When Tahar Ben Jelloun writes…

… we must read and ponder. Tahar ben Jelloun, 69-year old philosopher, novelist and poet of Moroccan origin who lives in Paris, needs no introduction.

He writes with an impressive candour about issues that are fundamental and critical to life and living in the Arab world and Europe, namely democracy, human rights, gender rights and equality, the politics of power, racism and class among so many other matters that he comments upon. Many of his observations are of relevance to other parts of the world also, especially where peoples are still struggling to secure a place under the sun and live in peace.

In an article in Le Point.fr that he wrote yesterday, entitled ‘Sans honte, Sans pudeur,’ he is incisive from the very start: ‘Comment dit-on “honte” en arabe? Il existe plusieurs mots, plusieurs expressions. Mais, quel que soit le vocable, certains n’ont que faire de cet état. À peine avalées les images pathétiques et révoltantes de la réélection de Bouteflika en Algérie, voilà que Bachar el-Assad, le grand meurtrier du peuple syrien, annonce sa candidature pour un nouveau mandat présidentiel. Ainsi, il a besoin de “légitimer” sa sale besogne. Pour lancer des bombes sur une population pendant son sommeil, il faut qu’il soit de nouveau élu, pas à 51%, non, mieux que Bouteflika, il sera élu à plus de 90%. C’est ainsi, tout est joué d’avance. Et on le laisse faire. Il poursuit en toute impunité sa stratégie de vider son pays de son sang et d’aller jusqu’au bout de l’horreur. On dira après merci à M. Poutine, merci à l’Iran, au Hezbollah et à l’indifférence américaine et européenne.’

Further on, about Syria he is as frank : ‘Les gens crèvent, certains sans se battre, d’autres parce que leur combat a été infiltré par des djihadistes sans foi ni loi.’

It’s the same tone as regards Egypt : ‘…le pouvoir égyptien prononce des condamnations à mort contre des islamistes comme s’il annonçait la météo. Rien ne va plus. L’espoir est froissé, piétiné, et les peuples souffrent… Al-Sissi, lui aussi, veut être élu président de la République. Pour cela, il s’est autoproclamé maréchal ! C’est fou ce que le pouvoir peut rendre stupide et cruel.’

He doesn’t see anything positive on the horizon for that region, where the expectations of the so-called Arab spring rapidly turned sour, and it became instead an Arab winter, a ‘cauchemar qui n’épargne personne et détruit tout sur son passage.’ And nobody knows how long this nightmare is likely to last.

In an earlier article, ‘Vive l’Europe,’ he concedes that living in Europe was an opportunity because of the prevailing peace, and prosperity for a large number of people. He underlined that all Europeans live in countries where the rule of law prevails, something which is the envy of many peoples. Democracy guarantees the freedoms of each individual. There is no ‘delit d’opinion,’ freedom of expression and freedom of conscience are deemed sacred, everyone is equal in the eyes of the law and there is also gender equality.

However, he does acknowledge that there also exists in Europe, in addition to social and economic inequalities, undercurrents of extremism, nationalism and racism despite high literacy and educational levels and laws to counter such tendencies. He concedes that the class struggle has not ceased so that one still has to face poverty and vulnerability issues ‘alors que le système capitalistique, le système du libéralisme sauvage, continue de faire des victimes et écrase l’homme qui n’a que sa force de travail pour vivre,’ adding that ‘L’Europe est une belle promesse, mais elle manque de justice sur le plan social, elle perpétue les inégalités et permet à des hommes politiques d’œuvrer pour leur propre intérêt, négligeant l’intérêt national.’

Nevertheless, as a genuine European, he still keeps hope and pride high, because ‘l’Europe reste une chance magnifique qu’il faut préserver, protéger, aimer et défendre. Elle a des défauts, elle a commis des erreurs, elle a fait parfois de mauvais choix, mais elle est là, entité forte et digne contre les vertiges de l’argent virtuel, contre la barbarie et les guerres civiles.’

One cannot help but admire the frankness of his unsparing remarks about both the Arab world and of Europe, but this is balanced by his unmitigated optimism for a strong Europe which must be loved, protected and defended, despite the mistakes and wrong choices she may have made/will make on occasions. One smells here a true patriot of Europe.

As we said, his views have can resonate outside Europe and the Arab world too. In our own little island we have seen recently a power game being shamelessly played under the very nose of the people who are taken for imbeciles. But the widespread condemnation of the obvious ruse of the aging contenders is an indication that they will not be able to have it their way as easily anymore.

The young have risen, and the system will have to be tweaked to make place for them to take over. The dinosaurs will have to clear themselves from the frontline and, if they are the patriots they claim to be working in the national interest, then they will have to tweak the system so as to make place for la relève by competent, committed, dedicated successors from the ranks of the younger aspirants. The latter will show no interest, as they do now, until there is a cleansing of the system, which has now become a national imperative.

There are lessons from Tahar Ben Jelloun for India too, where the dark, divisive and destructive forces of the weak incumbent in power, the Congress-led government, are hell bent on placing obstacles to the emergence of a strong leader who can take the country forward.

India at this juncture needs a leader who will not prevaricate, as has been the case for too many years now. She needs a leader who will not be afraid to take bold decisions and assume the responsibilities that go along with such stances given the economic and regional security challenges that the country faces.

Shashi Tharoor and P. Chidamabaram are nor doubt superb intellectuals endowed with the gift of the gab, but their willingness to condescend to Madam-ji Sonia and to compromise on India’s security is unforgivable for mature people of their stature. Debates in the Indian media on the elections have become virtual shouting matches that do not do honour to such a great country, nor do the various FIRs that are multiplying almost daily in a country where délits d’opinion were never the norm.

Indians can do better. If they don’t, it will be good-bye to the idea of India, and Mother India.


* Published in print edition on 1 May 2014

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