I’d like to tell you about my new book, The Honored Dead.
It’s 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 the 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.