'Orphan of Islam' by Alexander Khan, advance manuscript review

Discussion in 'The Book Club' started by Steven_McLaughlin, Jan 21, 2012.

Welcome to the Army Rumour Service, ARRSE

The UK's largest and busiest UNofficial military website.

The heart of the site is the forum area, including:

  1. To some of you he will be known as the ‘AirbornePashtun’; to the great masses that read his book it will be as Alexander Khan; and to those who are privileged to know his real name and the man behind it, it will be as something else. I was greatly humbled when Alex, as a fellow soldier and ‘arrser’, reached out to me and granted me the honour of reviewing the entire raw manuscript of his first book. And I say ‘first book’ because after digesting this powerful and moving tale I know for certain that there will be more.

    Orphan of Islam is a story of a brutally stolen childhood. A childhood that wasn’t just stolen, but kidnapped and cruelly cast out, to crash on the rocks of an alien culture, like a fragile life-raft smashed into dust. It is the story of a displaced child – an orphan of religions and blood – being trapped between two warring identities and tribes, and belonging in neither one nor the other, but being despised by both. Like a pinball, he was forced to play a game of survival not of his choosing and was utterly helpless at the hands of those whom should have protected him, but abused him instead.

    Until he began to fight back. Hard.

    Alex’s Father was a kind man with a warm and generous soul; a good Muslim who showered his children with affection and took delight in their happiness. But he was also – and I know Alex will forgive me for saying this – a weak man, who was unable to stand up to a domineering family, a vengeful sister and harsh ‘righteous’ cousins who would not forgive him for marrying an infidel: a white woman and an unbeliever; not ‘one of us’ but one of the hated ‘other’. That she was a wonderful wife who was willing to embrace Islam was an irrelevancy. That she had given birth to a Muslim’s son was an unforgivable sin and a crime against family honour. In short order she was cast out and Alex was thrown to the mercy of the wolves. His only protector was his loving but flawed father, but when he tragically dropped dead of a heart-attack, he all-but killed young Alex too.

    For that is when ‘the family’ stepped in.

    Alex found himself being raised by an auntie and step-uncle who viewed him, quite literally, as devil’s spawn – a point regularly reinforced by beatings to the muttered tunes of Koranic verses, in a pathetic and cowardly excuse for child-abuse. When he cried out for his mother he was told that ‘that Englishwoman’ had died in a car-crash, again and again, in a series of blatantly and tragically comical lies. Despite living in 1970s England he found himself pulled from school, forced into complete isolation and segregated from everything ‘Western and evil’, lest he be corrupted by wicked ways. The claustrophobia of his existence and the cold indifference, the shrugging acceptance of ‘friends’ and relatives makes for disturbing and uncomfortable reading. Lest he ‘shame the family’ further he was forced into virtual non-stop Mosque attendance in preparation for his upcoming ‘holiday’ to Pakistan.

    And yet there was worse to come.

    On the plane to Pakistan with a dear and beloved cousin, for the first time in his young life, Alex allowed himself to wallow in a dream of innocent childhood wonder, adventure and joyful freedom. And the trip did not disappoint. For the first two weeks he was treated like a little prince and passed from relative-to-relative, where he was showered with affection, sympathy and heartfelt warmth, at his status as a lost orphan. It was a wonderful time and he experienced the physical beauty of Pakistan at its best; snow-capped mountains, blazing sun, noise and chaos, vibrant culture and the generosity of kin and friends. For the next two years he would see its dark and cruel side – its medieval side – as he was dragged from his airport taxi in Islamabad by none-other than his beloved cousin and bundled into the back of a waiting van, driven by more ‘family’, to be sent to a feared Madrassa ‘Mosque school’ for corrective religious training.

    Alex endured conditions in the Mosque that seem scarcely imaginable in the 20th century, but have been sadly proven time and time again, to be all too real. On the surface it was a corrective school for wayward boys and ‘lost lambs’, such as little Alex. But underneath the surface respectability it was little more than a brainwashing factory for Mujahedeen recruits, being trained to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan or exporting ‘Global Jihad’ around the world. The school still stands today, and no doubt now it trains the Taliban. As an atheist I always thought that the Catholic Church had a monopoly on abusive priests, but this book has revised my opinion. I shall not write here of what went on in the dark cellars of that moonlit Mosque, in the shadows of the Afghanistan Mountains, policed by sadists and worse, because for once I am lost for words.

    With a cunning and courage beyond his years, and borne out of desperate fear, Alex eventually escaped the horrors of the Madrassa. He found shelter in the home of a fiercely protective auntie who risked her own life to shield him from the dark excesses and paranoid religious mania of the community that had betrayed him. When he witnessed the brutal honour killing of his beautiful young cousin by her estranged husband - approved of and arranged by her own mother - he knew that his days in Pakistan were numbered. Fearful that he would be next, his auntie smuggled him out of the country and he found his way back ‘home’ to England.

    I am aware that this is a dark review and I make no apologies, for Alex’s childhood story is a bleak one of cruel betrayals and inhumane things, that makes for powerful, emotive and disturbing reading. The book will challenge how you think and cause you to question your moral values. I am not as kind and forgiving a person as Alex is, and had some of these characters infected my childhood, I have no idea how I would have coped with it. But Alex is a better and stronger man than me, and I salute him for having the courage and wisdom to rise above it, for he was the victim of unspeakable crimes. I had an abusive figure in my own childhood but she pales into insignificance when compared to the several relatives whom plagued Alex. To suffer under such figures as a helpless child is an emasculating experience that leaves you feeling dehumanised and wretchedly weak, so it now makes perfect sense to me why this young Muslim boy sought strength and manhood in the British Army’s most notoriously tough infantry regiment: the Para’s. Many such lads end up treading similar paths and I completely identify with him. I’m looking forward to reading of his time in the British army and his return to his Muslim homelands as a soldier, with strength and determination in his heart.

    Amazon link below:

    Orphan of Islam: Amazon.co.uk: Alexander Khan: 9780007444786: Books