The Last Summer of Reason by Algerian writer Tahar Djaout is the Muslim 1984/Brave New World dystopian novel—and, alas, a chronicle of a murder foretold: the author’s own by the Armed Islamic Group (al-Jama’ah al-Islamiyah al-Musallaha) in Algiers in 1993. The manuscript of the novel told by Boualem Yekker is a bookseller in a society in which Islamists are extending banishment of any literature other than the Qu’ran, was found after Djaout’s murder. It includes memories of when Boualem had a family and women were not forced to cover everything except their eyes by wearing burquas, and people (like Djaout) were not being murdered for insufficient Islamist zeal and outright denunciation of the spreading intolerance. He dwells on the past because the future has been annulled. Nothing other than the Last Judgment is licit to speak about (even dreams are illicit, though not yet monitored by the thought-police).
One might think the ban on spare tires (as interfering with God’s will about whether a car should continue onward) is a satire, though within a few years the Taliban in Pakistan banned razorblades and transistor radios. The rationale for Djaout’s own murder was justified because he “wielded a fearsome pen” against enforcement of Islamists’ understanding of God’s word.
Because he lacks the talent to write books and lacks any glamour, Boualem hopes that he will be left alone, though when some children throw stones at him, he realizes this is wishful thinking. This is followed by the “Prepare to die” phone calls. Books had been his refuge, but, now, owning any other than the Qu’ran is evidence of lacking faith that it contains all the licit knowledge in the world.
Boualem induces three rules for “approved knowledge”:
- Science has the right to pay attention only to those questions not settled in The Book.
- Any scientific result and any scientific discovery must be challenged by The Sacred Text in order to find justification for them there (or be rejected).
- Our religion is the source of all knowledge Any scientific or moral law, any legislation decreed in the time preceding this religion, when humanity was steppe din darkness, lies, and barbarism is null and void.
Enjoyment of anything other than murdering the insufficiently righteous and martyrdom are suspect. The beaches are deserted, because swimming is not recommended in the Qu’ran. Television broadcasts only sermons and pseudo-documentaries dismissing any claims to knowledge other than from the Qu’ran. Weather forecasts are presumptuous and impious and long gone.
Boualem is appalled that “God should have to put up with such despicable representatives” as the Vigilant Brothers (the AIG in power). But “most devastating was the paralyzing cowardice that had taken hold of everyone, he himself being no exception” (unlike Djaout, though I’m sure he faulted himself for not doing more than what got him killed).
The penultimate sentence of the manuscript (though only a draft, it seems complete, if less polished than it might have been had Djaout lived to edit it)—“The course of time has gone crazy, and who dares swear to the appearance of the following day?” — was demonstrated by Djaout’s murder.
The book is not just a warning to non-fanatic Muslims, but to those in any society in which religious fanatics seek to impose conformity to their rigorist readings of whatever Sacred Text they are brandishing on others (including Mein Kampf and Mao’s Little Red Book) in the guise of “social cleansing.” In his foreword to the translation from French by Marjoljin de Jager, Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian (Christian Yoruba in origin) writer Wole Soyinka draws attention to Christianist fanatics, in particular those murdering doctors who perform abortion. Djaout bore “witness from within his own society, from within his own milieu, and in defense of his assailed humanity, but let no one be tempted to narrow the bane of bigotry and intolerance to just one milieu from which this powerful testimony has emerged…. It is only be recognizing that the individuality that we are enabled to recollect, and respond to the face of other individuals, to the fate of hundreds like Djaout, and the fate of hundreds of thousands on behalf of whom that voice has been raised, against whom the hand of atavism is also constantly raised, aiming ever more boldly for a body count that will pave the way of killers to a paradise of their imagining. The most ambitious enemies are the absolutist interpreters of the Divine Will, be they Sikh, Hindus, Jew, Christians, Muslims, born-again of every religious calling.”
Djaout himself, shortly before his murder wrote: “It is useless to repress fundamentalism if the Algerian school continues to prepare for us new packs of fundamentalists who, in their turn, will take up arms in ten or fifteen years.” The Christianist assault on science and history curricula in the US is analogous, even with the faith-based policies of the Bush junta not occupying the executive branch of the US government. Our own Vigilant Brethren have not been as successful as the Taliban, but there is a strong stream of intolerance for difference and tolerance for slander in American history, especially from Donald (Don the Con) Drumpf.
(The manuscript was more finished than either Carson McCullers’s memoir fragment, Illuminations and Night Glare or the manuscript which Ralph Ellison had been unable to finish in decades. The Last Summer of Reason is a manuscript that had to be published in protest against his silencing.)
©2010, Stephen O. Murray