War on terror: Matt Ruff's exciting view
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Everyday we can see pictures of the unstable situation in Middle Eastern regions when we watch the evening news on TV.
Suicide bombing, the terror of al-Qaida but also anti-Islam debates have entered our world and are still dominating themes after 9/11. But The Mirage shows us a picture in which everything we know about 9/11 and of the events that followed in its aftermath is turned upside down.
And, well, to be honest, now it’s already getting difficult to write about The Mirage without spoiling, so for starters I glimpse back into history.
Everybody saw it on the news, heard or read about it: When two hijacked planes crashed into the Twin Towers of the WTC, this act of terror became one event in modern history which left traces and shockwaves in different ways, in global politics and its war on the so called ”Axis of Evil” as well as in our modern culture. It was the beginning of the hunt for America’s most wanted, Osama Bin Laden, the war against Saddam Hussein and endless discussions about religion and its influence on terrorists, actions of politicians and the whole thinking of society.
Today, Osama Bin Laden as well as Sadam Hussein are dead. Justice was carried out, but the killing continues. On both sides, East and West.
Big philosophical questions pop up, and every now and then we ask ourselves “Why?” or “What if … ?”. Some authors do the same: Matt Ruff’s concept for The Mirage is similar to Robert Harris’s Fatherland, an alternate history based on the far-reaching question “What if Nazi Germany had won WW II?”. Matt Ruff transports this kind of idea into the 21st century: What if 9/11 had never happened in New York City, but in Baghdad? This leads to vast scenarios and a complex alternate reality as described in The Mirage.
11/9/2001: Four jetliners are hijacked by Christian fundamentalists. Two of the planes take down the Tigris & Euphrates World Trade Towers in Baghdad, a third crash-lands into the Arab Defense Ministry in Riyadh and destroys most of the structure. The fourth plane, heading for Mecca, is brought down by its passengers. This day goes down in history as 11/9.
It doesn’t take long after these shocking events that a war on terror is declared by The United Arab States. The Forces invade America with the allied Persian army; together they establish a Green Zone in Washington, D.C. Mission accomplished, order restored?
No, our own history has shown us very clearly that it’s not as easy as that. A war is fought and enemy armies are beaten, yes, but society remains unstable; fundamental and religious activists still remain a dangerous and omnipresent threat. Suicide bombers not only attack targets in occupied Washington, D.C., but also all across the United Arab States.
In summer of 2009, three Arab Homeland Security agents are able to prevent a terrorist attack and capture one of the suicide bombers alive. During the follwing interrogation, they’re confronted with the prisoner’s claims that the world they all live in is an illusion, a mirage, that in the real world the roles are changed and the tables turned: America is the superpower and self-declared world police, the Arab states on the other hand are just a collection of “backward third-world countries.” When the agents visit the bomber’s apartment, they find a copy of ”The New York Times”, dated September 12, 2001. On the frontpage – of course – the burning World Trade Center.
Is it a forgery? And if it is, what’s its purpose? Other terrorists imprisoned in an alternate counterpart of Guantanamo have been telling similar stories. Is it all smoke and mirrors or a conspiracy on the highest levels? This is the start of a hunt for more clues, a search for the truth, rational answers and the source behind it all – and the agents aren’t the only interested party.
Some members of the cast in this obscure play with the fitting name The Mirage are well-known to us, but in this book they have different roles to play. Mob boss Saddam Hussein, for instance, has his very own personal interests concerning the search and the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee won’t hesitate using lethal force to hide the truth: The possibility that their world is not what it seems.
One of the specialties of Matt Ruff is to successfully combine a thrilling story with funny and interesting details (i.e., the alternate version of “Wikipedia” or a punk band called “Green Desert”) or even strange elements, sometimes even with traces of SF or Fantasy, as he often showed in his past novels Fool On The Hill, Sewer, Gas & Electric or Set This House In Order.
In its basic idea, The Mirage surely is very serious stuff, a twisted world (reminded me sometimes of the alternate reality shown in the TV series Fringe), but well written and good to read.
Mirage is not only a thriller, it is a mirror of our own global politics, terror threats and religion. And terrifying in more than one way:
The change of roles and realities work well, so well, that some parts of The Mirageare a bit like non-fiction …