Book review: The Spinner's Tale - The man behind the militant

Omar Shahid Hamid’s gripping second novel traces a young man’s journey from an ‘idealistic student’ to a ‘jihadi’

Our Correspondent July 05, 2015
Author Omar Shahid Hamid

The Spinner’s Tale is the second book by Omar Shahid Hamid, who has served with the Karachi Police for 12 years and was targeted by various terrorist organisations and wounded in the line of duty in 2010. The book is not a sequel to his first undertaking The Prisoner, which was loosely structured around the events that led to the killing of Mir Murtaza Bhutto and the kidnapping and subsequent murder of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl in 2002, but a refreshing take on the makings of a jihadi.

There are some similarities between the two books — once more, a foreign journalist, a pregnant female reporter, is kidnapped and subsequently beheaded by Sheikh Ahmed Uzair Sufi, the book’s main character. However, this time the author focuses on Omar Saeed Sheikh, presented here as Sheikh Ahmed Uzair Sufi, the man behind the kidnapping of Western tourists in India and also the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl in Karachi.

It is a gripping tale, painful in many parts, but one that gives a detailed account of the life of the fictional Sheikh Ahmed Uzair Sufi and what motivated him to commit such crimes. It is a well-researched book which offers details that have so far not surfaced with regards to the personality of the real Sheikh.

Unlike Hamid’s debut novel, where there were a number of colourful characters based on real police officers, The Spinner’s Tale holds back. Readers have to restrict themselves to two fictional characters modelled on well-known individuals — Omar Abbasi, in my understanding is based on one of Sindh’s best known cops Sanaullah Abbasi, and Inspector Shahab of the CID.

The story opens as Sheikh Ahmed Uzair Sufi is transferred out of Hyderabad Jail — where Omar Saeed Sheikh still resides — to a makeshift facility in the Nara desert where the police higher-ups feel that the prisoner would be safe from any attempts to spring him. The narrative is strung together through letters written by Sheikh to his friend Eddy. We piece together the story of a boy who loved cricket and who gradually turned from an innocent student to a member of an ethnic party’s student wing and then into a jihadi.

In many ways, this is the story of many educated young Pakistani men from middle-class families who turn to militancy in response to the ills of Pakistani society or the space created in our country due to corrupt politics and authoritarian governments. It is a story of the alternate system that exists in the country which breeds and shields such militants and considers them heroes. It is also a tale of the magnetic personalities of many such characters, of which Sheikh is possibly the best example. The Spinner’s Tale is the perfect starting point for those wanting to better understand the transformation of our youth to extremists.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, July 5th, 2015.


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