On the 24th of April 2023, Kamel Daoudi celebrated a bitter anniversary. He had been under house arrest for the last 15 years. Having spent more than six years in prison, Kamel’s freedom was either totally or substantially restricted for almost half of his life. His troubling story was told in a book he authored, published in May 2022: “I am free…within the perimeter assigned to me”. Consisting of a series of thematic chapters commenting on his experiences, the text sheds a comprehensive light on a case of unjustified confinement. His experience is symbolic of the failings of the War on Terror.

The shadows of the past

Strangeness of the foreigner who never wanted to assimilate to the best possible values: those of the pax occidentalis.

Born on the 3rd of August 1974 in Sedrata, Algeria, Kamel moved to France as a 5-year-old child and has lived in France since. A young adult who graduated in IT and mechanical engineering in the 90s, Kamel struggled in a country infected with systemic racism. Despite his degrees, his professional career was unsuccessful due to France’s rejection of his Algerian identity, preventing him from attaining financial stability for years. But the deeper conflict lay in a legitimate identity crisis accompanying his coming-of-age years. French colonialism, despite being defeated through liberation struggles, still defined the Nation’s system of rule, affecting the lives of its perpetrators and victims’ heirs. At this time, Kamel discovered the scars France inflicted on his lineage. While exploring his familial background, he discovered the engagement of his father and grandfather in the Algerian struggle for independence. He also discovered their destinies: the French tortured his father, and assassinated his grandfather.  These newly found intimate memories cemented Kamel’s need for answers required to find meaning. The author’s personal story told in the book illustrates a wider truth.  France never reconciled itself – and never attempted to – with its past crimes against humanity. Contempt and indifference betrayed France’s unapologetic acceptance of its horrendous past, preventing Algerians from healing from the traumas it inflicted on them. At the dawn of the third millennium, for Kamel and an entire generation of Algerian Muslims, the quest for belonging, meaning and freedom was not complete. It was a remnant shadow of a tormented past.

The ideal culprit 

After the 9/11 attacks, I was erected as the ideal culprit. The figure of the suspicious bearded monster whose malignant intelligence left no room for doubt.

In 2001, Kamel went to Pakistan and Afghanistan to learn about his faith. He resided in Jalalabad for a few months and returned to France by the summer.  The War on Terror started only a few weeks after, drastically shifting the West’s perspectives vis-à-vis the Muslim subject. Paranoid suspicion, punishment and control now shaped how Nation States addressed Muslims. The book recalls this drastic change and, more importantly, describes how this new perception materialised itself in the case of Kamel. 

Despite leaving for the UK, fearful that his past acquaintance with a Muslim detained and tortured in the UAE – Djamel Beghal – might lead to his arrest in France, Kamel was nonetheless arrested and sent back to his adoptive country. Once there, authorities used the excessively broad range of their anti-Terror legislation to drag him into the case of Beghal. The latter was accused of and sentenced for plotting the destruction of the US embassy based on testimonies he gave under severe torture and abuse. Concomitantly, Kamel was convicted of “criminal association in relation to a terrorist undertaking”, an imprecise charge severely criticized by human rights organisations. He was stripped of his French citizenship and banned from French territory, meaning he would be expelled once his sentence was served. 

Terrorist: I don’t wear this mantle. A falsified visa, a four-month trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and certainly a binary way of thinking rejecting the complex world that lacerated my eternally wounded exile’s heart makes me guilty. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

His short residence in a Muslim country now torn by war, his spiritual quest, his familial lineage, and his peaceful acquaintance with a Terror suspect turned him into the perfect culprit. Across the West, States identified scapegoats to quench their thirst for vendetta. Kamel became one of them. 

Daoudi aptly depicts the absurd situation he – and so many others – found himself in.  Under the War on Terror, facts were superseded by Islamophobic narratives fueled by anticipatory anxiety. These narratives, now acquired by the judiciary, justified unjust sentences. 

Imprisonment of a “dehumanized animal”

“The guards wanted to subdue me, to annihilate me to neutralise what was made of me: A MYTH. Seven years in prison, including four in solitary confinement. I didn’t come out of that ordeal unscathed.”

As a Muslim convicted of Terror charges, Kamel Daoudi’s imprisonment was synonymous with constant abuse. His Qur’an was desecrated, cigarette ashes were put on his frugal food, he was forced to endure frozen showers in winter, walks were cancelled without reason. During Ramadan, while being in solitary confinement, guards once delayed the delivery of his meal well past after iftar time, as a punishment for his opposition to their constant Islamophobic behaviour. During his time, he was made aware of two suicides and heard 3 inmates beaten by the guards.

“Given the media coverage of my case, they didn’t “suicide” me, but they would have done it without scruples if it had been up to them.”

In 2008, he was freed and sent to an administrative detention center – like a “dehumanised animal” – waiting for his expulsion to Algeria, his native country. Yet, the European Court of Human Rights prevented France from expelling him to Algeria (as he could be subjected to torture once in Algerian custody) before it could definitively rule on the case. As a result of this legal paradox – a foreigner whose presence on French territory and expulsion to Algeria are declared illegal – he was placed under house arrest by the French State on the 24th of April 2008. 

15 years (and counting) of “traumatic harassment” under house arrest 

Kamel gradually describes the regime he lives under since his release. He has to sign at the local police station multiple times a day (four times at first, now reduced to two). A delay or an absence of signature – even when reasonably justified – is punished with imprisonment. In 2010, he was sentenced to 6 months in prison for having missed a signature: he was driving his pregnant wife to a clinic for a sanitary emergency.  

He must remain inside the administrative borders of the municipality he resides in – a municipality the State can change at will. Since 2008, the State changed his place of residence 7 times, without mentioning any motive for its decisions. Religiously married, father and stepfather, his family cannot live with him anymore, unable to follow the regular residency shifts imposed by the State. As working is prohibited – and quite impossible with his conditions anyway – he relies on his family’s financial support.

He is also subject to a curfew from 9 pm to 7 am. He was imprisoned in 2021 for missing it by 25 minutes.

The signing system leads to psychic fatigue and automatic responses that further underline the absurdity of this conditioning, designed to consolidate power. 

This absurd routine has devastating psychological effects, as it describes a life without any “goal or perspective”. Out of fear of the consequences of a potential miss, paranoia became a daily feature of Kamel’s mindset.

The continuous repetition of meaningless tasks becomes a daunting exercise, a “traumatic harassment” reminiscent of the Greek myth of Sisyphus, forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down every time it neared the top. Constant absurdity and humiliation further deepen the dehumanising effects, a process that paradoxically salvages his physical ability to sign in and respect the curfew daily. 

The imposed repetition of humiliating tasks (…) makes the human mind switch off to allow the body to perpetuate them. (…) Dehumanisation becomes a solution for the one resisting the repetition of absurd tasks.”

A confined yet radiant light

I am free… in the perimeter assigned to me” describes the nightmarish real-life tale of a man forcefully isolated, subject to the eternal suspicion of the State. Like the character depicted by Kafka in his novel “The Trial”, Kamel faces an absurd system designed to strip his basic rights away from him, with no valid reason. His very sense of self, his humanity has been disregarded for the last 21 years. His case is the extreme token of the consequences of the War on Terror on the Muslim subject: dehumanised and ostracised, empathy for him is rendered impossible by the draconian levels of suspicion surrounding his persona. 

The text produces a double-edged feeling. On one hand, the recollection of the story fosters a feeling of anxiety due to the description of physical and mental confinement. The reader is forced to gasp for air, deeply troubled by an absurd yet real story. On the other hand, however, the remarkable elegance and sharpness of his style prove the survival of a brilliant and unbroken mind. Style, as French philosopher Buffon said, truly is the “man himself”. Kamel Daoudi’s writing demonstrates an intellectual incisiveness he was able to cultivate in unexpected inner spaces of mental flourishment – despite a two-decade-long forced confinement. 

Despite the constant vicious and shapeshifting abuse, Kamel Daoudi remains a man in the most honourable sense of the word. He was able to start a family. He became a father. He was able to find enough energy and determination to write a book and share frequent subtle political commentaries in a Mediapart blog. The entire text is animated by a furious life impetus of a man who never fell prey to despair. 

Hence, his tale is first and foremost one of courage. For his own family and ourselves, Kamel Daoudi is a model of resilience. His necessary testimony spiritually empowers its reader as the author teaches us how physical confinement alone is not enough to asphyxiate a determined breath. He embodies the famous quote (mentioned in his book) of another ostracised model for mankind, Nelson Mandela:

Honour belongs to those who never forsake the truth even when things seem dark and grim, who try over and over again, who are never discouraged by insults, humiliation and even defeat.

Kamel Daoudi’s book incarnates the radiant light emanating from a just struggle. Its confinement cannot hinder its shining. 

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)