From an Afghan with deep roots in his nation's history, a courageous and evocative memoir of fleeing the Soviet invasion, coming of age in a madrassa in Pakistan, fighting the Russians with the mujahideen, and moving to America
Confessions of a Mullah Warrior is the story of one man's extraordinary journey from the heart of the Islamic world to the halls of Harvard University and far beyond. Born into a family whose history is inextricably tied to the history of his country, Masood Farivar was ten years old when his childhood in peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan was shattered by the Soviet invasion in 1979. His family fled to Pakistan, where Farivar entered a madrassa for refugees. At the age of eighteen, he returned to Afghanistan and joined the jihad, fighting beside not only the Afghan mujahideen but also Arab and Pakistani volunteers. Two years later, after the Soviets withdrew, he left his country again to continue his education in America, where he attended the prestigious Lawrenceville School and Harvard, and ultimately became a journalist in New York. Finally, after ten years in America, Farivar was propelled home to Afghanistan, where he currently serves his country by running a national radio program. As a native Afghan, a former mujahideen fighter, and a longtime U.S. resident, Farivar has unprecedented insight into the recent collision between Islam and the West. He not only saw war devastate his native country and turn it into a safe haven for international terrorists, he also saw terrorism turn the United States into a hotbed of racism against Muslims. In this dramatic and timely memoir, Farivar paints a vibrant portrait of his family and his nation's history, exposes the world of militant Islam by taking us deep inside the madrassas, vividly recounts his experiences on the battlefield at Tora Bora and elsewhere, and conveys the culture shock of a Muslim living in contemporary America.
In this earnest bildungsroman, Farivar tells the remarkable tale of how he went from Afghan refugee to resistance fighter to Harvard University student. Fleeing the increasing violence and political instability in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation, the author and his family escaped to Pakistan--and the hardships and alienation of refugee life. The young Farivar entered a madrassa where he studied the Koran intensively and became a devout Muslim. Eventually deciding he had a duty to return to Afghanistan to fight, he left his family to embrace jihad against the occupying Soviet troops. While serving on the front lines, Farivar continued brushing up on [his] Pythagorean theorems, among other things in preparation for the SAT and made his way to an American prep school and later, Harvard. While Farivar's account is indisputably unique and fascinating, the narrative tension frequently slackens as the author relies too heavily on the action alone to drive his story forward. Still, the book succeeds in its in-depth exploration of the radicalization of young Muslim men in the 1980s--and Farivar's path away from extremism. (Mar.)
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March 02, 2009
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Excerpt from Confessions of a Mullah Warrior by Masood Farivar
When I look back on the war and how it came to put Afghanistan at the center of Islamic terrorism, I think about that chained man, and thousands of men just like him, who martyred themselves for God. Young, overzealous, and misguided, these Arab men were war tourists who had bought their way into my country. While we called our struggle a jihad, a holy war, we were fighting first and foremost to liberate our country. The Arabs, who saw us as lesser Muslims, were seeking heavenly rewards. The more politically minded of these fighters declared, with a fierce conviction I could never understand, that "jihad will go on until the green flag of Islam flutters over Moscow and Washington"--an ominous utterance we shrugged off as the rhetorical ejaculation of misguided men.
In a sense, these men symbolized what the war had morphed into by 1989. This was no longer a holy war, a jihad of liberation against the godless Soviets; it had degenerated into a conflict manipulated by outsiders, each with very different ambitions. The Pakistani military orchestrated the battle of Jalalabad in hopes of bringing friendly Afghan groups to power. The Americans had financed a lengthy jihad and, throughout the war, rallied international support and encouraged volunteers to take part. The toughest fighters received the most American support even if they were in open contempt of America. When the Soviets left, the United States pushed to bring more "moderate" forces to power, but the effort was halfhearted and quickly abandoned. As for the Arabs, they poured into Afghanistan in ever-larger numbers, even after the Soviet withdrawal. Their ambitions wouldn't become fully clear until September 11, 2001.