BABEL by Barry Maitland

babelGenesis, Chapter 11:   (King James Version)

1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.

2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.

3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.

4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.

6 And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.

9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

Maitland has produced another superb mystery featuring DCI Brock and DS Kathy Kolla, this time investigating the shooting death of a controversial philosophy professor who has been quite outspoken about his views on extremist religions and their followers, particularly Islamic extremism.   He was on his way to give a lecture, and was gunned down on the steps to the lecture hall.

No one or no group claims credit for the killing, and it is not at all clear why he was murdered.

The fictional university with which he is associated has a branch which is heavily funded by Arab interests because of some of their special needs, which is working on the area of genetic research.   It is staffed by all Arabs, except for the director.

Kathy Kolla is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder incurred during the horrific ending to the previous book, Silvermeadow. Indeed, Kathy’s state of mind remains so fragile that she’s contemplating giving up her police career, but gets caught up in the event at the university,  and the thrill of the hunt has apparently not left her entirely as she and Brock scour the neighborhood for clues.

So in this book we learn a fair amount about the tensions between not only the Islamic and non-Islamic communities, but between the different branches of Islam itself.

One of the characters is the last remaining student of the slain professor, who is doing her doctoral studies under his tutelage.   Her focus is Hannah Arendt and her theory of action.

She was a philosopher, a German Jew who escaped from Germany before the war, and worked in France helping to get Jewish children out of Germany for a time, then she went to America.

She believed in the constant struggle of ideas and opinions against one another, rather than the inevitability of ideologies.

I bet you want to know what Arendt’s theory of action is, don’t you, and how it might apply to this book?  I knew it!

She believed that there are essentially three modes of human activity.  The most basic mode she called ‘labor’, satisfying the necessities of life.

The second mode is called ‘work’.  That’s where the individual is able to express himself through his activity, as a raftsman or creator of something.   This mode has greater freedom, but the individual is still subordinate to the end product.

The third and highest mode is ‘action’.  This means initiating undertakings and interacting with other individuals who are also capable of action.  It is only in action that people are able to realize their individuality and reveal what they personally are.

So what could possibly be the motive for this killing?  Islamic extremists trying to start a fire?  Something connected with that gene research group?  Political intrigue within the university itself?  Somebody with a personal vendetta against the prof?

Another interesting book in the series, which continues on with the personal separate lives of Brock and Kathy, as well as exploring the issues of religious fanaticism, fear and interest concerning gene research,  immigration, and the changing role of the university.

There are two quite different traditions of religious martyrdom, the Christian and the Muslim.  The Christian martyr is passive, suffering death as a victim for the sake of his faith, whereas the Muslim martyr gives up his life in an active attack on the enemies of his faith.

 

 

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