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The Usual Suspects

A journalist investigates a mysterious murder in Casablanca, home to the last Jewish community in the Arab world. An excerpt from the forthcoming The Honored Dead.

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Casablanca, Morocco. (Abdelhak Senna/AFP/Getty Images)

He waves the back of his hand in the air like a flag and goes on with his lecture: “I think you will find that we honor the human rights of our citizens and do not tolerate any infractions.” Then he leans in my direction only slightly. “Have you seen anything that would lead you to say otherwise?”

I stumble again for a suitable response, fearing for my status.

“Because if you have,” adds the deputy, “we would launch a full investigation, and if necessary, we would fire the man who did it. We are very proud of our record here. You know, now there is a complaints division and anyone can file a complaint about a policeman to the king. Praise God, no one has ever complained about our precinct.”

“But tell me have you seen anything,” Sharqawi persists, “anything at all that would tarnish the good reputation of our precinct? Last night, for example, during your expedition into the shantytown?”

“I only just got here, Lieutenant,” I reply. “I’m here for the big picture.”

This appears to placate the chief. His eyes close briefly and he nods his head. He opens them again and smiles broadly.

Something tells me the beating I witnessed last night is the last police beating I’m ever going to see in Casablanca.

“I often wonder, you know, why the Jews love our kingdom so much,” Sharqawi says. “Can you tell me? Because I really want to know.”

The answer, not short, is a mystery to many Moroccans. I break off a little piece of it: “The late king, Muhammad V, God have mercy on his soul. He saved Morocco’s Jews from the Nazis.”

“God have mercy on his soul!” Abd al-Jabbar chimes in.

“And God have mercy on your parents,” the chief tells me. “You are welcome here—welcome, welcome.”

I ask him again about the murder.

“It was last week,” he says. “We all worked very hard last week. A man was found—in a warehouse, beaten to death with a stick. There was a lot of blood. Not all of it was his. I got there and I was afraid, deep inside, that we would not find the man who did it. But by the grace of God Almighty, and by the grace of the forensics police, and by the grace of the detectives here at our precinct, we were able to catch the perpetrator within three days and persuade him to confess. Praise God.”

“Three days, by God!” Abd al-Jabbar says. “That is a very long time in Casablanca.”

“You know,” the chief cuts in, “if you want to see an example of how we operate, you can read our file on that killing.” He hands me a staple-bound, 13-page document in Arabic with a red stamp on the top of page one beside the heading:

Judiciary Police in Ayn Sabaa–Al-Hay al-Muhammadi, Casablanca
To: The honorable prosecutor for the king
Subject: Deliberate murder and Prescribed theft

“This is a secret document,” he adds. “For your eyes only.”

I fold it up and put it in my briefcase.

“Let’s have lunch,” the chief suggests. “I bet you never ate Berber food.”

The chief ushers his deputy and me out the office door and locks it behind him. I follow them into the car parked out front and wonder, having read so many raucous headlines about murder, rape, and grand theft all over the kingdom, why a 13-page police file about a common homicide should be designated “secret.”

Joseph Braude is the author of The Honored Dead: A Story of Friendship, Murder, and the Search for Truth in the Arab World. His writing has appeared in The New Republic, Glamour, and Playboy, among other publications. This is excerpted from The Honored Dead by Joseph Braude. Copyright © 2011 by Joseph Braude. Reprinted by permission of Spiegel & Grau.

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Eileen P. says:

As Captain Renault observed, “Life is cheap in Casablanca.” Apparently that is still true.

Gideon says:

It’s SO good to see an article by Braude. I used to enjoy his stuff so much during the period when he did pieces fairly often at The New Republic. Thanks for publishing this.

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The Usual Suspects

A journalist investigates a mysterious murder in Casablanca, home to the last Jewish community in the Arab world. An excerpt from the forthcoming The Honored Dead.

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