he word terrorist, in the past few years, has become about as commonplace in our country as Barbies and rice krispie treats. We toss it around in polite conversation, can’t escape the latest exploits of these semi-mythical terrorists on the evening news, and even find ourselves–against our politically correct leanings–making jokes about them. (If Duffy’s doesn’t have Boulevard Wheat on tap tonight, then the terrorists have won!) In fact, more than ever, it is acceptable and encouraged to not only consider ourselves experts on the terrorists and their tactics, but to gaze cautiously at every suspicious character on our Omaha to St. Louis commuter flights.
And so, let me (via Baya Gacemi, journalist and author of I, Nadia, Wife of a Terrorist) offer you a reality check: with a handful of exceptions–those thugs we keep close tabs on with the help of Anderson Cooper and Matt Lauer–no American will ever really get near to interacting with a bona fide terrorist. Because, and here’s the shocking revelation, most terrorism is not, in fact, directed at the good ole U.S. of A. It’s much less grandiose than that. Terrorism in its purest form is an exercise in fear control and uncurtailed violence against the innocent. It’s happening in more countries that most of us can probably name, let alone locate on a globe. (And lest you feel I am getting all sanctimonious over here, let me assure you, I am lumping myself in with the masses on this one!) It’s happening within borders, neighbors against neighbors, families against families. It is inexplicable and non-linear.
Nadia, who dictated her story to Gacemi, puts a name (albeit an assumed one) to the lifestyle of a terrorist’s wife in a country, Algeria, that knows from terrorism. Nadia has virtually no memories untouched by violence. The stories of schoolmates and cousins murdered by anti-government factions that riddle her memoir almost become tedious. At sixteen, she fell in love with the charismatic ne’er do well next door, (ah haven’t we all……memories….) but his marriage proposal was rejected by her loving father, who saw that the young punk was up to no good. Two years later, the story changed. Nadia, living with a relative in another village, was summoned home for her marriage. Her father had relented to Ahmed, now an operative in the GIA (terrorist forces) and far too dangerous to refuse.
Elated, Nadia prepared for her wedding day. But her reunion with Ahmed was far from the romantic whirlwind she had anticipated. In their two-year separation, he had changed. He now followed strict Islamic laws, and the sunny, teasing teenager had been replaced with a violent, devout (in Algeria those words were not mutually exclusive) soldier. From day one, Nadia was forced to veil entirely–even in the heat of summer–and slave from sunup to long past midnight, preparing elaborate meals for Ahmed and his "brothers." The men felt they should stuff themselves with delicacies and never lift a finger so they could preserve their strength for battle. Nadia, on the other hand–even in the early phases of her pregnancy–rarely rested, and was allowed only meager portions, so that she would not become too attached to the worldly sin of enjoying her food. When she broke Ahmed’s rules, she was beaten. Once, for listening to religious songs on the radio, she received 30 lashes with a whip. Ahmed believed that no joyous music should accompany religious messages. Good times.
As things heated up, Ahmed told Nadia of the killings and violence he participated in. Not only did he see this as his duty, he relished the tasks of torture and murder. No longer safe at home, he hustled Nadia from one stranger’s floor to the next, always just one step ahead of the police. When she did reunite with her husband, it was to boil the lice out of his clothes and wash his ruined and stinking feet. The "brothers" never removed their running sneakers, so that they would always be prepared to escape the police.
For years, Nadia lost her family and friends, through isolation and violence. Ultimately, she lost her husband, too. His body was recovered but not his head. Widowed at 21, a broke and desperate Nadia stumbled upon Gacemi, who was developing a news story on women victimized by terrorism. Their collaboration began. Today, Nadia lives with a host family, and civil war continues in Algeria. And Sudan. And Liberia. And Burma. And Zimbabwe. And so on.