(The Wrath of God)
Interview for Lusa
Portugal, October 2009
1. What is the story of The Wrath of God?
JRS: This is a Tomás Noronha adventure written around two key questions. The first one is: what if Al-Qaeda has got the atomic bomb? And the second one is: what if radical Islam is true Islam? The disturbing thing is that these two key questions may not be merely fiction, as anyone who reads the novel will immediately realize.
2. How long did the research take?
JRS: A few months. You see, I always work quickly.
3. What did you specifically research?
JRS: I read the Koran and the chronicles on the life of the prophet Muhammad. I read the books written by the main Islamic radical authors, such as Sayid Qutb and Hasan Al-Banna, amongst others, and I read technical books about nuclear engineering. Furthermore, I spoke with Muslims, both moderate and radical – including one of Al-Qaeda’s founding members. And I visited the main spots where the action takes place in the novel: the Azores, Venice, New York, Egypt, Pakistan and Armenia.
4. How did you reach Abdullah Yusuf, the former Al-Qaeda operative that became the novel’s consultant?
JRS: I got his contact through a sheikh that knew a person who knew him. As simple as that. And I managed to reach him through the internet, because he lives in Africa.
5. How regularly did you speak to him?
JRS: Throughout the entire revision process of the novel we spoke everyday.
6. Did you meet him personally?
JRS: Only when he travelled to Portugal for the public presentation of my novel. Until then all communication between us was carried out through the internet.
7. What were your prime motivations when you decided to tackle this particular issue?
JRS: What I basically thrive to do in all my novels is to use a fictional narrative of love and espionage to take the reader on a journey of one of the greatest issues of our days – in the case of The Wrath of God, Islamic radicalism. You see, many of my novels tackle current affairs.
8. And your concerns?
JRS: My main concern in The Wrath of God was to deal with some of the most disturbing aspects of Islam without offending the followers of this important religion. That is why I was so careful, throughout the novel, to present Islam using the words of the Koran and the prophet Muhammad himself.
9. In spite of dealing with a current affairs issue, do you think this book, even considering that it is indeed a novel, has the ability to clarify some ideas about this religion and its motivations?
JRS: We in the West ignore most of what Islam is all about. We think this is a religion embedded with pacifism, very much similar to Jesus’ teachings, and that Islamic radicals are nothing but a bunch of madmen. But the psychological studies carried out by the CIA and Mossad on incarcerated Islamic fundamentalists show that they are perfectly normal people. If that is so, why is it that they carry out these horrendous acts? The answer, as my novel shows, lies in the Koran. For instance, says a verse of the Koran about the infidels: “Kill them until there is no more persecution and in its place is the religion of God.” Says another verse: “Oh Prophet! Encourage the believers to war.” In fact, 60 per cent of the Koran are orders for war. And the prophet Muhammad said: “I declare war on everyone until everyone says Allah is the only God and I am His prophet.” Quite different to Jesus teachings, isn’t it? These war orders in Islam are something nobody had told us before. So, The Wrath of God deals with this unknown face of Islam.
10. What about your perception of Islam. Did it change?
JRS: Somewhat, yes. I found that Islam is what we are told – but there is also a side to it that is never shown to us, Westerners. That unknown side, the calls for war, is what The Wrath of God is all about.
11. How are Muslims going to take this novel? Do you fear their reaction?
JRS: After writing it, but before publishing it, I’ve shown the book to several Muslims. They’ve confirmed to me that what is written in The Wrath of God is true, though they acknowledge that most people, including many Muslims, are unaware of some of the most disturbing details that arise when the Islamic holy texts are read literally. As for fears, I don’t have them. First of all, the novel does not offend Islam – it merely shows an unknown side of this faith. Secondly, Portuguese Muslims are tolerant, peaceful and respected people – in fact, some of them are my friends. Thirdly, being free is a central issue when you are a novelist. An author who is afraid cannot be an author.