Molly Crabapple photo credit: Clayton Cubitt
The Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani
wrote that words, like sparrows, do not need entry visas. We created Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War
in this spirit.
Brothers of the Gun
offers a ground-level reflection on the Syrian Revolution — and how it bled into international catastrophe and global war. This is a story of pragmatism and idealism, impossible violence and repression, and, even in the midst of war, profound acts of courage, creativity, and hope.
The book was born of a Twitter collaboration that began when Marwan was in ISIS-occupied Raqqa, and was written over two years, in Aleppo, Istanbul, Ankara, Mosul, and New York. While we wrote it, we were both giving each other a sort of literary education. Molly was studying Arabic, and Marwan introduced her to Syrian literature and the Umayyad dynasty. Molly sent Marwan pirated ebooks of Orwell
, James Baldwin
, and Nabokov
. Here are some of the books we read while writing Brothers of the Gun
Marwan Hisham’s Picks:
The Handmaid’s Tale
by Margaret Atwood
There is a similarity between Aunt Lydia and the Al-Khansaa Brigade (ISIS's armed, all-female morality police). They are women who believe in a system that demonizes free will — women’s free will, to be exact. A system that only empowers women to act against other women.
ISIS imposed a rigid gender segregation in Raqqa. While I saw the hierarchy between fighters and "commoners" play out on the men's side, some women were living The Handmaid’s Tale
. Religious fundamentalism works on the same principle, no matter what the religion.
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil
by Hannah Arendt
It is painful to make sense of Arendt’s thoughts about “the banality of evil,” but every war has its own small Eichmanns. The Syrian War isn't an exception. Still, my conclusion when I finished the book was that it is a must-read, especially for Arabs. Our knowledge of Jewish history is confined to two brief periods of time: first, during the era of Muhammad, when Jews and Muslims first allied, and then fought, in Arabia. Then we jump in time to the 1940s and 1950s in Palestine and Israel.
Homage to Catalonia
by George Orwell
The Syrian War resembles the Spanish one in its complexities, the divisions among its armed groups, and the interference of outside powers. Our Franco, too, could survive for 40 years, but I’m afraid will fail to preserve the unity of the country. Orwell’s account of the Spanish Civil War is honest and striking, as he carries us through the disappointing transformation of the Republican side. The Spanish Republic Orwell left was not the Spanish Republic he was motivated to fight for when he first joined the fray.
Molly Crabapple’s Picks:
Breaking Knees: Sixty-Three Very Short Stories From Syria
by Zakaria Tamer
While I read Zakaria Tamer's work in Arabic, these short stories are just as good in English. Like the legendary Guatemalan writer Augusto Monterroso
, Tamer captures human bleakness and oppression with compressed elegance and dark, bitter wit.
The Ornament of the World
by María Rosa Menocal
In 755, Abd al-Rahman, last heir to Syria's legendary Umayyad dynasty, landed in Spain. There he built a Spanish Muslim world called Al-Andalus that lasted, in one form or another, for the next 800 years. The Ornament of the World
is an accessible and lovely history of Al-Andalus’s culture of art, philosophy, and religious coexistence, as well as how it cracked and fell.
Season of Migration to the North
by Tayeb Salih
God, I love this book. The Sudan's greatest novelist takes the cliché of the European destroying himself in Africa and flips it utterly. A brilliant Sudanese student travels to Oxford and finds success as an economist, but also finds himself caught in a world of racism, fetishization, and postcolonial self-hatred that he tries to shatter with sex and violence. An amazing book to read while you’re reading Frantz Fanon
, as well as the ultimate warning against both the promise of modernity and the nostalgia for home.
÷ ÷ ÷
is a Syrian freelance journalist who since 2014 has covered Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. His work has been published in Vanity Fair, The New York Times, The Intercept
, and Foreign Policy
, an artist and writer in New York, has drawn in Guantanamo Bay, in Abu Dhabi’s migrant labor camps, and with rebels in Syria, and received widespread praise for Drawing Blood
, her illustrated memoir. Crabapple is a contributing editor for Vice
and has written for The New York Times, The Paris Review
, and Vanity Fair
. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.
They are coauthors of Brothers of the Gun.