Religious element involved
Officer Frank Gates shuffled through the record of the army enlistments. His obedient, but somewhat rude troop waited for his next command. He looked up and darted his gaze towards William.
“Will…you haven’t submitted your proposals on the recruitment as of yet. You said you might.”
“I decided not to, sir.”
“But you must. There are very few proposals. I want more. You know how the Sergeant loses his head if we don’t have a ‘democratic’ way of doing things.”
He attached humor to his otherwise deep voice, but the soldiers were not in the best of their moods. The officer shoved the thick stack of papers to a side and stood up, ready for inspecting everyone. Everyone stood erectly, gazing into thin air, as the officer slowly explained the agenda, while observing his men. His style was sustained and rhythmical with his blue eyes widening and shrinking abnormally.
“There is no report on the enemy as of yet.”
He stopped, looking for signs of relief, or perhaps terror, but the soldiers seemed half-dead.
“However, I have read your proposals. I am satisfied with all of them. Except yours.”
His smile became an erratic one for the soldier. Ali shyly ducked his gaze.
The fact that Officer Gates was so particular about his first name, was in itself a painful reality.
He said out sheepishly, in spite of the anger which dominated him.
“You don’t want to fight in Afghanistan, eh?”
The officer was not really rude, but Ali did not find logic in asking the question. Of course he did not. Why would he, in the least, want to kill another Muslim?
Ali trudged past his dismay and said plainly:
“I cannot fight the armies in Afghanistan, sir.”
In a state of breathlessness, he stopped. However, the tense atmosphere pushed him to talk.
“Because they are like my brothers, sir.”
“Are we not your brothers, Ali Hussain?”
“Yes, you are, sir.”
Ali did not have an answer. Perhaps these questions were better unanswered in any case.
The officer repeated harshly, and when Ali did not entertain him, he gave out a dissatisfied sigh and sat down.
“Whatever may be your reason, Ali Hussain, you have been recruited to the battalion which will fight in Afghanistan, according to plan B.”
He murmured, slightly frightened, perhaps expecting to see a bomb emerge out of the Muslim man’s shirt. But Ali remained calm.
Fatima brushed her hair as Ali complained about the day’s happenings. She hushed her younger sister who was playing with the cat.
“How could he? He knows better than anyone that my religion doesn’t allow it.”
“He’s a secular man. He wants you to be practical.”
“I am being practical. Do you want me to bombard an array of thousand men, all of whom pray to the same authority as I do?”
“Of course not. But do you value your job, or your religion?”
“What do you think?”
Fatima yawned, throwing her glossy brown hair into a braid. Ali put an end to the conversation and picked up Farooq from the cradle.
“How’s my little lion cub?”
He tickled his stomach, and the baby boy chuckled. The innocent laugh uplifted his heart from the throbbing pain he was experiencing and Ali jumped back onto his bed. He played with the baby like a little boy, laughing and giggling carelessly. Fatima smiled adoringly at her husband’s juvenile gestures. It was the best thing about him, in her opinion. He could laugh it off anytime he wanted.
The phone rang out of the blue. Fatima grabbed hold of Farooq as Ali got up to attend the phone call. He picked up the receiver, his gaze divided between his 8-year-old sister-in-law and the clock, which read 5 pm. He then directed his hearing to the phone call.
“Hello. May I speak to Mr. Hussain?”
“Yes, this is me.”
“This is Sergeant Walters speaking. Mr. Hussain, your recruitment in the Afghani mission has been readjusted.”
A fountain of joy burst forth in his heart. His eyes were eluded with tears as he cried out in appreciation.
“Oh, thank you, sir. Yes, thank you indeed.”
The sergeant’s diplomatic voice came up. Ali realized that there was a big catch in the concession.
“You will have to administer the Jane Austen Convention downtown, Tuesday. In aid to civil power, you see. Report to your battalion officer by tomorrow and he will guide you through the details.”
Ali murmured a brief farewell and hung up the receiver. Despite the good news, he had a gut feeling that the Sergeant had not mentioned something to him. Something dreadful.
“Who was it, dear?”
There was no life in his voice. Fatima curled up the quilt, frightened.
“Really?! What did he say?”
“He said he had readjusted my recruitment in the Afghani army.”
Her smile immediately became prominent. She hugged her husband lovingly, her buoyancy having no limit.
“Oh, thank God! Alhamdullilah [Praise be to God]! I knew, one day, us Muslims would be respected for our religious values.”
Fatima failed to notice Ali’s disillusionment. He was an optimist, but sometimes his sixth sense got the better of him. He unwillingly returned the hug, still unsure. What was the mission going to be like?
Ali could hibernate and no one would die. He drowsily eyed the security alarms which were scattered like beans all over the place. He scratched his head; his black hair seemed to wither every time he did so.
He finally kicked the floor lightly and eyed the young girl who came in, wearing a beautiful tank top with a frilled skirt. The innocent creature eyed him briefly as he smiled and waved at her. The girl was immediately impressed by the undercover army man and tugged her mother’s shirt.
“Mommy, mommy, look – a guardian angel.”
Guardian angel! Ali thought and looked down at his white suit, with a yellow rose in his breast pocket. Well, maybe the girl wasn’t too wrong about his identity. The mother of the girl shyly approached the young man with an apology.
“Sir, forgive the girl. She is young.”
“I actually appreciate her imagination. God bless her.”
Ali immediately replied, patting the girl’s head.
“I take it that you are a fond of Jane Austen?”
The woman seemed insecure, frightened and enthralled at the same time. She muttered a melodious collection of words which made no particular sense.
“Well…just to dwell…not in the least am I a fan…just, you know, the ways…”
“I suppose so.”
Ali grinned, modestly lowering his gaze as the woman tried to make eye contact with him. The woman was interested in knowing more about him, but Ali was least bothered. The woman realized that and bid farewell.
“Thank you, sorry for the trouble.”
Ali wouldn’t ask irrelevant questions from unknown women, but the only purpose behind the question was her apparel. He was somewhat apprehended by her head scarf, usually which Muslim women would wear. Then again: he was undercover. It was his job.
An electrical signal echoed in his ears as his army gadgets vibrated. Some uninvited guest had entered the convention.
Ali waded through the crowd, following the radar. The bomber had somehow ditched the jamming system, which was almost impossible, in Ali’s opinion. Ali found himself as the only army soldier who made it. The others, though were told to him by his officer, as deployed here, were clumsy and there was no sign of them. Ali pulled out a gun and slowly approached the bomber.
His hand sweated in combined emotions of tension and fright. His clammy fingers stumbled over each other, his muscular coordination suddenly going haywire. His valiant and chivalrous self took a while to expose itself, but by the time it did he had grabbed hold of the terrorist. Without more ado, he placed the gun at his shoulder. Then, a shock he had been somewhat prepared for, hit him.
“Allah-u-akbar [God is great]!”
The man cried, his movements delayed. He attempted to pull the string of the bomb he had tied to his stomach. Ali dropped the gun but managed to stop the man from pulling the string.
“Stop! Please, in the name of Allah, don’t.”
Where Ali now stood was a complicated stance. Where he was a patriotic solider, he was a devout servant of God. Where he was a benefactor to humanity – he was desperate to change his fellow countrymen’s opinion about his kind. Right now, all his ambitions and passions flooded his senses. His cerebellum was swelled up as he tried to contain his identity in his own soul.
“How would you know the value of the word, Allah? You are nothing but a filthy infidel.”
“Allah is my Lord, and so is He yours. Isn’t that enough proof for you about my intentions?”
Ali caressed the man’s back, trying to calm him down. But the man was unconvinced.
“Then why do you side with the Non-Muslims?”
“Because they are right.”
“Right! Right!! Right!!!”
The man screamed, gaining some audience in turn. Ali pulled him to a side where no one could hear them.
“Right they are, when they pay you big bucks for doing their job. Right there are, my brother. But when they pay you for being a Muslim – they work in a different manner.”
The man criticized, his eyes full of hate and spite. Ali could relate to him in a lesser degree, but did not want to further heat him up.
“But you cannot generalize your contempt. These people – they are innocent.”
Ali persuasively argued, but the man was an equal.
“They all are alike. All of them are programmed to ruin us. All of them.”
Ali wanted to give a reply, but the man cut him short.
“My family was annihilated because of them. My two daughters were molested. My wife was kidnapped. My parents were burned alive in the fires they cast. Why do you argue for them?”
Ali raised his voice, unable to find a better way to catch his attention.
“Because, if they all were the same, there would be no converts to Islam. None at all.”
The man seemed to listen with timidity this time.
“Because, if we all were to bombard them, we all would be going to hell. Why, tell me, brother-“
He finished his plea in complete agitation.
“You make bloodshed a part of Muslim heritage? My heritage is Islam, brother, and so is yours. Why do you stain it with blood? WHY?”
Ali gasped, his face red with anger while his hands were damp with sweat dripping from them. The man had no answer.
Ali withdrew, unable to recognize the feelings emerging in his heart. All patriotic feelings had faded away.
“But you are not the only one, brother. Someone else also makes bloodshed a part of my heritage. And even worse – I let them make it.”
Sergeant Walters smiled at Ali who stood straight, like a determined soldier.
“You did a great job, Mr. Hussain. No bombing took place, as we had been warned. But, there were no deaths reported either, I’m afraid.”
“Isn’t that a good thing, sir?”
“Would have been, under normal circumstances. But you see – this means that the terrorist is still on the loose. When he should have been eliminated.”
Ali coyly toyed with his idea, not knowing whether the Sergeant would like it.
“There wasn’t a bomber after all.”
“I’d doubt that. The espionage was so sure of it.”
The sergeant relaxed his shoulders suddenly, looking straight towards Ali.
“Surely, you’d know about him.”
The remark was intended as a joke, but Ali had been waiting for the conversation to become lopsided anyhow.
“Which reminds me of something, sir. I wish to resign, sir.”
Ali swiftly placed his resignation letter on the desk. The man’s eyes widened as he received the news of the day.
“But, but…Mr. Hussain, why?”
Ali smiled, with a tint of serenity in his expression.
“I’d like to keep my heritage, mine.”
With that, the young Muslim departed.
[Earlier published at another site]