Boualem Sansal: The German Mujahid

I didn’t realize when I bought Boualem Sansal’s “The German Mujahid” that it was signed copy dated Oct. 23, 2009. It’s a fictional novel based on a true story and inspired by the writings of Primo Levi. I am happy it’s a signed copy. The book is banned in Algeria where the author lives and that little detail alone alludes to the fact that it has ruffled the features of some very powerful people.

“The German Mujahid”

Actual book reviews are easy to find these days and my thoughts are not meant to be a review. I would recommend Sansal to Muslim students in high school. I’ll tell you why.

The first 16-years of my life were spent growing up in the Caribbean where people were given nicknames like Hitler and Nazi particularly if they were thuggish in their behaviour. The Holocaust in Europe was but a distant war where white folks killed each other after having ravaged Africa and India. We had our own grief to sulk on. Europe’s craving for sugar and tea claimed the lives of millions of Africans and East Indians and wiped out the entire populations of those other Indians – the Arawaks, Caribs, Incas, Mayans, etc.

I would soon learn that Indians in Canada and the United States didn’t fare any better after I migrated to Toronto and started attending Sir Sanford Fleming Academy – a high school with a large Jewish student body because it was located in the heart of an old Jewish neighbourhood.

Fleming was the better of the two options available to me. I wanted to go to university and pursue a career in journalism and a school that streamed English, Literature, History, Geography, World Religions for university was an obvious choice. The big difference between Fleming and other high schools I later learned was that the Holocaust was an integral part of the curriculum. We watched countless documentaries and read the books of Elie Wiesel among others. Some of my fellow classmates had parents and grandparents who survived the Holocaust. Class discussions were brutal. Guys who would knock me down and shove me around on the basketball court and talk tough in the locker room would become speechless in class, tears welling up in their eyes. This was 1981, a confusing time for a teenager in a new country. The Russians had invaded Afghanistan and a Jihad was being waged to get them out. Fanaticism was raising its ugly head in Saudi Arabia and blood was shed in the sacred Ka’ba itself. An uprising was taking place in the Kashmir region of India, Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in Iran and the American hostage crisis was headline news. And I can’t exclude a gun-toting upstart named Yasir Arafat was holding out hopes of one day driving the Jews of Israel into the sea.

I still remember my English teacher who didn’t like me. I found out long after I graduated that her mother was a Holocaust survivor. Perhaps that’s why she was always so very bitter and why my questions in class upset her and caused her to respond in a way that made me feel as if I was a threat to her very existence. Still, I don’t regret the two years I spent at Fleming. It was a great school and it prepared me well for university.

My experience at Fleming is the single most important reason I made a decision not to send my own kids to Muslim private schools and with five of them I don’t think I could afford it. There are now over 40 such schools in Ontario alone. Sticking with your own kind creates a closed-minded mentality. Sure you’ll learn a great deal about Islam and may even memorize the entire Qur’an, but where’s the challenge when you’re surrounded by your own every day of your teenage years when critical questions about self and purpose are raised and sometimes resolved. But I digress.

In attempting to stream the two similar yet distinct narratives of Nazism and Islamism, Sansal’s novel has broken new ground. Both are absolute and closed narratives and when adopted by those in power they will inexorably lead to genocide. If it has happened in the past it can happen again as sure as the sun will rise in the morning.

Sansal brilliant novel is about two estranged brothers — Rashid Helmut a.k.a. Rachel and Malek Ulrich a.k.a. Malrich — and their relationship or lack thereof with their father. They find out that as a student in Germany, papa or Hans Schiller was an eager member of Hitlerjugends and then after graduating university as a chemical engineer, joined up with the Waffen SS and became a decorated Nazi mass murderer. Hans fled to Algeria after the defeat of Germany and ended up gainfully employed training the maquis in their struggle for independence against France. For his role in the Algerian war of independence he was granted citizenship and bequeathed the title ‘Mujahid’.

The 45-year-old ‘Mujahid’ Hans fell in love with 18-year-old Aïcha Majdali, the daughter of the village Cheïkh, converted to Islam in 1963 and adopted the name Hassan Hans a.k.a. Si Hassan and sometimes Si Mourad. He settled in his wife’s village of Aïn Deb, a remote outpost inhabited by people trying to hide from the world. When Aïcha’s father died, villagers began referring to the former Nazi as Cheïkh Hassan. Hans and Aïcha had two sons — Rashid and Malek — both of whom were sent to France at an early age to get a better education, Malrich failed while Rachel succeeded. On April 24, 1994 news reached Rachel that there was a massacre in Aïn Deb. Listed among the dead were his parents Hassan Hans and Aïcha Majdali. The government blamed their deaths on the Armed Islamic Group (AIG) and conferred on them the title of cahïd, martyrs, an honorable title in Islam.

While Rachel retraces his father’s bloody path back to the concentration camps, the younger Malrich is discovering the evil antics of Muslim fanatics trying to turn his immigrant slum where he lives near Paris into a mini-Islamic state with their own application of Shari’ah law.

There is a lot of take away from Sansal’s novel. A lot to learn especially at a time when hate-mongers in our community are determined to convince our youth that the Holocaust was a hoax, a conspiracy perpetrated by Zionists to justify their occupation of Muslim lands. Not so long ago anyone could pick up a copy of “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion” at any of the many Muslim bookstores across North America and Europe. As young Arabs of mixed parents growing up in a highly racialized society, Rachel and Malrich would have been exposed to the bigotry and conspiracy theories espoused by Imams and visiting missionaries.

Acknowledging the Holocaust against the Jewish people is not a denial of Muslim suffering in Chechnya, Bosnia, Kosovo, the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. it is an affirmation of our collective will to condemn hate in speech and action whenever and whenever it rears its treacherous head.