Stranger Still: Kamel Daoud and Algeria


Adam Shatz in the NYT (photo: Ferhat Bouda/Agence Vu, for The New York Times):

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 guests 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.

More here.