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The Spiders of Allah [Paperback]

James Hider
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

15 Jan 2009
The bloodshed perpetrated in the name of religion in the world today is nowhere more obvious than in the Middle East. Whether we are talking about hardcore Zionist settlers still fighting ancient Biblical battles in the hills of the West Bank or Shiite death squads roaming the lawless streets of Iraq in the aftermath of Saddam; whether it's the misappropriation and martyrdom of Mickey Mouse by Gaza's Islamists, or a US president acting on God's orders, James Hider sees the hallucinatory effect of what he calls the 'crack cocaine of fanatical fundamentalism' all around him. He's not the kind of journalist to shy away from danger, so as he travels around the Middle East, from Israel to Gaza, to Iraq - the birthplace of myth that spawned so many faiths - and then back to Jerusalem, he takes his doubts about religious beliefs to the very heart of the world's holy wars. He meets terrorists and their victims, soldiers and clerics, ordinary people and extraordinary people. The question in the back of his mind is: how can people not only believe in all this madness, but die and kill for it too?

This extraordinary and timely book takes the God Delusion debate onto the streets of the Middle East. It casts an unflinching yet compassionate eye on the very worst and most violent crimes committed in the name of religion and asks questions that the world needs to answer if we are to stand a chance of facing our own worst demons.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (15 Jan 2009)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 038561554X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385615549
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 15 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,397,013 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I have always been fascinated by what you might call the pathology of ideas -- how they mutate as different societies inherit, steal or are infected by foreign concepts, customs and gods. How a Disney character can become an icon of Islamist martyrdom, how we invent gods because we are afraid of dying, then end up dying for these invented gods. Having seen at first hand, and all too often, the most extreme results of these ever-warping ideas, I sat down and tried to write about them in "Spiders of Allah," the result of seven years covering conflict across the Middle East. Because the history of the region stretches back so far, the ideas that have come out of it have had millennia to warp and twist. You can see front lines that date back thousands of years, and which are still being fought over, affecting people's lives around the world. And what really fascinated me was, what if many of these central ideas are not only absurd, but just plain wrong?

Product Description


A masterpiece... a work of great authority written with wit and wisdom. --Tim Butcher, author of Blood River

Hider's voice is incisive and rich in the human detail that only first-hand experience can bestow. An essential work. --Antony Loyd, author of My War Gone By, I Miss it So

Studded with a fascinating set of characters in a landscape both barbarous and beautiful... Hider has written an absorbing account of his exciting excursions in the Arab world. --Jean Sasson


Hider's voice is incisive and rich in the human detail that only first-hand experience can bestow. An essential work.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best new book on the Middle East 9 Jan 2009
This book is laugh out loud funny which is hard for a work that deals with such wieghty subject matter.

Hider is an interesting and astute observer of the foibles and misadventures of the US and Britain in the Middle East. I couldn't put this down and made me see both Iraq and Israel in a new light.

Highly recommended!
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
By Sphex
An Israeli tank squats in a narrow street in Beit Jala, a Christian suburb of Bethlehem. A Palestinian gunman is firing a Kalashnikov at the vehicle, bullets bouncing off its impregnable shell like popcorn off the inside of a saucepan. Between bursts of gunfire, James Hider asks him why he is shooting at a tank with an assault rifle. "It's all I have," he replies, as though that was logic enough. Then he starts shooting again.

Outside Jerusalem, should he accept a ride back into the city from two young Palestinian men who have suddenly pulled up? Given that he's under attack and has just been "reflecting on the indignity of being stoned to death by a gang of eleven-year-olds" risking kidnap seems worth it. "It was an unnerving introduction into the abruptly revolving violence and courtesy of the Arab world."

Inside Gaza during the intifada, however, you had to watch out for US-made Apache helicopters and F16s rather than feral kids: "complete obliteration tended to come from above". In the summer of 2002, the Israelis were regularly bombing militants' houses and "here I was sitting inside the home of a wanted and extremely dangerous man" - a nameless leader of the al-Asqa Martyrs' Brigades. Then, "there was a blood-freezing roar from outside" as an Israeli jet flew low and directly overhead. Hider wondered if the last thing he would see would be "the nose of the missile" as it came through the window. The "al-Asqa guy, for all his talk of paradise, looked as rattled as I felt. He tried to shrug it off." Hider escaped "into the maze of Rafah's lanes" and admits he "had never felt so alive."

This superb book has rather more to offer than first-rate journalism (the kind where your life and not just your career is on the line).
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You need to read this book 9 Jan 2009
By Dave
If you are at all interested in what is going on in the Middle East and/or any of the debates about the role of religion as we slip into a fundamentalist apocalypse, then you should read this book. Funny, learned and wholly compelling, it's pretty much essential reading for anyone who would claim to know anything about the world today.
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I thought I had followed the news rather closely, but there is so much in this book I had never heard about. Stories and circumstances that are - or should be - important. The stories are mostly from the first years of the current Iraqi war, but with some excursions to Israel and Gaza. Hider takes a lot of risks to find his stories and is obviously an adrenaline junkie. But this means he sees and hears things few other western journalists experience. You can only be amazed at how ill-prepared and naive the Americans were at the beginning of the war, lacking any understanding of the situation or the culture. Notwithstanding the better understanding I now have of the situation, the high-lights for me where the portraits of "ordinary Iraqis". Far from all come out as sympathetic people, but Hider always have a will to understand.

And the spiders? Well, it seems among the many wild stories spreading among Iraqis - lacking reliable news and information - a common one described the giant spiders in the desert that attacks American soldiers' heads and do horrible things to them. A species known from wishful thinking but not by science.
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