Read the German version of this article here
My fried has Zied died. Aged only 33, he lost his life in a fight against the Syrian army.
Zied Kanoun was a Tunisian revolutionary. And he was a jihadist. Two years ago, he left his wife, Betty, and their baby to fight Syria’s dictator Bashar al-Assad.
But which side to join? Zied wandered about, trying out the Islamic State, al-Nusra (an al-Qaeda offshoot) and others. "For more than two years, he searched for people in Syria who shared his convictions (whether they were wrong or right, only God knows what was in his heart)," Betty wrote to me. "But he never found what he was looking for. He drove a small truck transporting injured people to the border so they could be taken care of in Turkey. He even did a first aid course for that. He used to drive all night – eventually he could have driven the route with his eyes closed, he knew every street."
One time, Zied told Betty on the phone that he could never get over what IS had done. "Right up to his last day he avoided any conflict with innocent Muslims, whether Sunnites or Shiites; he was fighting against rapists, child murderers and criminals."
In order to understand the young man, you need to know his background. Knowing that, you learn a lot about the generation that freed Tunisia from dictator Ben Ali.
Zied was a computer scientist. He met his wife through the two passions they shared: computer games and heavy metal music. Then there was Facebook, a world of communication and exchange of thoughts and ideas. Under a dictatorship, that almost automatically meant subculture, counterculture, opposition.
In the fall of 2010, Zied was one of the brave young people who broke through the enforced conformity online by telling the truth about the regime, making videos and organizing protests like flash mobs for example.
In January 2011, Zied was part of the revolution. He wanted to live in truth.
But then politics set in.
Power had to be newly defined, as after every revolution, and thus began the time of coalitions and compromises. Zied and tens of thousands of other revolutionaries remained on the attack, supported by the paupers in cities and towns. They besieged the seat of government in Tunis and ousted several consecutive interim governments before the election of the constitutional assembly on October 23, 2011.
The moderate Islamists of the Ennahda party finally won Tunisia’s first free elections. Zied was excited; he viewed political Islam as an alternative to the morally corrupt former regime. But he noticed already – like many others of his generation – that Ennahda was also playing the political game, reaching out to former enemies. We discussed this several times; I welcomed the development, he was outraged. And he became more radical.
When we met for the last time in November 2012, I was shocked to see how things had developed. Zied had become a jihadist and was preparing to take up arms against al-Assad, "in defense of Muslims," as he put it. He was still the same elegant, good-looking, lanky guy, in western clothes and without a beard, interested in all arguments. He was even respectful in his debates with me, though I am an outspoken atheist and according to his Salafist interpretation of the Quran might rightfully burn in hell for all eternity.
For months, we kept on arguing and discussing topics on Facebook, even when he was in Syria. We could barely agree on anything anymore. Not on Israel, not on Sharia, not on freedom of opinion or in art. What united us was our contempt for kleptocracies and police states – and the quest for truth and the right way to live.
Now his friends are missing him.
Translated from German by Franziska Roscher