The Longest Ongoing Conflict

Book Review: Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa (ISBN: 9781608190461)

Country: Palestine

The conflict between Israel and Palestine is one of the most well-known and longest ongoing conflicts, lasting for decades. Despite being in the news throughout my entire life, I still haven’t formed an opinion on it, and I don’t think I ever will. But that’s okay – one doesn’t need to have an opinion on everything. One just needs to be well-informed and have an understanding on all sides of the story.

That’s where Susan Abulhawa’s book comes in. Through the story of one family, Abulhawa provides readers with a poignant and eye-opening look into the lives of those affected by the conflict. The book follows the life of Amal, who is born in the refugee camp at Jenin. Through her story, we learn about the struggles that her family faced and the hardships they endured. One particularly devastating event was the return of her lost brother, who had been taken by an Israeli soldier and raised to despise his own people.

Abulhawa’s writing style is both engaging and heart-wrenching, making it difficult to put the book down. The interweaving of historical events with the intergenerational saga of a family affected by these events gives this book the feel of a documentary. It’s worth noting that the book is a work of historical fiction, inspired by the 2002 Israeli attacks on the refugee camp in Jenin[1].

Overall, Abulhawa’s book provides a new perspective on one of the world’s longest ongoing conflicts. It’s an important read for anyone wanting to gain a deeper understanding of the issue and the lives that have been affected by it.

Further Reading:

[1] ‘Mornings in Jenin’: The Strange and Circuitous Path of a Palestinian-American Novel – ARABLIT & ARABLIT QUARTERLY (Accessed: 28.02.2023)


Depravity in the Name of Religion

Book Review: The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State by Nadia Murad (ISBN: 9781524760434)

“My story, told honestly and matter-of-factly, is the best weapon I have against terrorism”

Nadia Murad, The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Isalmic State

In The Last Girl, Nadia Murad narrates her horrifying experience as a captive of the IS, who abused and enslaved her. Know as ‘sabaya’, Yazidi girls and women were traded openly as sex slaves in the terrorities held by ISIS. They were even used to intice young men to join the terror organization by appealing to their depravity.

It was very difficult for me to get through this book. The events described in the book and Nadia’s experiences are beyond horrifying. It is the stuff of nightmares. Except they actually happened. Not only to Nadia, but to thousands of Yazidi girls and women. Like Nadia, some of these women were able to escape their captors. However, as of this writing, there are still over 2000 Yazidi women missing.

Reading books like The Last Girl, drives home the point that we cannot simply write-off the lives destroyed by geo-political situations as collateral damage and leave it at that. As individual citizens of the world, this can all seem overwhelming and downright hopeless. But the global community at large is not as powerful as it may seem. Geo-politics is just an extension of local politics. The people elected in democratic societies have the power to influence geo-politics.

Although victimized by the IS, Nadia Murad is a fighter. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 and since her escape from the IS has tirelessly advocated for the victims of genocide and terrorism. Her story must be read.

Victims of Ideology

Book Review: Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of ISIS by Azadeh Moaveni (ISBN: 9780399179754 (ISBN10: 0399179755))

Back in 2015, I came across an article that amused me so much that I still remember it. The news article told of three young Chechen women who scammed Islamic State (IS) recruiters out of thousands of dollars. Contacted by a recruiter via social media, the mastermind behind the operation realized that she could earn quite a bit of money by pretending to want to join the IS in Syria[1].

It was one of those feel-good stories that the world desperately needed at the time. The aftermath of the Arab spring had turned what seemed like a hopeful new beginning into an all-too-familiar nightmare. While most of the countries were able to avoid a nightmarish aftermath, Syria was not that fortunate. As of this writing, the war in Syria is still going on.

In Guest House for Young Widows, Azadeh Moaveni narrates the circumstances of 13 women and how they came to be members of the IS. The women who left their homes and travelled to Syria thought that they were going to a land of promise. A part of the world that allowed them to live with dignity and practise their religion in a way that appealed to them. For some of the women, it was an act of rebellion to embrace this extremist worldview. For others, it was a matter of belonging and finding a safe haven for themselves. There were still some for whom Assad was the real enemy, and as they say the enemy of my enemy….

Presently, many governments around the world are refusing to repatriate some of these women. The fear that perhaps they are far too indoctrinated to be able to reintegrate into the respective societies. One such case is Shamima Begum, who lost her British citizenship and may face the death penalty[2]. These women have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of ideology and identity politics.

Further Reading

[1] Scammed! Chechen women ‘cheat ISIS recruiters out of money’ | Al Arabiya English (Accessed: 8. February, 2023)

[2] ‘Stateless’ Shamima Begum would face death in Bangladesh, court hears | Shamima Begum | The Guardian (Accessed: 10. February, 2023)

Book Review: American War by Omar El Akkad

Country: Egypt

American War is a story about the complete destruction of an individual as a result of radicalization. At first, I thought the book was about the realities of the dystopia it is set in: climate change driven displacement of families, civil war, an incurable lab-synthesized plague. But through the pages, we see the slow and steady radicalization of Sarat Chestnut leading to her eventual destruction.

American War depicts a dystopia in which the US is divided again, this time along the lines of fossil fuel use. Disaster caused by climate change has struck the US, and as a result, fossil fuels have been banned. The Southern states of South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Texas, are not happy with this decision and secede, which leads to a civil war.

We meet the Chestnuts who are planning to move to the North, leaving their Louisiana home behind. Sarat gets radicalised, which eventually leads her to the Guantanamo-esque Sugar Loaf facility. The torture she undergoes leads her to confess to the trumped-up charges brought against her.

The book was a bit tedious in the beginning but half-way through it really picked up the pace. The reversals of the political fates in the US and Europe is a bit pedantic. We have chaos and war in the US and mass migration out of Europe, whilst peace and prosperity the Middle East and North Africa.

At first I had decided to read an Egyptian classic, but then I came across this book at a used book store and changed my mind. Although the author currently lives in Canada he was born in Egypt. Besides I though that this perspective on climate change and the future of the US would make for an interesting read.

2023 Reading List

Since 2020 I have themed my reading lists. I was inspired to do this because I realized that I had read and continue to read too few women authors. This realization dawned on me after I read an article by Onnesha Roychoudhari.

It goes without saying that the first year my goal was to read only women authors. In 2021 I decided to base the theme on geography, specifically the MENA (Middle-East and North Africa) region. Last year my theme was to read the unread books on my shelves at home and on my Kindle. This year that theme continues, but with a twist. Since 2020 I have been listening to audio books as well. It took me a while to jump on that bandwagon, but I’m glad that I finally got an Audible subscription.

This year along with trying to read the unread books on my physical and digital shelves, I decided that for the audio books I would listen to popular science books. In particular, pop-sci books pertaining to Physics, Astronomy and Space Exploration. Why? Well, last year I finished a pop-sci book explaining modern physics and the current theories out there that try to explain the origins and nature of the universe we live in. This made me realize how much I enjoy reading pop-sci books and how much I’ve missed them. I added Space Exploration as well cause over the holidays I re-watched Apollo 13 and it piqued my curiosity. With the current trend of space tourism for the ultra rich, it would be nice to look back and get a glimpse of how it all started.

I look forward to sharing my 2 cents on the books I read this year. Of course I have still to finish reviewing the books from the MENA challenge. So stay tuned…

2020 Reading List

Another year gone by, another GoodReads reading challenge completed. This past year, I felt increasingly overwhelmed by my ‘To Read’ list. With over a 1000 thousand books waiting to be read, surely I would never read them all in this lifetime. I am a slow reader. But my resolve to make a dent to my To Read list prevailed. I decided to plan my reading list for the coming years. This year, I simply chose the books at random. But for next year I decided that I am going to read only women authors. Why you ask? This won’t be a one-line answer. I have been having a nagging feeling that I don’t read enough female authors. I mean yes, I have read Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters and Margaret Atwood. But my reading lists tended to be men heavy. That’s a shame.

For my 2020 reading list, I decided that it would not only read only women authors, but women authors is as many different genres as possible. On my list are 38 books, and my goal is to read at least 25 of them, if not all. You’ll find my list here. I am excited and looking forward to my reading this year!