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Prune Antoine: The girl and the Mujaheddin

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Djahar is pleasantly different. Prune meets him on a summer day at a bathing spot not far from Berlin. This is the starting point of a friendship between a feminist and a guy who is about to become a salafist. This is also how the first book of French journalist Prune Antoine begins.

Anyone who is expecting a typical love story between a young emancipated French girl and a luscious Salafist has got it wrong - and probably doesn’t need to continue reading. La fille et le Moudjahidine (The girl and the Mujaheddin), the debut of novelist Prune Antoine, is definitely not a boring love story. But it is neither the story of one of those young women in Europe, who vanish only to reappear in Syria as a Jihadi wife supporting the Holy war. Far from from it.

Prune, a Berlin-based freelance journalist who just turned 30, decides to go get a sun bath at a lake in the surroundings of Berlin during a nice summer day in 2013. Djahar, who is in his early 20’s, sits with a few friends not far away from Prune. His parents are from the Caucasus region and moved to Germany when he was a young boy. She is the typical Berliner expat who lives in the hipster area of Prenzlauer Berg and “works in the media”, whilst he is an asylum seeker, who aborted several apprenticeships and graduated with a “certificate in life lessons”. At first sight, they have nothing in common. Except maybe that they are from different cultures. And that they both ended up at this lake in Germany, for different reasons nonetheless.  

„Slivka“ and Clyde

Djahar is different though. He is a what you would generally call a chav. He brags passionately about his love of Mixed Martial Arts and affectionately calls his new friend Prune “Silvka” (for plum - “prune” in French). Prune Antoine, who trusts to find a good story with this character, and who has been in Djahar’s home region for work before, is fascinated by this young person. As soon as she receives his first whatsapp message, she follows the lead: The new duo meets up in a council estate in a small town in Eastern Germany, where Djahar lives. He invites her to have dinner with his skeptical family. “What interested me most was the story of his integration in such a different culture and his relationship to violence in a German society where you are closely watched”, she writes in the preface to her book.

One day, Djahar starts to grow his beard. With pride, he shows Prune the famous video of the beheading of American journalist James Foley in Syria. He now wants to join the Holy War, and stays in front of his computer for hours. He has nothing that keeps him in Germany. Suddenly, a one-way ticket seems to be his only escape from a country he doesn’t feel he belongs to. Despite these clear warning signs, Prune was never really scared, she says. “Otherwise I would have stopped. I might be curious, but I also tend to be a scaredy-cat.”

“Lots of people also asked me whether both characters had a romantic relationship,” Prune explains. “People generally have a problem believing that a friendship between a woman and a men is possible”. This real and sincere friendship between the two contradicts the usual stories running in daily newspapers. In those stories, the same plot always repeats itself: Those of the radicalisation of young Europeans, who end up leaving for Syria. It is also this genuine friendship between both characters which makes this story so bold and charming.

Beyond the story of both characters, Slivka and Djahar, “La fille et le moudjahidine” also puts an emphasis on German society and on a broader scale of integration policies in Europe. Everywhere in Europe, anti-immigrant voices have risen, and have been successful in getting noticed - to the point that some of their ideas are taken over in political party programmes. “Especially in Germany, the amount of racist comments and physical violence against immigrants has increased - often followed by the self-righteous explanation that “no one is allowed to say anything any more”. For Prune Antoine, those comments have become mainstream among the xenophobic and populist movement Pegida or Legida.

Above the religious component, it was the friendship which opened Prunes eyes about the difficulties to reconcile two cultures. “How can you not become bipolar when trying to both respect the traditions of your home region and those of your chosen country of residence?” It is this schizophrenia that Prune often describes in her articles and in her blog plumaberlin. Maybe this is also why she decided to publish Djahar’s story, against all odds and doubts. Because “all those Djahar’s in this world do say a lot about our own Western societies, in which we give them the opportunity to live.”