I, Nadia, Wife of a Terrorist / Edition 1

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The Algerian journalist Baya Gacemi takes a dangerous political step in writing the “autobiography” of a young Algerian woman whom she met through a program for female victims of Islamist violence in Algiers. Nadia, from a small town in central Algeria that has been especially affected by the struggle between Islamist terrorists and the authorities, married a local hooligan whose rebellious spirit she found irresistible. Unfortunately, her husband was already transforming himself from petty criminal to foot soldier and then local emir of the Islamic Action Group. Nadia's ensuing nightmare lasted over four years. As a result of the growing polarization between Islamists and the local government Nadia had become an outcast reviled by relatives and threatened by neighbors.

By 1996, with Nadia pregnant and destitute and her husband hunted by government agents, her parents expelled her from their home. Gacemi provides a human face to the cultural wars that have torn Algeria and the Middle East apart, revealing the roots of terrorism and the impact of the nightmarish struggle of the women caught up in it.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This first-person account of a young woman's seduction by Islamist extremism also offers an intimate look at the Algerian civil war. Journalist Gacemi interviewed "Nadia" (a pseudonym) in 1997 in Algiers, where she came seeking help at an organization for needy women. As a teenager in a poor village, Nadia fell in love with Ahmed, a charismatic hoodlum. Her persistence in sneaking out to meet him made her parents send her away to live with her uncles. Two years later, when her father finally accepted Ahmed's marriage offer, Nadia returned home expecting her dreams to be realized. Since she'd last seen him, however, Ahmed had joined the Armed Islamist Group, or GIA-a terrorist group then at the height of its power in the town. Nadia's dream became a nightmare, as she found herself cook and slave to her husband's "brothers." Yet the status of being the wife of a terrorist leader was addictive, and she accepted enough of what Ahmed told her about the GIA's political vision that she even believed the beatings she received from him were legitimate. Gacemi's book received a lot of attention in France. Since Americans are less knowledgeable about Algeria, it will probably get less here-which is unfortunate, since her account of how a whole community can be seduced by terrorists is frightening and invaluable. (June) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An as-told-to autobiography explores an Islamist marriage. The pseudonymous Nadia grew up in rural Algeria, the eldest daughter of poor parents who were alternately loving and abusive. Her village community was religious enough-they observed Muslim practices, if not especially strictly. When Nadia was a teenager, she became smitten with a neighbor boy, Ahmed. Though her parents objected to the match-Ahmed was a bit of a rogue-eventually the lovebirds married. Ahmed, it turns out, wasn't just a harmless scoundrel. In the months before he married Nadia, he had become a militant Islamist, and joined the Armed Islamic Group, or GIA, a terrorist organization determined to bring Islamist government to Algeria. Nadia tried to adjust to her husband's Islamist zeal. Ahmed insisted that she cook meals for him and all of his comrades; complying required Nadia to spend literally every waking hour in the kitchen. Even once Nadia was pregnant, Ahmed pushed her to make sacrifices for the movement, working more and sleeping less. She contemplated disobeying him, but she knew that he would kill her without thinking twice. Eventually, Ahmed vanished and Nadia, fearful that the state police were hunting for her, fled her home. After giving birth and learning that Ahmed was dead, she made her way to an agency for victimized women and began to piece her life back together. Algerian journalist Gacemi interviewed Nadia in 1997, and shaped the interviews into this book, which was published in France in 1998. Occasionally, Gacemi's penchant for breathless cliffhangers grows old: too many chapters end with dramatic sentences like "Saloua and Fatiha were later decapitated" or "I've paid dearly for it." Nadia tellsher story simply, offering little analysis. It is the very directness of the narrative that will push readers to consider both the appeal Islamism holds for some downtrodden women, and the way militant Islamism keeps women prisoners. An ultimately heart-wrenching personal account.

"Gacemi''s unique and invaluable portrayal of this personal side of terrorism is shocking, poignant, and impossible to forget."—Booklist

— Deborah Donovan

Washington Post Book World

"[A] fascinating autobiography. . . Nadia''s is a rare, firsthand account by a female Islamist extremist, and it reveals the personal, domestic dramas underlying the political turmoil of our times."—Washington Post Book World

— Andrew Ervin

Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Nadia''s voice has the clarity of Anne Frank or Zlata Filipovic, the young diarist from Sarajevo. Her story adds immeasurably to our empathy for victims of violence everywhere and to our understanding of the roots of terrorism."—Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times Book Review

— Susan Salter Reynolds


"Stark, visceral, and disturbing, this biography tells the true story of the transformation of a naïve teenage into the wife of a brutal religious fanatic. . . . Many books have been written about the terrorist mind, but few explore the psychology of the civilians who make the terrorist way of life possible. . . . Both Gacemi and her subject have taken a brave step in telling this story."—ForeWord

— Aimee Sabo

Military Review

"Readers should ponder the wisdom of the decision made by Algeria’s military to deprive Islamists of their political victory in 1991. It is because Islamist radicals enter the political process with such contempt for democracy that one must be cautious in legitimizing them politically. For those interested in learning how jihadists and militants are perverting Islam, Gacemi’s book is a good place to start."—LCDR Youssef Aboul-Enein, Military Review

— LCDR Youssef Aboul-Enein

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Baya Gacemi is an Algerian journalist.
Paul Côté and Constantina Mitchell are freelance translators in Montreal. They have cotranslated Letter from Morocco, Cry of the Gull, and Deaf Planet.
Fanny Colonna is the director of research emerita at the French National Center of Scientific Research.
Edmund Burke III is a professor of Middle Eastern and world history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the editor (with David N. Yaghoubian) of Struggle and Survival in the Modern Middle East, second edition.
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Read an Excerpt

I, Nadia, Wife of a Terrorist

By Baya Gacemi

University of Nebraska Press

Copyright © 2006

University of Nebraska Press

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8032-7124-7

Chapter One

My husband, Ahmed, died a month ago. He was killed during
an operation led by the security forces in Chrea. His body was
recovered but they never found his head. The police assume his
friends hid it after decapitating him. GIA terrorists are known
to do that, especially in cases involving an "emir," like Ahmed,
because it makes identification harder. The police told my father
they were sure it was Ahmed because they recognized the
wound on his arm. I thought I had seen his body among several
others on television one day, but the corpses they show look so
similar it's hard to tell them apart.

I sensed his death was imminent. For some time before it
happened, I'd sit in front of the TV every night at eight o'clock
expecting to see his remains among those of the latest terrorists
killed. My instincts were right. Two weeks ago the police
from the Eucalyptus district, which includes the village of Hai
Bounab, where Ahmed and I lived, informed my father of his
death and asked him to relay the information to me. I immediately
took my family record book to the police station, hoping
they would update it by entering the change in my marital
status. Then I could go ahead and assume my new station in
life: widow at twenty-two, and mother of aneighteen-month-old
son. I'd been waiting for the news for such a long time.
At last, I was going to be freed from the chains binding me to
a man I hadn't seen since March of 1996 but whose existence
weighed on me more with each passing day. The chief of police
met with me and confirmed that he had received reports
substantiating Ahmed's death: "Terrorists who were with him
and taken alive have testified to the fact. But, by law, until the
body has been positively identified, we can't assume he's dead,
and we certainly can't state it on legal documents." It was yet
another disappointment. Even in death Ahmed was making my
life difficult. Noticing my frustration, the police chief advised
me to file an appeal with the state prosecutor for a "confirmation
of death." If Ahmed's body was not formally identified
within a few months, the appeal would allow me to take the
necessary steps to have his death officially registered based on
witness accounts. It's common practice now because so many
terrorists are killed in remote areas and are buried out there by
their friends. The police chief seemed just as relieved as I was.
He confided to a friend of mine who'd gone to the station with
me: "Her husband caused a lot of problems. For us, his family,
and the whole village. He was a real idiot. Things were just fine
when he was with his friends and family. Then he started acting
like a jerk, and what did it get him? His wife is a widow now,
and his child is fatherless. And he ended up slaughtered like a
dog." Alone in my bed that night, I cried. Tears of relief. Tears
of exhaustion, joy, and who knows what else? Tears of sadness,
for sure. Even though I was happy to escape the nightmare I'd
been living, I wish my married life hadn't ended the way it did.
I wish my son's father, a man I lived with for three short months
and loved passionately, hadn't wound up as nothing more than
a headless body at the bottom of a ravine on the Mitidja Plain.

And so I returned to Hai Bounab after not having set foot
there in more than a year and a half. It was spring, and the land
was spectacularly beautiful, as it always is then. It's hard to resist
the urge to roll on the green carpet of grass dotted with yellow
daisies. That's what I used to do as a carefree young girl. The
foliage in the orchards was as dense as ever when I arrived. Here
and there, a few oranges that the farmers had overlooked were
clinging to the branches. Exactly as it used to be. This region
has always brought prosperity to anyone who knows how to
cultivate it properly. The French colonists were the first. When
you look at such an idyllic scene, it's hard to understand how
the people who live here could possibly be inclined to violence.

I ran into Ali in Eucalyptus Village's main square, just a few
yards from police headquarters. He was wearing a communal
guard uniform. I didn't recognize him at first. He is just forty-five
but already looks like an old man. It's hardly been two years,
yet he has aged considerably. His features are drawn, and deep
furrows etch his face. The day I ran into him, he was helping
the police patrol the roadblock and was carrying a rifle on his
shoulder. I stopped to say hello. When he comes face to face
with me, he still has trouble concealing his feelings of guilt. He
couldn't avoid bringing up the topic: "Can you believe it? After
all I did for them, they wanted to take my daughters from me
and force me to build a hideout for them under my house." I
didn't say anything. The discussion would have been pointless
and all too painful. And besides, I had other problems. I just
asked how his daughters were doing. They were friends of mine.
I don't hold anything against him. Ever since he turned my
husband and his friends in, Ali has been living in an abandoned
hammam in Eucalyptus, where the police arranged for him to
stay with his wife and children. They were afraid the terrorists
might seek revenge. He's not the only one who was forced to
move or run away. Terrorism has caused so many people to flee,
torn apart scores of families.

Ali had been one of the GIA's most trusted allies. Seeing him
at his new job made me realize how much things have changed.
Life is back to normal, except that the joy that existed before
is gone-that special joy unique to country people. It's as if a
leaden cloud is looming over the region. How could it be otherwise
when every man you meet from the moment you approach
the area is armed? As soon as I was in Hai Bounab-about a mile
and a half away-I went to visit my mother. She had moved
back into our old house barely two weeks earlier. She hadn't
returned to the village-nor had I-since the day our former
neighbors pointed their newly acquired guns at us. We were so
happy to be going back home that we'd forgotten that in their
eyes we were first and foremost a family of terrorists. They used
to be our friends, but that day they threatened to set fire to
the truck carrying our furniture and belongings. We promptly
turned around and drove off. It was thanks to the police that our
house wasn't destroyed. They let a needy family stay there but
made it clear to them that the arrangement wasn't permanent.
They would only be looking after the premises temporarily. On
the way to my mother's, I had to walk by my own house. It's
been gutted by fire and partially demolished. Even so, there's
a family squatting there. My mother tells me they're decent
people. Their house was razed by an explosion. They said they'd
vacate whenever I wanted.

Everyone in our village believed that the GIA had taken over.
Either that or they pretended to. I had no choice. I had to believe
it was true because I was the wife of Ahmed Chaabani, the emir
of Hai Bounab and the surrounding area. I know for a fact that
by remaining silent and providing logistical support we were all
responsible for letting terrorism take root and grow here. The
terrorists had complete control for more than three years. The
community condoned their actions, accepted everything they
did, and didn't revolt against the GIA until it started terrorizing
the very people who had aided and abetted the group. The
turnaround was just as sudden as it was violent. But I simply
accepted things the way they were. I loved my husband, and
that's all there was to it. I forgave him everything. And I've paid
dearly for it.


Excerpted from I, Nadia, Wife of a Terrorist
by Baya Gacemi
Copyright © 2006 by University of Nebraska Press.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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