This is the quintessential 9/11 book. Perfect to read—or review—in the week that America and much of the world marked the fifth anniversary of the Twin Towers attacks.
But this futuristic view of a USA that becomes the ISA (Islamic States of America) before the half-way mark of this century is rather more than a 9/11 book. Robert Ferrigno has literally re-made the world, imagining it anew on that extraordinary premise: what would happen if the West lost its so-called war on terror?
Prayers For The Assassin is one scenario, according to the inventive author. In Ferrigno’s alternative universe, three nuclear devices go off in New York, Washington and Mecca. They are allegedly planted by Mossad agents and from the catastrophic confusion that follows, emerges a new world order. Much of the USA converts to Islam, though the Deep South, its Bible Belt, gets hived off into a separate fundamentalist Catholic country (see map).
The new ISA is a country everyone can still recognise, just about, even though Barbie has been given a burqa. Seattle is the new American capital and veiled women hurry down its streets; Jihad Cola is the drink of choice; Disneyland is a rusting slum populated by ‘rent-wives’ rather than prostitutes because their American Muslim clients routinely deliver the triple talaq after the act; Los Angeles airport is called Bin Laden International; cabbies have Osama and Zarqawi emblems dangling from their rearview mirrors; San Francisco is nicknamed Sharia City with one character explaining “They behead homosexuals at the Civic Center every week”; Mount Rushmore has suffered from the explosive iconoclasm of radical Muslims just as the giant Bamiyan Buddhas crumbled before the Taliban long years ago; the iconic Golden Gate Bridge has been “renamed for an Afghan warlord” and the Superbowl is played at Khomeini Stadium.
The first line of the book emphatically launches Ferrigno’s dramatically conceived New World Order. “The second half of the Super Bowl began right after midday prayers.” That is, Muslim prayers. Later, the novel’s hero, Rakkim Epps, turns the page of a magazine, which contains “a full-page ad for the Palestine Adventures outside San Francisco, happy families waving to the camera, the kids in plastic suicide-belts, hoisting AK-47s to the sky”. China, the world’s hyperpower, is the technological, economic and political driving force of the planet. The old USA’s superiority in science and technology has withered away.
Ferrigno has cannily blended elements of wholesome American life as the world knows it with provocative salami slices of radical, thrusting Islamism. It is this, rather than the plot, which makes the book highly readable. For, the plot is that of a conventional thriller—a young, bright and beautiful female historian, Sarah Dougan, perilously trying to expose the great lie that has gone down in ISA’s history as the ‘Zionist Betrayal’. She is aided by her handsome, highly trained lover Rakkim, who is, in rather a neat touch, a former member of ISA’s elite security unit Fedayeen. This and the reference to muta’a or the temporary marriage allowed by Shia Islam as a substitute for prostitution are just two of the small devices Ferrigno uses to bring his futuristic fantasy of an Islamic American Republic to life.
Mossad’s alleged nuclear terrorism is finally exposed as a clandestine plot by a radical Islamist multi-millionaire to discredit the Jews. Along the way, many die—at the hands of Rakkim and the multi-millionaire’s hired assassin.
The novel fascinates because Ferrigno has dared to think the unthinkable. In the process, he throws up some deeply uncomfortable questions: What if the West really does lose the war on terror? What if Islam, which is currently the world’s fastest growing religion, achieves critical mass in the West? Prayers for the Assassin is based on an unbelievable premise—that millions of Americans convert to Islam, inspired by a leading Hollywood actress’s revelation during her Oscar acceptance speech that she has become a believer. Unbelievable? Laughable?
Ferrigno is serious. He tells TOI that “mass religious conversions are the result of outside forces colliding with internal needs”. Asked if he arrived at the novel’s central premise —mass American conversion to Islam —after a statistical survey of the facts or merely because of a deep foreboding, Ferrigno says, “Not so much statistical, nor as morally charged as foreboding either. The explosive growth of Christianity in the fragmenting Roman Empire, or the rapid spread of Islam during the eighth and ninth century offered racial and political unity among tribes scattered across Arabia. In both cases there were political and social intersections, and it should be pointed out that such mass conversions may involve relatively few ‘true’ spiritual conversions. Most believers go along to get along.”
But Ferrigno admits that he often encounters people who love the novel “but had a very hard time believing that millions of Americans could embrace a faith as alien to our culture as Islam”. To these sceptical souls, he offers the clincherargument, “There are currently approximately 400 million Catholics in Latin America and they were not always Catholic. Three hundred years ago they were polytheists and animists. The conqueror always brings his own religion.”
But is it not delusional to see Islam as potential “conqueror” of the West? Ferrigno says he is deeply conscious “of the spiritual void at the centre of current Western society. When I set out to research the book after 9-11-2001, I tried to imagine a worst case scenario for my nation. It seemed impossible to contemplate losing militarily, but I perceived that the war ahead would be a very long one, and that the West was spiritually bereft and thus ill-suited for a decadeslong war. If anything my concerns have been borne out by recent events within the US and Britain, where the war in Iraq is deemed a failure. All of this with fewer military deaths in three years of war than civilian deaths on one single morning on 9/11. Islam is a religion with a very very long memory, a huge advantage in a long conflict.”