An impassioned defense of a fellow Algerian-born writer who dares to think for himself in the face of Arab identity politics and the eternal Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
PARIS — Apostate, criminal, Zionist, dirty Jew, traitor, accomplice to murder … Here are just some of the epithets on Internet forums aimed at Kamel Daoud, an Algerian columnist and novelist.
What caused such a flurry of insults? Following the launch in Gaza of Israel's Operation Protective Edge, Daoud published an essay laying out his position on Palestine: “So no, this columnist doesn’t stand by this ‘solidarity’ selling you the apocalypse and not the beginning of a world, seeing the solution in extermination rather than humanity, speaking of religion, not dignity, and a heavenly kingdom, not a sown, living earth."
Aren’t we all entitled the right to feel involved or not by a cause? Can’t we remain free to be outraged or not, affected or not? I ask you: Has the Palestinian cause become the sixth pillar of Islam? Can we still choose to ignore massacres in Syria and Iraq, but be forced to profess urbi et orbi our solidarity with the Palestinian people, lest we get thrown to the lions?
Over the last few days, Al Jazeera — the 24-hour Islamic news production channel — has been igniting minds, its cameras always focused on ambulances and coffins. The network lives off a business of corpses and cultivates a passion for morgues, in a way, selling death to the Arab masses.
Since the start of the war in Gaza, the so-called Arab Street stands tall and united behind Hamas, as the leftist Arab intellectuals have come to view the Islamist group as leaders of a liberation movement.
Rockets fired from Gaza are proudly counted, and the impending fall of Jerusalem is proclaimed. Of course, Al Jazeera brings out its own heavy artillery. The network continuously shows images of hospitals filled with children victims of explosions then features military experts, claiming that Hamas' al-Qassam Brigades technology is surpassing Israel's armament.
These are the dreams of victory that are broadcast daily — instead of telling millions of souls that they are the subjects of authoritarian, religious, obscurantist regimes; parked day and night inside mosques where they’re taught to despise freedom, women, life, others. The Qatari channel would rather rant against Israel, the Zionist enemy. It’s easier, and serves as a painkiller and antidepressant all at once.
A good excuse
From the Rif-Berber countryside to the rugged outskirts of Paris, everyone is asking for more. But let’s be honest, it is sometimes convenient to lay the blame on Israel! Without it, how would Arab regimes justify the failure of this world that, since 1948, from Rabat to Baghdad, is only a vast gulag with mosques serving as watchtowers where bearded men serve as armed guards?
While Al Jazeera speaks of Muslim and Arab bloodshed in Gaza, I don’t think of Muslim and Arab blood running through my veins — human blood does, period. And even if I don’t share Kamel Daoud’s opinion, I admit that he’s right. In fact he’s perfectly right not to feel implicated directly in the Palestinian people's situation. I say that, even though I’ve been working in Palestinian territories for more than 20 years. Twenty years of travels across refugee camps in Yarmouk, Damascus, Aleppo, Bourj el-Barajneh, Nablus, Jenin, and beyond.
I was in Gaza last May and I’ll go back as soon as its doors open again. But solidarity with Palestinians is not a question of tribal solidarity. It must be a well thought-out decision, a responsible one, made with full knowledge of the facts — not an identity or religious reflex as is often the case nowadays.
As Kamel Daoud explains, the Palestinian cause was so led astray by Arab regimes and Islamist parties that it’s lost all of its value for the young generations. Far from being a political cause, Palestine has become a medium for collective release. We bear its name, shout it in Arab streets and mosques — for in this collective imaginary, plagued by the religious, the word Palestine refers neither to geography nor history, but to a collective frustration.
Enough with the so-called Arab solidarity. And on this point too, I agree with Kamel Daoud. Once in a while it’s important to clean up your own backyard. Since 1970, in this case, there has been countless more Palestinian corpses in Arab kingdoms and republics than in the cellars of the Israeli Defense Forces.
Let’s take it a step further. Admittedly, Israel is a democracy for its own people, the Jews, and a segregationist regime for Arabs, imposing a colonial, criminal and absurd policy.
Still, in all honesty, you’re better off as a Palestinian in Khan Yunis or Balata camp — where you have an identity, an enemy, and a small piece of land to your name and for which you’re willing to die — than to live in a camp in Beirut or Damascus, where you’re not supposed to exist since 1978.
Lebanese laws ban the purchase of real estate property to “all foreigners from a country that is not recognized by Lebanon.” A convoluted sentence meaning, Palestinians. Other laws forbid Palestinians to work in up to 73 types of jobs; some prevent a Palestinian to own a passport or travel. In short: preventing any attempt to forget the Promised Land in exchange of a normal life, thus highlighting the limits of the “Arab brotherhood.”
In today’s world, genuine solidarity for Palestine equates with putting aside the atavistic and sheep-like reflex of “blood solidarity.” To love Palestine is to abstain from ever shouting “Death to Israel” or “Death to the Jews!” Neither hatred nor death of the other will make Palestine live.
It is worth making an effort not to deny Israel but to understand it in its realities, contradictions and history. Rather than exclude the other, it is advisable to learn it by heart. Moreover it’s important to understand Judaism, with its dazzling brilliance, its joys and its unending questioning, which after all, far from being the antithesis to Islam is simply its childhood.
It brings us back to Kamel Daoud, a long-time lone ranger — which makes him a disturbance to some: He thinks outside of the box, against the current, against his people, even against himself. At last, a writer!
For Arabs, a poet is one who speaks on behalf of his people, his tribe. Kamel Daoud, instead, leads the way for a new direction in Algerian literature; he speaks in his own name, not in that of others, not the Algerians, let alone the Arabs and Muslims. He’s an individual, an intellectual who has freed himself from the claws of the tribe, who doesn’t give a damn about the tribe’s words, for he has his own. He can set off in the opposite direction. Consequently everybody hates him. It must mean he is on the right path.
Kamel is free, and so are we, his readers.
*Mohamed Kacimi is an Algerian-born writer and playwright.