US rewiews

April 17, 2009

Category: Non Fiction

Time Magazine has reviewed Spiders on their Middle East blog:

The Spiders of Allah Strike Again
By Tim McGirk/Jerusalem

How do you end a conflict when everybody fighting thinks that God is on his side? It's impossible, especially when the line between faith and superstition wobbles and breaks apart. Shortly before I came to Jerusalem, Israel's seemingly indestructible Prime Minister Ariel Sharon fell into a coma. Many Israelis are convinced that Sharon was struck down because rabbis put a curse on him for pulling out of Gaza. That was three years ago, and Sharon –-lying in a hospital bed, half-man, half-machine-- still languishes in a coma.

Want more proof of divine intervention? During the Gaza war, Israeli newspapers solemnly reported that Rachel from the Bible appeared to warn a platoon of soldiers to stay away from a booby-tapped house.

I cite two Jewish examples. But there are plenty among Muslims and Christians, too. Take the Spiders of Allah. James Hider, the Middle East correspondent for the London Times and a self-confessed arachnophobe, was covering the U.S. Marines' campaign in Fallujah where he heard reports that the city's preachers would boost the Islamic fighters' morale with tales that Allah had sent in legions of “chair-sized arachnids, whose poisoned hairs could make a human body turn blue and explode in a shower of corrupted blood.” Oh, and the spiders also scream along at 40 kms an hour.

Hider is more afraid of spiders than of God's wrath. (He's an atheist and says he has seen nothing while reporting various Middle Eastern wars to convince him otherwise). He's also just written a book “The Spiders of Allah: Travels of an Unbeliever on the Frontlines of Holy War” (published in the U.K. by Doubleday and in the U.S. in June by St. Martin's Press), which challenges that famous WWII phrase “there are no atheists in foxholes.” Everything Hider sees in Iraq, Gaza, and the West Bank makes him question the madness of men killing, and dying, for their gods. “It is when the mild opiate of mainstream religion is distilled into the crack cocaine of fanatical fundamentalism that the problems really start,” he writes.

‘Spiders' is, by turns, hilarious sardonic, and visceral. It's a first-class war memoir, with a bow to Vonnegut and Brecht. Lately, a rash of journalists' Iraq war diaries have appeared, but Hider spares us the swagger and chest-thumping. Thankfully, he doesn't brag about his reportorial heroics; in fact, he makes light of the danger he faces. At Fallujah, he takes a piece of shrapnel through the arm. The medic who pulls out the metal chunk gives it to Hider in a zip-lock baggie as a souvenir. Hider takes it back to the Baghdad bureau and forgets about it. Coming back from a vacation, Hider finds a note from his replacement correspondent who had “mistaken the shrapnel for a lump of hash and burned his fingers trying to smoke it. By my bed was a handwritten note.

“'Dope here is crap. No wonder everyone here is so f____king tense.'”

Hashish is nothing, as Hider writes, compared to the nihilistic buzz of fanaticism. In this age of Internet-sped fatwas, Kabalistic curses and Christian outrage, it's a relief to find a writer like Hider who doesn't pussyfoot around the murderous sensibilities of zealots.

The Time review can be found at:

Also McClatchy newspapers also did a short review a few weeks back:

As a child growing up outside London, British journalist James Hider came to view the Bible as a boring children's story.

His teachers taught the New Testament alongside tales of Olga da Polga (the talking guinea pig), Paddington Bear and Beatrix Potter.

By the time he headed to the Middle East to cover the chaos in Iraq, he saw religions as "a series of often gory stories, fables told to take the poor, isolated, individual sap out of himself for a little while, [and] let him forget that he is all alone in the universe."

Needless to say, James take a rather dim view of religious wars in "The Spiders of Allah: Travels of an Unbeliever on the Frontline of Holy War." a new memoir that he describes as "a romp through the madness that is the Middle East."

"The Spiders of Allah" is more readable than "The God Delusion" and less pompous than "God is Not Great."

In 300 pages, James travels between meeting extremist Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Hamas TV producers transforming Mickey Mouse into an anti-Semitic revolutionary.

James, now the Jerusalem-based Middle East correspondent for The Times of London, scoffs at Muslim extremists in Iraq who issue edicts banning the display of tomatoes and cucumbers side-by-side because they are viewed as representing female and male organs.

James describes US soldiers using the "Team America" soundtrack to try and rattle Iraqi insurgents and his distasteful first encounter with American corn dogs during the American effort to rout militants from Fallujah.

By 2005, James writes that he was becoming so "inured to the murderous pace" of Iraq that, when a suicide bomber shattered the windows of his hotel room early one morning, he went back to bed because he knew the attack would never make it into his paper.

Camel The title of the book comes from a myth that spread across the Middle East that camel spiders sent by Allah were decimating Americans in Iraq.

The urban legend had its genesis in a photograph of two camel spiders hanging from a soldier's helmet in Iraq that whipped around the Internet.

Although James doesn't hide his atheist views, he doesn't often engage religious extremists in the book.

Instead, he lets the stories speak for themselves.

But you can get a glimpse of his views in the panel discussion below on "Frost over the World," the Al Jazeera English show with host David Frost.

"The Spiders of Allah" is already out in England and is scheduled to be released in the US this June.

This review is at: