After 9/11, I realized that I knew nothing of the people who had attacked us, or the reasons why they had done it. I read up on al Qaeda, then on Islamic fundamentalism, then on Islam itself and the history of the region. Then I felt I understood what was behind the attack – but I still didn’t understand the people who had done it.
I live in Florida, and many of the events of the plot happened here. I read the coverage in the Florida papers, which was much more detailed than what I could find in the national press. (For example, the wind chime at the door of Ziad Jarrah’s house was mentioned in a local article.) It was that kind of detail which convinced me that there was a story here which could be thickly painted as any good novel should be.
I went to the places the hijackers had stayed in Florida. I couldn’t understand how anyone who had experienced America as they had could have hated us so much. By then I knew generally what motivated islamists – and it was a broad spectrum of motivations, not just religion. Putting that knowledge together with what I knew of the involved individuals, I was able to tell a story which included all those motivations by assigning each to a character who, in fact, mostly acted because of it. Only Marwan, the lead character, is more a product of my imagination that what I have read in the newspapers – and that’s because I gave him more complexity.
I thought – and I think – the book is important because it’s critical that people understand that the so-called “clash of civilizations” is not inevitable; that there are things that could have been done, and still could be done, to avoid the likelihood of more 9/11s. We must understand the enemy to protect ourselves, and that particularly includes understanding what drove them personally – their frustrations, their humiliations, their unmet needs, etc. Why were they so willing to kill themselves? Or were they really willing? Why did they turn to extreme religion? Et cetera. I think I have explained some of that.
Once I put together enough of the little details from press reports to get the flavor of the people and the events, I decided that non-fiction couldn’t possibly get deep enough into their heads. So much had to be deduced and imagined. That made the story perfect for fiction.
I was working on another book at the time (it will be coming out shortly), but I put it aside to write Marwan. My agent, John Ware, helped me with the editing – he’s brilliant at it. Then we submitted the book.
As I point out in my Author’s Note, New York publishing houses, in 2003 when the book was circulated, were still deep in grief. They considered it insulting and outrageous to present a book about 9/11 which was written (more or less) from the terrorists’ point of view – even though the book made no attempt to excuse their conduct, which I consider to be sociopathic. I could not sell the book.
In the meantime, no one has attempted what I did with Marwan. I still think it’s important that people understand what the 9/11 attack was really about. So I published it through AuthorHouse. I believe it’s a book that needs to be read. Fortunately, those people who have read it or reviewed have also said that it is a well-done piece of fiction – so there’s pleasure to be gleaned from the writing itself, although pleasure is not the point of reading this book.
Incidentally, before I put the book out in print, I podcasted it serially at podiobooks.com and elsewhere on the web. The reaction to the podcast has been heartwarming. I hope I get the same warmth from the response to the print book.
Aram Schefrin is the author of the literary fiction novel, Marwan: The Autobiography of a 911 Terrorist. You can visit his website at www.aramschefrin.com.
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