provisional to be sure, of a certain kind of boredom.”
Oran has changed since Camus’s day, of course. Under French rule, it was a European city. After independence, the Europeans left en masse, and their homes were occupied by migrants from neighboring villages. Others found housing, grim but free, in Eastern-bloc-style complexes built by the state. The skyline has grown taller in recent years: the Sheraton and Méridien hotels look as if they were imported from Dubai. Yet Oran has preserved its languorous, Mediterranean character. In little cafes, men sip cups of black coffee and mint tea; seaside restaurants offer grilled fish, paella and breathtaking views of the Mediterranean, while corner stands serve calentita, a baguette stuffed with mashed chickpeas, a sandwich that Spanish settlers introduced to Algeria. On the street, most women wear hijabs. But at late-night cabarets like the one we went to, young people dance, drink and, as Camus wrote in 1939, “meet, eye and size up one another, happy to be alive and to cut a figure.”
At midnight, when we arrived, the crowd seemed tentative, but when Cheba Dalila, a raï singer with a voice as deep as Nina Simone’s, came on at 2 a.m., the dance floor filled up. She strode with her microphone from table to table, collecting bills from people who paid to have their names mentioned in her songs. The bass was so loud I felt it in my belly. A woman in tight jeans wore a T-shirt that said “Detroit 1983”; pairs of men danced with women when their interest was plainly in each other. I took a photograph, but Mekahli’s son, Hadi, told me not to: “This place is run by the mafia.” The “mafia” makes its money on bootleg liquor and prostitutes. Some of the women at the nightclub were apparently for hire. “For me,” Mekahli said, “clubs like this are a reappropriation of Algerian identity. France doesn’t exist here. The people here are totally decolonized.”
When I first visited Daoud at his apartment in a gated community on the outskirts of Oran, he was in his pajamas, watching television with his 12-year-old son. He was multitasking as he rattled off his latest news, typing out emails, checking his Facebook account, taking calls. He hardly looked up from his screen, and I feared that we would never get to talk. It would be easier, he said, if I stayed with him.
Two days later, when I checked out of my hotel, I sparked a minor diplomatic incident. The concierge came outside to talk to Daoud, who was waiting in his car. If I left, he said nervously, there would be no way of checking the whereabouts of the étranger — the foreigner. He could not afford to have another Hervé Gourdel on his hands: Gourdel, a French hiker, was kidnapped and beheaded by radical Islamists in September in the mountains of Kabylia. Daoud said he might have to notify the police. Housing an American, he joked, would doubtless turn out to be one more black mark against him, further proof that he had sold out to the forces of imperialism. Daoud knows how his critics think, in part because he used to think the same way. He is an ex-Islamist, and he has a defector’s zeal. Two years into their marriage, Daoud says, his ex-wife became increasingly religious and started wearing the hijab. They divorced in 2008, after the birth of their daughter.
The great theme of Daoud’s writing is the Algerian condition. To be Algerian, he argues, is to be “schizophrenic,” torn between religious piety and liberal individualism. The liquor stores in Oran are legal but concealed; a ring of traffic forms around them on Thursday evening, the night before prayers. There is a growing acceptance of sex outside marriage, but women are seen as little more than prostitutes if they walk into a cafe for men. Algerians are becoming more modern, but on the down low, as if they were loath to admit it to themselves. Hypocrisy might be a step on the arduous road to a more tolerant civil society, but it exasperates Daoud. “The Islamists have at least made their choice,” he said.
Daoud’s campaign against Islamism has won him adoration, particularly among liberal, French-speaking Algerians, who hail him for staking out positions they share but are often too shy to express in public. But he is also widely reviled, not only among Islamists but among nationalists and leftists who see him as hostile to his own society. Daoud sometimes gives the impression of taunting them, as if he were spoiling for a fight. During the recent war in Gaza, he published a column titled, “Why I Am Not ‘in Solidarity’ With Palestine.” Daoud wasn’t in solidarity with Israel either; he just didn’t like the implication that he had to be in solidarity with Palestine because he was a Muslim. He opposed Israel’s bombing for anticolonial and humanitarian reasons, not religious or ethnic ones. As such, his hidden subject was Algeria; what he resented, in the call to solidarity with Palestine, was not the cause itself but the pressure to unify, once again, under the banner of Arab and Islamic identity.
The coercive pressure to unify has always been a defining feature of Algerian nationalism. During the struggle for independence, the leaders of the F.L.N., many of whom were Berbers, suppressed Berber identity politics in the name of national unity against the French. Since independence, as Daoud points out, Algerians have been taught to see themselves as belonging exclusively to the Arab-Islamic world and to deny what they know from their history and experience: that most are of Berber, not Arabic ancestry; that a large minority still speaks either Berber, a language that only recently was recognized as a national language, or French, which became a “foreign language” after independence; and that even the Arabic most Algerians speak at home is a creole larded with words on loan from other tongues. (Hence Daoud’s insistence on calling it “Algerian.”) Far from representing an alternative to the ideology of Arab-Islamic unity, Algeria’s Islamists preach a more religious version of it. As a result, Algeria remains, in Daoud’s view, “stranded between the sky and the land. The land belongs to ‘the liberators,’ ” while “the sky has been colonized by religious people who have appropriated it in the name of Allah.” Algerians “have been persuaded that they are impotent; they can’t even build a wall without Chinese help.”
This sense of impotence finds physical expression in Algeria’s decrepit infrastructure. “The streets of Oran are doomed to dust, pebbles and heat,” Camus wrote in an essay. “If it rains, there is a deluge and a sea of mud.” Once you’re off the main roads, it’s no better today. On a rainy night I drove with Daoud to a dinner in a secluded bourgeois neighborhood of Oran. The streets were a brown porridge, and we nearly got stuck. “What a mess,” he exploded. Daoud, who is obsessed with cleanliness, thinks that Algeria’s tolerance for dirt is a political symptom, even a spiritual one. Under French rule, Algerians were violently dispossessed of their land. Because the domestic interior was all that they owned, they came to see public space as something that didn’t belong to them; as France’s property, it was someone else’s problem. After independence, it became the state’s problem. Religion only reinforced the notion that everyday problems were in the hands of a higher authority. “Our ecological problems are also metaphysical,” he said. “People who are waiting for the end of the world can’t be bothered with the present.”
Islamism thrives, he thinks, on this deeper malaise. The same sense of futility and boredom leads others to flee, even to risk death at sea. Daoud’s younger brother is one of thousands of young Algerians — the so-called harraga — who have escaped to Europe by boat. He was picked up by a British ship and now lives, without papers, in the United Kingdom.
Daoud is no longer a practicing Muslim, and he describes himself as philosophically close to Buddhism. I asked him if there was anything about Islam he still admired. “The primacy of justice, rather than faith, is something I find very attractive,” he said. “I also like the absence of intermediaries between the individual and God. The imam’s only role is to officiate at prayers. Insofar as Islam is about the direct relationship between God and the believer, it’s a very liberal faith.”
He might have been describing the Islam that he knew as a child in Mesra, a village in northwestern Algeria. The Daouds, he said, “were sure of their faith, so they didn’t feel they had to defend it, unlike the Islamists today, who are incredibly fragile.” The same was true of his family’s attachment to the land: They were patriots who lived through the War of Independence but felt no need to deny “the complexities of life under colonialism.” In school, he learned “a single story,” a black-and-white tale of infallible mujahedeen battling evil French settlers. At home, though, his grandparents told him about the impoverished French they knew in Mesra; about the Catholic priest who fed the family in times of shortage; about French soldiers who deserted their posts, rather than torture and kill. Later he would learn that his father’s first great love was not his mother but a Frenchwoman with whom he was involved during the war.
The eldest of six children, Daoud was born in 1970, when Algeria was widely seen as a postcolonial success. Its president, Col. Houari Boumediene, enigmatic and taciturn, was an authoritarian strongman, but he transformed Algeria into a regional player, a leader of the nonaligned movement. Under Boumediene, who seized power in a military coup three years after independence, the army became the dominant institution in Algerian life. Daoud’s father, Mohamed, was a gendarme. In spite of his poverty, he was able, as “a member of a rising generation,” to marry a woman from a prosperous, landed family outside of Mesra, socially his superior.
Mohamed Daoud, who studied in French schools, was the only member of the family who could read. He taught his son the alphabet and shared his small library of books in French. At the library in Mostaganem, the port city where Kamel Daoud attended school, he read Jules Verne, “Dune” and works of Greek mythology. But the book that most captivated him was “The Revival of the Religious Sciences,” by Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, an itinerant 11th-century Persian theologian who, after a crisis of faith, tried to purify his soul through mystical experience. Daoud said that after reading al-Ghazali at age 13 “the Quran was no longer enough for me. It was merely the visible face of a hidden text.” In order to decipher that concealed, more sacred text, he became increasingly ascetic. He kept a stone in his mouth to prevent himself from speaking, after reading that silence opens the heart to God. Daoud wanted to be a writer, but he also wanted to become an imam. “It was a contradiction, but I didn’t experience this as a contradiction,” he said. “When you pray, you construct meaning, just as you do when you write. God is your only reader, but in essence, it’s the same thing.”
At first, the Quran won out. Religion was a more promising career path than literature for an ambitious Algerian teenager in the early 1980s. President Chadli Bendjedid, who came to power in 1979, two months after Boumediene’s death, rolled back his predecessor’s project of socialist land reform and began to liberalize the economy. The shops were flooded with Western consumer products, but “de-Boumedienization” left an ideological void. Bendjedid filled it with Islam and Arab identity. He put down the “Berber Spring” of 1980, a nonviolent movement that called for the recognition of Berber culture and language, intensified the Arabization of education and presided over a mosque-building spree.
Emboldened by these changes, the Islamist movement, which had been tightly controlled under Boumediene, began to train a generation of young militants. Daoud, a young Islamic mystic in a djellaba and turban, was recruited by his geography teacher, a member of an Islamist cell. He introduced him to the writings of Abul Ala Mawdudi, Sayyid Qutb and Hassan al-Banna — the founders of modern Sunni Islamism — and persuaded him that the individual salvation he sought could be achieved only through collective salvation, in the form of an Islamic state. Daoud grew a beard, handed out leaflets and became the imam of his high school. At an Islamist-run summer camp, “we lived as if we were companions of the Prophet.” It was in camps and athletic clubs that the young militants of Algeria’s emerging Islamic movement were indoctrinated, and Daoud appeared to be on his way to becoming a leader. But when he turned 18, Daoud quit the movement. “I felt I had the right to live and to rebel,” he told me. “And I was tired. At a certain point, I no longer felt anything. I don’t know if this is what losing faith means. But what’s dangerous for a religious person isn’t temptation, it’s fatigue.”
On Oct. 5, 1988, three months after he broke with Islamism, Algeria experienced the first in a series of violent anti-government demonstrations. Daoud went to Mostaganem, armed with a chain, hoping to “break stuff.” By the time he arrived, the military had started to fire on people. An old man tried to use him as a human shield. He was saved by a woman who took him by the arm and, pretending that she was his mother, led him to safety. “I was furious at that generation of men, men who would hide behind a young man,” he said. “It seemed very symbolic to me.” Several hundred Algerians died in Black October. The following year, a new constitution was adopted, legalizing political parties other than the National Liberation Front and thereby dismantling the one-party state. The Islamic Salvation Front emerged as the country’s most powerful opposition party.
In January 1992, the army canceled the second round of national elections, in order to prevent the Islamic Salvation Front from coming to power. Deprived of victory at the polls, Islamists took up arms, and a brutal civil war erupted. Daoud, who was studying French at the University of Oran, opposed the cancellation of the elections, but “I really didn’t care. I was an individualist. I hated everyone. I looked at the events from a distance, and I thought, They’re going to eat each other up.” He had chosen a much more personal form of rebellion, in literature, music and beer, though he would not take his first sip of wine, which is specifically proscribed in the Quran, until he was 30. He read Baudelaire, Borges and the Syrian poet Adonis, and began to write poetry and fiction.
After college, Daoud took a job as a crime reporter for a monthly tabloid called Detective. (“What made ‘The Wire’ so great,” he told me, “is that it’s a collaboration between a writer and a policeman, the dogs of the world.”) It was through traveling to small, remote towns, where he wrote about murder trials and sex crimes, that Daoud discovered what he calls “the real Algeria.” When Detective folded in 1996, he went to work for Le Quotidien d’Oran. While other journalists complained of the danger they faced from Islamist rebels, Daoud rented a donkey and went out to interview them. He reported on some of the worst massacres of the civil war, including the 1998 killings in the village of Had Chekala, where more than 800 people were slaughtered. His work as a reporter, Daoud told me, left him suspicious of “hardened positions and grand analyses,” and that sensibility infused the column he began writing for Le Quotidien. Daoud upheld no ideology, spoke in no one’s name but his own. To his new admirers, this was something to celebrate: the emergence of an authentically Algerian free spirit. To his adversaries, Daoud became the face of an Algerian Me-Generation: selfish, hollow, un-Algerian.
“The Meursault Investigation” arose from one of his columns. The premise is ingenious: that “The Stranger,” about the murder of an unnamed Arab on an Algiers beach, was a true story. It might as well have been from the perspective of many Algerians; nationalist critics have long spoken about “The Stranger” as if the murder it described had actually happened and Camus, whose opposition to independence was difficult for many Algerian writers to forgive, had committed it. Daoud’s stroke of inspiration was to take the next step and make Meursault, the fictive murderer, the author of Camus’s novel. Just as “the Arab” is never named in “The Stranger,” so the name of Camus is never mentioned in “The Meursault Investigation.”
“Meursault” is a confessional monologue, in the style of Camus’s novel “The Fall,” addressed by an Algerian named Harun to an unnamed Frenchman at a bar in Oran. Harun’s brother, Musa, was murdered in 1942 by a French settler named Meursault, who went on to achieve fame by describing the killing in a novel called “The Other.” Now an old man, Harun is determined to give his brother a name and a story and to correct Meursault’s version of events. For the first half of the book, he does just that, settling an old account that Algerian nationalists — and postcolonial critics like Edward Said, who derided Camus’s “incapacitated colonial sensibility” — have had with “The Stranger.”
But the second half of Daoud’s novel shows how little bearing that critique has on Algeria’s present, denying the reader the easy satisfaction of anticolonial justice. Algeria, not Camus, is on trial here. Harun, we realize, is himself a stranger in a country overrun by religious fervor. The local mosque strikes him as so imposing “it prevents you from seeing God”; the man reciting the Quran sounds as if he were playing all of the roles, from “torturer to victim.” Men wander around in crumpled pajamas and slippers “as though Friday exempts them from the demands of civility.” Friday is “not a day when God rested, it’s a day when he decided to run away and never come back.”
Harun reveals that he, too, has murdered. His victim, randomly chosen a few days after independence, was a Frenchman named Joseph Larquais, a roumi or stranger. His accomplice and enabler was his own mother, who wanted revenge for her son’s murder. The new authorities chastise him not for the deed but for its timing: because he killed after July 5, 1962, Independence Day, his murder is not an act of liberation, but an embarrassment for the regime. Looking for his brother, Harun has instead found his double: he is Meursault’s Algerian brother, a murderer in equally absurd circumstances, a stranger in a land caught between “Allah and ennui.” When an imam urges him to accept God before it’s too late, Harun violently rejects his appeal, in almost exactly the same words that Meursault uses in his conversation with the priest who begs him to accept Christ before his execution. “I had so little time left I didn’t want to waste it on God,” he says. “None of his certainties was worth one hair on the head of the woman I loved.” It is just one of the many lines lifted from Camus. “Meursault” is less a critique of “The Stranger” than its postcolonial sequel.
“ ‘The Stranger’ is a philosophical novel, but we’re incapable of reading it as anything other than a colonial novel,” Daoud told me when I asked him what drew him to Camus’s fiction. “The most profound question in Camus is religious: What do you do in relation to God if God doesn’t exist? The most powerful scene in ‘The Stranger’ is the confrontation between the priest and the condemned man. Meursault is indifferent with women, with the judge, but he becomes choleric in the face of the priest. And here, in my novel, is someone revolting against God. Harun, for me, is a hero in a conservative society.”
“Meursault” was published by Éditions Barzakh in 2013 to strong sales and widely admiring reviews in Algeria. Only when it was published the following year in France, by Actes Sud, a prestigious house in Arles — and even more so after it was nominated for the Goncourt in September 2014 — did the novel stir controversy back home. A half century after independence, Algeria’s intellectual life exists under the shadow of its former occupier. For many Algerian intellectuals, it was inconceivable that Daoud could have succeeded in France without the help of the ubiquitous but invisible and invariably sinister main étrangère, or “foreign hand.”
In a sense, the “foreign hand” is French itself, the language that many Algerian writers still prefer to Arabic, but which for younger Algerians is now a foreign language: one they learn to speak only if it is spoken at home or if they choose to study it in school, as Daoud did. One Friday morning, I set out to meet the novelist Maïssa Bey, one of Algeria’s most distinguished French-language writers, at her home in Sidi Bel Abbes, a quaint, dilapidated colonial town. It was the day of prayer, so the streets were deserted. Eucalyptus trees cast delicate shadows on the walls of buildings painted in bright shades of blue, pink and yellow. Bey, who was born in 1950, is the daughter of a nationalist schoolteacher who was tortured and killed by the French Army when she was 6. Like Daoud, she has written eloquently about Algeria’s identity traumas, about the pluralism repressed by the rhetoric of national unity. Like Daoud, she has paid tribute to Camus as a fellow Algerian. “A lot of Algerians can’t imagine you’re not writing for France if you write in French,” she told me. “It’s as if the war never ended for them.” The persistence of this colonial complex, she says, explains why there’s such an acute sense of taboo among writers in Algeria today. “There are subjects you simply cannot touch, Islam above all. It’s sacred, and even if you criticize the way it’s practiced, not the religion itself, as Kamel did, your words will be twisted, and no one will know, because these rumors acquire a force, and they’re manipulated by the pouvoir. And if you question the official discourse on Israel or on France’s relationship to Algeria, you are inviting trouble.”
The most surprising attack on Daoud has come not from a jihadist but from a fellow breaker of taboos, the novelist Rachid Boudjedra, who fled Algeria under a similar threat from Islamists four decades ago. Boudjedra, who is also published by Éditions Barzakh, came to prominence in 1969 when he published, in French, “The Repudiation,” about a young man whose father leaves his mother to marry a much younger woman. He avenges his mother’s humiliation by sleeping with his stepmother; his gay brother kills himself after an affair with a Jewish man. Soaked in bodily fluids — blood, feces and semen — and filled with graphic depictions of sex and masturbation, “The Repudiation” was an extreme act of literary rebellion. Shortly after the book was published, Boudjedra went into exile in Paris, then Morocco, for the next six years. He still keeps an apartment in Paris, and after a brief period of writing in Arabic, he has returned to writing in French. If anyone was in a position to understand Daoud’s predicament, it was Boudjedra. Instead he ridiculed Daoud’s novel as “mediocre” on Ennahar, the Arabic satellite channel that on that same day gave a platform to Hamadache. He later called Daoud one of “those writers who are trying to get a literary visa. They go to France and lick their boots.”
Boudjedra is a famously difficult man. But his disdain is not unique, and it reflects a more widespread class prejudice. Boudjedra, who fought in the War of Independence as a young man, is from a prominent rural family, while Daoud is a self-made man from a dusty village. One friend in the Algerian publishing business compares him to Rastignac, the parvenu who scales the social ladder in Balzac’s “Human Comedy.” For leftist intellectuals in Algiers, that alone makes Daoud a provincial hustler rather than a genuine intellectual.
The day after I met Bey in Sidi Bel Abbes, I took the 8 a.m. train from Oran to Algiers, to visit some old friends, including the historian Daho Djerbal, whom I had first met here in 2003. Algiers felt very changed. Walking along Rue Didouche Mourad, the main commercial drag, I saw a city to which life, at least commercial life, had returned. I passed a Swatch shop, jewelry stores, travel agencies and fashion boutiques. The sidewalk cafes were full. At the Place de la Poste, hundreds of people, mostly men, were watching the Africa Cup on a giant outdoor television screen. I browsed in a lovely new bookstore, in the premises of a bookstore that had belonged to Joaquim Grau, a pied noir gunned down in 1994 by radical Islamists. The outdoor market that winds through Bab el Oued, a working-class neighborhood that was once an Islamist stronghold, was no less vibrant; the merchants’ stalls were awash in Chinese electronic goods and clothing, CDs and DVDs and fresh produce.
At the offices of the historical journal he edits, Djerbal tried to persuade me that this normalcy was an optical illusion, the ephemeral effect of a consumption boom fueled by high oil prices. It couldn’t last, and the reckoning with reality, he said, would not be pleasant. Djerbal gave me a tour d’horizon of the ravages of Algeria’s economic liberalization — the capture and sale of key state industries by regime cronies, the accumulation of vast private fortunes, the emergence of a parasitic middle class that creates no wealth of its own. These were the people I saw in the shops of Rue Didouche Mourad, which he portrayed as a Potemkin village that would not survive the fall of oil prices or the failure of the Algerian state to diversify the economy. Perhaps the crash was coming soon, but I remembered hearing a similar chronicle of a disaster foretold from Djerbal 12 years ago.
When I changed the subject to Kamel Daoud, Djerbal grew uncharacteristically impatient, as if I’d asked him about someone beneath his pay grade. Daoud, he told me, was a part of the problem he had just described, a pampered child of the state he attacked. Surely, though, he had to admit that Daoud was a very good writer. Djerbal smiled. “Not good enough for the Goncourt. Besides, France will never give the Goncourt to an Algerian.” He seemed to be savoring Daoud’s loss. Daoud, he continued, “represents a stratum without historical legitimacy.”
In Algeria, the term “historical legitimacy” is very specific. When the War of Independence broke out in 1954, the F.L.N. proclaimed its “historical legitimacy” as the sole representative of the Algerian nation. To have legitimacy means that you represent a collective social force and therefore have the right to be heard. Most Algerian intellectuals set great store by legitimacy and by the implicit claim that they speak on behalf of a larger cause: the nation, the people, the working class, the Berbers. The fact that Daoud speaks only for himself may be what his critics find most unsettling about him.
One evening in Algiers, I provoked a four-hour row merely by mentioning Daoud’s name. I was at a dinner party given by Samir Toumi, a writer who lives in an airy, elegant apartment in a Haussmann-style building across from the National Theater. The pro-Daoud faction was led by Sofiane Hadjadj, who runs Éditions Barzakh with his wife, Selma Hellal. (Together, they edited Daoud’s novel.) The anti-Daoud faction was led by Ghania Mouffok, a radical journalist who admires his fiction but despises his column. Mouffok, whom I first met in Algiers in 2003, had just returned from reporting on the protests against the extraction of shale gas in the south, a historically marginalized region that is also the source of Algeria’s riches, its gas and oil. The movement had rekindled her faith in Algeria’s spirit of resistance. “When you think about all that we’ve gone through — more than a century of colonization, decades of dictatorship, a brutal civil war — it’s astonishing that we’re even able to raise our heads,” Mouffok said. “This is what Kamel Daoud doesn’t see.”
With a glass of wine in one hand and a cigarette in the other, she laid out the case for the prosecution. Daoud “writes as if imperialism and capitalism didn’t exist.” He was “self-hating.” It was “hardly a surprise that Kamel’s narrator feels closer to the man who killed the Arab. You only have to read his columns.” The novel was excellent, yet there was something “suspicious” about the book’s success in France. “I think it comforts white readers,” she said.
“Which country do you think was the first to want to translate Kamel’s novel?” Hadjadj interjected. “Vietnam.”
“I don’t give a damn about whether the novel is translated in Vietnam,” Mouffok said. “I’m worried about what French readers see in it.”
She took a drag from her cigarette and paused. “Look, I adore Kamel. He was luminous on ‘We’re Not Asleep.’ He was beautiful, well spoken and sexy. A few days later I saw him on Echorouk television, and the guy interviewing talked to him as if he were an insect. I said to Kamel: ‘Don’t go on those shows, and don’t behave as if you’re guilty. Fight back. Algeria is a country that’s failing, where you’re not allowed to succeed and, if you do, people want you to fail. It’s a hard country and it can be a brutal one.’ ”
I asked Mouffok why she could criticize Algeria so severely, when she condemned Daoud for doing much the same. She said she reserved her criticisms for the powerful, while Daoud attacks the people. “This is childish,” Daoud said when I told him about Mouffok’s criticisms. “I don’t criticize ‘the people,’ I criticize people. You see that guy running a red light?” — we were in traffic — “I think he’s responsible. If someone throws trash on the street, he’s responsible. People like Ghania think the same thing, but they won’t write it. Instead, they accuse me of hating Algeria, which is absurd. Of course capitalism exists, and when you have an empire, you also have imperialism. But imperialism doesn’t explain everything. And it doesn’t absolve us from solving our own problems.”
In Mouffok’s view, Daoud’s belief in individual responsibility simply “reproduces the pouvoir’s contempt for the people.” Accusing someone of being in league or even in sympathy with the pouvoir is, in Algeria, the ultimate trump card.
If Daoud shares the pouvoir’s dim view of the people, the pouvoir doesn’t seem to appreciate him. When I met Hamid Grine, the minister of communication, he dismissed Daoud’s concerns about the fatwa. “Kamel isn’t any more threatened than others like him,” he said. Hamadache, who started out as a professional dancer, was a crank without a following, and thus best ignored. “The case has attracted attention because it sells newspapers, but in the Algerian heartland, people are talking about the price of potatoes, not about Kamel Daoud.”
As it happened, Grine called Daoud the day before. He was upset over a column that Daoud had just published, “The Other ‘Je Suis Mohamed,’ ” praising Mohamed Aïssa, the minister of religious affairs, for his campaign against Islamist incitement on Algerian-owned Arabic satellite channels. (“Hamid would have preferred a column titled “Je Suis Hamid,” Daoud says.) Grine claimed that he was the first to defend Daoud, but his remarks were less than stirring. He had spoken privately to executives at the satellite channels that featured Hamadache, but, unlike Aïssa, he refrained from publicly reproaching them, because “in Algeria, we have a tradition of discretion.” (A month after our conversation, Grine made statements echoing Aïssa’s criticisms.)
Grine, who is 60, is also a novelist who, like Daoud, writes in French. I told him that I enjoyed his novel “Camus in the Hookah Lounge,” about a man who hears a rumor that Camus is his biological father. He complained that his novel hadn’t benefited from the “huge promotion team” that catapulted Daoud’s book to success in France and hinted that his perspective on Camus might not have been welcome in Paris. The hero of “Camus in the Hookah Lounge” realizes that Camus was not his father and that Algerians have to abandon the fantasy of reclaiming Camus, as writers like Daoud and Bey have proposed.
“Camus wasn’t an Algerian writer, he was a French writer,” Grine said. “He was a colonizer of good will, a pied noir. Yes, he made gestures toward Algerians, but he was opposed to independence.”
Grine hadn’t read “Meursault.” “I’m sure it’s excellent. My son has read it, and he enjoyed it. I only read what you see here,” he said, pointing to the stack of official documents on his desk.
Adam Shatz is a contributing editor at The London Review of Books and a writer in residence at the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at New York University.