Mike Bond writes with an urgency few other authors have been able to maintain. Mailer was able to do it to some degree. Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson had their ears to the ground. But Mike Bond has assumed this mantle for the 21st century. His writings have covered the most war-torn corners of the world to the familiar, rugged shores of Maine. Assassins (Mandevilla Press, December 8, 2016) covers a war that continues to define generations and it’s his most ambitious novel yet. With the Middle East being a melting pot of complicated strife, Bond maps a decades-long war through a military and cultural lens over several generations and characters.
For our ‘One Question and Answer’ series I asked him how went about tackling these issues:
Question: The Middle East is a complicated subject and unpacking the roots of its various issues is a difficult task. But throughout Assassins you do a fantastic job of weaving in an epic narrative while also providing an understandable historical context. Did you take any kind of unique approach in constructing your narrative chronicling the rise of Islamic terrorism?
Assassins is a sweeping epic of the last 30 years’ war between Islam and the West, as lived by an American commando, a French woman doctor, an Afghani warlord, a Russian major, a top CIA operative, and an English woman journalist. It is their joys, fears, dangers, and loves, what happens to them and the Middle East over the last 30 years. Although it’s “an exhilarating spy novel” (Kirkus), it’s also the intense backstory, much of it covert and some unknown, of our recent wars and other tragedies of the Middle East.
I didn’t take a unique approach in Assassins. I write all my novels to go deeply into life, describe experiences so intensely that readers live them too. So these experiences become their memories, as if they happened to them. Because if the story’s deep enough, it has. And this emotional depth leads to a better understanding of each other and our world, to awareness and change.
But to do this you have to tell the truth. My novels are exciting because they’re true. Readers won’t get drawn into a situation that clearly isn’t true, unless it’s meant to be fantasy. And for writers to write about something they do not know is fantasy.
I’ve lived and traveled in and out of Muslim countries and wars since I was a teenager in Algeria at the end of that war. I’ve studied Islamic culture, the Koran, and the history, talked to many thousand Muslims from many countries. Several of my other novels are also set partially in Muslim countries, in places I also know well.
As you say, the Middle East is complicated. It’s a very dangerous place, on the individual, national, and world level. A vast chaotic time bomb and a huge risk to our security and future. Yet it’s amazing how few of us know the history of our actions there, nor of our allies and enemies.
To understand our situation with Iran, for instance, it’s helpful to remember that we overthrew their democratically elected government in 1953, killing thousands of people, placed their prime minister under house arrest for the rest of his life, installed an army private in his place and called him “The Shah”. All because British Petroleum wanted more oil. So to understand the 1979 takeover of our Teheran embassy and all the bitter conflicts since, to understand Hezbollah and all the other Iran-backed terrorist groups, we have to remember how we helped them get there.
Years ago in Iraq we hired a Baghdad thug named Saddam Hussein to shoot the prime minister. Even though Saddam shot himself in the foot instead we made him the new leader anyway. Our later 2003 Iraq invasion was justified by GW Bush, Cheney, Powell et al because of alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction. These were a lie, the CIA told GW before the invasion. WMDs did not exist, and there was no pretext whatsoever for the invasion. But a lot of folks wanted that oil.
It has been confirmed that GW lied 960 separate times about WMDs and other fictional threats posed by Saddam Hussein. This tragic invasion has since cost nearly 5,000 American lives and crippled another hundred thousand, killed nearly a million Iraqis, most of them civilians, and led to the international bloodbaths of ISIS and Syria.
In nearly every Middle Eastern country we’ve overthrown governments, killed political leaders, stolen oil, imposed military law, and used them as cannon fodder in our wars with the Soviets and others. We’re not alone, the Brits, the French, the Russians and occasional others did it too.
This is where we are today with Islam. In order to make wise decisions going forward, we must understand the past – ours and our enemies’. As an epigraph to Assassins I quote Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War: “One who knows neither the enemy nor himself will invariably be defeated.”
Most of us have a very hazy view of what’s going on in the Middle East, yet its outcomes are very important for us. Rather than write a history, I wanted, as in all my books, to bring readers into the story, live its joys, fears and sorrows, explore the world. A story to be remembered.
To be lived.
Because it’s true.
And the better we understand what is true, the better we live.