the other side of terrorism

There are some books that I root for, I want them to be good because they seem to carry an important message that might get lost due to too little or too much artistry. The premise of Jasmina Khadra’s novel The Attack is enormous, it deals with the causes of Islamist terrorism from a Middle Eastern perspective. The author is an Algerian army official writing under his wife’s name. The novel itself is like bag full of good and bad beans that have been mixed together and it takes so much effort to separate the good beans that you just want to set the whole thing aside. The writing is seeped in linguistic cliches and melodramatic, I wonder if the translation had anything to do with that, and the first person narration in simple present was quite awkward, it felt like reading a bad movie script at times. But still, the topic itself drew me in and despite its lack of artistry, the novel manages to capture the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the type of terrorism that is fostered in this vicious circle of violence and retaliation on both sides and of two ways of life that threaten each other’s existence. Unlike Western authors like Don DeLillo, John Updike or Martin Amis who wrote from the perspective of a terrorist, Khadra uses an in-between narrator: the clueless husband, a successful Palestinian doctor working in Israel, whose world is turned upside down when he finds out that his wife is a suicide bomber. I was quite disturbed by the Western authors’ ease when claiming access to the mind of a terrorist and I think Kahdra’s more indirect approach, the investigation the husband gets involved into after the shocking event, is a lot more effective and politically correct. It showcases the difficulty a non-terrorist person encounters in his effort to understand a phenomenon that is so foreign to most of us. The same effect is achieved by Orhan Pamuk in Snow, a novel that is beautifully written and constructed at the same time.

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