Thursday, February 14, 2008

Marwan by Aram Schefrin

Just like people in the sixties can tell you where they were when JFK was shot, and people who grew up in the eighties can tell you what they were doing when they heard about the Challenger explosion, everyone you talk to can tell you where they were and what they were doing on the morning of September 11, 2001. I was home with my month-old daughter when the phone rang. My husband was on the line.

"Turn on the TV and tell me what the hell is going on," he said in a voice that didn't give me much reason for concern.

As I waited for the picture to appear on the screen I asked why he was calling.

"Two planes just crashed into the World Trade Center."

September 11th was a day of terrible loss. As I watched the news, day in and day out, sometimes only getting a few hours of sleep, I remembered the words I spoke to my husband when I called him back a while later to tell him of what was going on at the Pentagon.

"We're at war!"

And it frightened me. America had never been attacked in my lifetime and I feared our lives might never be the same.

Several books have been written about the events of September 11th, but none from a terrorists' point of view...until now.

Aram Schefrin is the author of the novel Marwan: The Autobiography of a 9/11 Terrorist. I asked Aram if while he was writing Marwan did it cross his mind that Americans might not be ready for such a book.

Here is his answer:

You ask whether, when I wrote Marwan, if I was concerned that it might be too soon for a book like that.

The answer is: Not really. To understand that, you have to know why I wrote the book.

After 9/11, I realized that I knew nothing of the people who had attacked us, or the reasons why they had done it. I read up on al Qaeda, then on Islamic fundamentalism, then on Islam itself and the history of the region. Then I felt I understood what was behind the attack.

The intellectuals of the jihadist movement may be motivated by theory, and the clerics by theology. But for most of the jihadists, religious extremism is brought about by other problems they have: economic, social, political, cultural, psychological.

The American conversation on 9/11 seems to be based on the conviction that we are in a religious war which is inevitable, unavoidable and will last a long time. I thought – and I think – the book was important because I believe it's critical that people understand (if only for self-protection) that the so-called "clash of civilizations" is not inevitable; that there are things that could have been done, and still should be done, to avoid the likelihood of more 9/11s; that is, by understanding all of the factors that entered into it and variously motivated its protagonists – their frustrations, their humiliations, their sociopathy, their unmet needs, etc. In Marwan, I was able to tell a story which included all those motivations by assigning each to a character who, in fact, mostly acted because of it. Only Marwan, the lead character, is more a product of my imagination – and that’s because I gave him more complexity, in order to be able to explain even more of why these people do what they do.

I finished the book in 2003, and I submitted it then to New York publishers, through an agent. I was hoping they would understand why it was important that the point of view I was working from needed to be discussed. That’s when I found out it was way too early for the book.

New York publishing houses were still deep in grief. They considered it insulting and outrageous to present a book about 9/11 which was written (more or less) from the terrorists’ point of view – even though the book made no attempt to excuse their conduct. Others felt that only a Muslim could write about Muslims. For those reasons (I was told), I could not sell the book.

So much has happened since then as a result of the fact that Marwan’s point of view still isn’t being considered, and nothing has been done to understand – let alone get at – the root causes of Islamic terrorism. We call them Islamofascists – which I consider a ridiculous, meaningless term. We dig in for a war that is going to last for generations. I got an email today from a friend of mine who is afraid that Obama is a secret Muslim (read “terrorist.”) It gets more and more insane.

I don’t believe we are “at war” with jihadists. They will pull off more attacks, but they don’t yet seriously threaten Western civilization – not even as much as some European nihilistic terrorist groups have in the fairly recent past. This so-called war is political cover for a whole lot of other things being done in, and to, the United States – and not by terrorists. Their threat could, however, become much more dangerous – if we continue to be unable to understand them and therefore continue to feed what drives them. Then we’ll have a serious Holy War.

Just to be clear, I don’t think people like bin Laden or Ramzi bin al Shibh can be converted, or diverted. They are too personally invested in what they believe. I think the way to deal with al Qaeda is to marginalize them by taking away the reasons new people flock to the movement – diverting them from the movement, and then wiping out the hard core militarily. We have done plenty of “wiping,” and basically no “diverting.” How the diverting is to be done, I leave to other minds. But it’s high time they started working on it. We really don’t want to have to fight a billion Muslims.

Not too long ago, Jonathon Safran Foer came out with his book “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”, which revolved around 9/11. Then there was Updike’s book. I decided that fiction was ready to deal with the topic. However, no one has yet attempted what I did with Marwan. I still think it’s important that people understand what the 9/11 attack was really about – or at least consider what I think it was about. I did not want to deal with publishers again, so I put the book out through AuthorHouse. I believe it’s a book that needs to be read. Fortunately, those people who have read it or reviewed have also said that it is a well-done piece of fiction – so there’s pleasure to be gleaned from the writing itself, although pleasure is not the point of reading this book.

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1 comment:

Dorothy Thompson said...

Bad week for me. My twin flame died the same week.

Such an interesting topic, though...I found his book thoroughly fascinating...haven't finished it yet, but it held my interest from the get go.