Bilal, 31 years old
“It was the dream of all of us, here: Lampedusa. And now instead the dream is Raqqa. The Islamic State. There’s no point in moving to Italy. You just end up in a street, in a tomato field, 20 euro for twelve hours and you are also in hiding all the time, all the time scared because you are illegal. And in France, in Sweden, what would be the difference? Even if you have a job, I mean, a real job, in Europe you are always an Arab. You look at a girl, and she calls the police. You are a guest, never a citizen. You have always to apologize for being there. But we don’t steal jobs from anybody, quite the opposite: we are the slaves who make your economy work. Why should I thank you? If you have what you have, it’s because I’ve nothing.”
“But nor there’s any point in staying here. Because at a glance we look the same, it’s true, life, in Tunisia, is a normal life, this story, right?, of the only country where the revolution has been successful – but look at me again: I have only a Chinese imitation of what you have. The same jeans, the same leather jacket… And instead it’s all fake. It’s not leather, it’s plastic. We look the same, but I go back home tonight, an hour’s drive away, in a place that is not the Tunisia you know, is not the Tunisia of your Lonely Planet, it’s a cesspool where I have no electricity, I have no hot water, only a mattress on the floor, in the cold, a mattress and some blankets, that’s all what I have, and because nor I have a job, actually, that’s fake, too, and not only because I’m an engineer and I’m working as tourist guide, but because with what I get I can barely pay for the bus to come here, how can I afford a house? – I go back home, in the evening, and I feel nothing. Nothing. I am 31, and I depend on my father for the cigarettes. Should you even look at me, I couldn’t look back at you, because I have no money for a coffee together. I have nothing, I can only return here, tomorrow, and live another shitty day like today. I am nothing.”
“I believed in the revolution. Of course I believed in the revolution: but it was all to no avail. You say that Tunisia is stable, but it’s not stable, it’s stagnant. I have no future whatsoever here. Nothing. Everywhere else you are in your twenties and you are full of energy, you have a thousand projects, a thousand ideas. Starting a business, getting a PhD. Settling in a different city. Or maybe just a trip, a holiday. A new car. But what about me? I can only see life through tourists. While I talk of Hannibal, of Carthage, while you look at mosaics: and I look at you, in the meantime, I look at your tailored shirts, perfect, your bags, the latest iPhone, and this silky skin, your skin, yes, this skin with no wrinkles, these fingers with no remnants of grass, of topsoil, the fingers of those who don’t have to break their neck to make a living, I look at you, and I imagine this life that I will never live, all the things that for you are so normal, the kids, the office, a football match with friends – I look at you and I hate you. We were wrong. We believed our enemies were Ben Ali and the like, and instead we had all the world against, because when 62 billionaires own as much wealth as half of the world’s population, when a whole country like Greece is starving, and it’s Greece, it isn’t Somalia, it’s Europe, then it’s not a matter of Ben Ali and the foreign bank accounts of his wife: it’s that you all have to give up something. If I don’t have anything, it’s because you have everything. But we hadn’t got it. We hadn’t got that we couldn’t win only in Tunisia, because it wasn’t only about Tunisia. It wasn’t only about toppling a regime. Because you say you support democracy: but when the Egyptians casted their vote for Morsi, you forced in power al-Sisi. We failed not because we wanted too much, but too little”.
“And so when I saw Sousse, last June, I decided: I’ll leave for Raqqa. Because you think that with the Sousse attack, with the Bardo attack, Isis ruined tourism and Tunisia, you think that that was the plan, actually, that all our hardships come from Isis, that their goal was to destroy the only successful revolution: but I was already poor. For me nothing changed. Tourism is not enough. And plus, it’s humiliating: you spend all the time in your luxury resorts, you venture out only to get a souvenir, with these sixty-something solo women who try to lure young men… We are just objects for you. They invite you for dinner, dressed up like their granddaughters, half-naked, with no dignity, they whisper you: Stay with me. You think that money can buy everything: even love. And anyway it all goes to tour operators: to your tour operators. We get only leftovers. Colonialism never ended. Why do you think Tunisia is so poor? Because we are illiterate? If we are poor, it’s first of all because of the European Union. You pretend to be the champions of free market: but then you back your farmers with subsidies of all sorts, you cut costs, and while imports are forbidden, they can export here at prices we can’t compete with. For free trade, you mean your freedom of producing and selling, and our freedom of buying and running into debt. You should study the Monetary Fund, rather than Islam, the multinational corporations. You shouldn’t focus on Raqqa, but on Brussels. But what do you think? That it’s our fault? Under the Ottoman Empire, you Italians were the migrants who reached penniless our shores – and nobody ever shut the border“.
“But all this, fortunately, is nearly over. You think of Isis and you think of the extremes, the beheadings, things that by the way, are typical of any war – I think of Isis and I think of justice. I think of a society governed by the wisest, by those who master the sharia law rather than the strongest, those who are cunning enough to stay in power. I think of a humble society, that’s trying to start from scratch, a society where everything is still possible – and perhaps we will fail, again: but at least we’ll try to be free. To be better. Because I don’t want to become like you, I don’t want to go through a revolution to end up believing that money can buy everything. That money is everything. To keep your privileges, to buy a new iPhone every six months you are ready to keep hungry the rest of the world. That’s your society, that’s your culture, it’s not Kant and Rousseau. You don’t notice its violence because it’s a sophisticated violence, bloodless, but it’s as fierce as ours. Blood is the violence of the poor. And I have no alternative. I’ve nothing to lose. Thanks to 9/11, we exist again. If that’s what you need to understand, to see us, you’ll get it”.
“Because you were expecting the killer, weren’t you? You were expecting the infidel-hater… The nut with an unhappy childhood. I’m only an engineer. I am only a guy who got his BA with first class honours, and read of the 62 billionaires on the Guardian exactly like you. You believed I am the Middle Ages, right? And instead I’m the future. I’m much more dangerous”.