Nicrophilia Phenomanon of Tahar Ben jelloun or The Martyr’s Meat Eaters: The Novel « Par le feu » as a Study Case

Kamel Riahi

Mankind has always been familiar with unusual phenomenaصورة and weird practices throughout its long history. A good example is the practice of cannibalism during wars and famines, and psychiatric disorders such as erotic attraction to corpses, or what is termed Necrophilia, and enjoying oneself of raping, torturing, abusing and humiliating corpses, the practice of sadism and hunger to kill and re-kill, rape and torture the murdered . Another abberational phenomenon is the exclusive sexual interest in children or what is called Padophilia. These phenomena remind us  of humanity’s forbidden lust and refer to that hidden deep instinct in the human unconscious for blood and crime.

But how shall we define a writer who finds pleasure in, eating martyrs’ corpses today? What do we call a person who abuses the life of a martyr and empties it  of any value, turning it into a commodity, and displaying it for sale, an act that enables him to earn his living? Shall we call these writers the mercenaries of the martyres or the martyr’s meat eaters?

For years, I have been exposed to the attitude of the Moroccan writer Mohamed Choukri toward the Moroccan writer Taher Ben Jelloun, wandering about his standpoints and him accusing the latter of opportunism and selling himself to the West. I was surprised by the declared hostility of Choukri the novelist who wrote his autobiographical novel « For Bread Alone », a hostility for a a mediator who had introduced him to the French and the global literary scene, for Ben Jalloun was the translator of Choukri’s best seller « For Bread Alone » to French which was thanks to this translation Choukri was known universally as an outstanding novelist.

Soon, all my wanderings had completely evaporated when I read what Ben Jelloun wrote about Arab revolutions, especially his remarks on the Tunisian revolution. Two of his books were recently published: « the spark; uprising in the Arab countries) » and  » par le feu- by fire », and I may say that these two books  rise to the level of political prostitution of a writer enslaved by the Frankophonian machine, and a writer who worked so hard on stabilizing and rooting the stereotyped image of Arab societies as the west sees it. Although we have not heard about Tahar Ben Jelloun supporting Arab writers who demonstrate resistance inside the Arab society, nor heard about him taking advantage of his effective and strong presence in the strongest and most influential Freanch newspapers to satirize and attack an arab tyrant ruler, we also never him rejecting to receive an award or an invitation from any Arab capital suffering under dictatorship. On the contrary, he was among those who abused the blood of the martyrs of Arab revolutions in a way that resembles, what I may call, the vampires of the middle Ages.

The Rush Toward the Event

Ben Jelloun, the winner of Goncourt prize, was among the first writers, of Arab descent who live in the west,  rushing to the French press to make statements on the Arab spring, summing uo his remarks and observations in two books: the first book holds the title « the spark » which was soon translated into different languages and then came the book  » par le feu  » which he labeled as « novel » and the book was a « perfect literary scandal », parallel to the phrase  » a perfect crime ».

«  par le feu  » a Pioneer Sign of Bad Literature

Tunisians talk about the writers, who made use of the Revolution and wrote hasty stories about it.  Arab and Tunisian press write on Ben Jelloun’s great novel that exposed the life of the Tunisian martyr, Mohamed Bouazizi, as if they believed that what he wrote was of a high regard of the spark of the Arab spring. This was due to the fact that people never read the text itself, it was enough for them to know that the writer of this text was the winner the  Goncourt prize; a famous Francophonian writer. But once we read the novel, encounter a literary  shock of a « global » author,  according to the classification of the encyclopedias and media and the awards he was granted,  writing such a dripped low level text.

So what are the signs that prove the low level of this text?

Doesn’t Ben Jalloun have the right to write about Bouazizi?


A Referential Figure of No Reference

Undoubtedly, each author has the right to write or transfer any referential figure, as defined by Philip Homon, which includes historical, mythological, metaphorical, and social figures summoned in the fictional character of the fictional work.  Rashid Bojdrah for example summoned the figure of Tariq Ibn Ziyad in his work « Battle of the Alley, » and other have summoned other figures such as Al-Mutanabi and Emir Abdelkader in « The Book of the Emir, » by Waciny Al-Araj, even Bensalem Himmich wrote the biography of Ibn Khaldun in his novel « the Scholar », so why wouldn’t Taher Ben Jelloun write about the martyr Mohammed Bouazizi?

All these writers have spent years looking at the lives of those referential figures in order to be inspired by them or re-write them fictionally. The novel, as a work of fiction, never gave up  its primary function in the illusion of realism. So that excavating in the life of a referential or historical figure is an obligatory mission for the novelist, and only then he has the right to convert them from the world of reality to the world of imagination. 

Contrary to what I have mentioned, Taher Ben Jelloun appeared to be hasty in shaping the character Bouazizi, taking for granted the rumors, that have surrounded him before the flight of Ben Ali . So Bouazizi emerges to us in Ben Jelloun’s text as someone who obtained a professorship in history and the writer does not hesitate in turning him to one of the left wing activists in the university. In slipping away, Ben Jelloun deposses the martyr of his right to be part of the common people and attaches him by force to the elite and to the left wing, sticking to the well known Cliché about Bouazizi, a graduate political activist doomed to unemployment as a punishment for his anti-authority activity. In fact, Mohammed Bouazizi never obtained the bachelor degree and never joined the university .

Giving Moroccan Names to Tunisian Figures

 Ben Jelloun continues with his heresies by involving another figure in the novel to form the antagonistic trimmer counter to the protagonist Bouazizi, but it is funny that Mr. Ben Jelloun grants this figure a Moroccan name (Bouchaib) a name you would never find all over Tunisia.Thus the dramatic element becomes funny and demonstrates the enormity committed by the writer who falls again in the ready cliché that you can easily find in naïve Arab TV series. For Bouchaib is a rich ignorant merchant, who would use Mohammed Bouazizi’s financial low status to ask him to marry his sister in turn for partnership in trade or protection from the police

City of Sidi Bouzid as a City of Tourism

The comic scene continues in the novel in which Ben Jelloun presents in front of us the city of Sidi Bouzid the  poor conservative and neglected city, as if it were New York with its crystal buildings,  as if it were the capital city with its co-ed cafes, tea halls that Mohammed Bouazizi used to visit with his girlfriend, and hug freely in the Parisian streets of Sidi Bouzid: Talking and walking:  « More than three months hace passed without being able to meet alone to make love. The last time, his cousin Zainab lent them her small apartment because her partner way away for a while » (p.133).

Sidi Bouzid sometimes seems as if it were Sidi Bou Said, and he insists it is a tourist city and that Bouazizi’s brother war tourist guide who has been subjected to police harassment because of his brother’s political history. And sometimes he turns Sidi Bouzid, to « Jamae El -Fana » Morrocan Square where some Moroccan playing with monkeys and parrots


Because Tahar Ben Jelloun knows nothing about the nature of the Tunisian society, he does not hesitate to make its holiday on Friday and Saturday as in other Arab countries, for, after all, all the Arab countries in his mind are similar.

Ben Jelloun Extends the Reign of Ben Ali for Another Seven years The historical facts do not make sense so that the writer confuses between the borguiba’s reign and Ben Ali’s reign and talks about thirty years of rule, while Ben Ali ruled the country for 23 years. » « At home, television broadcated an old program that displayed the thirtieth anniversary of the reign of President of the Republic« (p. 152).

Then Ben jelloun changes the currency of the country, from dinar to the rial.

Clichés As a Dominant Phenomenon in the Novel

The clichés continue and Ben Jelloun talks about the Islamists and their harassment of Bouazizi charging him to atheism. But the most amusing naivete that you encounter in the novel is how Mohammed Bouazizi got the money to buy his goods for the first time. Ben Jalooun’s imagine’s Mohammed Bouazizi won the lottery of the Faculty of Arts and the award was a plane ticket to Mecca and he started Looking for a pilgrim to sell it to him. With the money of the ticket he bought apples and oranges and started working as a salesman:  » Mohammed won a Pilgrimage journey to Mecca through a Charity raffle conducted by the College of Arts where he studied. The first time in his life he was lucky, but could not benefit from this luck. What shall he do with a ticket plane? First, he had no desire to go on a pilgrimage jpurney to Mecca, besides, he did not have the money to perform this ritual. He tried hard to get the money of the ticket from the airline company, but they did not respond to his request. The only choice left was to find a pilgrim to sell him the ticket… « (p. 128)

This kind of imagination reminds me of nothing but the themes of written expression assignments for pupils in fifth and sixth grades, for there is no logic, nor realistic controls of this imagination. It is due to the ignorance of the writer of the Tunisian academy and the climates of Tunisia and the Arab countries, or maybe it is just a matter of poor imagination?

The weakness that we have seen in this text can not be refereed to the issue of « writing on demand », because this kind of writing can not impoverish the imagination to such a degree, nor will prevent the writer from making any effort to grant the text its geographical, political social and anthropological environment that brought about this text. It is a text that crashes the talent of Taher Ben Jelloun and his history as a novelist, and gives the evidence of his opportumism as a writer.

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A propos kamelriahi

KAMEL RIAHI Kamel riahi: tunisian novelist and journalist , born in 1974. He works as a cultural correspondent for prominent universal broadcasting including; newspapers, televisions and news agencies. He worked as the head of translation department at Arab Higher Institute for Translation in Algeria .In 2010, he returned to Tunisia where he joined the ministry of culture and took charge of the cultural panel in important spaces in the Tunisian’s capital. In 2007, got the “Golden Alcomar” prize to the best novel named “the scalpel” in Tunisia.In 2009 he was the only winner in “the Beirut 39” literary contest organized by high festival foundation to choose only 39 best arab novelists .One of the best five writers under the age of forty selected to participate in “the Bouker’s competition for two rounds. He issued a set of literary and monetary books such as; “Gulls memory” , “Stole my face” , “the scalpel” , “the gorilla” , “the movement of narrative fiction and it’s climate” and “thus spoke Philippe lejeune” and “the novel writing of wasiney al aaradj”.Some of his works have been translated into French,English,Italian,Hebrew and Portuguese languages.
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