Monday, April 24, 2017

Kamel Daoud

Paul Berman is the critic-at-large of Tablet magazine. He wrote the following article with Michael Walzer:

"Last month the Algerian novelist and journalist Kamel Daoud astonished the readers of Le Monde in Paris by threatening to renounce journalism, not
because he is afraid of Islamists at home in Algeria, though a fatwa has been issued against him, but for another reason, which is still more dismaying. He has been severely condemned by people from the Western intellectual class, and silence seems to him an appropriate response.

This was Salman Rushdie’s experience in the years after he came out with The Satanic Verses, back in 1988, which he has described in his memoir Joseph Anton. The experience of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, originally from Somalia, offers probably the most widely discussed example after Rushdie’s. Kamel Daoud’s Algerian colleague, the novelist Boualem Sansal, last year’s winner of a prize from the French Academy, has come under this kind of condemnation.

....[Kamel].... Daoud  stands high on the world scene because of his novel, The Meursault Investigation, which adds a philosophical dimension to the affair. The book is an homage to Albert Camus, and a rebuke. In 1942 Camus published a novel titled The Stranger, which tells the story of a French Algerian named Meursault, who gratuitously murders a nameless and silent Arab on the beach. Daoud in The Meursault Investigation tells the story of the murdered man’s younger brother, who contemplates what it means to be rendered nameless and silent by one’s oppressor. In France, Daoud’s reply to Camus won the Goncourt Prize for a First Novel in 2015, among other prizes. In the United States, it received two of the greatest blessings that American journalism can bestow on a writer not from the United States. The New Yorker published an excerpt. And the New York Times Magazine published a full-length admiring profile.
These triumphs created a demand for Daoud’s journalism, as well. For 20 years he has written for the Algerian newspaper Le Quotidien d’Oran, but, in the wake of his novel’s success, his journalism began to appear prominently in Le Monde and other European newspapers. He was invited to write for the New York Times. And he responded to these opportunities in the way that any alert and appreciative reader of his novel might have expected.
He offered insights into the Islamic State. He attacked Saudi Arabia, with a side jab aimed at the extreme right in France. But he also looked at the mass assault on women that took place in Cologne on New Year’s Eve by a mob that is thought to have included men from the Arab world. He dismissed a right-wing impulse in Europe to regard immigrants as barbarians. And he dismissed a left-wing, high-minded naïveté about the event. He pointed to a cultural problem. In the New York Times he wrote: “One of the great miseries plaguing much of the so-called Arab world, and the Muslim world more generally, is its sick relationship with women.” More: “The pathological relationship that some Arab countries have with women is bursting onto the scene in Europe.” In Le Monde he wrote that Europe, in accepting new immigrants and refugees, was going to have to help them accept new values, too—“to share, to impose, to defend, to make understood.” And now his troubles began.

The two of us who are writing this commentary call attention to a second pattern in these condemnations, which dates to the days of Soviet Communism. Everyone who remembers the history of the 20th century will recall that, during the entire period from the 1920s to the 1980s, one brave and articulate dissident after another in the Soviet bloc succeeded in communicating a message to the Western public about the nature of Communist oppression—valuable messages because the dissidents could describe with first-hand accuracy the Soviet regime and its satellite states.
And, time after time, a significant slice of Western intellectuals responded by crying: “Oh, you mustn’t say such things! You will encourage the reactionaries!” Or they said: “You must be a reactionary yourself. A tool of imperialism.” The intellectuals who responded in these ways were sometimes Communists, pledged to loyalty to the Soviet Union, and sometimes they were fellow-travelers, who defended the Soviet Union without having made any pledges. But sometimes they were merely people who worried about their own societies—who worried that criticism of the Soviet Union was bound to benefit right-wing fanatics in the West. These people considered that, in denouncing the Soviet dissidents, they were protecting the possibility for lucid and progressive conversation in their own countries.

But that was a mistake. By denouncing the dissidents, Western intellectuals succeeded in obfuscating the Soviet reality. And they lent the weight of their own prestige to the Soviet regime, which meant that, instead of being the enemies of oppression, they ended up as the allies of oppression. The progressive intellectuals were not foolish to worry about right-wing fanaticism in their own countries, but they needed to recognize that sometimes political arguments have to be complicated. They needed to learn how to defend the Soviet dissidents even while attacking right-wing fanatics in the West. They needed to make two arguments at the same time."

This does not sound hard, walking and chewing gum-like. One suspects the usual causes of irrationality: PSTD, drug abuse, systemic venereal disease, stupidity.

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