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The Boy Jihadi: Guernica Magazine Short story

Paolo Pellegrin. Islamic Jihad militants at night in a safe house in Gaza city. Gaza 2014. Source: magnumphotos.com

And that He might know the hypocrites, unto whom it was said: Come, fight in the way of Allah, or defend yourselves. They answered: If we knew aught of fighting we would follow you. On that day they were nearer disbelief than faith…—Surat At Tawbah, Quran, 3:167

At first the boy jihadi showed up just once. Trailing a bright-red wheelbarrow with a formless load wrapped in a pillowcase inside it, he appeared at the threshold of our apartment building.

A slight figure, almost as short and thin as the ancient kalashnikov it cradled—and immediately we were incensed. How dare such a thing as this invade the living space of two dozen upstanding families, good citizens, and good Muslims, the pride and joy of their third-world country’s bourgeoisie? He wore a Pathan salwar kameezwith a camo jacket on top and a tight white turban wrapped like a cup, one loose fold coming down alongside his ponytail. We could tell by his beard that he was at most fourteen. The unshaved wisps wanted to hang down from his chin, but they were so soft and sparse all they could do was curl upward.

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Dumb from human dignity

So like a bit of stone I lie
Under a broken tree.
I could recover if I shrieked
My heart’s agony
To passing bird, but I am dumb
From human dignity. – William Butler Yeats

After the first round of presidential elections, the bleak prospects facing Egyptian society since the revolution have become apparent – with the incumbent, largely fake polarisation between the former NDP and the Islamic-style NDP (aka, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party) consuming far more energy than it is really worth, all things considered. This is due, as much as anything, to the failure of “the civil forces” representing “the revolutionaries” to coalesce into an effective political front – if not to compete with the two blocs, one of which, that supporting the SCAF-cum-former regime candidate Ahmad Shafik, is detracted far more consistently than the other: the Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi – then to provide the revolution with adequate representation in society at large. Aside from the fact that culture has been relegated to a secondary and less visible part of the stage, it is hard to see how or why the cultural and social renaissance promised by 25 January might happen in the foreseeable future. Yet the vapid polarisation has transferred itself into cultural circles too, and much intense argument has taken place therein.

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