Rashid al Daif: my German friend
By Abbas Beydoun (translated from Arabic by Hisham Ashkar)
"The Return of the German to his Reason" is a title that reminds us of a classical erotic book; it contributes, as other Arabic books of this genre, to the erotic education. I guess that Rashid al Daif chose it with total awareness of the old title, and he chose it deliberately, and in a way to contradict the first title. Rashid's book is not about the erotic education, but it's aiming for something else and for revealing this, it's better to go back to his book.
As for the book, it's not only a novel nor a study, it's not totally a personal biography or non-biography, it's not only a mix of this and that, it's a narration less than a novel, and an approach less than a study, and a partial biography, and the winner from all that is, at least, literature. Literature could come from the weakest way as from its strongest, and Rashid's book is not a biography as much as it's a "commenting" biography.
He follows totally a secondary biography, it's a turning point in a biography, and we don't know who's the narrator, the subject or the self. Imagine a biography of what is not happening to you, and for what is not in your life, so it will be Rashid's novel. Rashid met a German homosexual novelist in a German program. And this alone was an experience. Homosexuality in Rashid's life is only an event just by this degree, it's neither his life nor his experience, but in a way it becomes, with his homosexual colleague, an experience. I don't know if it was an experience just with the "other", the "different". Meeting Joachim Helfer, awoke in Rashid what he thought never existed in him. It's a story with what he is not and never could be, it's his story with what is neither his story nor his life. It's a story we don't think it exists, because if it does, the life of a person and "himself" will diverge in many ways he knows nothing about, but it appears for him in the end that he's living a different life with a different self. I don't know if Rashid went so far, but he searched for his "homosexual" biography. It means that he searched for his thoughts and responses towards homosexuality, and found plenty of things, or just enough for what this book contains.
His homosexual German friend found, while he was in Lebanon, a German woman so he slept with her, and she had a girl from him; in this case, homosexuality shows a contradictory face, but it doesn't deny itself, it goes far beyond itself. As for Rashid, who felt betrayed, that his German friend took him to what he can't handle in his "not life" novel, he transferred his complaint to the title of the book "The Return of the German to his Reason". A nearly revengeful title, though all the novel was written with a mathematical curiosity, and a near-scientific spirit of discovery. I guess those kind of meetings don't lack of a certain conflict. And the title is an attestation that Rashid won over the German homosexual and put him back in his place.
Rashid and Joachim agreed on telling the story, each one from his point of view. But the German after reading the translation of Rashid's text, decided to comment on it and discuss it. Rashid's novel and Joachim's comments were to be published in one book by "Suhrkamp" a famous German publishing house, which took care of publishing it and taking it up in its catalogue.
When Rashid and I arrived to Berlin, one of his worries was to see the book; one day I met him, he had a gloomy face, he knew that Joachim cut his text to pieces and commented on it. His text became scattered, something an author, any author, would never want to happen to his work. It hurts deeply the narcissism of the author, and shows him his body as shrapnels in a broken mirror. Rashid asked for an advice from anyone he knows, once twice, even more, no answer really convinced him, he had the option not to sign the contract, and to declare he has no relation with the book, but it's also a risk, and it's a "kind of disappearing", not less nightmarish then the "shrapneling". They, all, advised him to carry on with the book. Mohamad Arkoun told him, that the book in this way is imprisoned and easier for the reader, and that's "ok" as the book retains its unity in its original language; as for me, what happened is similar to a car accident, Rashid doesn't have a relation with it, and he has to accept the consequences. A lot was said, but no one advised Rashid not to sign. So he signed on everyone's responsibility, after he got a promise from the publishing house, to post the entire book on their website and the printed copy would mention that.
After signing the contract, he received parts of the Arabic translation of the German text, among them a paragraph where Joachim talks of the visit to the Jewish Museum. And all what Rashid had in mind is asking for the number of people exterminated during the holocaust, and when he knew it's six millions, al Daif wondered and asked for the number of German Jews. He was answered less than 600 000, Rashid was more astonished, how to get 6 millions out of 600 000, not forgetting all who went to Israel. Joachim left Rashid with his accounts, after he realized that it is all what Rashid's prepared to, and went in a hurry to his Jewish boyfriend to weep in his arms, he wouldn't discuss with Rashid in such an important issue and he preferred to talk with him in more easy and more "prepared to" matters, like sex. Then Joachim mentioned that Rashid took him to Khyam camp where he saw two memorials for two martyrs died under torture, he saw this and didn't find it as annihilation, but Rashid never asked him to show him memorials for the Jewish detainees and victims in berlin.
It was a strange text, it inspires, from nothing, anti-Semitism, with a novel trick, Rashid's question concerning numbers becomes insensibility, more over, hatred. And if you compare Rashid's question to Joachim crying in his friend's arms, the difference will appear, not to mention the digression, from nothing too, that Rashid didn't ask him to take him to Jewish victims memorials while he took him to Khyam to show him similar memorials. From nothing, or from a novelistic distortion of totally neutral things (question of numbers) and rhetoric games (comparison between weeping and the number question, memorials of Khyam and not asking for similar memorials) it can be suggest that this Arab (Rashid al Daif) is surely Anti-Semitic, and he'll be also hostile towards homosexuality, this is what you expect from an Arab. It's a cliché of an Arab, as Michael Kleeberg said, and everyone will believe it. This time I didn't think of an "accident". There's clearly a conscious arrangement. We didn't know German, but now we can understand, that Joachim's comments are kind of boxing. He made the book his, through the cutting process, and chose to turn it into a battle, and to strike where the result is guaranteed. By the insinuation of Anti-Semitism, he just wanted an easy and sure win. In a country like Germany nobody will think a lot about this stamp. Once it's suggested, it will become true, especially for an arab.
I felt personally that I'm concerned, and that Joachim's attitude is disparaging, and it can only be explained through the cliché of an Arab. I gave Rashid a hard time. That insinuation in the current German literature is very grave. For Michael (another German friend) it was grave too. But the worst is that what was written includes Jewish or German superiority constructed illusions, it had a lot of discrimination, superiority and prejudice. Rashid protested, he felt betrayed; he left Joachim to do whatever he wants. He hid behind German language to launch a war against Rashid. He made the book, as his, and gave himself the final word, and above all, this stamp. There's antipathy, aggression and forgery too.
I was standing in the hotel lobby, when Joachim came to meet Rasantipathy, aggression and forgery too.
I was standing in the hotel lobby, when Joachim came to meet Rashid, who was beside me, both of them continued discussing the subject. I couldn't hold myself, I intervened, I told Joachim that this is defamation, you are insinuating from nothing for a big case, like Anti-Semitism, Joachim said the German literature is not a literature of insinuation, the Arabic literature is a literature of insinuation.
I went mad, in his response there's only disparaging, the German literature was (in a weird point of view) a literature of truth, while insinuation, which is suggestion and maybe fabrication is reserved for Arabic literature. I told him what do you know about Arabic literature to say that, I read most of the greatest germans authors works, and I don't allow myself to make such a trial. It's discrimination, it's a malicious intention, just to win over Rashid in a dirty way, Joachim was surprised, and I heard him saying before heading to a press conference with Rashid: I'm not racist.
Rashid defended himself abundantly during the press conference, and also during a mutual reading at the international literature fair, as for me I had to explain in a political seminar with my partner Michael Kleeberg that Israel, which is considered in the west as a modern and democratically state, is the state that destroys the only two democracies in the region (Lebanon and palestine) and treats the democratic elected MPs as outlaws and kidnaps them in broad day light, and that it is the last remaining form of colonialism in the world, and discriminates one quarter of its population (the arab Israelis). Lot of people discussed, but, amazingly, no one accused me of anti-Semitism.