We Nonetheless Have Phrases evaluation – two fathers come to phrases with terror | Autobiography and memoir
Georges Salines and Azdyne Amimour lost a child in the Paris attacks on November 13, 2015. Salines’ daughter Lola and Amimour’s son Samy were in the Bataclan concert hall that evening. One was killed, the other was one of the killers who blew himself up on the scene. Both were 28 and compatriots.
Lola, who grew up in France, Martinique and Egypt, worked as an editor of children’s books. She loved sports, travel and rock music. She lived with her friend Agathe and her cat Billy. Samy was more of an introvert. The son of a Franco-Algerian family, he began studying law at university before getting a job with the Paris Public Transport Authority. In 2013 he fought as a jihadist in Syria. His father had tried in vain to stop him.
In 2017, Samy’s father contacted Lola’s father and asked him to see him. At the time, Salines was the head of an association of survivors of the November 13th attacks. Confused at first by Amimour’s request, he was curious about what the terrorist’s father had to say to him. After their first meeting in a cafe near Bastille, the two men stayed in touch. Together, and with the help of political scientist Sébastien Boussois, they agreed that their conversation would be published as a book: We Still Have Words, translated into English by Jonathan Hensher, is being published this week at a time when France is not yet finished and is more Islamist Attacks.
The ease with which these two fathers ask each other questions and listen to the answers is inspiring and moving
Before that first meeting, Salines, a doctor who works in public health, asked Amimour what he would like to discuss. He replied, “I want to talk to you about this tragic event because I feel like I am a victim because of my son too.” Others would have been shocked, but luckily Salines had attended a conference at the Quilliam Foundation in London a few months earlier. There he was moved to tears by mothers of jihadists who had been invited to speak and shared their terrible burden of guilt.
He thought that if some parents of terrorists were complicit in their children’s crimes, as they raised them, others were innocent. Salines found the prospect of meeting the man whose son may have personally murdered his daughter uncomfortable, but he overcame his reluctance. “I was deeply moved by our meeting,” he recalls. “Azdyne is a lovable character with a remarkable life story that gives an immediate impression of humanity, a great love for life, for tolerance and for self-taught culture.” The men stayed in contact. For Amimour their conversation was “a form of therapy”, a way to “condemn violence in the strongest possible terms” and “to help in the name of Islam, in which I believe”.
On November 13, 2015, it was a few months since Amimour heard from his son, who had fought with the Islamic State two years earlier. That night Amimour was in Liege, Belgium, where he runs a clothing store. He closed the shop early so he could watch a soccer game – France versus Germany. Georges Salines had seen his daughter Lola at the swimming pool earlier that day, where they occasionally swam together during their lunch break. “We didn’t talk about anything in particular. Unless you have reason to believe that you won’t see each other again, don’t say the things that really matter. “Salines didn’t ask her what she was going to do that evening. Amimour asks Salines to tell him more about Lola. The simplicity and ease with which these two fathers ask each other questions and listen to the answers is inspiring and very moving.
One day the son yelled at his father, “If your business is not going well, Dad, it’s because you are not praying enough.”
When Salines asks Amimour to tell him what could have led to Samy’s involvement in the Bataclan atrocity, Amimour recalls revealing details. At around the age of 15, Samy always felt uncomfortable around his parents, who were non-practicing Muslims. Amimour was running a bar in central Paris at the time, and he sensed his son’s disapproval. He refused a glass of beer his father had given him. “I could see some kind of hatred in his eyes.” Samy became interested in religion after a Belgian imam, who was later discovered by Amimour, got ties to a jihadist recruiting organization. Then Samy dropped out of university. One day the son yelled at his father, “If your business is not going well, Dad, it’s because you are not praying enough.” For Amimour it was “like a punch in the stomach”. Salines asks if Samy was discriminated against as a child because he was an Arab in France. “He never complained about being called a ‘dirty Arab’ or anything like that,” says his father. “He was surrounded by diversity and tolerance. We lived in a four-story block in which from one landing to the next one could find families of all origins – Moroccans, Algerians, Romanians, French, Portuguese. “
We Still Have Words is most effective when both fathers tell each other their family stories: how they met their wives, how they became families with three children each. Both men are Mediterranean, salt pans from Sète in the Pyrenees, Amimour from Annaba in Algeria; both are warm-hearted and share a very French fraternity despite the circumstances. Amimour worked hard his entire life, first in the film industry, on Claude Chabrol films in the 1970s, running bars in central Paris, owning clothing stores in Belgium and always traveling. “An absent father,” he admits to Salines.
The book ends with letters from Amimour to Lola and from Salines to Samy. “Our life down here was what mattered because it’s the only one there is. I am sorry that you did not know that, I am sorry and I am sorry that you have inflicted so much damage on an illusion “, writes Salines, while Amimour Lola says:” Your life became murderous for you Ideology stole … did it I am failing in my job as a father? I thought I was raising my son well … I’m sorry Lola … We have to fight to make sure this can never happen again. “
Agnès Poirier’s latest book is Notre Dame: The Soul of Paris (Oneworld, £ 16.99)
• We still have words from Georges Salines and Azdyne Amimour, translated by Jonathan Hensher, published by Scribner (£ 12.99). To order a copy, go to guardianbookshop.com. Shipping costs may apply