Abdellahi AHMED MAHMOUD
Writer, Visual artist
I love travelling, discovering new people, new places and new cultures. This passion has grown up with me till today. I cannot miss any chance to start a new trip and a new adventure. Before arriving in France at the end of 2014, I had this crazy plan that I discovered later, would be impossible. I had a plan to traverse Europe with my backpack, my maps, my diaries and my camera, to help nurture for my artistic and literary projects. It is clear that now it is the wrong time and all the circumstances are not helping at all. It is the wrong time because the terrorists succeed in taking Europe into this hysterical fear circle of all what seems to be Muslim or related to Arabs or Islam. On the other hand, the rising of the extreme right has taken Europe into another fear circle of all what seems to be African or looks like immigrants All of this comes while the continent is still suffering from the economic crisis. This is Europe today, a union that the challenges prove its weakness, which is in danger of dissolution, extreme right winning the elections, the policies that made from the social problems security challenge, foreign policies following blindly the American one and the terrorists who are taking the war into Europe through their terrific horrible actions using the anger of some marginalized and excluded young people who have never been given the chance to feel their belonging to these countries and these societies. It doesn’t mean that, there are no other reasons and circumstances whether they are religious or social that create this terrorist and radicalized groups and individuals in Europe, but we shouldn’t minimize the social issues and keep playing the role of the recruiters for the terrorists who are targeting our stability, liberty and values.
I was surprised when that young man who has never seen his parents’ original country but he is telling you :I am from that country. It is dangerous and the situation is terrible in France. The majority of the Africans and Muslims in Europe today are not immigrants anymore, they are the sons and the daughters of this continent, but the real danger is when we fail in implanting that feelings since the very first years in school. England for me is a perfect example in creating this social harmony the many of European countries are missing. It is the responsibility of the state, the different communities in the state and the intellectuals. I hope Europe will prepare itself better and will win the war at the end against this trinity of terrorism, extreme right and economic crisis. The exceptional situations are the real exam for the system and the European one is in need to prove itself.
To sum up all of this, Europe is lost and “has” lost, in front of the challenges of economy and security . This failure in facing the real problems from social integrity, equality and managing the international and geopolitical politics ends up in hysteria that's putting in danger all the values that this continent stands for such as liberty and human rights. This was not Europe that I planned to discover from its north to its west. To walk its small streets, to experience its slums, its trains and to explore its history . It is not Europe that I wanted to visit to feel Descartes, Kant, Picasso... All these great people who changed the course of history and humanity by their incredible inventions and thoughts. It was a privilege when I arrive at that building next to Sorbonne University and saw : Descartes lived here from to ... it was such a great feeling, I heard that name when I was a student in secondary school and it has been engraved in my mind. It is hard perhaps to understand that, arriving at that place was on the top of my list to do in Paris. I left Paris to the "Rhone Alpes" area. The beautiful city was drawn in terrible feelings of fear.
I started my project of traveling, just me, my camera, my diaries, the friends that I made all over the world during years of travelling and hosting travelers, who are waiting for me for a coffee; a small party to remember the old days before letting me go on my way discovering with my way and an amount that's barely enough to cover all the cost with always a percentage of risk. Many small accidents happened with me, but the most serious were:
In Italy, it was a raining Sunday morning. I was so glad that I will get the chance to attend the ritual of mass in the Christian center of the world (Vatican) , what a pleasure! I got off at Saint Pietro station after a whole night traveling in the train. All was ready to take great pictures and feeling the spirituality of the place. I took some friends to mosques and some friends took me to churches. It has been always for me been about diversity, discovering and cultural exchange. I didn't know that being there will be a suspicious. Some people are preparing to pray, others just witnessing and taking pictures. It seems we are there for the same reasons. I had a small chat with a Spanish tourist and was talking with her about my short visit to Barcelona, before preparing myself to leave. On my way back to the station, a policeman called to me : documents... I gave him my passport. He took his time, and mine, after checking the passport from the first page till the last one, he asked me my phone and started checking my pictures one by one. I wondered for a moment is it his right to check all of that. Where is my space of liberty and privacy? Some may say you should have defended it. In that case the easiest is to find yourself detained in that scenario. In a very stupid way, he picked a picture in my phone from the Vatican's main building (St. Peter) and asked me : “this photo because?” He meant to ask: why did you take that photo? I told him with a very misplaced smile - because I was frustrated - : all people are here to take such pictures. This policeman in contrary to the others didn't write down my information because his two friends were not interested and one of them told him at the very beginning : this is a photographer traveler let him in his way. He replied without any word, he just showed him the name and told in a lower voice a sentence where I found two words: Muslim , Arab. That's when I said : Europe is lost, the terrorists have made it.
For the terrorist it is a success to kill innocent people and destroy some places, but the real success is to create this amount of fear and this feeling of insecurity. I am afraid they could do create this environment of fear.
Just, in the second day I was heading with my brother who has an official passport and in official training by IAE. I was just trying to be stupid to understand what is going on, I told myself : yeah, with your dark skin in comparison, your hat, the jacket and the sunglasses of your brother you really look like unauthorized immigrant. I was just trying so hard to understand the reaction of that policeman who jumped out from his car demanding’ us to give the documents. On his face, he was like saying : I caught them it is a big hunt. I told myself also the beard although the way of dressing is far away from being similar to those who they are looking for. Anyway it was a desperate attempt to understand. I have never been told that visiting the Vatican or some popular places in Italy is not permitted for people like us. Don't ask me please how do people like us look like? Perhaps asking those policemen might be more fruitful. He took the passports and for more than 30 minutes we were there looking through the window and he was making calls. At the end he asked our address and wrote it down. Is that his right? Some may say yes including me, but that is the problem nor the question here.
You can imagine the feeling when you are coming with your camera, your friend, your bags, you paid your money , you paid with physical exhaustion and at the end you are suspicious because of your look , your name and any other very superficial criteria. It seems just someone wants to tell you : it is not your right to travel, nor to take pictures, you don't deserve it. You are either a terrorist or an African immigrant without papers. You just think about getting out of a place like that whether it is a country or a continent that might be better than being pushed by this way of treatment to a real terror career. It is giving the terrorists two victories: when they did their horrible action and when we help them to recruit more, what's has already happened and happening with many. If someone wants to persuade you that you are terrorist, looking at you as or a terrorist or a terrorist project one day you will be. The days I spent I was waiting every single moment for a policeman who will pick my face from the crowd as a terrorist or immigrant, to catch my long Arabic Muslim name and that seem to be enough for him to check my bags, my photos, my personal diaries and to call the intelligences and after all he will write down my information. The only answer you can get is you are suspicious because of your features and your name because you look like African or Arab with a Muslim name simply because there is no other possible answer.
I headed back to France, the police came and were checking everyone's document and that is fine focusing of course on those who are not Europeans (I mean their grand grand grand fathers are Europeans). They took my passport, but as they did with others they didn't do with me. Yes I have the stamps, the residency and I am a student it is clear, but still, he needs to write down the information: the name and the address. Can anyone tell me what the suspicion here? Just the name. Should my mother for example had given me a name like : Jack or Mike ? My dad should have had been a white man with a pure European features ? Should I put on a big Cross to tell everybody that I am not a Muslim? It is just simply and in two words stupid and crazy. These things seem to be hard to change, so should I just shave my beard? But many non-Arabs non-African non-Muslims have very long beards. Someone tell me what should I do? What can I do because, I think I am getting to the conclusion : the only solution is to stop traveling and waiting for the day to get out this lost Europe.
I have no problem about writing down names and addresses even checking the very personal bags and photos even underwear if you like at every single moment. Although, we know all that the world is condemning the surveillance, this is not surveillance it is like you are accused and there is no way to prove your innocence. The serious question to pose and the real problem is that, you can be the next victim for a presidential candidate who wants to show his heroic achievement in fighting terrorism or to create it. They may pick some names they have and put them in jail, announcing in the media that a terrorist operation are expected from the intelligence sources, and just before the election : the great victory against terrorism and the capturing of the terrorists will be announced. It is our world today, it happened and it is happening. A Mauritanian has been in Guantanamo for more than a decade for no other reason than he has been labeled by the Mauritanian security as terrorist in a political deal with the United States. Yes, I mean it is all about creating stories for the media and picking up names randomly. It is not just about this, at some point it becomes racism and all the European extremist right ideas. So it is not that surprising FN has invaded the departmental election in France.
Having Europe in this hysteria and insecure position is already a victory for the terrorists.