Here is one of those stories—and the story of how this world is being transformed, one life at a time.
Joseph Braude is the first Western journalist ever to secure embed status with an Arab security force, assigned to a hardened unit of detectives in Casablanca who handle everything from busting al-Qaeda cells to solving homicides. One day he’s given the file for a seemingly commonplace murder: a young guard at a warehouse killed in what appears to be a robbery gone wrong. Braude is intrigued by the details of the case: the sheer brutality of the murder, the identities of the accused—a soldier—and the victim, a shadowy migrant with links to a radical cleric, and the odd location: a warehouse owned by a wealthy member of one of the few thriving Jewish communities in the Arab world. After interviewing the victim’s best friend, who tearfully insists that the true story of the murder has been covered up by powerful interests, Braude commits to getting to the bottom of it.
Braude’s risky pursuit of the shocking truth behind the murder takes him from cosmopolitan Marrakesh to the proud Berber heartland, from the homes of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the country to the backstreets of Casablanca, where migrants come to make fortunes, jihad, and trouble, but often end up just trying to survive with dignity. The Honored Dead is a timely and riveting mystery about a society in transition, the power of the truth, and the irrepressible human need for justice.
Joseph Braude on THE HONORED DEAD
This book is about a murder in the Arab world. It’s about the Arab detectives who cracked the case. It’s about why the murder happened, and why the police tried to cover it up. And it’s about the culture and politics of North Africa and the Middle East that formed the backdrop to the killing.
But at the heart of this book is the story of a man who lost his best friend and couldn’t go on with his life until he learned the reasons why.
I met him a few years ago when I was embedded, as a journalist, with a police precinct in an underclass section of Casablanca, the largest city in Morocco. I was there to get a street-level glimpse of an Arab security service and its strained relationship with the people it controls. Though the language and customs were different, in many ways what I found was much like life in the American inner city: poor families struggling to survive, young people trapped in a cycle of stark choices, and the global scourge of drugs and crime.
The remarkable man I met there is Muhammad Bari--unemployed, 57 or so, with a wife, eight kids, and some cats. Every morning after prayers in the local mosque, he used to meet up with his best friend, a homeless man named Ibrahim Dey. They would pass the time together in a rundown coffeehouse, watching Al-Jazeera and talking about anything and everything. One night, Ibrahim Dey was killed--beaten to death with a stick, in the warehouse where he had been sleeping for the past five years.
The cops told Bari it was a common homicide, a robbery gone wrong. They told me the same thing. But Bari didn’t believe it. He said he was sure there must be a dark conspiracy behind the crime, involving terrorists, drug cartels, or both. I wasn’t sure what to make of his theory at first, but something about Muhammad Bari and his sadness touched me deeply, whether what he believed made sense or not. Maybe I was moved because I had once lost my best friend too. Maybe I was ready to entertain the idea of a conspiracy because, back when I worked on counterterrorism cases for the FBI, I learned some dark secrets myself.
Muhammad Bari wanted to reinvestigate the crime, right under the noses of the Moroccan police, braving the authoritarian system he had learned to fear since he was a child. He felt it was the only way he could hope to regain his peace of mind, and the best way he could imagine to honor the memory of his friend. His plan was daring and revolutionary in a part of the world where state secrets are viciously guarded. It seemed like a sign that change might be stirring in North Africa.
Bari knew his plan would put him in jeopardy. He wanted me to help.
As we drew closer to the secret behind the crime, our assumptions about friendship and our own lives began to unravel.
“The Honored Dead is a rare treasure in which every word does quadruple duty. It’s a crackling whodunit, an incisive political thriller, and a vivid travelogue, told by a complicated, memorable, and eminently likable protagonist. Spectacular.”
—Dan Baum, author of Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Death, and Life in New Orleans
"...one of the most affecting, sympathetic accounts of Arab culture in recent memory.” – Kirkus, starred review
"A scholarly and perceptive observer, Braude intersperses the cloak-and-dagger narrative of the murder mystery with digressions on Morocco's history, geopolitics, and culture; the country's rich Jewish heritage; the role that magic, sorcery, and dream interpretation play in Moroccan society. This lyrical and engrossing book puts a human face on this 'moderate, constructive player' in the politics of the Middle East, giving readers a firsthand glimpse of its glittering religious, intellectual, cultural history--and its future."--Publishers Weekly
“One of the smartest nonfiction titles for summer reading ... Journalist Joseph Braude draws on his unusual experience embedded with a Moroccan security squad to tell the story of a murder investigation that becomes a fascinating journey into the backrooms and byways of an Arab society.” – Christian Science Monitor