How to tell a story

How to tell a story

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Letter to Nation magazinr

...I am a novelist. Every year, I spend a great deal of my time giving readings or lectures at which, almost unfailingly, I am asked about Islam and Muslims and the wars now consuming the Middle East. I try to explain and contextualize, to remind people about history and politics, to bring some art and culture into the mix. But every couple of months, when another terrorist attack happens, the work I do seems to be for nothing. What chance does someone like me have when compared with the power of well-funded networks? The beheadings, the crucifixions, the destruction of cultural heritage that ISIS practices—none of these are new. They all happened, and continue to happen, in Saudi Arabia as well.

This year, the government of Saudi Arabia has beheaded more people than ISIS. It persecutes Shiites and atheists. It has slowly destroyed sites of cultural and religious significance around Mecca and Medina. To almost universal indifference, it has been bombing Yemen for seven months. Yet whenever terror strikes, it escapes notice and evades responsibility. In this, it is aided and abetted by Western governments, who buy oil from tyrants and sell them weapons, while paying lip service to human rights. I have no patience anymore for people who claim that Muslims do not speak out. They do, every day. Muslims are the primary victims of ISIS, and its primary resisters. It is an insult to every one of the hundreds of thousands of Muslim victims of terrorism to lump them with the lunatics who commit terror.

The truth is that ISIS unleashes its nihilistic violence on anyone—Muslim, Christian, or Jew; believer or unbeliever—who doesn’t subscribe to its cult. I wish I could do something for the victims of terrorist violence. But I am a writer; words are all I have. And all I know is that I want, with all my heart, to preserve and celebrate what ISIS wishes to destroy: a multiethnic, multireligious, multicultural life.

Laila Lalami is the author, most recently, of The Moor’s Account , a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. She is a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside. ■