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An antidote to Western prejudices

It starts with a giant explosion, confusion and terror. Dr Amin Jaafari, a Bedouin surgeon who has become a well-integrated Israeli citizen, is right in the middle of his lunch break when a bomb explodes in a restaurant near the hospital. Amin and his colleagues do their best to save as many people as they can. Finally at home, however, he is called back to the hospital: Sihem, his beloved wife whom he thought was out of town, is among the victims of the terrorist attack.

Then Amin's world shatters: the police suspect his wife to have been carrying the bomb. How could she, a woman who was well-integrated in Israeli society and lived a seemingly perfect and happy life, commit such an atrocity? And why did Amin never suspect the slightest hint of religious fundamentalism? In search of closure and haunted by these questions, Amin undertakes a journey into his past, searching for the people who indoctrinated Sihem with the cruel ideas that led to her ultimate betrayal.

Despite being situated in Israel, The Attack – by Algerian author Yasmina Khadra (the pen name of Mohammed Moulessehoul) – is not exactly a novel about the Palestine conflict. It is much more than that: it's about understanding the human condition. The author was prohibited from travelling to Israel to research his book, but has firsthand experience with the horrible effects religious fundamentalism has on a society. Khadra, who now lives in France, served as an officer in the Algerian army during the civil war, when Algeria was on the brink of being taken over by Islamist groups.

What makes The Attack so marvellous is that Khadra neither offers easy solutions nor paints a black and white picture. Amin becomes an outcast in Israeli society, but his Israeli friends stand by him. The extremists are cruel and brutal, but understanding as well: “No-one joins our ranks for pleasure”, a terrorist tells him, but “when dreams are turned away, death becomes the ultimate salvation”. The protagonist is torn between three poles: his Arab heritage, Israeli society and his humanist ethics. Khadra's aim is to explain – rather than justify! – the mechanics behind such terrorist actions.

The stories we hear in the news or even read in academic textbooks about Arab societies paint a certain picture, which is completed by our Western imaginations. Yasmina Khadra helps us to take a different perspective. This book is the perfect antidote to your Western prejudices.

 

Tim Aretz

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