On Tuesday, March 14th, the DISSIDENT club hosted the book launch of its founder, Taha Siddiqui’s first graphic novel, aptly titled ‘Dissident Club’, after the bar in Paris which he has run since January 2020. Siddiqui is a Pakistani journalist living in exile in France after surviving an attempted kidnapping and assassination in 2018 in his home country.
The graphic novel, co-written by Siddiqui and Hubert Maury, a former French diplomat turned writer and illustrator, follows Siddiqui’s life before coming to France.
The launch kicked off with a roundtable discussion led by Frank Marguin, the book’s editor at Glénat, the publishing house. The participants included Christophe Deloire, the Director General of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Stephanie Lebrun, the founder of Babel Press and Director of Centre de Formation des Journalistes (CFJ), and Alberic de Gouville, the Editor in Chief at France24 and President of Maison des Journalistes. Siddiqui and Maury, the co-writers of the book also joined in on the discussion.
“Growing up in an Islamic country, drawing humans was forbidden. So for me, even to tell my story in a graphic novel form, is an act of resistance”, Siddiqui said while explaining the process of creating the novel.
The roundtable discussion explored topics of democratic rights, the threats journalists face, and the importance of stories like Siddiqui’s.
“The Dissident Club [graphic novel] is evidence that journalism can save you”, said Deloire of RSF during the roundtable discussion. “This may seem contradictory, knowing that Taha risked his life for his work, but journalism is the tool which holds those in power accountable, and it is a commitment for freedom”.
Lebrun from the Babel Press, explained her experience working with Siddiqui on several issues including that of the Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan. “We were almost attacked once for reporting on this subject, [but despite the challenges] it is so important to work on projects like this as a journalist”.
As Maury, the illustrator of the novel, put it, “religion and the military are the two core principles on which Pakistani national identity is based. In his work, Siddiqui challenges both”.
Siddiqui’s story, his life and mission today is one of immense courage and resilience, and the graphic novel provides an insight into his experiences.
“The madness of the story, with all its sad, happy, and astonishing moments, made it an incredible journey that needed to be told visually”, Maury explained.
But the story of Siddiqui is not unique. Journalists around the world risk their lives on a daily basis to expose the human rights violations and the oppression by authoritarian governments around the world.
“There are less and less countries where we can work freely, and more and more countries without journalists on the ground,” Lebrun stated. “Even in democratic countries such as France or the United States, in-depth investigative and challenging journalism is being drowned out by fake news and manipulation of information. Journalism is increasingly taking on the form of communications, and losing its role as the bastion of civil and human rights,” she further added.
The launch of the graphic novel, ‘Dissident Club’, at Siddiqui’s bar, DISSIDENT club is a fitting tribute to his commitment to freedom and his fight against oppressive regimes, participants agreed. “It is really impressive how Taha continues to work towards promoting freedom of press through this bar, despite the threat and trauma he faced for his journalism in Pakistan”, said de Gouville of France24 during the round table event.
The bar, while being a traditional place serving food and drinks, also acts as a crucial space for journalists, activists, artists etc. from around the world to come together and share their experiences, form new networks, and build support systems.
At the end of the discussion, Siddiqui spoke of his plans to do a follow up novel, featuring dissidents he met at the bar from China, Russia, Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey.
Dissident Club is available for purchase at the bar, and all across bookstores in France.
Report by: Leah Koonthamattam, team < the DISSIDENT club >