Posted by: Rob | September 1, 2010

The Messenger by Daniel Silva

Flag (obverse) of Saudi Arabia with inscriptio...

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Ann brought me a paperback book while I was in the hospital this past July.  It was a spy novel, The Defector by Daniel Silva.  Spy novels have not typically been something I’ve read and I’d never heard of Silva but gave the book a go, being a captive audience and all.  It had a slow start and I almost gave up on it before it became interesting.  The book featured a recurring character named Gabriel Allon.  Gabriel was a promising artist in the early ’70’s when he was recruited by “the Office” – a euphemism for the Mossad – to be an assassin deployed in Operation Wrath of God, the targets of which were the members of Black September.

Once I finished The Defector – the ninth Allon book –  I wanted more and so began wading through the Allon themed books available at my local public library.

The Messenger is the sixth book that centres around the character of Gabriel Allon, talented art restorer and Israeli assassin.  After having read nearly all of the Allon books, I’m finding that they follow a relatively predictable format, though I suppose that’s the most successful method employed purveyors of fiction.  So, why would one continue to read them, if they’re somewhat repetitive and predictable? Besides the entertainment value and the quickness of the read, I suppose I enjoy the aspect that there’s always some kernels of truth and the odd bit of profound philosophy incorporated into these fictional tales.

The Messenger explores the links between the USA, Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Royal Family and radical Islamic fundamentalism and jihad.  I found the following passages of particular interest:

Gabriel Allon, Israeli intelligence, in conversation with the pope:

“You seem to believe that the problem of terrorism and radical Islam can be swept away if they were more like us – that if poverty, illiteracy, and tyranny weren’t so prevalent in the Muslim world, there would be no young men willing to sacrifice their lives in order to maim and kill others.  But they’ve seen the way we live, and they want nothing of it.  They’ve seen our democracy, and they reject it.  They view democracy as a religion that runs counter to the central tenets of Islam, and therefore they will resist it with a sacred rage.  How do we deliver justice and prosperity to these men of Islam who believe only in death?”

Adrian Carter, CIA DD Operations, in conversation with Gabriel Allon:

“And then there are those in the Royal Family who are willing to play the game by a different set of rules.  We’ll call them the True Believers.  They think the only way the al-Saud can survive is to renew the covenant they formed with Muhammad Abdul Wahhab two centuries ago in the Najd.  But this new covenant has to take into account new realities.  The monster that the al-Saud created two hundred years ago now holds all the cards, and the True Believers are prepared to give the monster what it wants.  Infidel blood.  Jihad without end.  Some of these True Believers want to go further.  The expulsion of all infidels from the Peninsula.  An embargo on oil sales to America and any other country that does business with yours [Israel].  They believe oil should no longer be treated as simply an unending pool of liquid money that flows from the terminals of Ras Tanura into the Zurich bank accounts of the al-Saud.  They want to use it as a weapon – a weapon that could be used to cripple the American economy and make the Wahhabis masters of the planet, just as Allah intended when he placed that sea of oil beneath the sands of the al-Hassa.”

Sounds kind of ominous, doesn’t it?  I am certainly somewhat relieved that the fates intervened to eliminate the possibility of my ultimately travelling in-country to Saudi Arabia for a project assignment.  And before you respond with statements that the above is only fiction and is, therefore, not real, consider this excerpt from the Author’s Note at the end of the story:

Sadly, a central aspect of The Messenger is inspired by truth: Saudi Arabia’s financial and doctrinal support for global Islamic terrorism.  The pipeline between Saudi religious charities and Islamic terrorists has been well documented.  A very senior U.S. official told me that, after the attacks of 9/11, American officials traveled to Riyadh and demonstrated to the Royal Family how twenty percent of all the money given to Saudi-based Islamic charities ends up in the hands of terrorists.  Under American pressure, the Saudi government has put in place tighter controls on the fund-raising activities of the charities.  Critics, however, believe these steps to be largely window dressing.

An example of Saudi Arabia’s new commitment to stemming the flow of money to terrorist organizations came in April 2002.  Eight months after 9/11, with Saudi Arabia besieged by inquiries about its role in the attacks, state-run Saudi television broadcast a telethon that raised more than $100 million to support “Palestinian martyrs,” the euphemism for suicide bombers from Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.  The telecast featured remarks by Sheikh Saad al-Buraik, a prominent government-sanctioned cleric, who described the United States as “the root of all wickedness on earth.”  The Islamic cleric went on to say: “Muslim brothers in Palestine, do not have any mercy, neither compassion on the Jews, their blood, their money, their flesh.  Their women are yours to take, legitimately.  God made them yours.  Why don’t you enslave their women?  Why don’t you wage jihad?  Why don’t you pillage them?”

The Messenger was published in 2006, but if you’ve kept up with news you’ll know that not much has changed.  The current controversy over the “Islamic Mosque” in downtown Manhattan a couple of blocks from “Ground Zero” certainly reinforces that idea, with unpleasant consequences.

When your response to the American uproar about the New York mosque is summarized with statements like, “We are getting even more messages of support and solidarity on the mosque issue and questions about how to fight back against this outrage.” and “I expect we will soon be receiving more American Muslims like Faisal Shahzad who are looking for help in how to express their rage,” and “The more mosques you stop, the more jihadis we will get,” then you know that this is a problem that won’t be resolved any time soon.



  1. similarly, i enjoyed the Millenium Series (Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, etc) as a fun summer book bash – at least in part because the backdrop for each book was quite clearly non-fiction.

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