“Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…”
I was raised a Catholic, and those words like many other prayers are so familiar to me I could say the,m in my sleep. Sometimes I go to church because it reminds me of being a happy child, with the comforting chants of religion around me.
Imagine seeing those words voiced by a suicide bomber about to pull the trigger.
That’s what happens in Mark Ruff’s “The Mirage,” where Christian terrorists flew planes into the Baghdad Twin Towers. The United Arab States, the UAS, the greatest democratic superpower in the world, invaded America in retaliation.
What is brilliant about this novel, and frankly frightening, is the way it so easily inverts the world I take for granted. Instead of “Windows for Dummies”, there’s “Windows for the Ignorant.” Americans take the familiar journey of our Middle Eastern immigrants in reverse, going first to the more progressive European countries, then illegally sneaking across the Turkish border. When people talk about Congress, they are talking about the Riyadh government.
The book challenges the image of Americans have of their home by swapping it with an Islamic country. By doing this, it suggests serious questions; who has a monopoly on righteousness? Where does true justice come from?
Take the question so often asked after 9/11: how could anyone do this? Now, imagine it was American Christian Fundamentalists on that plane. Ask, how could they do this? We all know that there are extremists in Christianity who could convince themselves to commit such an ask. But most Americans are Christian, and thus we take for granted the differences within Christianity. But a beautiful piece of black comedy in this novel is that the Arabs cannot understand the differences between different sects of Christians. They don’t get how Pentecostals are different from Mormons are different from Presbyterians. Sound familiar?
It’s a truly fascinating and fantastic thought experiment. At first I was hesitant about the fact that such an Arab-centric novel was written by an American. And the fact that Ruff has never studied Arabic is painfully obvious at several points. But I think such a novel could only have been written by an American, because it is about challenging American ways of thinking, about inverting our perceptions of the world.
Having come up with this premise of inverting America, Ruff had two options: he could write a novel set in that world, taking it for granted; or he could write a novel about why the world is inverted. Unfortunately, Ruff chose the second.
In the second half of the novel, it becomes clear that the world is “not right.” This was a disastrous choice on Ruff’s part, because it undermines everything he was trying to do. The challenges to our concepts of “America” and “Arabia” are sidelined, discredited, because they are classified as an aberration All the suggestions that the world is not as we think it is, that different perceptions of reality are really not as far-fetched as they seem–that our concept of “civilization” may be fundamentally flawed–are rendered irrelevant because the “real” world is the one where America is in charge.
Still, everyone should read it anyway. It’s really, really good.