While researching a novel where my hero journeys across a vast, arid stretch of the Iraq-Syrian desert in 3,500 B.C., I plotted his path by starting in the ancient city-state of Assur (halfway between modern Tikrit and Mosul, Iraq) and plotting a semi-straight line to the ancient city-state of Ugarit (in modern Syria) following the known oasis, which in the modern era happen to now be tiny little villages. I cut-and-paste these Arab village names into Google and, Lo! All information about that village popped up at my fingertips.
Instead of pictures of dusty little mud-brick houses surrounded by camels, I kept pulling up graphic pictures of rapes, beheadings, immolations and executions. Brothers killing brothers as one sided with ISIS and the other didn’t. Fathers and husbands and brothers tucked their tails between their legs and abandoned their wives, their sisters, their mothers and daughters to deal with ISIS while they ran away to Europe. Sunni killed Shiite. Live beheadings filmed like the latest episode of The Walking Dead are ignored by the media. Desperate photos taken by camera-phones all have the same desperate message.
Help us! Our men abandoned us to be taken as sex slaves!
Unfortunately, what has been seen can never be unseen. No matter how much I wish I could simply bleach out my eyeballs and forget, those images haunt me. It bothers me that in the current political narrative, the politicians and the media want to gloss over the evil I witnessed while, ironically, researching the Archangel Michael’s journey to go defeat the devil. I finished the book. My hero crossed the desert and made it to Ugarit. But what I inadvertently learned about the nature of evil has left me with two conflicting emotions.
- Why isn’t anybody helping these people?
- Why aren’t these people doing more to help themselves?
There is a single ray of light in all this real-life carnage. Brave Kurdish women helped push back ISIS after the Sinjar massacre by freeing their Yazidi sisters and taught them how to fight. It’s the ultimate irony that it’s not the men who are picking up a gun to wage this war against radical Islam, but the women? What strikes me the most is how incredibly young most of these female freedom fighters are, some as young as thirteen years old.
And then I thought of a terrifying question? What if ISIS follows through on their threat? What if they use the flow of refugees to infiltrate the United States? What if ISIS came here? What if what is happening over there was to happen in the United States?
Thus Eisa McCarthy was born, a devout Muslim girl born to an American / Roman Catholic / Air Force father and a Syrian / Muslim / physician mother during the Third Gulf War which ends with ISIS seizing control of the United State’s nuclear arsenal.
I brought what is happening ‘over there’ to the streets of Washington, D.C. and the Heartland so people will think about what it might be like if evil ever gets the upper hand. And then, since I know so much Middle Eastern history and mythology, I subtly wove some Islamic apocalyptic prophecies, along with pre-Islamic myth about Allah’s three daughters who were wiped from history by Muhammad (the so-called ‘Satanic verses’), into the story.
Since I don’t wish to write a xenophobic war-invasion book (ugh! Red Dawn, anyone?), the story opens seven years after it happened. The United States has lost. We are now the seat of the new, worldwide Caliphate. Everybody is Muslim. Billions are dead. The Middle East and much of Europe is now a nuclear wasteland. The last vestiges of the former United States rebellion teeters at the brink of extinction. And the entire world quakes under the threat of the ICBM long-range nuclear missiles the Ghuraba (the Strangers) have seized.
What would that be like?
What would it be like if ISIS controlled America…
Here’s the opening chapter of my new book, The Caliphate:
The sound of automatic weapons blends with the call to prayers. The pre-dawn adhan rises and falls along with the gunfire, carried by the loudspeakers which run throughout the city. I throw back my covers and slip across the narrow aisle which separates my bed from my little sister’s.
“Nasirah!” I shake her. “Wake up!”
My little sister murmurs, a thin red book still clutched to her chest. Thin, grey stripes of light stream through the window-boards to reveal the title: Lozen: A Princess of the Plains.
The gunfire comes closer.
Nasirah opens her eyes.
“Eisa?” she smiles. “Is it time to pray?”
I half-drag her down into the aisle between our beds. The brick will protect us from bullets, but the window is vulnerable. I glance up at one of the small, black holes in the plaster. That one tore a hole in the fabric in my hijab.
Shouts erupt outside our window, along with engines in pursuit. The pre-dawn adhan provides a wailing, surrealistic backdrop to the crack of gunpowder and screams of men as they die.
Nasirah slips the book underneath her mattress. I pull up her hijab. In me, the gesture is instinctive, to cover up your bosom. But Nasirah is only nine. She doesn’t understand the hijab keeps her safe.
I fumble on the nightstand for my prayer beads, bits of black tektite which fell from the heavens. They are strung into a misbaha of thirty-three small beads, a large bead which connects them, and three silver discs engraved with birds.
Behind them sits a photograph of me, Nasirah and our brother from the time before the Ghuraba. It seems like a dream, me in my pretty pink party dress, Nasirah’s golden baby curls, Adnan smiling, and Mama wearing her flowered hijab and white doctor’s coat, holding an award for furthering public health. Papa stands between us, his arms stretched wide to encompass all of us, wearing a crisp dress blue uniform with five golden stars.
A prolonged gunfight erupts outside our window. Plink! A bullet flies through the boards and covers us with shattered glass.
“Eisa!” Nasirah screams.
I shove her head down to the floor.
I clutch my misbaha, praying with all of my might as the call to prayers drones on. I picture Him fervently, standing there between us and the window.
“Oh, Allah, we ask You to restrain them by their necks and we seek refuge in You from their evil…”
Nasirah clings to me as I recite the dua’a for protection. We shake as the voices stop right outside our window.
The gunfire stops just as the morning call to prayer ceases wailing.
One voice speaks, chilling and ominous. A voice I have heard a million times, on the radio, on the television.
In my nightmares…
I know what’s coming, but I still weep when the man begins to scream. It goes on and on, rising and falling like the pre-dawn call to prayer. At last it dies down into a sickening gurgle.
And then there is silence…
I clamp a hand over Nasirah’s mouth so she doesn’t cry out. I want no reason to draw their attention.
The Ghuraba laugh as they get into their trucks and leave.
Tears stream down Nasirah’s cheeks.
“Do you think they killed him?”
I get up and peek through the slats in the window boards as the sun finishes rising over Caliphate City.
“No,” I lie.
I do not tell her about the blood which mars the snow.