You’re a young man who eschews walking in favor of a skateboard, who has a bevy of wahinis surrounding him when he surfs, who is blessed with a Washington D. C. family that is powerful and rich, who is allowed to delay college to find himself: his more spiritual side.
A High School theme paper and an interest in Arabic poetry lead him to a madrasa in Brooklyn where he starts to learn Arabic; then his friend and mentor at the school invites him for further study in Pakistan; then he discovers the erotic closeness of other men and goes off into the mountains to train and learn to improve his marksmanship. He does all of this in a romantic quest to be like Richard Burton and to live life to the fullest.
Then 9/11 and the United States throws its mighty forces against Afghanistan and the Taliban.
There’s some question whether this young man even knows about 9/11. His quest is pure. Martyrdom is a possibility. His parents back in the States are frantic.
Pearl Abraham is a good writer, but without the depth of truly strong literature. The American Taliban isn’t an Archie Andrews production but it reads like popular literature from the wire rack down at the drugstore.
One feature of this novel that I did appreciate was its eventual grounding in reality, best exemplified by the news reporting of the war. I found myself reminded of the history of that period and the complete incompetence of the Bush administration. If you remember FDR, he threatened anyone who tried to expand their wealth off the war effort in WWII. Bush was quite the opposite and with the evil greed of Dick Cheney made war profiteering the epitome of American corporate success.
I am reminded of two things: First, last night’s Republican debate which was steeped in fear mongering and blustering violence; and second, a recent statement from Noam Chomsky:
It depends what they want to do. Do they want to encourage further terrorism, or do they want to end that kind of terrorism? That’s the choice.
If you want to end it, the first question you ask is: why did it take place? What were the immediate causes and what were the deeper roots? And then you try to address those. So what were the immediate causes?
Well, we don’t know a lot. About the only information we have is the explanation given by ISIS. Not only for these acts but for the blowing up of the Russian airplane killing a couple of hundred people in the Sinai. They say, if you bomb us we’ll attack you. Well, that’s probably the reason. As far as we know that’s the short-term cause.
The longer-term causes are the ones that we’ve been discussing. Where did all this come from? The invasion of Iraq, the Wahabisation of Sunni Islam, the brutality of the Assad regime and so on.
So if you want to reduce the possibility of further attacks, you address these causes. If on the other hand, you want to increase the attacks, you do exactly what President Hollande is announcing right now. Let’s bomb them more. Let’s destroy ISIS by military force. Probably impossible. But if it did happen, it’s pretty likely that something worse would emerge from it. Because the roots are not addressed. And they are real.