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No, My Son | A Short Story

It was pure happenstance that Payedar Olan was sitting near the entrance of the masjid on the day the gunman entered and shot him. He had forgotten that here in America they changed the time twice a year…

San Francisco Islamic Society Mosque

It was pure happenstance that Payedar Olan was sitting near the entrance of the masjid on the day the gunman entered and shot him. He had forgotten that in America they changed the time twice a year, so he was an hour early for Friday congregational prayer. The little masjid at the top of a hill was almost empty, with only a few brothers praying, and one washing up in the ablutions room. So he sat with his back against the wall to relax and wait.

Such a strange thing, this time changing. The sun rose and set. How could men change it? But in America they believed they had power over all things.

Life here was bewildering. People zipped around on electric scooters, in Uber cars and in trains that rumbled beneath the ground. Skyscrapers blocked the sun. People wore strange costumes, and one could often not tell a woman from a man. The markets contained more food than anyone could need, much of it artificial, tasting too salty or too sweet. People smiled for no reason, while crazy people wandered the streets, shouting at nothing.

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This city and country had taken him in and given him shelter when his own homeland was being devoured by evil men; so he was grateful. Still, it was perplexing, and so far removed from his experience that sometimes he felt he was on a different planet.

The Kurdish Heart

A Kurdish village

Kurdish village

Payedar had been born in 1953 in Iraqi Kurdistan, in a mountain village called Gur-e-Sofia, reachable by traveling first on the Ruwandiz road from Erbil, then by a three hour climb up a mule track. His bav was a duck hunter, and his dê a midwife.

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In his village, whitewashed homes were built into steep hillsides in tiers, facing the sun. The mud of the roofs had to be rolled anew every September, before the winter rains, because in summer it would crack. Sheep and goats dotted the slopes. Most people grew barley or bearded wheat, and tobacco in summer, using oxen to plow the fields. Every family knew precisely how much water they could take for irrigation, and no one took more than their share, for fairness was ingrained in the Kurdish heart.

Walnut trees grew everywhere, and Payedar would shake them to bring the walnuts down, then crack them between two stones. Because of this he was never hungry, alhamdulillah.

He remembered his bav, his father, sitting at the village coffee shop, smoking rich Kurdish tobacco from a hookah pipe, and shouting exultantly as he won a round of backgammon. At home his dê cooked spiced kofta meatballs, bulgur pilaf and flatbread, with figs and sweetened black tea for dessert. Payedar, his parents and six siblings ate on the floor, sitting around a clean cloth. At night Bev led them in prayer, reciting the Quran in his powerful voice.

It was life, and he was happy, until he was eight years old and the Kurdish-Iraqi war began. His three older brothers and one sister went to fight and never returned. The village was bombed. Many were killed and many homes were destroyed. Even the small masjid was reduced to rubble. His bav fell into despondency, and one day went out to hunt ducks and blew his own head off.

Payedar, the eldest remaining child, became the breadwinner. Twice a month he loaded up a mule with white grapes, tobacco and walnuts and traveled over the mountain to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, where he sold them at a good profit. It was hazardous work. More than once he was injured. Three times he was robbed.

These dangers were balanced by getting to see Erbil, a city of a million people. A million! Where ancient Assyrian and Roman monuments and citadels mixed with four-story buildings and a modern soccer stadium. Women went out with their forearms uncovered, people wore Western jeans and shirts, and music played from boomboxes sold in shops filled with electronic goods. At the same time, Erbil was a frequent target of Iraqi bombs, and it was not unusual to see bodies in the streets.

The Dying and the Dead

The war ended when he was seventeen, and began again when he was twenty one. This time he joined the Kurdish peshmerga and fought the Iraqi invaders, sending his salary home to his mother.

Female peshmerga fighters

Female peshmerga fighters

It was in the war that he met his wife, Letya. Her name, which meant tiny and womanly, matched her stature, if not her personality, for she too was a member of the peshmerga, and the first time he saw her she was in a soldier’s uniform with a Soviet rifle in her hands, her fierce black eyes promising death to the enemies of the Kurds, and her long black hair streaming in the hot southern wind.

He killed many men, and saw many die. Back home in Sofia-e-Gul one of his two younger sisters got married and moved away, while the other, out one day foraging for food, was kidnapped by Iraqi soldiers, raped and killed. Shortly afterward his mother died of loneliness and heartbreak. He returned home to bury her, his tears falling into the rich mountain soil atop her grave. Sofia-e-Gul was now populated only by old people waiting to die, and by the dead in the cemetery. The fields lay untended, many homes half-destroyed, the animals lost. He prayed, begging Allah’s forgiveness for leaving his mother alone. He did not ask for Allah’s mercy on his mother, for it was unnecessary. She was a saint, and if anyone in the world deserved Paradise it was her.

He left Sofia-e-Gul and never returned.

Payedar and Letya were married as the war raged, and when the Kurdish militias lost and the Kurdish region was overrun by Iraqi troops, they fled to the Kurdish border region in Iran. There Payedar worked as an assistant to a stone mason. He and Letya raised two boys and a girl.

San Francisco Islamic Society Mosque

These were the things Payedar was thinking about as he sat with his back against the wall in the little masjid. Lately it seemed his mind dwelled more in the past than the present. Sometimes he found himself standing on a street corner in this American city, thinking about the feel of his father’s bristly mustache when he kissed Payedar goodnight, or the smell of his wife’s hair, redolent with the day’s cooking – or, if she had bathed, with the scent of fermented rice-water shampoo. Then someone would interrupt his reverie, some Spanish girl with green hair, or a goateed man with earrings and a baby in a belly sling, and ask if he was alright. And he would smile and thank them.

He had no complaints about the way his life had turned out. He’d lost so much, yes. But he’d been a fighter all his life, and what more could any man do? Everything was in Allah’s hands. Whatever had happened was always going to happen, and whatever had passed him by was always going to pass him by. There was nothing he could say in the end but alhamdulillah. And if he was fortunate, he would meet his lost ones in Jannah, and all would be well.

Boots On

The gunman entered with his boots on. That was the first thing Payedar noticed, glancing to his left and seeing the military boots on the plush carpet of the prayer room. His eyes shot up to take the man in: tall, white, with a powerful frame. Green eyes and a scattering of freckles across his cheeks. Brown hair in a buzz cut. Dressed in green army fatigues, and carrying a semi-automatic rifle. The gun was pointed toward the mehrab as the man’s head swiveled, taking in the interior of the masjid.

The man seemed confused. Maybe he too had been fooled by the time change, and was expecting to find a full congregation. Maybe his eyes were adjusting to the gloom, for the interior lights had not yet been turned on, and the masjid was all cool shadows and lazily spinning ceiling fans.

The gunman’s hesitation gave Payedar the time he needed. He leaped up and embraced the man tightly, throwing his arms over the man’s arms, pinning them to his sides so that the rifle pointed at the ground. “No, my son,” Payedar said intensely, whispering in the man’s ear as if telling secrets to a confidante. “No.”

“Get off me you goddamn terrorist!” the man bellowed. He struggled, nearly falling. He was strong, but Payedar also was strong, for though he was sixty seven years old he had been a stone mason for decades, and the work had given him a broad back and muscular arms.

“No, my son,” he said again, his voice rising. “I will not allow it. I cannot, I cannot.” He heard other men shouting in panic and confusion, but he did not turn to look.

“I’ll kill you!” the man drove forward, but Payedar held on. The gun went off. The sound ricocheted off the walls like the roar of a cannon. Someone screamed. Payedar’s foot exploded with pain. Starbursts appeared before his eyes. Yet he kept his arms clasped. “No, my son,” he said again, desperately. ‘No, my son.” He was pleading, but not for his life. He and death were old friends or old enemies – he could not tell anymore. Sometimes you hated a man but admired him. So it was with Payedar and death. No, he was pleading for this man to understand, to stop before it was too late.

“GET OFF ME YOU CRAZY OLD MAN!”

Again the gun fired, and this time it was as if a sword had been driven into Payedar’s thigh. He closed his eyes and groaned in agony, but held on. Again he pleaded, his voice filled with something that might have been anger but might also have been love, and this time it was a shout, driven by pain and desperation. “No my son!”

The gunman stopped struggling. Payedar felt the man’s body go limp within the circle of his embrace. He opened his eyes to meet a gaze filled with hatred and rage, but also confusion and shame. Now that the man had stopped struggling, Payedar seemed to have lost his own ability to fight, as if he had drawn his energy from the other’s seething will. His arms grew slack and the world turned monochrome, as if he were seeing everything on the old television he and Letya had purchased when the children were still small and still alive. Pain filled his mind, and he could not stand.

Arms seized Payedar and the gunman. Both fell. Men were atop them, shouting in Arabic and English. Payedar’s mouth fell open as his eyelids came down like steel doors.

His Young Prince

Hospital IV bag

Two surgeries and a week in the hospital, and he was on his way to recovery. People said he was a hero. Visitors from the masjid were allowed in two at a time, but Payedar found their visits tiring. Reporters wanted to see him, but his son Ekrem shielded him. Payedar had no desire for fame. Police came as well. He told the story in halting English, and picked the gunman out of a selection of photos on a card.

Sometimes he did not know where he was. A hospital, but he had been in many clinics and field hospitals. He had been shot twice before, bombed, struck with grenade shrapnel, and tortured in an Iranian jail, where he was accused of being a Kurdish separatist.

When he became confused he remained silent and waited stiffly. Eventually Ekrem would appear, sometimes with his beautiful wife Amirah, and Payedar would relax, for even if he did not know where he was he knew that Ekrem was his young prince, his joy and legacy, and that if Ekrem was there then everything was fine.

Later, he awoke on the sofa in Ekrem’s living room. Usually he slept in a tiny upstairs room, but he had a titanium rod in his thigh and a cast from knee to toe. He let out a groan. His leg and foot ached as if a lion were gnawing on the bones. He’d experienced worse pain in life. But he was old now.

Amirah stood over him, speaking. “Apê. Tu dixwazî hin çay bi şekirê dixwazî? Dem dema dermanê we ye.” Uncle, would you like tea with sugar? It’s time for your medication.

Payedar smiled at this princess, this beautiful African-American Muslim woman who had given him two grandsons and had even learned Kurdish!

Trying not to show how much his leg hurt, he rubbed his eyes and yawned. “How about some mast-aw?” he replied in Kurdish. It was an old joke. Mast-aw was a Kurdish favorite: heated goat’s milk mixed with sour goat’s milk to curdle it, then with cold water. Of course it could not be found in America.

“Honey,” Amirah called in English. “He wants mast-aw.”

“Coming up.” Ekrem emerged from the kitchen carrying a tray with a single glass of milk perched in the center, and four pills beside it. The boys trooped at his heels, grinning. Payedar looked at his son, with his curly hair and long, proud nose. He was sturdy, for he too was a stonemason, having learned at Payedar’s side.

Payedar smiled at this prank. The pasteurized, homogenized milk sold in America was a far cry from mast-aw. But he took the glass without complaint, and downed a few pills. His eyes widened. The drink was thick and tangy, rich with the flavors of his homeland. It was mast-aw! He had not tasted it in many years, and for a moment the flavor took him back, so that he was a child, sitting on the floor with his parents and siblings after a long day of trooping over the mountains with his bav. The children enjoyed mast-aw and boiled wheat with sugar, and when his older brother tried to talk about the war Bav shushed him. His sister told a joke about a cat that tried to ride a bicycle, and Payedar laughed.

Remembering this, he laughed again, and witnessing this, Ekrem and his family laughed as well, and Payedar returned to the present. “This is miracle,” Payedar said in English, and his family grinned and told him how they had sourced all the ingredients.

Moments like this were a barakah, and Payedar was filled with gratitude to Allah. If only… he faltered, his hand shaking, nearly dropping the glass, so that Amirah took it quickly. A tear ran down his cheek. Ekrem was beside him, touching his shoulder. “What is it, Bav? Is something wrong?”

Payedar shook his head. “You are the spirit of my heart, Ekrem. All of you.” He reached a hand to his grandsons and they piled onto the sofa. “I wish…” He could not continue. He wished Letya, his wife, could have lived long enough to see this new land. And Sara, his daughter, gassed by Saddam Hussein along with her husband and children. And Baz, his firstborn, a lifelong soldier.

Ekrem rubbed his shoulder. “I know, Bav.”

“Can I try the mast-aw?” This was Ibrahim, his youngest grandson, a wide-faced boy with curly black hair and dark eyes, only four years old. His mother gave him the glass and he took a sip, then coughed and grimaced. “Eww!”

Payedar chuckled. “You are American boy. You better stick to apple juice.”

* * *

An assistant district attorney came to see him. A rail-thin blonde woman with spectacles like tea glasses. The gunman, whose name was Amundsen, had so far refused to speak to the police. He said he would only speak to, “the old man.”

“Meaning you, Mr. Olan,” the ADA said. “You’d be doing us a favor.”

Good Crazy or Bad Crazy

They met in a room in the county jail building. It was painted steel gray, with a thick window beyond which a tall black guard watched. There were no cameras or listening devices, as far as Payedar could tell.

The gunman, Amundsen, sat across from Payedar at a metal table that was bolted to the ground. The man wore orange jail coveralls with “JAIL INMATE” printed on the chest and back. He was handcuffed, his ankles shackled, another chain connecting hands and feet to a belly chain, and the whole mess chained to a steel eye loop welded to the table. The man was unmarked. No bruises or burns. Back home he would have been tortured until he confessed. Here they had to appeal to him, negotiate, reason. America was crazy. But good crazy or bad crazy? Both, Payedar supposed.

Payedar wore the traditional clothing of his homeland: a dark vest over a white robe, a black turban, and boots. He did not always dress thus. Sometimes he wore typical Western clothing. He was not sure why he had chosen to dress this way today.

The gunman eyed him. There was some hostility in that look, but not as much as Payedar had expected. The man seemed almost curious. “You speak English?”

“Yes. I learn.”

The chains rattled as Amundsen gestured to Payedar’s leg. “You gonna be alright?”

Payedar nodded.

“You really messed me up.”

“You mess up yourself.”

“Yeah.”

Neither of them said anything for a while. Payedar studied the gunman. The man’s eyes were intelligent, his jaw set tightly. A forearm tattoo peeked out beneath the sleeve of his coverall. His torso was as wide as a barrel. Payedar was amazed he’d been able to hold the man. In fact, he could not see how it was possible.

“Why did you say that?” the gunman wanted to know.

“Say what?” Though he knew.

“You know. You called me your son. You kept saying that. Even when I shot you. What the hell, man? I’m not your son.”

Payedar flushed with embarrassment. But he had agreed to talk to the man, so he answered. “Sometimes I get confused. At that time I thought you was my son, Baz.”

Amundsen stared, then shook his head and laughed. “Unbelievable. I got stopped by a senile old kook. Do I look like your son?”

“Little bit. Big and strong. He was soldier, fighting the Iraqis. Seven years ago, when ISIS start to invade our land, Baz come to me, say he going to fight them. I did not want. I lose so many people already. So I hug him, I tell him, no, my son. Do not go.”

Amundsen frowned. “Your son was going to fight against ISIS? I thought you Muslims supported ISIS.”

“You are fool!” Payedar snapped. “Never say this. Do you understand what ISIS did to my people? They attack the Yazidi villages because the Yazidis are Christian, not Muslim. So ISIS kill the men, take the women and rape them. My son cannot accept this, so he go to fight, to protect them.”

“So…” Amundsen’s mouth hung open as he took in what Payedar was telling him. “Your son fought to protect Christians?”

“Muslim, Christians, one people. They are Kurds.”

“What happened to him?”

“What you think?” Not wanting to speak it out loud.

The room fell silent. Payedar looked around absently, taking in the clean floor and walls, the even light from the fluorescents embedded in the ceiling. He looked at the jail guard on the other side of the window, who stood calmly, watching them both. Payedar’s mind wandered, traveling through time, crossing borders and eras in an instant, feeling the touch of his wife’s lips on his cheek, whispering her love. She had loved him like a fighter, fiercely, unreservedly. Then his mind swept forward like a flash flood in a mountain ravine, and he was once again in the present, in this tiny room in a foreign city far from home. His gaze returned to Amundsen, who in turn studied him silently. No one spoke.

The end

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

Wael Abdelgawad’s novels, Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters, and Zaid Karim Private Investigator, are available on Amazon.com.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Wael Abdelgawad's novels can be purchased at his author page at Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Wael-Abdelgawad/e/B071CYWVDM?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1579756718&sr=8-1Wael is an Egyptian-American living in California. He is the founder of several Islamic websites, including IslamicAnswers.com and IslamicSunrays.com, and various financial websites. Heteaches martial arts, and loves Islamic books, science fiction, and ice cream. Learn more about him at WaelAbdelgawad.com.For a guide to all of Wael's online stories in chronological order, check out this handy Story Index.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Mohammad Rocka

    April 16, 2020 at 6:54 PM

    Ma sha ALLAH, well written, I didn’t want the story to end so quickly.
    It was really good to hear the background story.

  2. Avatar

    Wael Abdelgawad

    April 16, 2020 at 7:00 PM

    Hope you guys enjoy this one. The story came to me out of the blue. I did a lot of research into Kurdish history and culture. By the time I was done I was very fond of this old man, Payedar Olan.

  3. Avatar

    Fatima Moinuddin

    April 16, 2020 at 7:09 PM

    Love love your writing MashAllah tabarakAllah

  4. Avatar

    Sarah HF

    April 16, 2020 at 10:17 PM

    Assalamualaikum. Brother Wael, is the main character based on a true story? It made me cry. I think I live in a country where peace has been taken forgranted. You don’t know the value of something until you’ve lost it.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      April 16, 2020 at 10:26 PM

      Sarah, wa alaykum as-salam. The story was inspired by this incident:

      https://www.scmp.com/news/world/europe/article/3022518/norway-mosque-shooting-how-unarmed-65-year-old-mohammad-rafiq

      The actual history, geography and culture of Kurdistan as described in the story is real. Even the village I mentioned is real. However, as you can see, I changed the details and fictionalized Payedar’s life story.

      • Avatar

        Sarah HF

        April 17, 2020 at 12:35 AM

        Thank you for the link. What is it about your stories that people can easily relate to? Is it the theme? (Like hardships, poverty etc) Or that the places, location/culture that you’ve mentioned is very strikingly similar to what is in reality?

        • Avatar

          Wael Abdelgawad

          April 17, 2020 at 1:26 AM

          Sarah, if indeed it’s true that my stories are relatable, then I think it’s because I write about people who may be imperfect, and who may have troubled hearts, but in the end they are trying to do the right thing. They are people of faith, but they don’t have all the answers. There may be moral or spiritual lessons in the story, but those lessons are communicated through the plot, not by exposition or preaching. You walk the same path as the characters, you come to love them, and in that way you grow and learn along with them. At least that is what I strive for, inshaAllah.

          • Avatar

            Sarah HF

            April 17, 2020 at 11:46 AM

            “…in the end they are trying to do the right thing.” Brother, how would you deal with someone who…let’s say, envies you…to the extent of harbouring hasad and using sihr to get whatever they want? Isn’t it fitrah for everyone to want to be good, no matter who they are? But “forgiveness has a time and place”?

          • Avatar

            Wael Abdelgawad

            April 18, 2020 at 3:00 AM

            Sarah, I would avoid such a person to whatever degree possible, including removing them from my life altogether.

  5. Avatar

    Sarah HF

    April 18, 2020 at 11:21 PM

    Assalamualaikum. Brother Wael, thank you for a beautiful story and all your replies above. I’ve not only enjoyed your stories, I’ve also learnt many things as well. My mum loves your stories too. She is 79 years old. When I told her I was going to read to her this one, she got really excited as she remembered The Gravedigger and Zaid Karim.

    I especially like the way you explain a certain aayah or hadith. You’ve made it easy for me to understand. I’ve shared it with others and they too feel the same. So Brother, please keep writing. The world needs you!

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#Culture

The Conundrum | A Short Story

disaster

It was all over the news. The earthquake had wiped out whole towns. The entire country was in shock. Upcoming festivals were cancelled and citywide donation drives were springing up everywhere. Charity organizations were activating their networks and sending teams of volunteers to help in the rescue efforts.

“This is God’s punishment for all the evil things we do,” her uncle said mournfully.

She was confused. If they were doing bad things, then shouldn’t they be dead too? She looked at her father to see what he would say. He shook his head and countered, “That’s not true, you know. This is a trial from God. And it is a reminder for us to be conscious of Him and be aware of His power. So that we may worship Him more.”

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“So, you’re saying that bad things don’t happen because of our wicked deeds?” her uncle challenged his brother.

“No, they can, but we have no way of knowing for certain. After all, God also promises us that He will test us to see which of us is better in action. As a reminder of His presence and power.”

“So, you prefer to turn a blind eye to God’s punishment just because you’re not sure?” He asked incredulously.

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“Of course not. All I am saying is that I don’t know – and neither do you! So, instead of delving into God’s matters and condemning everyone, especially the victims, we should focus on rectifying our own selves! This is a time for astaghfar, for asking forgiveness,” her father shook his head again.

“Well, that’s precisely my point! If we see this as punishment, it will strike fear in our hearts and make us change our ways, so we can avert another disaster!”

“Yes, but the problem with that logic is that, in the process, you have denounced whole swaths of people who may be completely innocent. Only God knows,” he emphasized.

She was so proud of her father. His explanation made so much more sense, but she couldn’t resist asking, “Baba, why would God let such a terrible thing happen?”

“Because He is angry,” her uncle immediately responded. Apparently, he hadn’t changed his mind.

“My dear,” her father began, ignoring his brother.

“God’s plan and vision is much greater than what we see. Life and death are a reality of life. Every person must die. It is really sad what has happened to all of these people, but we must also remember that God gives us the reassurance that if believers die in such a state, they are martyrs. What a high station! Which is why it baffles me every time I hear that somehow this was a punishment,” he pointedly remarked, looking at his brother who stayed quiet.

He sighed and continued, “For those who are gone, we must pray for their souls. And take care of the survivors. As for us, we need to draw ourselves nearer to God and follow His guidance, so that when our turn comes, we are ready.”

He pulled her close to him and she felt safe.

-end-

“The author is grateful to Prof. Ovamir Anjum for his kind assistance during the writing of this story.”

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Continue Reading

#Culture

Launch of Zaid Karim Private Investigator!

Where did the idea for Zaid Karim come from, how much is based on real events, and what is next for Zaid?

Zaid Karim, Private Investigator

I’m so excited to share the release of Zaid Karim Private Investigator.

This novel has been three years in the making: from when I first began serializing it on MuslimMatters.org in early 2017, to its completion on MM nine months later, to the first wave of revisions based on comments by my editor Amy Estrada and the MM readers, to the final revision after further input from another editor, Rafael Lopez.

If you’ve already read it online, I encourage you to buy the new ebook or paperback. There’s nothing like holding a physical copy in your hands. And there have been some changes.

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MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

One thing I’ve consistently noticed in the input I’ve received from MM readers is that a lot of you are doctors! My characters always seem to get injured, and apparently I often make mistakes when describing their treatment or symptoms. And the MM readers call me on it. I’m grateful for that, and I have always made changes to the story in response.

The final version is, in my opinion, tight as a drum. I added a few minor transitional scenes, and eliminated a lot of irrelevant musings by Zaid that tended to take the reader away from the action. Zaid has an irreverent and odd sense of humor, and that flavors the book, but Rafael Lopez pointed out that the inclusion of this humor during climactic moments sabotages the tension of the story, and he was right. So I ended up deleting some of those.

A key change from the MM version occurs during the climactic battle on Ouagadiri Island. I don’t want to give it away, but I’ll say that it was an important change, and had to do with how I see Zaid, and how he sees himself. Let me know if you read the book and catch the change, and what you think.

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Here are some answers to questions I often receive about Zaid Karim Private Investigator, and about my writing process in general:

Q: How much of this book is fact and how much is fiction?

A: Telling the true story of my life would be problematic. So I fictionalize. Every novel I’ve written has some autobiographical elements, with fictional events and invented characters mixed it. Lately, in my short stories, I’ve been trying to branch out more and create characters that are wholly fictional. Well, let me amend that. I create characters whose lives are based on real-world social dynamics and believable situations. I want emotional honesty above all. The particular circumstances of their lives, however, are invented.

Q: How did you get the idea for this book?

East Los Angeles

East Los Angeles

A: When I was twenty one years old I helped a friend track down and find his young missing daughter. But it was quite different from the narrative in Zaid Karim. For example, we started our search in East Los Angeles, first talking to people, then breaking down doors. Along the way we crashed our car in Mazatlan, had a nearly disastrous run-in with the Mexican police in Guadalajara, got in an argument with South African Tablighi Jamaat members at the Egyptian Club in Mexico City, were invited to a bizarre meeting of wealthy Mexican sufis, and ended up in the mountains of southern Mexico. That incident was the seed for Zaid Karim.

As for the setting in the latter half of the book, I lived in Panama for four years, and in fact I lived in El Valle de Anton, the idyllic little town where Yusuf Cruz lives. Though my house was not a mansion!

Q: Zaid’s kind of violent, isn’t he?

A: Yes, at times. He is young, and he’s been through a lot. He wants to change, but doesn’t know how. He needs some catalyst to transform his thinking. I suspect that novel that Alejandra gave him, On My Way to Paradise, will play a role. As he continues to grow, I believe we’ll see him evolve.

Q: So you plan to write more Zaid Karim mysteries?

A: Depends on how well this one sells. If you want to see more, buy ten copies: one for you, and nine for your friends, ha ha.

Q: What about a crossover between Zaid Karim and Hassan Amir?

A: It could happen. Zaid is Jamilah’s cousin, after all, and their stories happen around the same time.

Q: Who would win in a fight between Zaid and Hassan?

A: Lol, why would they be fighting? But here you go:

  • Gunfight: Hassan.
  • Sticks: Zaid.
  • Knives: Even match.
  • Empty hands: Hassan, by a mile.

Q: What’s next for Zaid Karim?

A: His body will need healing time and therapy, but knowing Zaid he will probably plow right ahead. He needs to investigate this so-called convert who is trying to radicalize the youth. We will learn more about the event that enabled him to be pardoned and released from prison early. We just might learn more about the strange comment made by Farah Anwar regarding Zaid’s mother, that she should have “aborted you and kept the lame one.” Zaid will almost certainly return to Panama, to find Angie and try to help her, especially now that he is a foster father to he daughter. Lastly, an important figure from Zaid’s past, a person of power and influence, might call upon him to investigate a crime he is uniquely qualified to handle. Stay tuned.

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

Wael Abdelgawad’s novels, Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters, and Zaid Karim Private Investigator, are available on Amazon.com.

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#Current Affairs

Propaganda Kills: Holding China Accountable For Its Role In The Coronavirus Pandemic

The world gave China the benefit of doubt on SARS, but the fact that something similar happened again is inexcusable.

Chinese propaganda

15 mins read

In a new report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian describes the operating manuals for China’s mass internments and arrests of Uighur Muslims in the occupied territory called Xinjiang (East Turkestan). She describes what the world continues to ignore: China’s ethnic genocide—the destruction of culture, traditions, and mosques— the very fabric of Uighur heritage. 

This is a shocking attempt at reshaping an entire people’s identity. Once reduced to less than animals, it is no surprise that Chinese Communisty Party’s (CCP) evil is now extending to harvesting organs from Uighurs. There is increasing research such as the findings of the China Tribunal led by Sir Geoffrey Nice, QC, a former chief prosecutor of Slobodan Milosevic, that also leads to assertions of physical genocide. 

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While the Uighur destruction story has been unfolding for more than a decade and despite courageous reporting to bring it to the attention of the world, the abuse continues unabated. Why?

China’s rampant propaganda machine: Tell China’s story well

The answer lies in China’s propaganda machine, which is unparalleled in its scope and funding. China has committed to spend $6.6 billion on global coverage, emphasizing Chinese power, generosity and centrality to global affairs. While all expenses paid trips, buying airwaves, advertorials, sponsored journalistic coverage and “heavily massaged positive messages from boosters” are no new tactics, unlike other government propaganda machines, China does not accept a plurality of views. The press becomes the eyes, ears, and tongues of the Chinese Communist Party.

The build up of soft power is strategic. A five month investigation by the Guardian reports that, “Beijing has also been patiently increasing its control over the global digital infrastructure through private Chinese companies, which are dominating the switchover from analogue to digital television in parts of Africa, launching television satellites and building networks of fibre-optic cables and data centres – a “digital silk road” – to carry information around the world.Since August 2019.” 10 million of Africa’s 24 million pay-TV subscribers watch low-cost StarTimes, which is CCP-owned. ProPublica has tracked more than 10,000 suspected fake Twitter accounts involved in a coordinated influence campaign with ties to the Chinese government. Remember Twitter is banned in China. A Reuters investigation across four continents found at least 33 radio stations in 14 countries that are part of a global radio web structured in a way that obscures its majority shareholder: state-run China Radio International, or CRI. The carefully scripted content is broadcast worldwide in more than 60 languages and Chinese dialects. 

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The 480 CCP funded Confucius Institutes in various universities in six continents are staffed with visiting teachers from China and offer language classes, cultural programming and outreach. They teach that Taiwan, Tibet and East Turkestan are integral parts of China and ignore human rights. However, many see them as a part of the propaganda machine and have been criticized by professors concerned about academic freedom and institutional autonomy. The CCP admits as much, Politburo standing member Li Changchun said. “[Confucius Institute] has made an important contribution toward improving our soft power. The ‘Confucius’ brand has a natural attractiveness. Using the excuse of teaching Chinese language, everything looks reasonable and logical.”

One just needs to look at China’s neighbor Pakistan, home of 4 Confucius Institutes, Xinhua Urdu News channel and a $60 billion CCP investment, to see the effect of wholesale Chinese brainwashing. Like the rest of the Muslim “Ummah”, Pakistanis decry the human rights abuses against Kashmiris, Rohingya,  Palestinians, etc., but when it comes to human rights abuse against Uighur Muslims, a majority of Pakistanis dismiss it as “Western propaganda”.

Much of this is because of a systematic response team run by the China Economic Net, a Beijing-based online news organization, and the Islamabad-based Pakistan China Institute. The system disseminates information to counter “negative” news about the neocolonial Belt and Road initiative. The think tank also runs China-Pakistan Media Forum, and for 5 years has been bringing Pakistani and Chinese journalists together to counter negative news.

Pakistan may be an extreme case, but it is not unique. Most of the world is either unaware or uncertain about the extent of the abuse against Uighurs. 

This reflects the extent to which China has been successful in hiding its dirty secrets.

Will there be another cover-up on COVID19?

More than 23,000 people are dead globally from COVID-19. Since the first Dec. 30 announcement of a new disease in Wuhan, the CCP has spun a narrative.

Recently three lawsuits were filed against the CCP government. In one, attorney Robert Eglet claimed that China’s government should have shared more information about the virus but intimidated doctors, scientists, journalists and lawyers while allowing the COVID-19 respiratory illness to spread.

CCP’s propaganda machine is now attempting to cover-up China’s role in the coronavirus pandemic; it has gone into hyper mode. In a must-watch short documentary on New York Times, reporters identify three dominant themes that China wants to promote to the world: spinning optimism, protecting China’s image, and disputing the origin of the virus:

Spinning optimism and protecting China’s image:

Everyday we are hearing stories of Chinese medical goods and medical teams reaching other countries to provide assistance in fighting the virus. This is certainly laudable, but one must not forget the context of these stories that are glowingly reported by Chinese news sources and officials on Twitter. This is part of the government spin to turn the Chinese government from the creator of the problem to the Good Samaritan. It is akin to setting someone’s house on fire and then sending in the fire trucks. One can acknowledge that the fire-trucks are helpful, but should one forget who started the fire?

The source of the COVID-19:

Despite China’s massive attempts at shifting the virus origins outside China, the overwhelming evidence points to Wuhan as the epicenter of the pandemic.  If there is one video to watch to understand how this virus came into being, then it is this from Vox.

Everyone remembers SARS from 2003, a zoonoses – human infection of animal origin. What most people didn’t know is how SARS came into being. Historically, small farmers in China ate wildlife that they caught on the farms. However, after China designated wildlife as a “natural resource” in the late 1980s, it led to its mass-scale industrialization, worth billions. As it is, China has a poor record in food supply chain controls, and by allowing this unprecedented commercialization of wildlife, it opened the doors for exotic viruses to find their way into humans.

With the breeding industrialization, wildlife markets were established and wildlife started flooding regular wet markets (where meat, fish, and produce is sold) leading to its mixing with staple animals under atrocious conditions. This allowed viruses to move from one animal species to another, eventually leading to the SARS outbreak. The SARS virus was traced to a wet market in Foshan, Guangdong province, most likely passed from masked palm civets and/or bats to humans. This is a wildlife regulation problem.

While China shut down the markets immediately after SARS, it decided to reopen them in a short time. Greed trumped humanity. It was only a matter of time that some new virus would jump species and find its way into humans. And that is exactly what happened. A study found that the novel coronavirus now known as COVID-19 that has been found in patients infected in the outbreak that began in Wuhan, China, is almost totally identical to one that infects bats.

Racism towards people of Chinese heritage

It is important to keep in mind that ordinary Chinese people have faced the brunt of the initial virus outbreak. Their frustrations and anger was captured in tweets by New York Times correspondent Amy Qin from Wuhan. There is no excuse and basis for discriminating against the people of China. They are very much part of the common humanity with the rest of the world who are suffering due to the grave and criminal blunders of the Chinese government. It is important to acknowledge that some individuals are promoting racist tropes against the Chinese, and this must be opposed, while not allowing the Chinese government to get away with a cover-up.

Some of the racist tropes making rounds online are about food choices in China. What Chinese people eat is their choice. People all over the world eat all types of animals. Some folks may find the consumption of camel, kangaroo, and desert lizard disgusting, even while Muslim diet permits all three. We may not like what others eat, but we are not in a position to dictate those choices. What we can emphasize though universally is that the meat industry must provide sanitary conditions to animals, and their slaughter should also be conducted in a humane way. For example, cooking animals alive or clubbing them to death are practices that can be universally condemned, but what cannot be allowed is to engage in racist tropes about what people eat.

One must also note that while the Chinese do have a wider spectrum of animals they will eat, “the majority of the people in China do not eat wildlife animals”. As Peter Li points out in the VOX video, “those people who consume these wildlife animals are the rich and the powerful –a small minority.” 

The cover-up is harmful

Coronavirus has brought the world to its knees. People have lost their lives and livelihoods. Poor countries are even at greater risk of being completely devastated if the virus takes hold, as it did in Wuhan or Italy. 

And it could have been prevented.

A University of Southampton study found that “if interventions in the country [by Beijing] could have been conducted one week, two weeks, or three weeks earlier, cases could have been reduced by 66 percent, 86 percent and 95 percent respectively – significantly limiting the geographical spread of the disease”.

Instead of focusing on controlling the disease, the Chinese government was focused on PR. Instead of managing the disease, President Xi was busy managing WHO’s response, which parroted Chinese government propaganda that “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus.”

So China not only allowed conditions for the rise of the deadly virus, its actions led to a far more severe outbreak than a transparent and controlled prevention program would have allowed. It co-opted the WHO into its propaganda and we must call China out for its actions.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

Despite the clear evidence of China’s role in both the rise and spread of the virus, there is a severe pushback (some from Chinese propaganda and some from “woke” channels) against calling China out on the pandemic. While calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” is very problematic, it is also not helpful to absolve China of its attempted cover-up and then get out of hand.

Concern for ordinary Chinese people is sincerely intentioned. However, holding China accountable is not racism. The world gave China the benefit of doubt on SARS, but the fact that something similar happened again is inexcusable. China has been getting away with abuse within its boundaries, and if it gets away with the coronavirus cover-up, who knows what other abuses and viruses the world will see in the years to come.  

Holding China accountable means that it should not business as usual after this is all over, as Shadi Hamid rightfully points out in an excellent succinct essay, published in The Atlantic.

It means that the abuse of Uighur Muslims must stop. Those in US, here is a call you can make to help close the camps

It means that wildlife industrial operations must be stopped permanently.

It means that China must compensate the world for wreaking havoc, especially funding recovery of poor nations with no strings attached 

Finally, and most importantly, it means that China’s propaganda machine must be checked and countered. Major news outlets must directly and explicitly fact-check Chinese propaganda. CCP’s bizarre attempts at raising concerns about racism, while it is in the middle of destroying an entire race, should be exposed for what it is: an attempted cover-up. It shouldn’t get away with it this time.

 (Hena Zuberi contributed to this piece)

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MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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