News, On Campus

Author Examines Iraq-American War in Novel

Students and faculty gathered to hear Kanan Makiya, an author and a professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at Brandeis University, speak about his book The Rope on Thursday in McGuinn 121. In the lecture, which was hosted by the Islamic Civilization and Societies Program, Makiya discussed his spin on the Iraq-American War.

Makiya read an excerpt from his newest novel, a political fiction in which he explores the Iraq-American War from solely an Iraqi point of view.

There are no American characters in the novel, and American occupation is only in the background. This sparked an audience member to ask how Makiya could possibly separate the American shadow from the Saddam shadow in the Iraq-American war, as the two are intertwined.

Makiya reiterated that this was political fiction, not an account involving all sides of the story, as he only focused on the Iraqi side of the story, not the American side. Consequently, American presence in the novel is only alluded to.

“All the characters I’m alluding to are Iraqis, not Americans, because the characters of this book are all victims,” Makiya said.

He chose political fiction as the genre for the book because it gave him more room to highlight certain aspects of the story.

“[A] work of literature can shed light on one of the most tragic moments in history.”

—Kanan Makiya, author and professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Brandeis University

“‘Might we hazard that fiction and real human behavior are mutually supportive and reinforcing?’” Makiya said. “My answer is yes.”

Makiya began to read an excerpt from his novel, in which the main character, a Shiite Muslim, has a conversation with Saddam Hussein on the day of his execution.

“‘The only justice I recognize is you,’” Hussein said in the novel. “‘Death will be my redemption.’”

The main character struggles with wanting to believe what Hussein was saying and believing in the righteousness of the American presence. Meanwhile, Hussein is trying to convince the main character that he feels no guilt.

“My point is that when Hussein speaks, thinks, acts, out of the diplomatic realm, he did view himself in this manner,” Makiya said.

Taking creative license with what the characters said, however, does not mean Makiya gave himself license to twist historical events. Makiya said that he had done research on the facts and events for several years prior to writing the book. At that point, he did not know what form the book would take, but was just looking for the most relevant research.

Before the Iraq-American War, Makiya had been quite critical of Arab intellectuals and had become a strong advocate for the American invasion of Iran. After it did not turn out the way he or most people hoped, Makiya turned to literature.

“[A] work of literature can shed light on one of the most tragic moments in history,” he said.

November 13, 2016