Books: The Spiders of Allah

James Hider’s atheist romp on the front lines of holy war.

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

It’s a bloody miracle James Hider isn’t dead. But then, Hider, the Middle East bureau chief for the Times of London, doesn’t believe in divine intervention. Dumb luck has helped the atheist escape all manner of potentially fatal binds: cowering in a Gaza terrorist compound as Israeli warplanes buzz by, fleeing furious Iraqi mobs, and taking shrapnel with an American unit in Fallujah.

This romp through the cradle of civilization—think Hunter S. Thompson meets Christopher Hitchens—takes Hider from suicide bombers‘ lairs and hardcore Zionist settlements to a mosque in Mosul, where a 7-foot-tall Sufi sheikh insists the British reporter impale himself with a metal skewer. (He’s kidding.)

Indeed, Hider finds plenty of grim humor in the midst of the chaos of Iraq. Beyond the typical narrative of mayhem and missed opportunity, he writes of the magic, rice-eating stones that many Iraqis believed protected Saddam Hussein, and the spiders—an Internet rumor—that insurgents believed Allah had sent to destroy the infidel army. Not to mention Al Qaeda in Iraq’s decrees that goats had to be clad in underpants and that grocers could no longer display cucumbers and tomatoes in close proximity (too suggestive).

Mixed in with such oddities is a potent point about the dark side of faith and how things can get disturbingly nihilistic at the nexus of extreme and clashing beliefs. In one scene, Hider talks cars with a Shiite death squad member who extols the virtues of a model whose trunk can fit four bodies. Though much of his reporting captures Iraq as it was before the surge or word of an American withdrawal, Spiders of Allah left me ever more skeptical that the country’s sectarian rifts will mend easily. As Hider puts it, “It seems the rational world…will continue to be blindsided in a bloody fashion by the madness within us.”

Follow Michael Mechanic on Twitter.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend