“Maybe Hell is the inability to change things. Instead faith made us see Heaven”. A kamikaze speaks and does so in the book by Mahi Binebine, born in Marrakech in 1959, former student and professor of mathematics in Paris and today a painter and writer in New York. .
The big jump in Italian, Horses of God in English (original title Les étoiles de Sidi Moumen) is a novel inspired by facts that really happened in Casablanca in 2003. It came out in 2010 in Morocco “after a long gestation”, and 4 years ago in Italy “finally translated by Rizzoli.
“On the night of May 16, 2003, Casablanca, the most modern and lively city in Morocco, is torn apart by 14 Islamic suicide bombings that cause 45 deaths and a hundred wounded. An explosion of surprising violence, which leaves the country annihilated and shows a new and unsuspected face of Moroccan society”, in the stereotype, traditionally pacifist, due to the large presence of Sufism (the moderate – and mystical – current of Islam) which teaches tolerance, love and human warmth.
“The same feeling caught Europe, after the first attacks in Paris and Brussels, when it was understood that the attackers had been born and raised in France and Belgium“.
“In the aftermath of Casablanca bombing, Binebine wanted to understand. And to do this, he went to the slum of Sidi Moumen, where some of the suicide bombers were born and raised: he meets families, walks the streets, talks with people. And he writes a novel, in which literary invention helps to cope with too short and extreme lives, an incomprehensible as well as definitive choice, a history of indoctrination and marginalization“.
“‘Definitive choice’ that is also linked to the “Western conspiracy theory against Islam” that does not exist, like all conspiracies that take a people’s category characteristic and extreme it up to total stereotype (for example, since the Middle Ages the Jewish conspiracy for economic purposes to the detriment of all peoples). This idea shows “the West as the cause of all the problems that the Muslim world has experienced for centuries. From this, the religious text becomes an excuse to condemn the West and radicalize young people“, said Hocine Drouiche, vice president of the Conference of Imams in France.
“Although we agree on the responsibility that some western countries have in certain conflicts – such as the case of Libya with Sarkozy or Iraq with George Bush – this Muslim elite in the Old Continent continues to focus only on the negative side and on the conspiracy of Europe against Islam and Muslims. And this is completely unfair”.“The conspiracy clearly tells Muslims that they are not responsible for anything, for the simple reason that they are victims of the West. This elite kills the hope of change among Muslims in order to correct the mistakes made. Conflict theory exploits social malaise in marginalized neighborhoods in France, Belgium and elsewhere. Yes, there is injustice, racism against Muslims. Just as anti-Semitism against Jews in Europe existed and still exists. But for the first time in history we have European citizens who convert to battle and hatred“.
Binebine tells this big story through the stories of Yashin, Hamid, Nabil, Fouad, Khalil and Azzi, six children born and raised in Sidi Moumen who try to “escape the poverty, silence and violence of their fathers” and this “total absence of a hope”. One day Hamid, Yashin’s older brother, falls victim to Abou Zoubeïr, a charismatic fundamentalist leader who “knew the right words, greedy words that stayed fixed in the memory and, unfolding in it, engulfed the debris that clogged it”.
This is how that type of distorted religion “comes to offer the six friends a discipline, a path finally traced, an unexpected opportunity for social redemption, despite it calls to martyrdom. The great leap is told in first person by a Yashin whose voice hovers above us: a surrendered voice that speaks to us from the underworld – or from his paradise – and explains what it means to struggle every day to suck a sip of dignity from life”.
“We know this is a novel, but who trained these guys?” A lady asked from the audience during a presentation in Roma in 2016. “In the past the government allowed fundamentalism to install itself and clean up Morocco from certain revolutionary and left-wing currents. See all the mosques funded by Saudi Arabia“, replies Binebine. (The most impressive and luxurious right in Casablanca, but just in 2020 the minister of justice has announced that the government will stop funding mosques in foreign countries). This was a political attitude that could also affect other Arab countries and the presence of mosques even in Europe, considering that, for example, the Mosque in Rome, the largest in the West, was financed by Saudi Arabia. Of course, the idea was wanted in the ’70s by King Faysal, who was a reformer, but, once assassinated, the money came from King Fahd, who, on the contrary, favored “a policy of strengthening the role of the most conservative religious authorities“.
When we speak of Saudi Arabia, in fact, we speak of a country that embraces, as a state religion, Wahabism which, together with Salafism, encompass the (many) more radical currents of Islam. The Salafists claim that they are the true followers of Islam because they emulate the first pious Muslims, the salaf. A country, for example, that shares with Daesh the destruction of the archaeological heritage (not linked to the Mohammedan preaching).
“After the war, France exploited the presence of immigrants” – almost 250 thousand Maghrebi were employed in the mines and industry for the reconstruction of the country – “and then parked in those peripheral buildings. After years they became French, but a little different, while, even in that case, the installation of Salafist mosques was allowed: brainwashings in a cultural void. Let us remember that the first attackers in Belgium were simple drug dealers”. These trainers “leverage the sentiment of vengeance: you can get back at those who exploited you“.
A woman, an anthropologist, Annamaria Rivera intervenes. She wonders if Jidahist and Salafi are not synonyms at the end. In 2012 she published The Fire of Revolt, the only comparative analysis between Maghreb and Europe (Italy / France) on public self-immolation in protest. It is characterized by pure nihilism: “the incredible number of cases lead to a real martyristic ideology that is more cultural than religious, because the main element they have in common is the claim to dignity“. Often, those who survive suicides say that if they had known beforehand what to go through, they would never have done it.
Binebine replies that even “Mohamed Bouazizi, decided to do what he did after he suffered an affront to dignity, a slap by a female policewoman… often the spark can be really small”. He was a Tunisian activist, the famous street vendor who was struggling to live by his job, becoming a symbol of the popular uprisings of 2010-11 after setting himself on fire in protest over Tunisia’s economic conditions. In Sidi Moumen Binebine interviewed the only suicide bomber who survived the Casablanca’s attack: “he did not trigger the bomb for fear, but in prison he was tortured so much (to get to other terrorists) that he said he regretted not being dead. But today he is happy again”.
“Everyone has a dream, but this religious mafia, as I call it, takes the messages from the books and bends them to its interest. Reforming books, updating them, reinterpreting them, this is important. For example in Morocco “the man has the right to marry four wives“, as it is written in the Qur’an, but we added a note that is fundamental: “only if the first one agrees”.
Binebine didn’t just tell the story of Sidi Moumen: together with the director Nabil Ayouch, who made the film The Horses of God (Les chevaux de Dieu), awarded in Cannes in 2012, from Binebine’s book, “we wanted to return the stories of these boys in the shanty town” with the construction, on 3 thousand square meters, of a… Sidi Moumen Cultural Center. It self-finances by offering more than 400 girls and boys a garden with a vegetable garden, a library, a room with 40 computers, the bar, the cinema room… “Also a miracle happened: a very wealthy Moroccan, once he knew the reality of the center in Casablanca, proposed the construction of two more in Essaouira and Fez. We work on the same ground as the Islamists, but if they exalt the culture of death, we exalt the culture of life, because this doesn’t necessarily have to be hell. ”