Tag Archives: Birds Without Wings

Holy War

This is something i meant to post a while ago.

Here is a brief summarized quote from an absolutely beautiful novel I’m reading, called “Birds Without Wings” by Louis DeBerniers.  The context is a man named Rustem Bey, who is considering joining the military.  The date is 1914, and the Ottoman Empire is calling upon and enlisting all the able bodied Muslims available.  Not all in this town where the novel takes place are Muslim, there are Jews and Christians, such as was common in the empire.


“Another thing,” continued Rustem Bey, “I have seen battlefields strewn with the bodies of young men, and old ones too.  I have smelled the corpses when there wasn’t enough time to bury them before they began to rot.  I’ve seen what happens to the women and the children.  The Sultan Padishah has declared it a holy war.”

Rustem Bey paused and Leyla [his wife] wondered what it signified.  “A holy war?”

“Yes a holy war.  The sultam Padishah has never been on a burial party when the corpses have been left too long.  I will say this to you, my tulip, but I would not say it to anyone else because of what it would do to my reputation….do you promise never to repeat this?”

“Repeat what?”

“What I’m about to say.”

“But what is it that I am not to repeat?  And I promise I won’t repeat it to them or even to Pamuk.”

“I have an opinion about holy war, which in general I must keep to myself.  I have no wish to be known as a heretic.  It is….that if a war can be holy, then God cannot.  At best a war can only be necessary.”

A soldiers bravery

If I could quote this entire book, I would.  I’ve loved it so much!  An old man is reminiscing about his time as a soldier in the war as a Turk against the “Franks”.

But I will tell you a secret, which is that almost no soldier believes he will be killed. This is because it is impossible for the human being to imagine that he is dead, and this is because he is always alive and present in the act of imagining. He sees his comrades die, but he thinks himself immune, and this fatal lack in his nature makes him a good fighter. Even a man who has decided to die on purpose and become a martyr does not really believe in his own death.

Birds Without Wings, by Louis Bernieres