Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"The Honored Dead" by Joseph Braude

We all have secrets. Nothing is as open and honest as it may seem at first. And nothing could illustrate this more than life in the Middle East. Thousands of years of differing cultures and religions have resulted in a myriad of traditions, and strife, in the area. Such is the story of Ibrahim Dey, a seemingly unemployed Muslim man who is murdered in Casablanca, Morocco. Joseph Braude, the author, is an embedded journalist with the Moroccan police, who are working to solve the case; he is also Jewish.

Ibrahim Dey was a "majdub", that is, he was a man of poor luck for himself, but lucky for others. He was honest, and his opinions were well respected. He styled himself as a broker of real estate, and in Casabalanca that can mean anything from obtaining a toaster, to arranging a marriage. Sometimes it can even involve real estate. But, more often than not, this is simply a title for a man without a real vocation. Ibrahim Dey was typical of this type of man. Or was he?

By days, he spent his time in the local coffee house, where he was available for consultation. By night, he was the part time "relief" watchman at a warehouse owned by a Jewish man. Ibrahim would often take a portion of the night shift for his friend Attar, who would sneak home from the warehouse to see his family. On one of those nights Ibrahim is murdered in the warehouse, supposedly by a man who was being chased by a gang of youths. That man turned out to be a soldier in the Moroccan army. When confronted by the watchman, Ibrahim, the two struggle and Ibrahim is killed. Or, so goes the "official" conclusion.

Ibrahim's best friend, Bari, has his doubts about both the official investigation, and it's conclusion. When he is introduced to the author he airs those doubts, setting him off on a private investigation of his own, leading to the back streets, and history, of the underside of Morroco.

Police Inspector Lt. Jabri, along with Officer Sharif, attempt to guide the author through what happened the night when Ibrahim was murdered. But they seem to be covering something up. Taking off on his own, the author befriends Ibrahim's friends and family in an effort to uncover the mystery of why this seemingly innocent, and well liked man, was killed. His search leads him back to Ibrahim's home city of Jadida, and his sister, Aisha, who lives under the thumb of Ibrahim's sister-in-law, Latifa.

Latifa entered the family by marrying Ibrahim's brother, and immediately began to divide it, eventually taking over the management of the family grocery store, supposedly at the request of her husband. This is a very unusual thing in Morocco, which, as an Islamic country, is very much a male dominated society. Latifa even sells the family business in an effort to save the family home. Did she have just cause to do this? What was the real relationship between her husband and Ibrahim?

Eventually Ibrahim leaves Jididah for Casablanca, and a life in the slums. What happened to drive him there? And why does his family allow Latifa to retain control of the family assests?

When the author finds that Ibrahim had been listening to radical sermons in the days before his death, the story becomes even more complicated, leading the author to believe that the authorities are somehow involved in silencing Ibrahim. But the biggest question of all is why? What could this man have done, or known, that would require his being killed?

With a surgeons skill the author introduces, and explains, the history between the Jews and Islamics in Morocco, attempting to shed light on the often misunderstood relationship of these two groups in that country. When the veneer is pulled back, that relationship is seen to be other than what it appears.

When the author finally meets the warehouse owner, who is also a Jew, he is surprised to learn that Ibrahim was practicing some sort of "magic" in the warehouse at night, allowing people in for a fee to perform "spells." The soldier who murdered him was a "client." Why he murdered Ibrahim Dey is open to speculation, and, as with many things in the Middle East, it may never be known. And even if the mystery is solved, the full truth behind it may often be obscured.

This book takes you beyond the Casablanca you have come to know from films. The romance is torn away, and the underbelly of reality takes it's place in a spellbinding tale of twists and turns, which are as mysterious as the city in which they occur.

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