Rachid Benzine: “The child reopens possibilities”

Roj camp, northeast Syria, February 2022

“Journey to the End of Childhood”, by Rachid Benzine, Seuil, 82 p., €13, digital €9.50.

Journey through childhood, the new novel by political scientist, Islamologist and writer Rachid Benzine, is the story of Fabien, a young Frenchman who loves poetry and is pionate about football, whom his parents take to Syria to join the Islamic State organization (Daesh). For four years, Fabien discovers indoctrination, war, then the Al-Hol refugee camp, in Syrian Kurdistan, where children of all nationalities survive in destitution and violence.

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When did you imagine this book?

I followed the Daesh phenomenon through the narrative that the terrorist group offered. While working on the subject in 2014-2015, particularly in prisons, I met parents whose children had gone to Syria or Iraq. I questioned them. March 23, 2019with the defeat of Daech, we saw that we could destroy the physical territory of the so-called “caliphate” but not the territory of the spirits. Then there was this poll who said that nearly two out of three French people opposed the return of the children of French jihadists, who found themselves in camps. With all the material I had, especially children’s words, I wondered what a child who finds himself in these camps could tell us today. A child who is both a victim of the decision of his parents and of the French State, which does not want his return.

Fabien was raised in Sarcelles [Val-d’Oise]a town known for its diversity…

I wanted a child who leaves Sarcelles with a whole imagination. A child whose school would be called Jacques-Prévert and who would love poetry and his teacher, Mr. Tannier. A child who would have a Jewish friend named Ariel, and many other friends. When the novel begins, Fabien awaits the day of glory when he must recite his own poems in front of the cl. But that day never comes, because his parents decide to take him on a big trip to Syria to join the Islamic State. I wanted to tell the war and the horror seen through the eyes of a child. With the innocence, the astonishment and the words of a child, who only wishes to return to Sarcelles, to see his friends, his grandpa and his grandma.

Fabien speaks in a very direct way, which makes certain pages of this novel unbearable for the adults that we are. Fabien disarms us with his unprejudiced naivety. He summons us as parents and leaders. It summons our childhood, with which we have never finished. Because our childhood carries us. For me, it’s a promise. And here we are witnessing a promise that is prevented.

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