Click Here To Purchase The Honored Dead: A Story of Friendship, Murder, and the Search for Truth in the Arab World

Author: Joseph Braude

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

ISBN: 978-0-385-52703-3 (Hardcover): ISBN: 978-0-679-60432-7 (eBook)

The Honored Dead has received respectable notice, including an interview with the author on PRI’s The World (NPR, June 14). Joseph Braude’s true adventure is riveting and timely. The journalist is an expert on Arabic and Islamic history.

NPR notwithstanding, Americans tend not to analyze current affairs. Except in the case of our immediate domestic problems, we listen to the nightly news believing that everything in the world will change — or never changes — so why become invested? Maybe that’s why this book is marketed as a “murder mystery,” something more engrossing than today’s headlines.

Braude’s novelistic style is the hook of The Honored Dead. After all, who cares about the small country that is the only one in North Africa currently not rebelling with violence? Morocco seems a nice place to visit, a slender 172,402 square miles along the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea with a backdrop of two fantastic mountain ranges. We embrace its cuisine and decor. Europeanized by the French, it still has colorful bazaars where we can learn to barter prices and ignore beggars. So what if the place is ruled by an authoritarian king, as long as his ongoing efforts to keep the people content are moving in the right direction?

Braude fills in the blanks with engaging prose. It is 2008. Embedded with the police, he takes you on his search for truth — the hidden reason his new friend’s friend was murdered in a warehouse. You see the tin roofed shantytowns of the poor and enclaved villas of the rich; you ride in red taxicabs, admire “pencil-thin” palm trees; notice barbed wire and satellite dishes; are invited into sumptuous courtyards and empty concrete rooms. You meet his informants in colorful or ragged garments; you smell their kitchens. The dialogue is so refined as to make the characters appear simultaneously suspicious and honorable. You are conscious of many personal stories unfolding. And you become sharply aware of eggshell politics.

Corruption exists at every level of society in Morocco. Braude explains: “…it’s a kind of state policy emanating straight from the top. . . .Down at the bottom, the sprawling informal sector of the economy — rife with drug deals large and small — has long been a space in which people take their cues from the upper echelons, constructing smaller patronage pyramids of their own . . . ” Everything requires a bribe, including seats at universities.

As Braude relentlessly pursues the facts, we become immersed in a society shamelessly secretive and misleading. We are confounded by the goodness that resides underneath deviousness in the same individual. There is a poignancy in the Moroccan news consistently reporting crimes without revealing names or locations.

The uneducated poor have little opportunity to improve their lives unless they attach themselves to one of the jihadists groups operating among them, or, more likely, to the production and export of cannabis resin (hashish). Braude says 760,000 Moroccans live off this crop. The versatility of the organized traffickers has made Morocco “a significant transit point for the global drug trade.”

Discontent is knocking at the palace gate. Braude tells us the tape cassette first opened the ears and eyes of many ordinary people. Individuals were drawn into various existing regional movements to make change. Now, appealing and unsettling ideas of how life should be lived are traveling by increasingly sophisticated, globe-circling, communication devices. Meanwhile, “Islamists living humble lives and preaching the Qur’an’s message of egalitarianism and social justice, present themselves as the vanguards of clean government.”

In Morocco, 33 million people occupy mainly cities. At one point Braude refers to the Casablanca “melting pot,” which I learned in school to mean our United States, where diverse people can become one, yet enjoy personal freedom. A “stew” seems more appropriate a metaphor for Morocco, bits and pieces tossed into a steaming pile of spiced lentils. Braude names five distinct ethnic groups that coexist in this kingdom. They may speak Arabic, but it will be nuanced. Not all are devout Muslims. There are in fact 8,000 Jews, 3,000 natives whose families were protected from Nazis by the current ruler’s father. Today, they cannot feel safe.

I understand now why the only Moroccan I know emphasizes her Berber heritage. (Her father was half African of unknown descent; the country’s Blacks’ ancestors were parked in West Africa as slave material.) The loyalty of a proud Berber family is to traditions formed in the remote mountain villages of their indigenous ancestors who believed in magic. Arabs arrived late, in the 7th century. Berbers outnumber them.

The final sharp twists in this story will shake you and challenge your assumptions.

Click Here To Purchase The Honored Dead: A Story of Friendship, Murder, and the Search for Truth in the Arab World