SAUDI NOVELISTS' RESPONSE TO TERRORISM THROUGH FICTION: A STUDY IN COMPARISON TO WORLD LITERATURE.

AuthorAl-Moghales, Mashhoor Abdu
PositionCritical essay
  1. Introduction

    Finding its roots and essence in the drama proper, fiction always aspired for David vs. Goliath theme: one outcast, underground individual/group, both within and without, pitted against the supposedly tyrannical system always proved to be a nursery for the novelists. Since early 19th century, behind the backdrop of the Russian Revolution and Irish liberation movement, the novels on the theme of the thrill of violence, destruction and social upheaval have proliferated giving rise at times to dime-novels. Fyodor Dostoevsky in Demons (1871-2) allows the ne'er-do-well Stephan Trofimovich a death-bed conversion. In The Secret Agent (1907), Joseph Conrad's protagonist is ordered to destroy the Greenwich Observatory but manages only to get his simple brother-in-law blown to bits. "Nevertheless, fiction," as Bili Melman observes, "is not preoccupied with terrorism as a concrete, historical phenomenon" (1980:560). It is coated with spiritual chaos and aesthetic dogmatism. The focus shifts from "the impact of violence to the psychological force of terror" (Houen 2002:80). For the modern fiction writers, in the age of Mass Media, the central tensions ensue from the positioning of the novelists as artists. Margaret Scanlan argues that writers face a reduced political role in an age of mass media and virtual entertainment. In response, postmodern writers have re-envisioned terrorists "both as rivals and as doubles of the novelist" (2001:06). In the Mao II (1991) by Don DeLillo, the reclusive novelist, Bill Gray laments that the violent political groups have usurped the roles formerly occupied by novelists in an age where terrorism has supplanted art as the "raids on consciousness" in order to "alter the inner life of the culture" (Delillo 41). Scanlan sees both writers and terrorists in such novels as "remnants of a romantic belief in the power of marginalized persons to transform history" (2001:2).

    The period after 9/11 witnessed an explosion of Anglophone literary texts gyrating on the theme of Islamist fundamentalism. The novels before the World Trade Centre debacle dealt with the identical theme behind the facade of a chaotic meaningless world. The spirit of free society in writers remained active. Doris Lessing raises the deep suspicious of public discourse in The Good Terrorist (1985) as she sees an affinity between police and terrorists; if the terrorists have time bombs, the government--or the Americans--have the bomb. Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club (1996) opens with a domestic terrorist group about to destroy the world's tallest building, while the novel Survivor (1999) opens with the narrator telling his life story into the black box of a hijacked jumbo jet he plans to crash.

    Saudi novelists, like many writers from different countries, have addressed the issue of terrorism in their novels attempting to shape a public image to its causes and consequences. It is where the counter narrative from the soil of Saudi Arabia started to flourish. Saudi novelists had been vocal in denouncing the menace of terrorism: the extreme and deviant religious discourse that incites the youth against any anti-Islamic entity. Considering the impact of the attacks of 9/11 on Arab and Saudi fiction, it is obvious that it is much more than its impact on American fiction (Morley 2011:717). In her article, Catherine Morley shows how critics often accused writers after 9/11 of "'retreating' into the domestic; individual narratives, often set against sweeping historical backgrounds." Even in the novels that address the United States' relationship with the Middle East and the impact of globalization, the global and the personal are tightly intertwined" (2011:717). This self-indulgence in domestic affairs is in sharp contrast to what Yara El-Masry calls "(t)he proliferation of Terrorism discourse in the critical reception and framing of Middle Eastern fiction" (2016:6). She discusses the framing and labeling of political violence in the Middle East and of the interpretation of fictional representations of this violence and the broader theoretical context that has facilitated its production (2016:22).

    Terrorism has stricken Arab countries in the past and present, especially Algeria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Makhlof Amer foregrounds the issue of terrorism that has ripped apart the Algerian society as depicted in the Algerian novels he investigated. He discusses moral transgression by presenting them in their darkest and most threatening form with the gory tale of murder of prominent writers, thinkers, journalists by a gang of Islamist terrorists (1999:306). He further states that blind terrorism hits anyone, whosoever the target victim is (307). He calls terrorists, "the enemies of Culture, Literature, Art and Knowledge" (307). Similarly, Gaber Asfor, in his book about terrorism and fundamentalism mostly in Algerian and Egyptian novels, focuses on the terrorist characters and their drive for terrorism and violence in some works such as Azilzal (1974) by Tahar Ouettar, Children of the Alley (1959) by Naquib Mahfooz, ... etc. Asfor addresses the roots and causes of religious fundamentalism in the community pointing out the importance of literary genres in exposing the negative image of terrorism:

    ... presenting mirrors in which the terrorists can see the ugliness of their deeds and thought. I also mean to present the same mirrors to the recipients so that they know the ugly presence of terrorism and become much aware of the fossilized and frozen mental mechanisms of the terrorists, particularly when they justify for themselves and others the killing of innocents for a cause which has no relation to Islam (Asfor 2003:33). Shadiah bin Yahya has discussed war, terrorism, assassinations and violence as represented in the Algerian novel of Tahar Ouettar who fought against those atrocities and depicted them in Al-Shamaah wa Al-Dahaleez [The Candle and the Passageways] (1995) which contains terrorist scenes of men with veiled faces to terrorize people (62-63). Similarly, Nabil Suleiman has studied terrorism in Arabic novels in Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt. He has discussed Al-Asforiah (1996) by the famous Saudi novelist, Ghazi Algosaibi and how it presented extremism and fundamentalism through different characters and their impact on the society and the harmony of the nation which might lead to the end of Muslims and Arabs (Suleiman 2003:210-12).

    Through a broad survey of the novels dealing with terrorism, the Egyptian and Algerian novels have gradually exposed Islamist terrorism since the early 1970s. The Saudi novel dealing with terrorism proliferated after the 9/11 attacks denouncing Islamist terrorism and extremism and exposing the looming threat of terrorist groups and deviant religious discourse. A recent work which deals with terrorism and exhibits natural aversion for extremist ideologies of terrorism in Saudi Novels is Abdullah Al-Ghanim's M.A. thesis (2012) on post-9/11 novels. He states the sources of terrorism as (a) misinterpretation of the text of The Holy Quran, (b) inability to understand the spirit of Sharia and the fundamentals of Islam, (c) believing that killing a non-Muslim is permitted, (d) misguiding and straying of some young people, (e) negligence and religious suppression, etc. (Al-Ghanim 2012:22). Furthermore, he points out the means of protection against terrorism and how Islam punishes terrorism against mankind with death penalty in a public place (23-25). He clarifies that Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance, cohabitation and religious coexistence (26-28). He also presents the stance of Saudi Arabia towards terrorism and the efforts put in to fight extremism and terrorism (29). In addition to the study of the novels tackling terrorism, the thesis is rich with literature review regarding Islamic anti-terrorism view.

    Tami Mohamad Al-Sameeri has raised many questions about the Saudi novel and has referred to terrorism and extremism presented in some novels, which is considered new to the Saudi society as reflected in his dialogues with some Saudi novelists. Abdullah Thabet gives a brief account about Al-Irhabi 20 [Terrorist no. 20] (2011), first published in 2006, and the factors that lead Zahi, the main character, to join the extreme groups (Al-Sameeri 2009:492-493). Khalid Al-Shaikh also mentions that he is the first to refer to terrorism and connect it to the West (Al-Sameeri 498). Fahad Al-Ateeq also discusses the lost generation of young men that crossed the red line and remained in the middle as a prey for fundamentalists and extremists due to their inability to grasp what is going on around them (Al-Sameeri 381).

    Many Saudi male and female novelists deal with terrorism from different perspectives after the 9/11 attacks. They were shocked to know that the majority of the 19 hijackers were from their home country as reflected in the huge bulk of novels written after the attacks. Therefore, they started to dig for the roots of 'Islamist terrorism' that has shaken the West. The 1979 Seizure of the Grand Mosque in Macca led by Juhayman al-Utaibi was also considered to be a major terrorist event in Saudi Arabia which has been present in the Saudi novels such as Al-Irhabi 20. Novels like Rihul Jannah [Winds of Paradise] (2005) by Turki Al-Hamad, Al-Hammam La Yateer Fi Buraida [Pigeons don't fly in Buraida] (2009) by Yusuf Al-Mahimeed, Bintul Jabal [Daughter of the Mountain] (2007) by Salah Al-Qarshi, Ainul Allah [Eyes of Allah] (2009) by Khalid Al-Mujaddid, Mahwaru Shar [Axis of Evil] (2006) by Nabila Mahjoob,... etc. have become famous anti-terrorism novels. Except for a few novels, most of their narratives have not traveled beyond the Arab World's periphery. They have been written in parallel line with other writers of the world like The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007) by Mohsin Hamid, Agency Rules & Scorched Earth (2014) by Khalid Muhammad, Kite Runner (2003) by Khalid Hosseini, The...

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