Excerpt from The Forever War by Dexter Filkins, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Forever War

by Dexter Filkins

The Forever War
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2008, 384 pages
    Jun 2009, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Stacey Brownlie

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"The Koran says the killer must be killed in order to create peace in society," the loudspeaker said, echoing inside the stadium. "If punishment is not meted out, such crimes will become common. Anarchy and chaos will return."

By this time a group had gathered behind me. It was the family of the murderer and the family of the victim. The two groups behind me were toing-and-froing as in a rugby game. One family spoke, leaning forward, then the other. The families were close enough to touch. Sharia law allows for the possibility of mercy: Atiqullah’s execution could be halted if the family of the victim so willed it.

Judge Muzami hovered a few feet away, watching.

"Please spare my son," Atiqullah’s father, Abdul Modin, said. He was weeping. "Please spare my son."

"I am not ready to do that," the victim’s father, Ahmad Noor, said, not weeping. "I am not ready to forgive him. He killed my son. He cut his throat. I do not forgive him."

The families were wearing olive clothes that looked like old blankets and their faces were lined and dry. The women were weeping. Everyone looked the same. I forgot who was who.

"Even if you gave me all the gold in the world," Noor said, "I would not accept it."

Then he turned to a young man next to him. My son will do it, he said.

The mood tightened. I looked back and saw the Taliban guards whipping some children who had tried to sneak into the stadium. Atiqullah was still sitting on the field, possibly oblivious. The voice crackled over the loudspeaker.

"O ye who believe!" the voice in the loudspeaker called. "Revenge is prescribed for you in the matter of the murdered; the freeman for the freeman, and the slave for the slave, and the female for the female.

"People are entitled to revenge."

One of the green hoods handed a Kalashnikov to the murder victim’s brother. The crowd fell silent.

Just then a jumbo jet appeared in the sky above, rumbling, forcing a pause in the ceremony. The brother stood holding his Kalashnikov. I looked up. I wondered how a jet airliner could happen by such a place, over a city such as this, wondered where it might be going. I considered for a second the momentary collision of the centuries.

The jumbo jet flew away and the echo died and the brother crouched and took aim, leveling his Kalashnikov at Atiqullah’s head.

"In revenge there is life," the loudspeaker said.

The brother fired. Atiqullah lingered motionless for a second then collapsed in a heap under the gray blanket. I felt what I believed was a vibration from the stands. The brother stood over Atiqullah, aimed his AK-47 and fired again. The body lay still under the blanket.

"In revenge there is life," the loudspeaker said.

The brother walked around Atiqullah, as if he were looking for signs of life. Seeing one, apparently, he crouched and fired again.

Spectators rushed onto the field just like the end of a college football game. The two men, killer and avenger, were carried away in separate Hi-Luxes, one maroon, one white. The brother stood up in the bed of the white truck as it rumbled away, surrounded by his fellows. He held his arms in the air and was smiling.

I had to move fast to talk to people before they went home. Most everyone said they approved, but no one seemed to have any enthusiasm.

"In America, you have television and movies—the cinema," one of the Afghans told me. "Here, there is only this."

I left the stadium and walked in a line of people through the streets. I spotted something in the corner of my eye. It was a boy, a street boy, with bright green eyes. He was standing in an alley, watching me. The boy stood for a few more seconds, his eyes following mine. Then he turned and ran.

In the late afternoons the center of Kabul had an empty, twilight feel, a quiet that promised nothing more than another day like itself. There were hardly any cars then, just some women floating silently in their head-to-toe burqas.* Old meat hung in the stalls. Buildings listed in the ruins.

Excerpted from The Forever War by Dexter Filkins Copyright © 2008 by Dexter Filkins. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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