A Jihadi Novel

Today I am rather wishing that I could read Urdu.  A new “jihadi novel” entitle Eternal Shine is now available free for the download on jihadist websites.  I am not aware of any previous such novels, though I certainly would not want to say that this is the first to exist.  (After all, I read almost all jihadist materials in translation and few institutions or individuals  would have an interest in translating fiction.)  Of course, some of the purportedly non-fiction jihadist narratives that exist are extensively embellished, even to the extent of engaging in flights of fancy, but that’s still not the same as avowed fiction.

Novels can potentially tell us quite a lot about the milieu out of which they arise as well as about their authors.  Saddam Hussein, for instance, wrote some notoriously bad novels, but the summaries I have read of them indicate that they revealed a lot about the man and how he viewed himself and his place in the Iraqi and Arab nations.

I shall be paying attention to see if any summaries or–dare I dream?–translations of this work show up on the web.

Published in: on October 3, 2010 at 10:12 PM  Comments (3)  
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  1. Reading the jihadist novel would have been a nice job for Mr. Turner (Robert Redford) of the “American Literary Historical Society” in Three Days of the Condor, wouldn’t it?


    I know this seems a bit like idle chit-chat, but it takes me back to the notion of the kinship of spycraft and literature. I think that idea has a lot of merit. Chaucer was a spy, as was Kit Marlowe, and Wordsworth, and Basil Bunting. Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene spied, and John le Carre — and if I’m not mistaken, much of the early OSS was recruited from the Yale literature department by the likes of Archibald MacLeish…

    My own suggestion would be that this is because the literary mind is well suited to understanding and expressing complex relationships, just as (it has been suggested) the engineering mind is suited to seeing things in black and white – you’ve probably seen Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog’s paper on Engineers of Jihad, in which they determine that “engineers, in particular, were three to four times more likely to become violent terrorists than their peers in finance, medicine or the sciences”.

    I don’t know whether that allegation is accurate, or just an artifact of their research methods – but if it’s true that literature offers a different (and in some ways more subtle) means of modeling the kinds of complex situation we’re all facing these days, maybe we need to increase the intake of lit and humanities majors into the IC, and stop being so tech-centric about our analytic methods. The human mind might just be better at selecting and connecting the right dots than our datamining programs.

    Keith Oatley’s paper Shakeapeare’s invention of theatre as simulation that runs on minds might give us a hint or two.


    FWIW, I too was intrigued by the story of Saddam’s romance novel, Zabibah and the King — and then there was the poor guy whose art Saddam lifted for the cover of Zabibah

    • Thanks for the comment. I quite agree with your thought about Robert Redford!

      I think you make a really intriguing suggestion about literature majors and analyst jobs in the Intelligence Community. Certainly the IC lets in lots of historians, and they are used to reading texts, but literature is something different. I would say, however, that the IC does hire quite a lot of people who study FOREIGN literature. However, by-and-large what is attractive to the IC about these applicants is their foreign languages skills, not that they know how to read and understand literature.

  2. I don’t know how widespread this kind of thing still is nowadays — but even the West Point CTC folks (whom I admire quite a bit) used to omit translation of Qur’anic quotes in their texts, presumably because that was thought to be irrelevant to the analytic process. But if an analyst doesn’t know there’s a hadith about the black flags of Khorasan, he or she won’t know the end-times significance of Afghanistan to some Muslims — which may be as great as the end-times significance of Jerusalem to some Christians. So “close reading” of the sort that a decent literary education teaches is valuable, right alongside the language skills. And I doubt we have enough of those, either.

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