As part of “Dutch History Month,” Abdelkader Benali has published a book on Dutch-Moroccan pirate Murat Reis and his personal connection to a centuries-old story of migration.
Rabat – Dutch-Moroccan Author Abdelkader Benali on Thursday published a book on pirate Murat Reis for the Dutch “History Month” that takes place each October. Every year a Dutch foundation that promotes reading asks one author to write a short book on Dutch history. Benali chose to write about a centuries-old tale of migration between the Netherlands and Morocco.
The book, titled “Reizigers van een nieuwe tijd,” or “Travelers of a New Time” in English, tells the story of Murat Reis. It is a gripping tale that combines modern immigration with the fall of Al Andalus and the Dutch independence war against the Spanish.
The Rif native’s latest book links the adventures of the Dutch sailor-turned-Moroccan admiral to the author’s personal migration history. Benali, who emigrated from Morocco to the Netherlands at age four, sees his story as intrinsically linked with the experiences of Reis.
“I was born not far from where the Spanish came ashore in 1515 with malicious intent,” is the first sentence in Benali’s tale of the four-centuries-old story of Murat Reis, once known as Jan Janszoon. The Dutch-Moroccan author skillfully ties the fall of Granada in 1492 with the 80-year Dutch independence war and his father’s emigration to the Netherlands in the 20th century.
Benali describes how his parents’ village in the Rif mountains emptied as locals were recruited to work in Dutch factories. He retells the experience of his mother who witnessed the town empty until there was only one person left. The man guarded the local cacti, she told him.
“Travelers of a New Time” illustrates the differences between Benali’s perceptions of Europe and Morocco as he travelled back and forth on family vacations. He links the poverty he witnessed in the Rif in the 1980s with the legacy of European colonialism and the 15th century reconquista of Granada.
The Dutch-Moroccan author traces his heritage back to Morocco and Algeria and links his family’s history with important European events, such as the 1936 Spanish Civil War. Benali follows his roots and explains how Europe and the Maghreb are linked through war, colonialism, and migration.
Benali describes current day human traffickers, shipping migrants from Morocco’s coast to Spain, as a modern evolution of piracy. “The pirates have never left,” he writes as he laments the illicit industry that has formed around irregular migration. He describes Tangier as the last stop on the ancient Sahara route from Timbuktu and contrasts this with its modern role as a trade hub between continents.
In his book on the history of Dutch-Moroccan pirate Murat Reis, Benali paints Morocco as a country of second chances. The country provided a second chance for the Saphardic Jews who Catholic Spain expelled, for Granda’s last ruler Boabdil, and for the Dutch sailor who would become Murat Reis. Benali makes an interesting analogy by calling Boabdil the “first victim of a rule that would reap victims on every continent,” in reference to Spanish colonialism.
Benali’s beautifully crafted version of the tale of Murat Reis reflects his literary genius as well as the close connection he has with the subject. His story is likely to inspire Dutch-Moroccans in the Netherlands and help Dutch people grasp the close connection between the two countries.
“Travellers of a new time” is currently only available in Dutch but will hopefully be available in other languages for a broader audience in the future.