Put in these terms, the question is intriguing. And yet, Taha Siddiqui’s career came up against this choice. Taken in the spiral of religious indoctrination, the young man who will attend the universities of Karachi will discover journalism. The reporter profession will turn out to be an initiatory journey.
Taha Siddiqui, Pakistani journalist exiled in France recounts his journey in a comic strip dissident club and in particular, how the profession of reporter saved him from religious indoctrination. An album in partnership with Reporters Without Borders and franceinfo.
Osama Bin Laden’s poster would have existed, and brought back to the scale of a Western culture, the young Taha Siddiqui would certainly have displayed it in his teenage bedroom. A true outstanding figure of youth at the end of the 90s and the beginning of the 2000s. Taha’s life begins in Saudi Arabia, in a loving family with a good social level. But the father frequents the mosque of a radical imam. And over the weeks, the rules at home will change to follow Islamist precepts. The prohibitions multiply.
Initially, the little boy, who sees the father figure as a compass, follows his father’s precepts. Osama, a great man, and jihad in Afghanistan, a quest to grow. Taha will attend the Koranic school, but finally, thanks to a move of the family to Karachi, the young man will attend more progressive schools, in particular the university.
He will distance himself from the paternal discourse, and in love with a Shiite student, will not understand the reasons for this impossible love. Seeing each other is only possible clandestinely, and when their relationship becomes serious, the young woman disappears. Religion has come between them. This disproportionate weight of religion, Taha questions it with his friend Shiraz. Much more laid back than Taha, Shiraz breaks the rules.
And then, one day, when Taha doesn’t know what to do with his life, his father traces a future for him in finance, to manage the business he will leave him, the student discovers journalism by chance. The Prime Minister makes a speech at the university, after which he will hold a press conference. The fire of the questions impresses Taha. He then talks with a reporter who talks to him about journalism as a counter-power, it’s a click.
Taha Siddiqui has just found his calling
First in the local media, then combining his skills as a financial analyst and his love of journalism, he became a consultant for the CNBC channel, before being hired by GeoNews. He crosses paths with two French journalists, Julien Fouchet and Sylvain Lepetit, with whom he will work on a report for Correspondent. “The Polio War” will receive the Albert-Londres Prize in 2014. In the eyes of his father, journalism is nothing if not a decadent activity, his son is a lost cause, and the pride of bringing back an award does not change that .
Taha then continues on his way. Bureau chief of the Babel Press agency, he conducts surveys for the New York Times and the Guardian and covers the series of attacks that hit Pakistan. He will meet Shiraz, his rebellious student friend, who has become docile and ultra-religious. Freedom of the press is restricted. The authorities put pressure. Taha fears for her life. As he makes his way to the airport to catch a plane for London, he is kidnapped by heavily armed men in Kalashnikovs, he will only owe his salvation to a traffic jam, his unlocked door, his audacity to open and run away.
He will return to Paris with his wife. We are in 2018, April 5th. On April 5, Taha Siddiqui publishes in the Guardian an open letter to the head of the Pakistani army reproaching that for lack of freedom of the press in Pakistan, he can no longer live in his country. The same year, he launched a digital media platform, Safenewsroom, open to journalistic investigations carried out in the countries of the South East.
In Paris where he does not know anyone, he opens the Dissident Club, a café open to all dissident journalists, expelled from their countries, to those who espouse their causes. His story, he tells it in a comic strip published by Glénat: Dissident Club, chronicle of an exiled Pakistani journalist and it is fascinating. If Taha had not come across the profession of reporter, would he not have yielded under the pressure of a society that makes the individual a religious person, by infiltrating family, friends, schools, authorities, associations?