In 2003 twelve suicide bombers took their own lives in Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city, killing 41 people and injuring over one hundred people. They detonated their explosives in a luxury hotel, a restaurant, a Jewish community center and outside of the Belgian consulate. The bombers were young men from Sidi Moumen, a slum on the outskirts of Casablanca. Living in dire poverty, they were recruited by a religious man who gave them training in martial arts and converted them to Islam- the religion of their country, but one that they had had no real exposure to in their difficult lives.
Mahi Binebine, the author of this book, 54 year old painter and teacher, was raised in Morocco but left the country to go to Paris as a young man to study mathematics. He taught mathematics for some years in Paris and spent five years in New York before returning to his homeland eleven years ago. His novels portray people suffering from trauma and loss, presented in a detached and matter of fact narrative style.
Horses of God refers to the Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the Bible, who go out to wage war on God’s enemies. The narrator, Yachine, is one of the bombers who is telling us the story after he is dead. Binebine gives us a few details of Yachine’s afterlife existence. Yachine describes himself as a ghost, wandering in the world that he used to live in. He is full of thoughts which enlighten but at the same time he is “on fire”, tortured by demons. He experiences his loved ones’ grief at his death as poison that torments him. He is overwhelmed to witness others like himself taking this same route to martyrdom. Like him they learn of the Koranic promises of beautiful women in paradise waiting for them. His knowledge now is different – since all he found was death.
The book follows the young men’s orientation into better jobs and better living situations with the help of the radical Islamist group, who proselytize against the West and against their countrymen who have given up their souls in obeisance to Western capitalism and its godlessness. They are told that they have a weapon that this mighty foe does not – their own flesh and blood. Yachine wants to fly away from this existence and be born anew, as God’s chosen one.
An award winning film was made of this book, and the director, Nabil Ayouch, has joined with Mahi in building a cultural center in Sidi Moumen, a place where the youth and residents may create and perform their own works, in music, theater, and art.
A woman who lost her son and husband in the bombings viewed the movie and took issue with the implication of poverty as the culprit, the reason for this carnage. Yet the book doesn’t really come to this conclusion. We have to figure this one out for ourselves, and for the other young men like Yachine.
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