Saturday, 14 December 2013

"Everything can be excused apart from the drawing!"


It was so sad not hearing his voice, because you rarely got in many words when he was around. Yesterday my brother and I paid our last respects to our one-of-a-kind uncle who passed away last Sunday. We had a quiet time with him at the chapel reading him poems by Nizar Qabbani and Aboul-Qacem Echebbi and all the while he looked as if he fought to sit up to have his say because a new idea had just popped up.

All children should have such an uncle. He was an incorrigibly curious intellectual, always asking, always playing with possible explanations. He would pose at least two hypotheses to you on the phone. When it was possible to reach him by phone, that is. He was a specialist on the Middle East and when he gave sound, it was usually from some new place between the Mediterranean and Afghanistan from where he would refer to a handful of languages, noting the development of certain words from one language to another, which might indicate…(insert next hypothesis here)...

- and so it was a shock to him when fundamentalists were gaining ground by the end of the 1980s. But true to form he insisted on meeting each fundamentalist on his way in an open discussion, carrying various editions of the Quran with him to point out discrepancies and at least try to shatter the one-eyed certainty of the one he was talking to - it was never an opponent or adversary, because he included you in the unfolding of his thoughts, he never accused the one before him. The very essence of the difference between the thinking being and this specimen:


Yahia Boulahia: La Fatwa du jour, December 11, 2013.
Moncef Marzouki gives presidential amnesty to 79 prisoners.
- Everything can be excused apart from the drawing!
- which of course he is himself, a drawing. Note how the vertical line to the right unites the headline with the horizon below, transforming the intention directly into form.

Complete with beard and quantities of self-righteousness, the Convert Yahia Boulahia is drawn precisely in the way he speaks - a full frontal exclamation mark. "The drawing" refers to the "insulting drawings" for which Jabeur Mejri was condemned to seven years in prison last year for showing them on his Facebook wall. Marzouki - the Tunisian president - has stated that he is "just waiting for the right moment" to release Mejri. Eh? And the first possible right moment was apparently not when a considerable number of prisoners were pardoned in conjunction with the international Human Rights Day?


Yahia Boulahia: La Fatwa du jour, January 25, 2012
- the burqa must not reveal a form of any kind, especially not any of intelligence.

The Convert was won over after reading "a propaganda book" and seeing Iqraa TV, as he is presented by his artist, who remains anonymous. And so the Convert feels himself in a position to teach, to deal out daily fatwas. The drawing above was among the very first on his own Facebook wall, created a year after the protests first broke out and at a time when the Salafists had gained political power. His first utterances centered on the danger of pollution posed by women, but at the core his words concern all fellow beings, whom he reduces to letterboxes, an embodiment of emptiness. The word belongs to him only.

And still he remains angry. He has a constant need to defend his righteousness:


Yahia Boulahia: La Fatwa du jour, November 22, 2013.
Philosophy will not be removed from the BA-exams
- I think so you are!

This is when the cartoonist is at his or hers most naughty. The point of cartooning has never been the pointed nose or giant ears, those are just diversions. Yahia Boulahia's creator takes his protagonist on his own word and draws him with the clarity with which he speaks. He is literally laid bare on paper.

The blankness of the paper is underlined with as few and precise lines as necessary. A video on Yahia Boulahia's Facebook wall reveals the road taken by each cartoon from the first vibrant scribbles to the thinning of the lines, taking in their numbers until only a small handful is left on the plane. The Convert becomes the personification of "confrontation", a word we have from the Latin frons, the forehead, in this case a blank spot with an angry muscle cramped into a circle.


Yahia Boulahia: La Fatwa du jour, October 24, 013.
Six agents of the national guard have been killed in confrontations at Sidi Bouzid
- For our part we have cut off the dialogue.

And yet in that clarity a high number of details manage to creep in. The Convert has a knife at hand to back up his words with action, when he sees the need.


Yahia Boulahia,: La Fatwa du jour, September 24, 2013.
On the eve of the festival of human rights, four artists were arrested at 4 A.M.
- We too is an artist, eh? It is in rhyme!

Certainty may make life simpler in many respects to those who feel certain, but the mental boredom may harbor a danger. When my uncle was asked on his last day, if he thought there is an afterlife, he answered true to his own form. Not the usual egocentric answer of Westerners that there is no such thing for the reason that we cannot see it.

No, last Saturday he answered: "Well, I doubt it, but I need to check it out first".


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