The Big Kahina

“Sinai” is a tongue-in-cheek thriller set in post-Mubarak Egypt. Intrigue, bombs, and breathtaking vistas ensure a riveting read for all. The story, needless to say, is entirely fictional. And yet reality, present and past, inspires a lot of the story line and characters. One of the latter borrows heavily from a very special, and very real 7th century warrior princess. 

The term “warrior princess” undoubtedly conjures up images of Xena, the famous and, let’s face it, hot guerillera from TV. The real Dahiyah (or Dihiyah, Kahya, or Damiya -there are literally dozens of different names for the very same lady) was not so different from her televised peer. Actually not a whole lot is known of Dahiyah, which, admittedly, lends credence and leeway to one’s imagination. There is however a broad consensus that she was a Berber, and that she proved a big headache for the invading Arab armies from the East. Based somewhere in contemporary Algeria she roundly defeated an Umayyad commander, forcing him to cower and whimper for four long years in the deserts of Cyrenaica, known today as Libya. They thought she was a sorceress, and imaginatively they proceeded to call her The Sorceress, or Al-Kahina in Arabic. Eventually backed into a corner she resorted to scorched earth tactics, which didn’t impact the desert and mountain tribes, but lost her the support of well-heeled oasis-dwellers, and hence in the end, the war.

Dahiyah swallowed a poison to avoid capture, or went down in a blaze of glory, depending on the historical or hagiographical source. A lot of competing claims have been made about her life. Some say the fierce leader was a pagan who worshipped the god Ba’al. Ibn Khaldoun seemed to think she was Jewish although Algerian Jews speak of a terrible persecutor of Jews named ‘Kahya’. Ibn Khaldoun also recorded a legend wherein she liberated an enslaved people by marrying their tyrant and slitting his throat on their wedding night. In more recent times Dahiyah was hailed by French colonialists, Arab nationalists, North-African Jews, and Arab feminists. In short, she must have been one seriously cool momma. It was all I could do to sip from the Kool Aid, and slip her into ‘Sinai’. Or rather, someone not even remotely like her. I’ll let you be the judge.

Whichever way, you simply have to meet her!

Sinai is available in all Amazon stores, Barnes & Noble, Espresso Book Machine, and many more online shops. In Brussels you can buy Sinai at Sterling Books, Waterstones, and Passa Porta. Antwerp: De Groene Waterman. iBook Store, Kindle, FNAC and Standaard Boekhandel to be announced. Overview of all online and offline shops.

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Filed under Algeria, Feminism, Judaism, Libya, Middle East, Sinai, Tunisia

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