Horses of God: a Novel about the Roots of Terrorism

· June 8, 2018

In our eyes and in our hearts, we all see and feel the anguish suffered by the recent terrorist attack in Barcelona. Most of us cannot comprehend terrorism. How can people commit such atrocities against other human beings?

Then comes the hate, the resentment, the thirst for revenge. We judge the terrorists, wanting them to burn in hell. We see them as not just psychopaths, but willing murderers full of malevolence towards the West.

But the reality isn’t quite like that. Nobody is born wanting to annihilate entire populations. Nobody feels hate just for the sake of it. Humans are good by nature, or at least we have the possibility to be. When people are born, they’re just children who want to play and be happy. But over the years, as a consequence of the world we’ve created, they erroneously learn different ways of thinking and behaving. This is when they turn into monsters. But they’re really nothing more than just another victim.

If we don’t understand where terrorism comes from, we won’t be able to eradicate it. It’s not that terrorists deserve our understanding, but we must develop it if we want to find a solution.

broken mirror

Horses of God

Horses of God is by Moroccan author Mahi Binebine. The name refers to those who sacrifice themselves for Allah. They believe when they die, if they’re faithful, they’ll arrive in paradise. They’ll be surrounded by beautiful houris, galloping like horses.

Binebine’s novel is based on chilling real events. It describes the tough reality of kids who live in a slum called Sidi Moumen in Morocco. They were born into broken families, and are aware they’ll never have the future that they really want. The only thing they can hope for, just like their grandfathers and fathers, is misery and disgrace.


They dream of being star soccer players and practice daily in their neighborhood to make that dream a reality. Many of them are skilled at soccer, as well as many other things. But they’ll never achieve their dreams. They know it will never happen for them, because first they would need to be given the chance.

A child needs hope

What do you think happens to the self-esteem of a child without any hope? It gets destroyed. It takes away any reason for them to get up in the morning. They know that the most they can hope to do is sell oranges in the street and pray to have enough food to eat.

When the main characters are at rock bottom, they start to see hope for their future. Finally, someone has given their lives meaning. A radical jihadist imam, friendly and warm, gives them an opportunity to get out of poverty, or at least shows them that the opportunity is within their reach.  He promises hope for everything they’ve dreamed of through beautiful words that would raise anyone’s self-esteem. He also guarantees paradise itself, with everything that comes with it. He persuades them that they can be useful and do something important, that the ends justify the means.

And this is where the paradox comes in – in order for their lives to have any meaning, they must end.

puppet master

Do they fall for his empty promises because they’re unintelligent? No, not at all. They would have gone far if they’d gotten an education. But the problem is they didn’t, and for their whole lives, their needs meant nothing to people in power. 

When a human being feels that desperate, they’ll cling to anything, even if the escape they’re offered has the same end result. The imam seduces the kids into taking their lives and planting the seed of terror.

What’s the best way to fight terrorism?

It’s clear that the solution to barbaric acts of terrorism, which occur in both the East and the West, is to promote the inclusion of these kids in supportive communities; to invest time, effort, and money into their education, so that they don’t feel such desperation and become easy prey for people like the imam in the story.

The long-term solution to terrorism is not to reinforce security in certain areas and ignore the root of the problem. The more we try to heighten security, the more problems there will be. That just makes it easier for radicals to persuade kids that they’re at war, that they have no other escape than to fight, that the only act of bravery they can achieve is to end their lives so they can extinguish their enemies.

We have to address the root cause: the lack of opportunities they face. That way, it will be much harder for that kind of extremist recruitment to occur. Let’s provide and facilitate education, let’s open a window of opportunity instead of closing the blinds and blocking out what little light can get in. That will give them the strength to say no.

If they feel satisfied and happy with their lives, they won’t have to wait for someone to give them security and confidence.

On a smaller scale, how many times have you been so despondent that you got carried away by your emotions and made the worst decision you could make? If we could all put ourselves in the shoes of the kids that we’re judging so righteously, we’d be closer to finding the solution.

Editor’s note: remember, many psychological studies have demonstrated that one’s circumstances have tremendous power over their actions. That innocent students can become tyrants, like in Stanley Milgram’s infamous Stanford prison experiment.

The purpose of this article is to begin reflecting on the “eye for an eye” messages that have been circulating throughout the Internet lately. They’re understandable after the initial emotional impact of the incident, but provide no possible solution that would put a definitive end to these attacks.