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Terrorist’s 25-year-diary of life at ‘holy war’ battle front

By Jennifer Muchiri | September 27th 2014

This month, Kenyans remember the atrocious terrorist attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi where 67 died, hundreds injured and property worth millions destroyed.

A few months after last year’s September mall attack, a similar appalling strike took place in Lamu where scores of men were killed and families displaced. Lamu residents are, to date, living in fear.

Every peace loving person would question the motive behind such attacks. One would want to know if the attackers have families and friends and what they (friends and families) think about their loved ones’ actions.

Moreover, one would want to know how the terrorists are made; how do right thinking young men and women get to the point where they kill so mercilessly. Do they have any humanity in them? What is their purpose in life?

These are some of the questions that Fadia Faqir, a Jordanian residing in Britain, addresses in her novel, Willow Trees Don’t Weep (2014).

Willow Trees Don’t Weep tells the story of a young Jordanian woman who embarks on a long and difficult journey in search of her father who left her and her mother, when she was three and joined the Taliban to fight ‘kafirs’ in Afghanistan.

The young woman, Najwa, is not really interested in meeting her father whom she has not forgiven for abandoning them. Her mother is dead (after years of depression following her husband’s desertion) and her grandmother is too old to care for her.

Conservative society

In her conservative Jordanian society, a decent woman cannot live on her own without a male guardian. Najwa’s grandmother, therefore, insists that she must look for her father if only to uphold her dignity, otherwise, her neighbours would question her self-respect.

After her father’s departure, Najwa’s mother is so frustrated and mad at the Muslim extremists for taking her husband away; that she turns her back on the religion and bars her daughter and mother from ever observing any of the Islam pillars.

Najwa’s journey in search of her father takes her to Afghanistan where she discovers that her father had started another family, had a daughter and abandoned them as well.

Through a well choreographed network of ‘respected’ Islamic leaders, she gets illegal documents and is able to travel to England where her father has since moved to continue with the war.

It is only in England that she is finally able to meet her father; now old and sickly and imprisoned in a high-security prison in Durham.

Faqir’s novel intertwines Najwa’s search story with the 25-year-diary of her father, Rahman.

The father records his journey from being a nursing student to a merciless jihadist who is remorseful for abandoning his two wives and daughters. The novel reveals a side of terrorists that we do not usually think about – their human side – and, the effects their choice of lifestyle has on their close families.

Rahman’s first wife, before she died, is depicted as being so bitter with him for choosing religion over family; something that drove her to drug herself to death, leaving a lonely and equally bitter daughter, Najwa.

In Afghanistan, his second daughter is killed in a counter-terrorist attack by his adversaries.
The novel demonstrates how young men are brainwashed into joining terrorist groups and by the time they realise that they have destroyed their lives, it is too late.

no surrender

Rahman had wanted to quit at some point and return to his daughters but his associates made the ‘calling’ seem too noble to abandon. The friend who convinced him into joining the Taliban is hailed as a martyr for dying a brave soldier in the battle against the ‘kaffirs.’

The novel reveals that terrorists’ choices and actions do not only affect those they attack, maim and kill, but also their own families.

It is in his 50s and after he is locked up for being a terrorist that he takes time to think about his wasted life and laments the loss of a chance to be a good husband and father.

The writer teaches Literature at the University of Nairobi. [email protected]

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