Al Thaqafa Al Maghribia - No 15 - August 16, 1938.

This morning I felt some apprehension after receiving a letter stamped from Salé's post office. I told myself that what I have been worrying about has arrived. No doubt this was a letter addressed to me by the people from Salé to threaten me and bury me with insults. Or perhaps it contains a satirical tract by which that man of letters from Salé makes a mockery of me. After a long hesitation, I unsealed it and noticed it was from the editor of the magazine "Al Thaqafa." It was written in a Middle Eastern style which did not surprise me since the Moroccan journalistic profession requires its journalists to write in the fashion of its Egyptian brethren. I was able to read its contents only after spending much effort to decipher its wording. That said, we should agree to pay the price to imitate the Egyptians. I learned for the first time in my life that I am called "Master" because in this country any person who publishes is attributed this title much like any person who dons the "Selham" (hood) of his djellaba is given the honorific "fqih" (traditional schoolmaster).

The letter's author began by stating his wish that I would no longer be "heedless." I was delighted to learn he no longer desired to consider me to be among the "heedless youths" against whom he boiled with anger. I read on thinking either he was feeling pity or he was to reward me for my article or even perhaps he feared me .... But after reaching the end of his letter, I was disappointed to find out that he wanted, in a play of words, that I not remain incognito. The readers, he wrote, insisted strongly on this point, asking questions about who was this heedless youth and absolutely wished that he divulge his name.

No, Mr. Editor of "Al Thaqafa" magazine. You are tossing a banana peel at my feet, a means for you to take revenge. Ever since I snapped at Salé's man of letters and criticized poets imprisoned by rhythm and rhyme, you have wished to throw my name at their feet so they could denigrate me with satirical essays. And, the Lord knows how competent they are in that exercise. Meanwhile, you would huddle quietly in your corner saying, "Oh how sweet is revenge!" If you think revenge is sweet, remaining anonymous is even sweeter, more delicious and especially more beneficial for me! Why should I not hold on to my lifeline when I have come to learn that Salé's man of letters has amassed a large quantity of words that rhyme, that he has sharpened his knife waiting to hear:

"Here is the heedless youth who makes fun of you behind a curtain."

so he can fold up his sleeves and say:

"Bring that insolent youth to the slaughterhouse."

Who knows? Maybe I will be put on a spit leading to who knows what. Perhaps to satiate his fury and vanity. I will not reveal my name. And if one day he finds out my name, he will realize that it is a name much too long and twisted to lend itself to rhyme and poetic cadence. He is better off to not waste his time to search at all costs for who I am. Instead he will do better by seeking the guardian angel who had abandoned him. That would be time well spent!

You must not be carried away, sweet literary figure from Salé. Don't forget you were the cause of this problem and, as one says, "he who lives in a glass house should not throw the first stone." It was you who said that the angel guardians were abandoning the "heedless youth". You were the one who stirred the hornet's nest.

May the Lord forgive you, Mr. Editor of "Al Thaqafa" magazine, for attacking the heedless youth labeling them with all kinds of faults and deficiencies. And then, when one of them rose up in anger and began behind a pen name to publish explicitly and implicitly his defense, you ask him to unveil his identity so as to inflict the worst of punishments! How could I ever set foot again in Salé once the people there learn that I am the one who only spoke up to underline their errant ways?

No, Mr. Editor of "Al Thaqafa" magazine, I was only joking lightly. Those who think that I have poor esteem for Salé and its people are wrong. I view Salé as one of the most charming cities and one dearest to me even though you are from there. I have several loyal friends there and wish to preserve their friendship, a friendship which I owe them in return. Because of them, I always feel a bit of nostalgia with regards to Salé. I feel at home when I am there. Many of them feel the same way about Fez. If Fez was not in my eyes at the highest level, a paradise on earth, then I would readily say that Salé could be Fez, albeit smaller but with all its charm, fine qualities and elegance.

That said, not all our friends from Salé were as outraged as some readers might have imagined. One "heedless youth" from Salé who recently visited Fez told me, "Quite a few of us, members of Salé's scholastic youth, totally support the comments made by the author who responded to the article "Heedless Youth." The editor of "Al Thaqafa" could cite the asylum at Sidi Benacher all he wants, all those who deign to criticize him should be allowed to do so."

No, Mr. Editor of "Al Thaqafa" magazine, let me stay heedless so I can live happily with peace of mind in my modest home threatened by decay. Otherwise how do I protect myself from the Administration....the Department of Ancient Monuments and Fine Arts especially after I have found out that the guardian angels for poets and authors visit my home, spirits of my books' authors emerge and jump from the shelves morphing into physical entities that move like cartoon characters? Can you protect me from them if I list my home as an outmoded old relic of a building that one can neither sell or remodel without a special authorization that is granted only after endless negotiations? What will happen to me should I wish to sell books from my library because I am obliged often to use this last resort? I can already hear the library voicing its opinion once it recognizes me:

"What business have people to do with bewitched books where the genies of their authors emerge, jump from shelves, yell at and fight with each other?"

In addition, why would people be interested in knowing my name when I have never written anything to merit their praise? On the contrary, I wrote only to accomplish one task, and it is a thankless one ... as we all are "reservists for what is right" as the Egyptians would say. I believe I have acquitted myself as best as I could. I achieved the goals I set for myself and gathered all I could of my bounty.

During the course of your first campaign orchestrated against the "heedless youth", you had relegated them without exception to the bottommost rung of ignominy. Now in your response you have begun to recognize that "those who have a mindset for reform in the fields of science, literature, economy and societal issues number in the single digits." Praise the Lord! This is the first very laudable step towards a more complete recognition. Furthermore it is pleasing to note that only one satirical essay from a "heedless youth" led you to revise your outlook.

However... may man be influenced more by critique than by pure logic or by irrefutable proofs. Sheikh Mohammed Ti Mamoun Chenguiti, may the Lord rest his soul, wrote in his book,"Heartfelt Moments": "Hats off to the people of Fez, for their way of thinking." And yet, I still refrain from arguing nor do I cite any of the actions brought to bear on the "heedless youths."

I have another decisive argument that I would have brandished in case you would have persisted in your attacks, knowing fully well you would be in no way able to refute it, no matter your obstinacy. How could you deny the merits of the Guessous Institute which this year had registered success without precedent and for which you never cease to be so full of praise? You continuously publish favorable advertisements as well as all kinds of related information about it. Did you not know that it's founder is a "heedless youth?" Can you deny this truth?

As for the public schools whose faculty is composed of graduates with a Masters or Doctorate diploma from universities such as "Al Alimiya", if they only produce "heedless youth" as you claim, then they have much in common with the Guessous Institute. This is so in as much as the founder and the vast majority of the faculty are all part of the group of "heedless youth." Perhaps you did not pay much attention to this point when you engaged in your campaign. But I have no doubt that you will find it a place in your parade, you whose open mindedness allows you to embrace all issues.

Astonishing! One essay from an "heedless youth" was sufficient to shake your beliefs and reduce your exaggerations to ashes. If I wanted to give free reign to my pen, you would have no choice but to lay down your arms and most humbly ask for forgiveness to a "heedless youth". But it would be painful to see you in that state. The heedless youth can be satisfied with whatever confessions it has drawn from you. Forgiveness by the winner of a cause comes naturally for free men.

No, Mr. Editor of "Al Thaqafa" magazine. I wish to live in anonymity. If you wish to engage in vitriol and launch missiles, to use your words, my pleasure will be none other than to reply with sarcasm and irony. To each his own temperament and style in life. Permit me to listen to what people around me say about this "heedless youth" and what questions they pose about his identity. They will stretch their assumptions and speculations for which only a sarcastic person such as I can enjoy. There is more power in subtle matters when they are cloaked in a halo of obscurity, mystery and ambiguity.

That is my opinion which I relay openly to you, Mr. Editor of "Al Thaqafa" magazine. But given your pleas, your wish and insistence as well as a respect for the eminent readers of your magazine, I am willing to make a concession and reveal my name.... my name.... No, Mr. Editor of "Al Thaqafa" magazine I don't feel I have sufficient intellectual courage to divulge it.

Let me be.

I am only a
heedless youth
from Fez,

Ahmed Bennani.