The vertigo of the “takiya”: a new installment of the chronicles of Emmanuel Carrère since the trial for the Paris attacks | Culture


Abdelmajid Bakkali, brother of defendant Mohamed Bakkali, during his testimony at the November 13 trial before the special criminal court in Paris, on January 26, 2022.
Abdelmajid Bakkali, brother of defendant Mohamed Bakkali, during his testimony at the November 13 trial before the special criminal court in Paris, on January 26, 2022.Ivan Brun (le Monde)

Chapter 20

1. Epidemic of silence

It can change, it will certainly change, but for the moment the judgment has stalled. Since the Christmas holidays, two defendants have contracted covid: the result, two weeks of interruption, the sacrosanct planning goes to waste. Above all, a disturbing epidemic of silence spreads among the accused. A few days ago, the Swedish Osama Krayem announced that he will no longer answer any questions. Judges, prosecutors, lawyers for the civil parties and the defense have formulated theirs to someone or rather before someone who didn’t even seem to hear them. His gaze floated into the void: an impregnable citadel. Now it’s Mohamed Bakkali’s turn.

Last November, during the so-called personality interrogations, Bakkali impressed everyone with his solid presence, his deep and slow voice, the pensive naturalness of his words. He is the intruder in the bunch of poor devils and scoundrels lined up on the bench. They accuse him of having participated in the logistics, that is, renting hiding places and escorting assassins, of the attacks in Paris but also in the attack on the Thalys train, in August 2015, and in Brussels, in March 2016. of the Thalys he was tried in Paris. Despite the fact that he proclaimed his innocence at all times, he was sentenced to 25 years and has appealed the sentence. Therefore, until further notice, he is the only one of the defendants who does not have a criminal record, but his evident intelligence will always be an aggravating circumstance: if a guy of his stature is in the limelight, we tell ourselves, it is not because he has been a driver, like Mohamed Amri or Hamza Attou.

We expect a lot, then, from Mohamed Bakkali, but here he gets up and before the first question explains why he won’t answer: “They already tried me in Paris. I respected the rules and it did me no good. I was convicted without any evidence for something I did not do. I know that whatever I say my word has no value, so I no longer have the strength to fight or explain myself. That is why I take advantage of my right to silence.” A blank moment. The president accuses the coup. Like us, he thinks the trial is falling apart.

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It is said that after Krayem the dominoes are in danger of collapsing on each other and that it will be increasingly difficult to say that it matters little, the show must go on. Try to soften the rebel. “It is within your strictest right” [cosa indudable]. “But you know that that can work against you.” “Everything is unfavorable to me. Whatever you do”. “Yes, but well, it has recurred. Acquittals after an appeal… that exists”. The attempt is pitiful, Bakkali does not even delve into the irony: “In such a serious case of terrorism?” Sigh. Since we have to go on, let’s go on, each one in turn reels off questions in front of the wall that no one believes anymore. A journalist, next to me: “If this begins to be silence, at one time or another it will be filled with something else.” Maybe.

2. Big brothers, little brothers

40 years ago, in the distant time of the March of the Moors and of SOS Racism, there was a lot of talk about big brothers and little brothers. In what were beginning to be called sensitive neighborhoods, the older ones were supposed to prevent the little ones from doing too serious mischief. There are pairs of brothers in every nook and cranny of November 13: the Abdeslam brothers, the El Bakraoui brothers, the Abrini brothers, next week the Atar brothers…

Mohamed Bakkali’s brother, Abdelmajid, has come to testify from England, where he has a garage, and he is an exemplary brother: he says that the little boy’s downfall is that he is too good, too trusting, that he does favors too easily. At the same time, although he is four years older, Abdelmajid could be Mohamed’s twin. The same corpulence, the same face under the mask, the same natural authority. It produces the disturbing impression that it is the same, and one does not know very well what to do with that identity. The comfortable thing would be if there were a terrorist and fanatical Bakkali on the bench, and a placid and tolerant Bakkali on the podium.

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Abdelmajid speaks of Islam as someone who has read and meditated and whose word has weight. Calmly remember that jihad, in Arabic, simply means the effort each person makes every day to be better. “In this sense, I do jihad, or at least I try to do it. You speak of it as a holy war, but it is not that and that is why you do not understand”. We listen to him, we approve, we look at Mohamed on the bench: if he were to speak, he would undoubtedly say the same things, with the same words carefully thought out, the same voice that the two do not need to raise to be heard. If in real life one were to meet one of the two brothers without knowing which one it is, it would be very difficult to distinguish between them. Wouldn’t there be a bit of takiya?

3. “Concrete elements of non-radicalization”

We do not know if Mohamed Bakkali is as guilty as he is accused of being; maybe not. We do not know if he is as innocent as he claims; certainly not. It is the business of a trial, piling up factual elements, to establish these things as far as it is possible to do so. But Mohamed Bakkali is right when he calmly says: “I am not following because I know that whatever I say will be interpreted as a ploy.” Maybe he’s not telling the truth, but even if he does, they won’t believe him.

Excuse me for repeating myself: two weeks ago I spoke about this cunning and pretense attitude that in Arabic is called takiya, and I will necessarily speak of her again. Just as much as silence, of which it is the reverse, makes the judgment rotten and nothing can be done: it is so. This is the case in many criminal trials, but even more so in this one, because in the legitimately paranoid logic of takiya, the less terrorist-looking someone is, the more likely they are to be. It’s like in the old sci-fi movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where evil aliens take possession, one after another, of the inhabitants of a peaceful village. Nothing makes it possible to distinguish the true Earthlings, if they still remain, from those who have replaced them. Behind the familiar face of your neighbor may hide a cold monster. In its rigorous version, Islam forbids drinking alcohol, smoking, playing in a casino, chasing skirts, listening to music. What will a jihadist who is ready to act do to give the hit? Drinking alcohol, smoking, gambling, chasing skirts, listening to music, like the kamikazes of 9/11 or, in our case, like Salah Abdeslam.

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Luckily, there are people whose job is to separate the wheat from the chaff, institutional lie detectors, like the director of the QER of Fleury-Mérogis, who came to testify. QER means quartier d´évaluation of radicalization (radicalization assessment neighbourhood), and it is a bit frightening, however, to know that this assessment is based, for example, on interviews in French, without an interpreter, with detainees who speak only Urdu, noting the “little religious formation” of someone who has spent five years in a madrasa and that “concrete elements of non-radicalization” are diligently searched in the background of each one.

It is a little terrifying, and we also take it lightly, like when you see the questionnaires to enter the United States, where they ask you if you plan to commit terrorist acts, but the truth is that we would not like to be in the place of the director, because it is not surely we would do better, and that the last word will always have the sagacious Abdelmajid Bakkali: only God scrutinizes hearts, whether we believe in Him or not, and if we don’t believe it simply means that nobody scrutinizes them.

© ‘L’Obs’. Translation by Jaime Zulaika.
This chronicle, written for ‘Le Nouvel Observateur’, is published in ‘La Repubblica’, ‘El País’ and ‘Le Temps’.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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