- “Neither Victims nor Executioners” in Hubert Haddad’s Palestine1
One must understand what fear means: what it implies and what it rejects. It implies and rejects the same fact: a world where murder is legitimate, and where human life is considering trifling. . . . All I ask is that, in the midst of a murderous world, we agree to reflect on murder and to make a choice. After that, we can distinguish those who accept the consequence of being murderers themselves or the accomplices of murderers, and those who refuse to do so with all their force and being. Since this terrible dividing line does actually exist, it will be a gain if it be clearly marked.Albert Camus (Neither Victims nor Executioners, 1946)
Albert Camus,2 himself born in Algeria during the period of French colonization, has inspired Francophone Arab-Muslim and Jewish writers from the Maghreb such as Boualem Sansal, Yasmina Khadra, Colette Fellous, Abdelkader Djemaï, and Maïssa Bey3 who have found in his work a productive echo of their own meditations. Camus’s conception of terrorism as “inevitable” yet “unjustifiable,”4 which he elaborated in his texts dealing with terrorist acts in the late 1940s and then during the Algerian war of independence (1954–1962), resonates in Hubert Haddad’s 2007 novel Palestine more intensely than in any other literary work on terrorism.5 This is especially true of Camus’s notion of “neither victims nor executioners,” the title of his essay that synthesizes a series of eight articles published between 1946 and 1947.6 Neither Victims Nor Executioners, in which Camus stresses that nothing can legitimate murder, is the cornerstone of my comparison between Haddad and Camus. This essay, which provides a theoretical framework to Haddad’s fiction, crystallizes Camus’s rejection of the false choice between either justifiable murderer or regrettable victimization as well the response to murderer by murderer that creates an unending cycle of violence. Camus criticizes the ideological construction of victimhood but emphasizes the figure of innocence that is central to his work; for him, the “pure innocence” represented by the face of a child leads to what he calls a “fair and balanced revolt” as opposed to the “perverted innocence” embodied in the legitimization of terror in the name of ‘the ends justify the means.’ “No cause justifies [End Page 67] the death of the innocent” could be a postulate for the Middle East, and Neither Victims Nor Executioners has maintained a certain currency in its appeal for dialogue and truce.
A Tunisian French writer of Jewish origin, Hubert Haddad was born of a Tunisian father and an Algerian mother in 1947. He left Tunis in 1950 with his family and settled in and was educated in Paris, where Albert Camus had already been living for many years. Haddad started his prolific literary career as a poet, essayist and novelist towards the end of the sixties.7 The similarity of their migrational and demographic situation (both from the Maghreb and established in Paris before the decolonization of North of Africa, as well as their education in French schools) makes Haddad’s familiarity with Camus’s texts almost inevitable. Haddad’s novel Palestine, which won him the Prix Renaudot in 2009,8 explores the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which the slaughter of the innocent represents a thin line between martyrdom and madness. The novel casts an ethnographic gaze on the terrorist and the cult of the martyr/hero that seems to define Middle East terrorism. Haddad’s achievement in Palestine could be interpreted as a plea for a deconstruction of the binary of Arab and Jew and a refusal to assign guilt to either party. He shows the porousness in the victim/perpetrator dichotomy that often shapes political life in the contemporary Middle East by using “memory” (and its loss) as a means to think through the role of myth and history for both populations. However, is such a humanist desire for a symmetry that would question the very possibility of discourses of victimhood even thinkable in the conflict at stake? Would impartiality even be possible without falling into an ideological agenda? Does Haddad’s...