Archive for the Terrorism Category

The Devil’s Labyrinth by John Saul

Posted in Terrorism, The horror on June 1, 2011 by Ishrath Farhana

The only thing that comes to mind as one wades through this offering from  “the master of macabre” is “Jeez, what was he thinking?!!”

It starts ordinarily enough, with a recently orphaned 15 year old Ryan MacIntyre being sent off to the sinister St Isaac’s Preparatory Academy.  In the labyrinthine catacombs of the church school, a dynamic staff member is having some success performing exorcisms on students.

Everybody loves a good exorcism, but then Father Sebastian Sloane has unearthed an arcane scroll that actually causes demons to possess the victims, and apparently, control them. He and his brother, actually devout Muslims have infiltrated the Catholic clergy, and are on a lone path of rampage to kill the present-day Pope to avenge wrongs committed by the Church on Jewish and Muslim families during the time of the Spanish Inquisition in the 1300s. This involves not only  causing demonic possession of unsuspecting students, but also a mundane suicide bombing to be perpetrated by the zombies during the Pope’s mass. There’s also a mysterious crucifix for moral support, and some requisite maggot consumption.

The most appalling thing about the book  is that it is simultaneously insulting to both Catholics and Muslims.  Arabic words and Islamic prayers are used throughout by the priest who is basically engaged in devil-raising. Arabic  is used by the brainwashed children,  the pious Muslim is unbelievably nursing a grudge that’s 6 centuries old. The most offensive thing here is that the Muslim is engaged in enlisting the aid of hell, and that by connotation, Allah is the devil.  Fatwa, anyone?  To add insult to injury, John Saul preys on the worst stereotype of the terrorist by having the Muslim brothers sew bombs into the surplices of the altar boys to blow up the Pope.  The Christ in the secret chapel is a leering, tortured being. The Church is unable to afford any  peace or consolation to the evil inside its very walls, and the benign old priests who run the place are weak, powerless and effete.

In all, John Saul has laid a dud – a revolting, offensive dud, an insensitive dud, and [the greater crime] a literary dud.


A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif

Posted in Action / Thriller, Current Affairs, Debut, Diaspora, Dictators, Espionage, Farce, Historical/Biographical, Humor, Military, Mystery, Nobel Prize, Pakistan, Presidents, Satire, South Asian, Terrorism, World with tags , on August 3, 2008 by Ishrath Farhana

A Case of Exploding Mangoes
Category: Contemporary Fiction
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
Publisher: Random House
Price: $29.95

Many people compare A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif to Catch 22, but I don’t recall enjoying Heller as much as Hanif. There are far too many pages where I was snorting and cackling and laughing till my sides ached. To desi readers, the cultural perspective lends exquisite piquancy to this tale of Who killed President Zia ul Haq? Twenty years to the date, it is still anyone’s guess why Pak One fell from the sky that summer, and Hanif steps forward with a multi-starring cast of possible assassins, with their own reasons to hate the dictator.

Underofficer Ali Shigri, the son of the revered and much-decorated, late Colonel Shigri, is our main narrator. He doesn’t believe that the colonel, found hanging by his bedsheet from the ceiling fan, has committed suicide. But he is in worse trouble when his roomate and best friend, Obaidullah goes missing, and he is hauled into interrogation into a Mughal dungeon by Major Kiyani of the dreaded ISI.

The most  engaging parts of the book are undoubtedly those that depict Zia, whose years of power have left him “fattened, chubby-cheeked and marinating in his own paranoia.” His piety is a chilling contrast with his violence, much like the opposing directions of his slightly cockeyed gaze. The man who breaks down during his prayers is the same despot whose prisons are full of dissenters. His frequent consultations of the Quran for meaning doesn’t mean he won’t order the stoning of a blind rape victim for adultery.  Was he a pious Muslim controlling what he saw as Pakistan’s moral decay, or an opportunistic leader who manipulated Islam to remain in power?

However Hanif also presents Zia sympathetically. There is something childlike about his need for attention from the First Lady, and his dependence on his ambitious and treacherous inner circle. His security chief “has done such a good job of conducting him  through the milling crowds, General Zia had started to think of himself as a man of the people.” America had made him into a hero in their proxy war against the Soviets, one of the 10 men standing as a bulwark between Communist expansion and the free world, so that he fancies himself as a receipient for the Nobel Peace Prize.

It is hard not to feel sympathy for the slightly henpecked husband, squabbling with his wife. And how can you really hate a President who is forced to prop his chin on the national flag while having a taciturn doctor giving him a rectal exam?

Hanif makes brilliant sketches of the coterie surrounding General Zia. The information minister is “a devious bastard with a fake MBA, making his fortune by ordering useless books that never arrive for military libraries.” Military officers are the kind of men “who pick up a phone and a bomb goes off in a crowded bazaar.” And famously, The only person who voiced his thoughts was General Akhtar, a former middle-weight boxer, a clean shaven man of tribal origins, who was packed with so much dignity that he could have been born in any country in any of the five continents and he still would have become a general. His ability to carry himself with martial grace and his talent for sucking up to superiors was so legendary that according to a joke popular in the trenches, he could wipe out a whole enemy unit by kissing their asses.”

Mohammed Hanif exploded on the literary scene suddenly, putting Pakistan on the map, and the deceased dictator firmly into our collective consciousness. By now we have all heard about how he trained as an Air Force pilot, pounded the beat as a journalist, then moved to London to become the head of BBC’s Urdu Service. However, nothing one can say about Mohammed Hanif beats what Hanif has to say about himself, “Once upon a time, when I was 18…

If a book can make a wave, A Case of Exploding Mangoes has been creating turbulence ever since it arrived. It is not being published in Pakistan, where it may have ruffled a few feathers. Of course, there are omnious parallels with the present situation in the country – the war in Afghanistan, Americans running all over the place and another General as President. The powers-that-be do not like to be reminded of their blatant hypocrisy or deep-rooted insecurities. It has also made it to the Man Bookers Longlist this year, and I am rooting for this book.

Then there is that intriguing first line, “there is an ancient saying that when lovers fall out, a plane goes down.” I was reminded of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s words about Pakistan’s souring love affair with America. They have  been  rendered immortally by Noor Jahan here: