Kamel Daoud: A Chronicle of Controversy
Kamel Daoud is an outspoken Algerian journalist, writer, and novelist who made a name for himself through his controversial “La Chronique de Kamel Daoud” published in the French-language daily Le Quotidien d’Oran. As a seasoned journalist and writer since 1994, Daoud’s writings and media appearances have inspired many fans but have raised even more controversy.
Daoud (born 1970) has been widely known since 1997, where he commented on Algerian news. Today, many see him as a fierce critic of the Algerian regime, whose paradoxes and shortcomings he never fails to point out. For his fans, he is a symbol of free speech in Algeria. In an eloquently challenging style, he often pushes his readers to question many ideological as well as practical issues. His chronicle tackles everything, but it is especially worth reading for those interested in a politically incorrect commentary on corruption, Islamism, identity, and religion, in addition to other socio-economic problems facing ordinary Algerians, such as economic rights.
However, his work did not come without controversy. His views on Algerian identity were strongly criticized, particularly with respect to the question of the Arabic language, the official language of Algeria. Daoud believes that being a Muslim does not make someone an Arab and that people (specifically, Islamists) should therefore learn to separate language from religion. He often uses the term “Arab” in a conservative manner. He refuses to write in Arabic, even though he can give media interviews in Algerian Arabic. According to him, ”Arabic is trapped by the sacred and the dominant ideologies. It was fetishized, politicized, and ideologized.”
The greatest controversy around him, though, was perhaps related to the recent fatwa (Islamic decree) calling for his death. An activist imam, Abdelfatah Hamadache, a leader of an unlicensed Salafist party, called on Facebook for the application of houdoud (hudud, punishments for crimes against God’s authority) and the killing of Daoud, whom he accused of being a “Zionized apostate” who was leading a war against Allah, his prophet, and the Quran. Hamadache did not specify which of Daoud’s remarks had motivated this fatwa, but they are believed to be those expressed in Daoud’s appearance on 13 December 2014 on a French TV channel, in which he expressed his views on colonization, the Palestinian cause, the Arab Spring, and the relationship between Muslims and their religion, and stated that religion was a problem in the “Arab” world. The fatwa elicited many reactions from Algerians who defended Daoud’s right to think freely but who also feared that this might be a first step to return Algeria to the 1990s, when bearded men determined who should live and who should die. Algeria suffered a planned “intellecticide” that cost it its brightest intellectuals, because the Islamists issued fatwas against journalists and writers, accusing them of associating with the tawaghit (false deities, sing., taghut)—that is, the regime.
Daoud not only sued the imam and the Algerian TV channel that had broadcasted the calls for murder but also criticized the consequences of “impunity” in Algeria. The imam benefited from the Algerian amnesty that ended the era of terrorism in the country by reintegrating terrorist affiliates into society. Daoud questions the imam’s presumptuousness and believes that he may have been used by Algerian authorities who wanted to mobilize the Salafists against him.
In late 2013, Daoud published his novel, Meursault, contre-enquête (“Mersault, the Counter-Investigation”), in which he tells the story of the murdered Arab in the Albert Camus’s novel L’Étranger (“The Stranger”). He intended throughout his novel to reply to Camus, who chose not to give the Arab a name. Daoud became the first Algerian writer to reply to an internationally recognized author, and his novel won prestigious awards in France and even made it to the finals of the competition for the Goncourt Prize in French literature. Only a year after its publication, however, his critics in Algeria began to call the novel a disgrace to conservative Algerian culture. The novel tells the story of the murdered Arab through the character of his brother Haroun. Haroun was annoyed and humilated by the injustice of French colonialism but complained also about the broader injustices suffered in Oran, in western Algerian. Haroun’s views on Islam provoked much criticism.
Unapologetically, Daoud chose to use his novel not only to remind us of France’s racism towards Algerians but also to criticize further the situation in Algeria. Daoud believes strongly that the situation in Algeria should be debated on an intellectual level and that no taboos should serve as an excuse for censorship. His opponents accuse him of being anti-Arab and a servant to colonialist ideas, but he mentions continually his Algerian pride and strong belief in Islam—the religion of life, not the religion of murder, as extremist Islamists would have the world believe.
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