Ausma Zehanat Khan has made it completely impossible to write a short review of her latest book. With A Deadly Divide she deftly addresses a spectrum of critical, relevant and controversial topics which need to be tackled head–on, without hesitation, more often. So, apologies dear reader, this could turn out to be a long review, but I promise you, it’s justified.
First, let’s get the plot out of the way, as brilliantly devised, utterly suspenseful as it may be. In Saint-Isidore-du-Lac, a small town close to Québec, a horrific hate-crime takes place. A community of Muslims is targeted where they are most vulnerable – in their place of worship, their mosque. Twelve people are brutally murdered by an unknown gunman who acted with cold, planned precision. Detectives Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty from the Community Police are dispatched to defuse a potentially volatile situation and support a grieving community. Together with INSET (the provincial Integrated National Security Enforcement Team) and Christian Lemaire of the Sûreté du Québec they have to find the root of this senseless violent act.
But something’s rotten in the state of Québec. As Esa and Rachel start digging they arrive at the unsettling conclusion that all is not what it seems in the province which claims that it has “…a unique relationship with its minority populations, a status enhanced by the province’s distinctive cultural and linguistic heritage.” The attack exposes the growing rift dividing the town. A divide which has been quietly growing for a while and started to show when Saint-Isidore-du-Lac was the second town to pass a code which banned certain cultural practices, for example the uncovering of one’s face when providing or receiving state services. The reason? To protect the Québécois identity and the values they hold dear, but inadvertently it is also a manifestation of fear of the unknown and of a different culture threatening or encroaching on one’s own.
Through Esa’s struggle to consolidate his job, love for Sehr, his religion and solitary nature with the war going on in Saint–Isidore and the rest of the world, we feel the encompassing sense of despair that certain religions, races and minorities will always be outsiders trying to fit into a hostile world. Us vs. them. This is seen in the way the two main suspects are treated differently – Etienne Roy, a priest with the local church and Amadou Duchon, a young black man. Likewise the way with which terrorism attacks are treated by the media. Attacks in the Western world are given a higher profile. As Diana Shehadeh, head of a civil liberties association working with the team, puts it: “When attacks like these happen in Somalia or Pakistan, they barely register a pulse.”
A Deadly Divide gives a chilling account of the reality in many societies. The existence of the Wolf Allegiance, an alt-right, white supremacy group whose goal it is to preserve their culture and cleanse their community reads like fiction, but it’s uncannily close to reality. As it happens, Ausma’s research confirmed similar extremist ideologies, as well as a “surge in participation of white men in nationalist movements”, as well as growth in these movements.
All these essential talking points are tightly packaged in an intelligent police procedural with a cast of complicated, interesting characters, each with their own psychological weaknesses and baggage. Ausma tells their story with intelligence, insight and sensitivity and effortlessly banishes the stereotypical depiction of Muslims. We need more stories to break down the barriers between religions, cultures and races and the ill-conceived notions accompanying them. Hers is but one voice that needs to be amplified, but it speaks loudly and clearly if you want to listen.
If I still haven’t convinced you, here’s an extract to tempt you even further. And the good news is, this is the fifth in the series featuring Essa & Rachel and I, for one, am planning to read the entire back catalogue.
A Deadly Divide is published by No Exit Press and they kindly provided me with a review copy. Thank you to them and Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in this blog tour. Join in by following the rest of these wonderful bloggers for the last stretch of the tour.
About Ausma Khan:
“Ausma Zehanat Khan is a frequent lecturer and commentator. She holds a Ph.D. in international human rights law with a research specialization in military intervention and war crimes in the Balkans, from Osgoode Hall Law School.
Formerly, she served as Editor in Chief of Muslim Girl magazine. The first magazine to address a target audience of young Muslim women, Muslim Girl re-shaped the conversation about Muslim women in North America. Khan practiced immigration law in Toronto and has taught international human rights law at Northwestern University, as well as human rights and business law at York University. She is a long-time community activist and writer, and currently lives in Colorado with her husband.” More information on Ausma’s website.