Don't Call Him A Traitor: The Palestinian Cause, Revisited

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.

What does it even mean?
What does it even mean?
Mohamed Kacimi*


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.

Like sheep

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.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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