[A Court in a European capital, presided by a judge listening attentively to the prosecutor reading the charges against the defendant, Karim Fawaz.]
Prosecutor: Your Honor, the defendant, Mr Karim Fawaz, is a repeat offender who has admitted in writing to breaking the Emergency Public Law 1278, Sections 1 through 7, and 1282, Section 1 through 9.
The Judge (turning to Fawaz): You again, Mr Fawaz? Didn’t you learn a lesson from your last punishment? How long did you serve the last time?
Fawaz (stands): Four and a half months, your honor.
The Judge (shaking his head): You’re an intelligent man, why don’t you respect the law even if you disagree with it?
Fawaz: I obey a higher law your honor, the law of conscience. Nothing that collides with that law has priority even if it has the entire justice system behind it.
The Judge (to the prosecutor): Proceed.
Prosecutor (reading from a file): According to the criminal application by the Homeland Security, Mr Fawaz emailed his pamphlet to more than ten thousand college students without their consent. And that is not all. He ignored the public ban on the distribution of religious material to public students and openly opposed the law, passed by the national legislature, forbidding Muslim headscarves.
The Judge: Intolerable. What do you say to these charges sir?
Fawaz: Your Honor, I am guilty as charged, except that I consider it an exercise of my religious freedom to share my views with the public.
Prosecutor: It is the same old argument Your Honor, that has been competently refuted by the highest court. Mr Fawaz wants to depict himself as a heroic victim of religious intolerance, when it is abundantly clear that the law expressly forbids his conduct fomenting discord in our schools and universities, work place and public places.
The Judge (reading the complaint): Mr Fawaz, I advise you to get yourself a counsel. If you cannot afford it, the court will appoint you a public counsel.
Fawaz: I appreciate the offer your honor, but must in all earnestness decline what is meant to bestow legitimacy to an unfair law that seriously impinges on the freedom of my people.
Prosecutor: We recommend two years without parole your honor.
The Judge (writing his order): Agreed. But on second thought, depending on his good behavior, after one year he will be eligible for parole.
Fawaz: I thank you your honor.
The Judge: Have a nice day. You must consider yourself a lucky man mister. The prosecutor must like you, otherwise he could have recommended the maximum five years.
Fawaz: I thank him as well, sir.
[A prison. Cells around an open space in the center of which a circular camera hooked to the ceiling rotates. An alarm sound followed by the sound of cell doors opening. A few inmates step outside, Fawaz is among them and greet two other inmates and they quickly sit on the ground at a corner.]
First Inmate: We are ready.
Fawaz (looking around, cautiously): Are you sure?
First Inmate: Absolutely. (He turns to his friend) We talked about it and our decision has been made.
Fawaz: And you are ready for the consequences?
Second Inmate: It is an honor for us to go on a hunger strike with you.
Fawaz (pointing at another inmate): What about Salim?
First Inmate: He declined, thinks that it is a hopeless cause; that they will not give a damn whether or not we starve ourselves to death.
Fawaz: We do, and that should be sufficient.
Second Inmate: We agree.
Fawaz: Since we call ourselves political prisoners of conscience we are entitled to have as much drinking water as we request, and salt, and let’s hope they will go along, otherwise it will be over in less than a week.
First Inmate: We are ready regardless.
Fawaz: Just remember, the moment we announce it they will throw us in solitary and cut us off from each other and then they will put psychological pressure on you two in order to break you mostly with lies, by claiming that one of you has ended his strike and that it is a suicide – but you must stay strong. As long as we pray and keep to our faith nothing can break our will, I am certain of that.
(A sound indicating the end of the break is heard. Inmates return to their cells).
Fawaz (as he is breaking away from his friends): We shall start tomorrow morning, God be with you. Asalam alaykum.
(The cells are automatically locked. Four connected TV monitors drop from the ceiling and after a few seconds a program, Spice Channel, showing a soft porn movie. Light fades out).
[The same prison ‘quad’ except that the cell with the first Inmate has the lights on. He is facing Jacque M., the notorious prison psychologist.]
Jacque (sipping from his tall cup): You must think that I am here to change your mind, don’t you?
First Inmate: I don’t care why you are here.
Jacque: Why don’t you care? Am I not a human being? Surely Allah cares for all his creatures, am I right?
First Inmate: What do you want?
Jacque: The question is: What do you want?
First Inmate: Why do you think we want anything?
Jacque: One doesn’t go on hunger strike for no reason. I am simply curious why? Why haven’t you put forward your demands? We are beginning to think this is an act of pure madness, collective suicide.
First Inmate: Call it as you wish. I am oblivious to your rationale.
Jacque: But why can’t we have an enlightened dialogue about it? After all, you have been treated relatively well here, haven’t you? I mean, they haven’t thrown you in solitary, which they could have. And until today, they did not bother asking why you refuse your meal. Are you unhappy with the conditions here?
First Inmate: My unhappiness is not the cause of my action.
Jacque: Then what is, if you don’t mind me asking (sips again and notices the envy in the inmate’s eyes secretly desiring a bit of the drink)? How long is it now? Two weeks?
First Inmate: Seventeen days.
Jacque: Seventeen days. And how much longer will you last, on water and salt alone?
First Inmate: We figure a few weeks.
Jacque: We?! There lies your first mistake: A hunger strike is not a tailor-made prescription, it could severely harm your livers in a matter of days when your friends could go on for few more weeks, have you thought of that? (After he is ignored) Please answer me: had you thought about this point until now? I demand an answer, just for self-satisfaction.
Fist Inmate: Of course I have. What do you take me for?
Jacque: A martyr. Are you not a martyr, or trying to be one, honestly?
First Inmate: I am who God has made me to be, nothing less, nothing more.
Jacque: And God has made you, created you.
First Inmate: Yes.
Jacque: But what gives you the right to take away in your hands what God has bestowed on this planet, a life?
First Inmate: I am not giving you the pleasure of playing theology with me. Nothing you say or do will have the slightest result I assure you.
Jacque: If you are so determined, then why avoid talking to me? I am beginning to think that you are not all that determined, that you are feeling spiritually weak, that you have a hidden fear that I may actually get to you and break your determination to go on with this self-imposed torture.
First Inmate: Wrong, I am only physically weak; Allah has given me all the spiritual arsenal I need to protect myself against your Satanic manipulations.
Jacque: Fine. Now I am the Devil’s bidder for you. You are giving your adversaries too much credit I must tell you. (Looks at his watch) I have to go in five minutes and write my report, any idea what I should write to my superiors – about why you three are on a hunger strike without making any demands? Are you trying to make a point, and if so, what is it?
First Inmate: We are not expressing what is abundantly clear.
Jacque: But that is absolutely absurd. It may be clear to you but…
First Inmate: There is no but.
Jacque: What about your family, and friends? Don’t they have the right to know why you are slowly killing yourself?
First Inmate: That is my business not yours, or your superiors.
(Jacque stands and leaves his half-filled glass on the table, faces the camera and gestures, the door opens and Jacque steps out and after taking a couple of steps turns around and addresses the First Inmate)
Jacque: Are you sure you have an answer for my “theological” question?
First Inmate: What question?
Jacque: The question that only God can take what he gives, that you may be breaking that higher law you seem to cherish so much – if you let this destroy you. A conscious self-destruction is not a Divine act no matter how justified. Think about that (turns around and leaves. Lights out).
[The same prison quad. Jacque is sitting near the Second Inmate who is resting on his iron bed being examined by a male doctor. The doctor leaves the cell after giving a sad nod to Jacque.]
Jacque (to the Second Inmate): How are you feeling?
Second Inmate: Fine.
Jacque: Can I get you something?
Second Inmate: Yes, please. I would like to write a farewell letter to my wife but am too weak (points at the table). I started it yesterday but couldn’t finish.
Jacque (after picking the pen and paper and reading it): Would you like me to help you?
Second Inmate: I would appreciate it if you could.
Jacque: By all means. I am getting to be a pro in this. I helped your friend with his will as well you know, before he died.
Second Inmate: He died?! When?
Jacque: Two days ago. You didn’t see them remove his body?!
Second Inmate: No.
Jacque (throwing his hands in the air): What a pity. To die without making any demand, without posting even as much as a notice to your community why you are doing this? Are you trying to change the law? If that is the intention, why aren’t you taking advantage of all the media attention your cause has attracted and make a statement? I am not here to give you any advice, but, really, don’t you think the time has come to make a statement. Doesn’t your own community deserve to know why?
Second Inmate: I wish you would leave me alone.
Jacque: As you wish. But I thought you wanted me to help you with your letter?
Second Inmate: Only if you stop bothering me.
Jacque: You got it (prepares to write). Okay, shoot.
Second Inmate: When you talk to our child about why I perished as I did, please remember to shed no tears and…
Jacque (throws down the paper): Nonsense. I refuse to be an accomplice to your foolishness (stands ready to leave). When you depart to the heavens ask the angels to communicate your letter.
Second Inmate: God forgive you.
Jacque: He cannot. I am beyond his reproach.
Second Inmate: But not his sword.
Jacque: Well, dear friend, death is a cruelty inflicted on all of us, so what right has God to make any demands on any of us?
Second Inmate: Please leave. I have no listening for you.
Jacque: Your listening is not important to me, but the kernel of your faith, and your commitment to God, is, no matter how you misinterpret me. I have my own mission in life.
Second Inmate (half-raised): Your mission is an errand boy for the prison system, to destroy our faith and our will to continue this hunger strike.
Jacque: Well now, that is a step forward. To call it a hunger strike. Your friend never did you know. He just said it is crystal clear, that is all. But to say you are on strike, against something.
Second Inmate: Say what you like. I am not striking against anything.
Jacque: Then, for something, perhaps? But if so, what?
Second Inmate: That is for you to decide.
Jacque: But I am not in charge of your action. I, we, only react to what has been instigated here, an outrageous act of self-destruction by three repeat offenders who have confessed to their public crime, of transgressing the law, and have refused to make their demands known. It is sacrilegious. Farewell my friend. I hope God forgives you for your sin. For I am convinced that suicide, which is what you are doing, is not condoned by the Qu’ran.
Second Inmate: What do you know about the Qu’ran?
Jacque: Try me.
Second Inmate (gestures with his hand): Go. Leave me alone.
Jacque: Verily, God made you from a blood clot.
Second Inmate: Congratulations. How long did it take you to be a Qu’ran expert?
Jacque: Roughly eight years. But to be honest with you, it is only in the past couple of years that I have taken my Qu’ran classes seriously. Well, good bye.
Second Inmate: Qu’ran classes. You are taking Qu’ran classes?
Jacque: Exactly. That is part of my job to know the worldview you swim in, and to see if we can share the bathhouse of faith so to speak. Faith, you know, is the true water of humanity.
Second Inmate: They must give you a hefty salary to do this.
Jacque: I wish. Add this to all your other baseless suspicions: to think that I am paid to learn Qu’ran when it comes naturally to me to learn about other faiths. Come now, dear friend, step down from your pinnacle of cynicism some.
Second Inmate: I need some water. Can you please pass me the water?
Jacque: Surely. I wonder why your friend chose a dry hunger strike?
Second Inmate: He was a true believer. He knew it has to be true to strike at the infidels.
Jacque: You surprise me. His was a strike of an arrow piercing his own heart, no one else’s.
Second Inmate: That is how it shall be with me from now on (puts down the glass of water. Lights out).
[The same prison quad, soft porn on the TV screens. The door to the cell of the Second Inmate opens and two men carry his corpse on a stretcher and exit. A female reporter, Monique, and a camera man using his camera stand at a corner after a moment Monique stands in front of the camera holding a microphone, begins talking after receiving a nod from the cameraman.]
Monique: Today we witness another sad chapter in the continuing battle over the role of religion in the public sphere, with Salim Fawaz the third Muslim inmate on a hunger strike to lose his life. Just like his friends, Mr Fawaz refused medical treatment and died quietly in his cell after an incredible 53 days living on water and salt. But, unlike his fellow comrades who perished last month, Mr Fawaz granted us an interview which, I hasten to add, sheds much light on the motives of these Muslims.
(Lights out. When the lights come on again in a few seconds we see Monique sitting inside Fawaz’s cell facing him).
Fawaz: What we have in this prison is a small moving library. Our brothers are keeping alive, in their memory, what is banned in public, all the basic texts of our faith. In my last count, we have approximately 14 books…
Monique: That many.
Fawaz: Absolutely, but you would never know because of their memory eraser who calls himself the in-house psychologist.
Monique: What is the purpose when you know very well that all our laws, and our law makers, respect Islam.
Fawaz: Is this why they have banned anything Islamic? We simply look at the process and anticipate based on what has transpired. It began with the ban on Islamic symbols at schools, right?
Fawaz: And the whole argument, that government is laicist and should not promote any religion was soon utilized to extend the same ban at the public work place, am I right?
Fawaz: And if my memory is correct, Public Law 1280 was promulgated in the guise of a national referendum in order to convince the European Union that it is not all instigated by a bunch of overzealous lawmakers, am I right?
Monique: Well, you are assuming that the European Union did not favor the law. That is a matter of interpretation.
Fawaz: At any rate, the fact is that the Christian majority imposed the law on a minority, and it was thinly dressed as a wholesale opposition to public encroachment by all religions, right?
Monique: Go on.
Fawaz: And then came the parliamentary coup of two years ago, when the Muslim legislatures were censored because of their refusal to remove their scarves, right?
Monique: Well, it makes sense, don’t you think? Law has to be consistently applied, don’t you agree? Why should one corner of public space be treated differently?
Fawaz: That is precisely my point: that has been the problem with the initial law, 1278, since it opened the Pandora’s Box. And now you tell me that 1281 is getting close to being ratified.
Monique: Looks like it. After all, the public sector has always been a role model for the private sector in this country.
Fawaz: That is the kernel of this whole travesty, treating our religion like a disease and striking against it in one sphere after another in the name of secularism.
Monique: That is my next question: Are you on hunger strike to express your opposition to the secular policies of the government and the mistreatment of Muslims? And if that is the case why don’t you articulate it?
Fawaz: What is the point of articulating what has been jettisoned from the realm of possibility?
Monique: Are you saying that you have lost all hope? Don’t you think that it is still possible to reverse the momentum and change the law?
Fawaz: No, I do not.
Monique: I see. Thank you. I am finished, unless of course you have anything else to add. (Fawaz nods negatively. Monique stands to leave and then turns around). Just one last question, for my own curiosity? Why did you grant this interview?
Fawaz: I once saw you question the head of the Morality Police and told myself, ‘Now that is a hell of a reporter’.
Monique: Why, thank you. I remember that very vividly. Spector Grossjean. He was killed in the line of duty you know, just last week, by a teenage Muslim girl who refused to remove her scarf in the subway. Apparently she grabbed his gun and then tried to kill herself.
Fawaz: Did she die?
Monique: No, she is in intensive care. The right wing is quite incensed over it. They are now calling for a special power to search all Muslims in the streets. Dominique Lefort has launched a very powerful campaign to resurrect the death penalty. He says that is the only solution to growing Muslim terrorism.
Fawaz: Muslim terrorism, and what about neo-colonial terrorism, what about the smart bombs? Please give her my regards in case you see or interview that brave sister in the future.
Monique: No, sorry, Mr Fawaz. As much as I like you, I cannot do that. I would be accused of becoming your accomplice if I carried any messages from you to the outside world.
Fawaz: But you just did a whole hour of interview with me.
Monique: That is correct, and as I made very clear to you initially, whatever is deemed as a message, overt or covert, will be edited. But don’t worry. I have a lot of control over that. (She turns her face after hearing a loud voice, apparently from a guard: “It’s time.”) Well, I must go now. I wish you good luck.
Fawaz: Thank you.
(Lights out. When the lights come on again, Monique is facing the camera.)
Monique: One more note: We have just heard that Miss Al-Rafaat, the high school Muslim who shot Spector Grossjean, has also passed away, victim of her own gun shot wound. This brings the number of Muslim girls who have died violently to four since the January passage of the new law banning headscarves in public transportations. I am Monique Le Baron, Channel 2 Action News.
(The picture at the beginning of this article was created from an image found at http://www32.brinkster.com/compboi/compboi/gfx.html)