He knows he can’t hesitate.
He sits amidst a pile of rubble, mostly debris from decrepit,
antiquated buildings that line an abandoned street. No point in bombing them.
They could fall to pieces themselves.
He’s dug himself through a section at the top of the pile so
that his Galatz sniper rifle can point out the other side.
He wears a bandana over his face. One sneeze and the pile falls
and, just like that, he’s compromised. The billowing dust brought in by a
desert wind makes it difficult for him to survive.
His is on a mission without many details. He’s to position
himself near a mosque that contains a safe house in the occupied zone. He’s
taking out a terrorist whose name he doesn’t know. As a muezzin sounds the call
to afternoon prayer he’s to shoot the terrorist through a wall as the man
kneels towards Mecca.
He knows not whether he’ll be facing him, or whether his back
will be turned. School never taught him which direction Mecca was in.
It doesn’t matter that the sniper can’t physically see the room
— his scope is a mega high-tech one mounted at the side of the Galatz.
Its heat-seeking technology can map the bloodflow of a man’s body.
When he hits his target, it’s assumed that the rest of them
will flee the building with guns blazing. The army is prepared for that. A
platoon surrounds the mosque at every entrance, waiting to unleash a hail of
bullets against anyone trying to escape.
The scope makes his job a lot easier. On one hand, he can see
through the wall into the “musalla,” or prayer room, completely unnoticed. On
the other hand, he doesn’t really “see” his targets – they’re merely
syntagmas of their greater wholes. In this light, the radiated greens of the
scope, they mean nothing more to him than the goombas or flying ducks of his
He needs to see them this way. They’re animals, terrorists,
born of a land they never owned. They were born serfs, and now they want to
eradicate the people who were divinely-appointed to hold this land. To imagine
these vassals as anything more than dogs would make him hesitate and compromise
He steadies the rifle as the voice of his drill sergeant plays
back in his head. A rigid, forceful man, his job was to strip away every trace
of humanity from soldiers’ targets. They were dogs; jackals; desert rats
combing your home for unearned bits of food. Very simply, they were Others
— everything the army was not.
In the scope, there were no humans — only body heat. Just
strands of blood running up and down in uninterrupted flows.
Suddenly a loud hiss flies over his head. An F-16 zips through
the sky, heading south. He takes his eye away from his scope to ensure he’s not
That’s when he sees him. A brown-skinned, middle-aged man
wearing a prayer cap stepped out to the mosque’s balcony. He has dark, curly
hair, a thin build and wears a dark blue jubba — a shirt that stretches
from his neck down to just above his knees.
He has never seen one before — at least not since
starting his military service. He watches intently as the man leans over a
railing, gazing out upon a ruined landscape straight out of the Fifth Circle of
Hell. A crumpled street; empty buildings with bombed-out apartments that once
housed whole families.
The man looks at the base of a nearby apartment complex, now
empty, with café-sized tables and chairs strewn across the broken sidewalk in
front. At one time he may have taken tea there, or smoked hookah and talked
with friends about the weather.
It takes only a glance for the sniper to realize this. Piled
under the discarded pieces of the ghost city that surrounded him, he took pity
on the man. Beyond the rifle, he’s no longer a spectre in a scope.
Then the muezzin ascends the minaret and issues the call to
afternoon prayer. The man on the balcony went inside. Go time, and the sniper
couldn’t see his target as a spectre anymore. The platoon gathered around the
mosque silently awaits his shot.
But the sniper can’t. If he takes the shot the violence will
continue. For every man killed in that mosque there’d be families and friends
looking to take revenge.
What if he walks away and leaves the platoon waiting? They
couldn’t fire on the men in the mosque if they weren’t provoked.
The sniper holds his finger on the trigger, knowing that he has
to shoot before the muezzin stops leading the adhan. He lets the muezzin
continue the prayer in Arabic.
“Allahu akbar (God is Great)
Ash-hadu an la ilaha illallah (There is no God but God)
Ash-hadu anna Muhammadan rasulullah (And Muhammad is his
Slowly the sniper takes his finger off the trigger. Slower
still, he pulls his rifle out of the pile as he slides down and out. Still in
his military attire, he has to move swiftly.
When he gets back to base he’ll almost certainly be
court-martialled. His brothers will oust him as a coward.
So be it. It was an unbroken cycle of violence that brought the rifle to his shoulder. He had a choice of interrupting one of two blood cycles — one, that of a man he knew nothing about; the other, a flow that kept the heart of a fruitless conflict beating. By not taking the shot he avoids just one bloodshed. And though he knows he’ll face consequences, he feels the better for it.