In the Arab world, you can be detained for writing a trenchant political article. The courage to criticize a regime might end up with your being dragged off too harsh and abusive interrogations. So, is speaking truth to power courageous or foolish? That was the question that haunted me when I read this chapter about the kidnap of journalist Yusuf Ghirbal because of a political piece he had written. He is interrogated, and his big toe chopped off as a punishment.
In Kamal Riahi’s novel, The Beretta Always Wins, Yusuf Ghirbal is kidnapped and interrogated because of a political article in which he accuses state agencies of involvement in the assassination of political activist Chokri Belaïd. Two key themes confront us: repression of free speech and the assassination of political opposition – and all following the Jasmine Revolution!
What does the scene mean?
Journalist Yusuf Ghirbal wakes up one morning and a group of men bursts into his apartment. They grab him, put a black bag over his head, and take him off to an unknown destination. In this scene, Riahi takes great care to capture the details of the kidnap: the number of stairs, smells, precise details about the vehicle that takes the snatched journalist away. Ghirbal learns he is in the company of security operatives full of malice and cruelty, who accuse him of being in league with foreign parties and plotting against the security of the state so as to spread chaos in the country. Proof of his guilt is the article he published in which he accuses state security agencies of involvement in the assassination of opposition political figures.
The interrogation turns into the trial of a journalist for his ideas and for the questions he posed in his article. We must notice, however, that the root of the problem lies in the timing of publication. The journalist escapes liquidation, but he loses a toe, as a warning. He loses part of his body because of his question about the beretta used to murder Chokri Belaïd.
The dictator may fall, but the ghosts of the security state still exist, lodged in the unconscious of citizens and even monitoring their dreams. When the fear of the security state reaches people’s innermost recesses, we are confronted with the brutal face of police states that can infiltrate the nightmares of citizens to terrify them into obedience.