Escape from Baghdad is not a travelogue. It’s not a factual account of the war from the eyes of the victor. It is, as the name suggests, escapism, a fantasy, a depiction of the ‘other’.
Sticking up for the losers, eh?
Well it’s very easy to tell heroic stories about winners. Those are things people want to hear, but it’s boring. It doesn’t cover anything new, it becomes formulaic. At the same time, I think a straight up tragedy has little value to a reader, especially if you already know the story. I mean I know that Napoleon lost at Waterloo. I don’t really want to rehash that. If I’m rooting for Napoleon, I want a victory at the end.
Boo Hoo. What, you just going to make up shit now?
I can and I will. That’s the beauty of writing. If I have to, I’ll rewrite all of history. You always want your main characters to come out with a win. But really, there’s a point when you have to define victory in extremely narrow terms. You lost the war, fine, but you held out for a Spartan style glorious end. Alright, there was no glorious end, but some of you escaped into the future. Ok no one escaped, and everyone died, but you left some indelible mark on the world. Ok, all of you died without a ripple, the world didn’t notice, but…you died well. You see what you’ve got left here? At a certain point, it starts to look grim. Somehow just dying well has to sum up the entirety of your victory.
Some kind of death fetish I see. And then there’s the excessive violence…
Even if I’m not writing a non-fiction account of the Iraq War, I still have to do justice to the concept of modern war. There isn’t any romance or heroism in killing people. The violence is ugly, nonsensical, and completely personal. By that I mean if you’re killing a lot of people and you don’t precisely know why, there might be something wrong with you.
So you’re some kind of Pacifist? Like some Anti War liberal hippie tree hugger?
At the root of it, modern warfare seems to be just armed burglary on a massive scale. For the people fighting, there might be an ideological cause, but for the people ordering the war, for the guys at the very top, it is definitely just about resource allocation and profit for a very narrow segment of the population. If you assume that ever single leader in the world is at the mercy of a combination of different power brokers, that every aggressive decision is in fact a play to enrich some pressure group, you’re as close to the truth as you’re going to get.
Of course there will be conflict and war, and that is mainly because of scarcity of resources and land. That is an ancient human problem, and there is no reason to have any illusions about it. You’ve got the goods, we want it, we’ve got guns, we’re going to take it.
So is there any moral value here at all?
I try to keep the harmless people alive, and the harmful people dead at the end of the novel. It’s not always possible because I don’t write following a plan. Once they’re out there, they pretty much go their own way.
Any reason at all for optimism?
Sure. Generally all around the world, I think educated people are growing towards a similar ethos of tolerance, non violence, and concern for their environment, both on a planetary scale as well as their social environment. I think when there is extreme poverty or inequity in front of you, more and more people try to change that. This is encouraging. The crazies will surely die out one day.
Saad Z. Hossain writes in a niche genre of fantasy, science fiction and black comedy with an action-adventure twist. He’s a monthly columnist for the Daily Star literary page and Bangladesh’s only reviewer of Science Fiction. He lives in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and will be in Los Angeles in March 2015.