Home / news / A leftist critic of the left and a Jew who defends Palestine … the Tunisian freedom fighter Gilbar Debate and literature on tobacco leaves

A leftist critic of the left and a Jew who defends Palestine … the Tunisian freedom fighter Gilbar Debate and literature on tobacco leaves

In Paris on Saturday 26 December 2020, at the age of 81, the leftist Tunisian thinker Gilbar Al-Nakkash, who wrote his song Love of Tunisia on tobacco paper behind bars and cells, passed away, the organic intellectual who imprisoned the prison in the words “crystal”, and wrote his legend He and his companions are in the “Dias” room 17, bypassing the classifications and divisions.

The icon of the Tunisian struggle was born on January 15, 1939, in the Tunisian capital, at the height of colonialism and the beginning of the maturity of the national movement.

He began his struggle career when he was a student at the university, then this experience deepened by establishing him with a group of Tunisian students, from various intellectual, national and Marxist currents, in France in 1963, the “Collective of Studies and Socialist Action in Tunisia” known as the “Perspective” horizons movement relative to the magazine that he was Issued by this regulation.

This movement arose in circumstances marked by severe political closure, especially after the decision to ban the Tunisian Communist Party, and after the escalation of the pursuit of the Yusufi movement, in reference to its founder and leader Saleh bin Youssef, who was assassinated in Frankfurt in the summer of 1961.

Return to Tunisia

After completing his postgraduate studies at the National Agricultural Institute in Paris, Gilbar returned the debate to Tunisia, and his return coincided with the decision to transfer the activity of the “Afaq Movement” from Paris to Tunisia in 1964, which soon became the most active movement against President Bourguiba.

In June 1967, the movement participated in the demonstrations in Tunis after the outbreak of the Six Day War, denouncing the weak position of the Tunisian regime at the time, during which a number of its activists were arrested.

Gilbar was an actor and leader of these movements and demonstrations, and he was among those who were arrested in 1968 and tried for belonging to the “Perspective Movement” and received harsh sentences in the eyes of everyone. He was severely sentenced in 1968 to 14 years imprisonment due to his political activities, and he was subjected to various types of torture and abuse, before he was released. After 10 years, he remained under house arrest and was subject to administrative control.

During the reign of Ben Ali, restrictions and censorship followed him as a result of his biting writings, critical opinions and opposition activities, so he pushed into exile in France and remained in his exile, and did not return to Tunisia until 2011, during the Tunisian revolution.

A Jew is victorious for the Palestinian cause

Although Joseph Gilbar al-Naqqash was born into a Tunisian Jewish family, and despite his Jewish affiliation and origins, he was one of the fiercest opponents of the Zionist movement, and one of the biggest supporters of the Palestinian cause in his stances, writings and opinions.

On every occasion he had the opportunity to denounce the racist and inhuman Israeli practices, because he was hostile to the Zionist movement as a racist colonial movement, which he translated into his radical stance from the Oslo Agreement and all subsequent agreements and treaties that try to jump on legitimate Palestinian rights and mislead Arab and international public opinion.

My left slams the left

After the revolution, “papy”, the name he was called by his friends and comrades, continued his struggle and contribution to the political movement, writing, opposition and critic like his own.

And because he is frank and reconciled with his conscience, he was the first to withdraw from the “High Commission for the Achievement of the Goals of the Revolution, Political Reform and Democratic Transition”, which was established a few months after Ben Ali’s escape, and was headed by the constitutional jurist, Ayyad Bin Ashour.

He also criticized the draft law on fortifying the revolution, and believed that it should not be adopted except within the framework of the transitional justice law. On November 16, 2016, in a watershed moment in Tunisia’s history, Gilbar was heard as the first witness in the first public hearing organized by the Truth and Dignity Commission, in which he narrated the torture and harassment he was subjected to during the reign of Habib Bourguiba and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The late thinker was among the few leftists who dared to criticize the left and its Tunisian symbols, such as Hamma Hammami and Shukri Eid. He called for reviewing and criticizing “some of the outdated leftist ideas” on which such left-wing parties and organizations are based. He also warned against the dictatorship of the proletariat and revolutionary chaos.

Nevertheless, the debate remained a model for the organic intellectual who favors the people and triumphs for their causes, saying, “There is a Tunisia that is represented by politicians who aspire to power and whose goal is power, and there is a Tunisia that is represented by the poor and marginalized popular groups, and I have triumphed and sided with the people.”

In one of his dialogues, he stated, “There is neither left nor right, there are only those who are in power or seek to rule and are eagerly behind the authority to achieve their benefits, and on the other hand there are those who sacrificed and carried out the revolution and are waiting for the revolution to raise awareness and restore rights and achieve social and political justice until the nation revives and revives. Tunisia”.

Writing on tobacco leaves

Gilbar Al-Naqash was fond of reading and writing before he entered prison, but his creative odds opened in prison on the whips, in defiance of the psychological and physical torture and the intolerance of mocking his jailers and torturers.

The story he wrote for his first works and his first masterpiece, the novelist, “Crystal”, is an interesting and unique story in itself. The discussion was writing the details and events of his novel on the covers of cigarette boxes smoked by the prisoners, representing the sign of Tunisian “crystal” cigarettes, in light of the imprisonment being surrounded and preventing them from reaching the prisoners.

But the young leftist overcame all these difficulties, and wrote “Crystal”, which was the first book of prison literature in Tunisia. In all of that, he tried to date an important stage in Tunisia’s forgotten history, and wanted to write his torments and those of his imprisoned comrades, on the tobacco leaves that the people smoke, who is biased towards the people and victorious for their causes even in the simplest details.

It is as if he is imitating the Palestinian artist Naji Al-Ali when he shouts, “I am accused of bias, and this is a charge that I do not deny. I am biased to whom they are (under), to those who are victims of deception, tons of deception, types of oppression, and the stones of prisons and detention centers.”

In addition to “Crystal”, in which storytelling and fiction are mixed with the writer’s autobiography and reality, Gilbar has had several other publications, such as “The Sky on the Roof” in 2005, and “What did you do with your youth?” 2009, “Prison Stories” in 2010, “Towards Democracy” in 2011, and “Penguin, and Other Stories” in 2013, in addition to many articles, critical and intellectual studies, testimonies and dialogues.

Room 17: Al Zindali and Beethoven

In the long, cold winter nights in Burj Al-Roumi prison, Gilbar Al-Naccache and his companions used to chatter, discuss and sing, trying to forget their physical pain as a result of the torture they were subjected to during the day, in order to elevate their spiritual estrangement and their painful reality.

In this general atmosphere, and in Room 17, which is the largest isolation room in Burj Al-Roumi prison, which gathered prisoners of conscience from the Afaq movement and the rest of the Tunisian leftist organizations in the 1960s and 1970s, it was in this atmosphere that the art of “Zindali” was born as a cultural expression, popular art, and the hymn of the marginalized and the oppressed. And unjustly imprisoned, and the song “Dissat”, which is the French name for Room 17 of the prison, was born.

Although everything in the life of the debate is covered in ideology, as he evokes the story of the birth of this song, he says, “We asked the comrades to compose a song that sings about our prison diaries and room 17, but on the condition that they stay away from direct political and ideological speeches, resonant slogans and excessive heroism.”

The song came out as the discussion and his companions wanted, automatic, simple and sincere despite its deep humanitarian messages between the lines. Yabees bin Yahya / Bilad al-Naqqash and Ibn Khazir sits in my blood alive / Here is the town in the direction of my Lord. They took him out from Larrya / Your love and love healed me, you will be well and well.

Among the great deep messages of these words and the poem “Zindaliya” is the stubborn defiance and the optimistic dreamy romantic soul filled with joy, in which this pure Tunisian folk art “Zindali” was mixed with classical European symphonies. Gilbar and his companions translated all this by singing these automatic words on the beat He composed the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

This choice of discussion and his companions was not arbitrary, because this symphony and the fourth movement are among the most beautiful quotes and controversies between music and poetry, and the famous German musician Beethoven inspired his symphony from the beautiful poem of his compatriot, the poet Friedrich Schiller, born in 1786 under the title “The Song of Freedom”, before he changed Some of its passages and its name in 1803 became “The Song of Happiness”. Beethoven liked this poem very much, and he was inspired by his ninth famous symphony, which appeared in 1824.

The intentionality and symbolism of Gilbar’s choice of discussion and his companions this melody and this symphony is confirmed when we read the following passage from Schiller’s poem and note the great spiritual congruence between the two texts: Joy included the displaced and those who separated them from the two events / For all people are brothers in your wing / O Al-Farah / Let people embrace each other / This kiss I send to all people.




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