Apologies for mailing this out twice; it went out before it was ready:
By Nadia Ghanem
On February 28, young Algerian novelist Anouar Rahmani narrated on his Facebook wall how he had been summoned by police the day before to answer for the behavior of three of his fictional characters. Rahmani explained that the interview was arranged for him to clarify his position on religion and his use of descriptive language.
During this interview, Rahmani recounts, he was also notified that he would probably be sent before the courts on religious and moral offence charges. If found guilty, he could face up to 10 years in jail.
The “religious offence” accusations are said to be based on the beliefs of a fictional character in Rahmani’s novel The City of White Shadows, in which a homeless man believes he is a god. The “moral offense” charge is said to be brought because of two fictional characters are found, at some point in the novel, in close proximity for orgasmic purposes.
On the day of his Facebook post, Rahmani’s story was picked by a couple of watchful activists on social media, but it was not until March 2 that details were presented in the press by HuffPost Algerie under the title “Absurdistan – young novelist Rahmani Anouar summoned by police for ‘outrage against God.” (The original article was in French, by Medhi Alioui). Several other Algerian media outlets later picked up the story.
In an environment where facts have been manipulated so much and so often that most stories are expected to be largely fictional, it is difficult to put Rahmani’s account into perspective. Rahmani is an emerging and young journalist with a frontal approach to socially delicate topics.
If Rahmani speaks the truth, then his summons is frightening even by Algerian standards, and the interview’s motivations are thoroughly incomprehensible.
If Rahmani is role playing, then he should first be hailed as the emerging talent of short political thrillers with a horror slant. And his novels should be picked up immediately by influential publishers and distributed in print, next to household names gone international. Rahmani’s novel The City of White Shadows is published online with no physical publisher to back him up, and should the charges really be pursued against him, he risks facing them alone.
As question marks continue their disconcerting dance, a pressing subject must be addressed. Can the awesome power of Algerian Derja produce a noun and a verb that will alone describe the state of a novelist whose fictional characters’ behavior have landed him in a police interview room?
From HuffPost Algerie’s piece in English, and hoping that this is all a horrible joke:
“A young novelist named Anouar Rahmani was summoned on Monday 27 February 2017 by Tipaza’s judicial police to “explain himself” as regards his novels. In a facebook post published the day after his interview by police, the novelist who writes in Arabic, and who is also a student, blogger and journalist, confirms he has been accused of having committed an offence against “divine entity and religion.”
Anouar Rahmani, who has just published a new novel “Jibreel’s Ravings”, was summoned by Tipaza’s judicial police because of certain passages in his first novel, “The city of white shadows “, he explains.
Published online in the autumn of 2016, because it had been refused for publication by several publishers, this novel recounts a love story between a FLN maquisard [an ‘underground’ freedom fighter] and a French national born in Algeria.
The novel contains certain passages in which one of the characters meets a homeless person who believes he is “God”.
On his facebook page, Anouar Rahmani recounts how he was interrogated for several hours about his political convictions, his articles published on the newspaper El Watan and his religious beliefs.
Questions to which he refused to answer, because he says “no one has the right to interrogate a citizen about his religion”, he says “if I had replied, I would have renounced my fundamental and constitutional rights”.
He then says that elements of the judicial police of his native city notified him that accusations were held against him, specifically “offence to divine entity and religion”. The author rejects these accusations, and in the same post says that “the incriminated passages do not turn the character into ‘God’ but they tell the story of a homeless person who thinks he is a god.”
Anouar Rahmani is not going to see the end of this yet as he was also notified by the elements of the judicial police that accusations for his use of terms qualified as ‘sexual’. The blogger says he explained during his interrogation that these terms are “purely scientific, which can also be found in school books on science and biology.”
“The case is now in the hands of the Attorney General”, the law student announced yesterday, and says he is awaiting a summon for a trial that can lead to 10 years imprisonment.
“This would be the first time in the history of the country that a writer appears before a tribunal for what he has written in a creative work,” he says.
The novel The City of White Shadows sparked strong reactions by more conservative readers on social networks and in the media. Anouar Rahmani admits however that he was not expecting that “a creative work would be judged by a tribunal.” “If this goes ahead, it will open the door to all manners of repressions.”
This case has given rise to much indignation online, by journalists, writers and militants. Some put forward that the Constitution guarantees the freedom of worship and freedom of opinion.
Others have remarked that the penal code, contrary to the Constitution, seem “to say something entirely different.” It has been stressed that the new law on books, adopted recently, provides sanctions against any “offence to religions, to the history of the Independence war and to public order .”
The above was translated from the French by Ghanem.
Nadia Ghanem is ArabLit’s Algeria Editor and a doctoral student at the School of Oriental and African Studies, where she specializes in the ancient languages of Iraq and Syria. Based between Algeria and the UK, she blogs at tellemchaho.blogspot.co.uk about living in Algeria, and Algerian literature.