Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Comment on Khadra at Strangled Sleep

The following is from an entry at ....

The Return of the Jewish Nose: Reading Yasmina Khadra's The Attack

Unless you are a fan of Tex-Mex, truck with balls, scorching heat, and museums commemorating George W. Bush, there are very few reasons to spend the summer in southeast Texas. But I happen to be here visiting someone, and so I’ve taken the opportunity to sit in on his Texas A&M University class on contemporary world literature, where the focus is literature and terrorism.

For today, we read Yasmina Khadra’s The Attack (2007). Khadra (his real name is Mohammed Moulessehoul) is a former Algerian army officer turned novelist, and this novel, despite its unsophisticated writing style, does a pretty good job of getting college students to think and talk about terrorism in an unfiltered way. The only problem is that the book is so severely biased against Israelis and Jews that one wonders how unfiltered the discussion can truly be.

The storyline goes something like this: Arab-Israeli surgeon is called to the hospital where he learns his wife has been killed in a restaurant bombing. He later finds out that his wife was in fact the suicide bomber. The rest of the book, with all of its undeveloped plot threads, is about his attempts to uncover her secret life and come to grips with what he sees as her betrayal of him. The important thing to note is that it’s not that he needs to come to grips with what his wife has done to innocent men, women, and children in a crowded restaurant, but with what he sees as her personal betrayal of him.

A bit self-absorbed, no?

It’s not that the novel doesn’t tell a good story or address timely issues. It definitely kept me reading, but perhaps that was also because of the all but latent anti-Semitism that kept jumping out at me. Like many people, I tend to like to stare at things that repulse me. Although I run the risk of sounding like an anti-Semitic ambulance chaser, it is difficult not to read between the lines when nearly every time Khadra’s narrator introduces a new Jewish character, he refers to his “unattractive nostrils” or depicts him looking down his “nose” at the narrator. Or, in the absence of the description of a character’s unflattering nose, he depicts them as fat, selfish, and always gobbling things up.

.... continued at


John Collins said...

Before you and David pointed it out in class I did not even notice the anti-Semitism. For me, it has almost become second nature to try and find the good in the main character of stories. In the beginning of The Attack I felt it was easy to sympathize with Amin. He was a Arab living in Israel, he was a doctor trying to save people injured in a suicide bombing and Khadra portrayed him as a victim when he comes into contact with the Israeli checkpoint. However, after you mentioned the undercurrent of anti-Semitism throughout the entire story it really made me read the book with a closer eye. While an female Israeli officer is searching Amin he remarks that, "their commanding officer is a blonde woman with an immense chest, a grostesque nose, and burning eyes" (194). After I noticed this my opinions of Amin really changed and it was a lot more difficult to sympathize with him. Now I wouldn't go so far as to call Amin's character pathetic or despicable but the anti-Semitic remarks did bother me towards the end of the book. However, I felt that when he died trying to prevent his niece Fatmah from committing a suicide bombing he was trying to redeem the way he objectified his wife.

John Collins said...

Also, after we finished reading the book I was curious about the author, Yasmina Khadra. It bothered me a little bit that he was injecting so much anti-Semitism in The Attack yet he is an Algerian who does not have first hand experience or knowledge of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I stumbled across an interview he did that, in my opinion, makes him seem extremely condescending and it seems as though he is extremely biased towards Arab culture and tradition. When asked about writers that inspired him to write Khadra responded with:

"It's a pity that you do not have access to our culture. The Arab world is not just a postcard with dunes and caravans, nor is it only about terrorist attacks. The Arab world is more generous and more inspired than yours. Do you know that El Moutannabi is the Humanity's greatest poet since the dawn of time? It's a pity that you do not know anything of it. I was initially inspired by mine. I have had the chance to get maximum benefit from a double culture, Western and Eastern without ever losing sight of where I come from."

I think its only natural and perfectly fine if writers are biased towards other writers of the same culture and nationality, but after reading The Attack in which Khadra writes with such a blatent bias that it overshadows the critique of Arab masculinity and oppressiveness to their wives that David brought up in class.

Monica said...

John--where did you find that interview? Do you have a link?

JE said...

John that is awesome. You have inspired me to look up some information too. I like this whole blog thing. I will probably keep up with it even more.

John Collins said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Collins said...

Monica, heres the link to the interview with Khadra.

Mario said...

Wow, I thought that Khadra was just making it seem like Amin was an anti-semite (sp?) but i def dont like him that much as an author anymore. but monica is response to your reasons to visit southeast texas...thats pretty funny but the museum is for pappy bush. but hey the tex mex is good if you know where to go