Square (real or virtual?) Mehdi Ben Barka

So what’s new in Paris? Walking the streets, not far from where I stay, I come across a new sign that says: “Square Mehdi Ben Barka.” It is kind of a sad afterthought of a sign, it looks out of place or in the wrong place, for there is no square here to be seen: this is simply the intersection of the rue Bonaparte and rue du Four in St Germain des Près. Ben Barka’s dates are also given: 1920-1965.

The Radical Moroccan political leader was abducted in October 1965 in front of the (much more central and visible) Brasserie Lip on Boulevard Saint Germain not far way from here — but far away enough to make this belated well-hidden remembrance plaque just another whispered comment on the sad travesty of justice the whole affair was. Mehdi Ben Barka was abducted by French secret police working with French gangsters and in cahoots — or rather under the orders of — Hassan II’s murderous secret service units led by general Oufkir (who wld be disappeared/killed later after he led a failed putsch attempt on Hassan II). Ben Barka was then tortured and killed in the process, most likely with the collaboration of all the above, plus the CIA. Forty years after the kidnapping and assassination, no court had brought any of the criminals in the case to justice — even if most them have either shortly after the vent or some time later been killed under unexplained circumstances.

The well-hidden new virtual “square” could be seen (& that was my own first reaction) as a slap in the face of those who gave their lives in the struggle for independence from colonial and neo-colonial regimes. On the other hand, the very fact that such a plaque now exists (even if its wording reveals nothing of the tragedy & travesty of the situation) is a step forward. Searching the web I was able to find out that it was unveiled on 31 October 2005 by the mayor of Paris in the presence of Mehdi Ben Barka’s widow and their four children. There’s a useful Wikipedia entry for Ben Barka for those who want to find out more.

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