In December, several Algerian TV channels interviewed Islamist politician Abdelfattah Hamadache and author Kamel Daoud, after Hamadache called Daoud to be put to death for blasphemy following the publication of his novel. In a program aired on El-Bilad TV, Hamadache called Daoud a "deviant creature" and a "collaborator," and said: "I have the right to demand that he be executed." On programs aired on Khabar TV and Echorouk TV, Daoud defended his writing and said that while discussion and debate are welcome, violence and the sanctioning of killing are not.
Following are excerpts from the programs:
El-Bilad TV [Algeria], December 19, 2014
Reporter: The novel Meursault, contre-enquête by author and columnist Kamel Daoud caused an international uproar with an Algerian flavor, when the author described Allah in the book as "a delusional old man," and did not show respect for the Quran. This reminded the Algerians of the civil war of the 1990s. Abdelfattah Hamadache, head of the Free Awakening Front party, demanded on his Facebook page that Daoud be killed, describing him as "a heretic."
El-Bilad TV [Algeria], December 20, 2014
Interviewer: Kamal Daoud declared: "I am a Muslim, and nobody has the right to question my belief in Islam." He himself declared that he is a Muslim and a religious man. So how can you pick some statement of his and accuse him of heresy, and call for his execution?
Algerian Islamist politician Abdelfattah Hamadache Zeraoui: The man whom you call "Muslim" said – and I quote: "When I read their books…" – by this he is referring to our book, the Quran, so he distances himself from those who believe in the Book of Allah – "…I feel as if I am listening to a delusional old night guard." How can he describe God Almighty as a "delusional, senile old man"?! Can these words possibly be uttered by a Muslim who believes in Allah and in Judgment Day? If we want to pass judgment on somebody, we need to do so on the basis of the bulk of his writings.
This man is a collaborator, who used by France to attack Algerian values and principles. If some Algerian writer was a superstar, or invented something special, nobody would pay any attention to him. We have real Algerian superstar writers, and nobody pays any attention to them. However, from the moment that this man cursed Allah and the Quran, calling it a book of "superstitions" and "delusions," attacked the Arabic language, calling it the "language of the occupiers," and attacked our values, hurling filth at the Algerian people – he became a hero. The French media has called him "the rebel." The rebel against what? Against Allah? Against the Prophet Muhammad? Against Algerian society?
This man should be… I'm not saying what should be done with him. That's up to the Ministry of the Interior. That's up to the Algerian justice system. This man has infringed upon the principles of an entire nation – the state, its honor, and its institution. The mosques should rise up against him, and so should all the writers. But what do I hear today? That I am the one being attacked. Give me a break, he is the criminal aggressor. He is the one who cursed Allah, not me. All I want to do is to defend Allah.
You may say that he is free to think whatever he likes, but creativity cannot turn into heresy. You want to create – don't curse Allah. You can create things that will benefit us, that will pull the Algerian nation out of its crisis. That is creativity. That is proper thinking. He has turned thinking [fikr] into heresy [kufr]. He cursed Allah and cursed our religion, and the media has put him on a pedestal.
Let me ask that deviant creature, Kamel Daoud: Why don't you go to Europe and curse Jesus there? You would have to pack your bags and leave. Why don't you curse the Pope of the Vatican? Why don't you attack the New Testament like you attacked the Quran?
I am responding to him on the basis of Islamic law, of jurisprudence, and of the [Algerian] court system. I am an Algerian, and I have the right to demand that he be executed.
People, Islam is the religion of the state. The Algerian people is a Muslim people. How dare you come from France, and try to impose a mentality upon us that will wipe out the future generations? You cannot say that this writer merely wrote a book. No, he is a man who has publicly proclaimed his heresy, and he would like to destroy the future generations in Algeria. He poses a danger to my sons.
Interviewer: Have you read the book by Kamel Daoud?
Abdelfattah Hamadache Zeraoui: I have read excerpts from it.
Interviewer: Only excerpts.
Abdelfattah Hamadache Zeraoui: That's right. I haven't read the entire book.
Interviewer: Are these excerpts enough to draw a conclusion?
Abdelfattah Hamadache Zeraoui: Yes. They are all the same, and they clarify one another.
Interviewer: But maybe there was a context, and you only read part of it?
Abdelfattah Hamadache Zeraoui: No, the man wrote the book in 2013 and distributed it in France in late 2014. He remains firm in his beliefs. He did not curse Allah just once, so we cannot say that it was a slip of the tongue or ignorance of the truth. Time and again, this man cursed Allah, the Quran, and the holy day of Friday. He even wrote: "Has this God that you worship ever descended to Earth? Did He study with you? Have you seen Him? Why do you worship Him?" He recently said, on French TV: "The only thing delaying the Arabs from joining civilization is Islam."
Khabar TV Channel [Algeria], December 20, 2014
Interviewer: Don't you think that you were a little too audacious?
Algerian writer Kamel Daoud: Brother, this is just a story, a work of fiction. It was a fictional character in the novel who said these things, not me. If we judge people on the basis of characters in their books, we will be facing dark times in Algeria. Let me give you an example. Should everybody who quotes the verse "I am your God" be killed? It is Pharaoh who says this, not Allah.
We need to have enough intelligence to draw a distinction between what a character in a story says and what the author says. If these were my own views, I would not have written a literary piece. I would have written a treatise or an op-ed piece. I assume responsibility for what I write in my column. It is my personal opinion. But to use what a fictional character in a story says as an argument against me is, in my opinion, na Ïvete and stupidity.
Interviewer: You wrote: "We Algerians are not Arabs, and the very "sacred" Arabic language is a very dead language. The Arab horizontal colonialism has turned us into colonialists of Arabism. I am an Algerian, and my language is the Algerian language, not Arabic." What did you mean when you said that your language is the Algerian language, and not the Arabic language?
Kamel Daoud: Brother, my mother tongue, my daily language, is Algerian. The Arabic language enriches me, but in Algeria, there is a terrible, criminal confusion between two things: between the principle of Islam and principle of the language. Islam was conveyed to all the people, not just to the Arabs.
Echorouk TV [Algeria], December 22, 2014
Kamel Daoud: The basic problem in Algeria is that we need to decide whether we want literature or books of another kind. Do we want to throw the authors and their books into the sea, or not? That is one thing. For another, I don't understand why people are focusing on a few paragraphs in my book. In the history of Algerian literature, there were authors who wrote stronger things. I won't mention names, but you, I, and the Algerian intellectuals know who I mean. Why are people focusing on me? This leads me to the conclusion that this is all an attempt to make headlines in Algeria.
There is a difference between the Islam of tafkir ["thought"] and takfir. If you want to talk about ideas, you are more than welcome. We are both Algerians, who share the same country. But when it comes to fatwas that sanction killing, this is no longer a discussion about literature and thought. This is about accusing others of heresy and about violence. Discussion and debate, however, are welcome.