An improbable pursuit of a strange murder in Casablanca segues into a moving study of cross-cultural friendship.
Journalist Braude (The New Iraq, 2003) procured an “embed-style access” to a police precinct in Casablanca to observe the interaction between an authoritarian state and its people—or, “how a government and its people conspire to become a society.” The Judiciary Police, an FBI-like agency, were extraordinarily open to the author’s observations and questions, proud of their low crime rate compared to the United States, although bedeviled by a pesky sect of Islamist militants. Braude was tolerated largely because of his rare background: An American born to an Iraqi Jewish mother, he speaks Arabic fluently (also Hebrew) with an Iraqi accent thanks to a close youthful friendship with an Iraqi called Ali, from whom he had become estranged due to an unfortunate run-in with the federal police some years before. (Braude, who worked for five years with the FBI on Islamist terrorist cases, gradually reveals the sad, incredible story.) The particular murder that fascinated the author during this period involved a 41-year-old homeless Berber man, Ibrahim Dey, who was beaten to death in a warehouse where he had been sleeping for five years—ostensibly for theft. Dey was well liked and considered a majdub, or someone who brings fortune to others, and his best friend, Muhammad Bari, whom Braude befriended, swore to vindicate the suspicious murder. Like a good murder mystery, the plot thickens as details flesh out, including the activities in the precinct, the family of the victim, the history of Berber and Jewish oppression in the Arab world, the ideological struggle over Islam and the close friendship once enjoyed between Dey and Bari, which reminded the author of his own with Ali. Moreover, the book is infused with the author’s sense of loss and tenderness for his mother’s native land and language, rendering this one of the most affecting, sympathetic accounts of Arab culture in recent memory.
Despite the murky title, this is a beautifully composed, deeply felt journey inside Morocco.