This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.
Tommy Akhtar, the Ugandan-Indian-British hero of Patrick Neate’s City of Tiny Lights is an ex-mujahid turned low-life private investigator who finds himself on a hospital bed with a lot more than a broken skull. Farzad, his father (and head of a very dysfunctional family) is visiting him.
“The ‘war on terror,’ Tommy boy? The ‘war on terror?’ What is that?”
I didn’t have an answer. Fortunately, none was expected.
“I tell you, son. The ‘war on terror’ is a contradiction in terms. One…” Farzad dropped the corner of my blanket and began to wag a finger. “One: when someone is labelled a terrorist, they are immediately removed from the rules of humanity that regulate us all. Two: the nature of war as agreed by civilized society is that it is fought within just such a set of rules. Quod erat demonstrandum, the phrase ‘war on terror’ is a contradiction in terms!” Farzad was staring at me. I was struggling to follow. He said, “Are you following?”
I said, “Sure.”
“The meaning of the word ‘terrorist’ depends entirely on context. Nelson Mandela? Mahatma Gandhi? These fellows were once called terrorists too. One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, Tommy boy. Are you following?”
“‘Sure,’ you say. Sure. Don’t humour me, you numbskull! What about you? When you decided to play silly buggers with the Soviet Union, what were you doing? Were you a terrorist? Were you a freedom fighter? Answer me that.”
I thought about it. I rewound a couple of decades. “I was just a kid,” I said.
[Patrick Neate/ City of Tiny Lights]But don’t judge Tommy or Farzad from this passage. The book is worth reading, not least for those cricketing metaphors, the exceptionally well-created Nukkad-esque characters and their colourful verbal exchanges.
Related Link: The Little Book of Tommy - another Tommy Akhtar investigation from the author’s website.
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