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mental moral war

I admit I felt weird when I first picked up The Sirens of Baghdad, by Yasmina Khadra. Seeing the world through the eyes of an ordinary boy driven to violence was unsettling, but after following the unnamed Iraqi student through his country’s war, I now somewhat understand the mindset of one willing to sacrifice their life to take the lives of others.

Khadra’s main character is 21-year-old Iraqi who had been studying in Baghdad when war hit the city. Soon his academic aspirations were ruined and he returned home to his quiet town of Kafr Karam.

His village remained far removed from the war until a mentally challenged boy was gunned down by American soldiers who believed him to be a threat. Then a nearby wedding was mistakenly bombed and celebrating families were turned into ash and rubble. “I didn’t remember ever having borne a grudge against anybody, anybody at all, and yet there I was … outraged, sick, tormented,” the young protagonist said after viewing the accidental massacre.

The final straw came when soldiers raided his town at night and inflicted the ultimate disgrace upon his family, turning the former student who “simply hated violence” into a human weapon. “All the stars in the sky lost their gleam. The sun could keep rising, but I’d never be able to distinguish day from night anymore.”

“Such a smooth transition!” he said. “I had gone to bed a docile, courteous boy, and I’d awakened with an inextinguishable rage lodged in my very flesh.”

The author humanizes a country far removed from America, and doesn't shy away from the atrocities of war.

“I was condemned to wash away this insult in blood.”

The characters’ anguish and anger are so real it’s disturbing and Khadra’s narrative is chillingly similar to terrorism today and the very real future of viral war.

The novel ends somewhat abruptly, especially after so much time is spent following the main character from his small life in Kafr Karam to Baghdad and eventually to his secret terrorist mission in Beirut. But the story is worth the journey.

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“mental moral war”