Embracing the Infidel

<i>Stories of Muslim Migrants on the Journey West.</i> By Behzad Yaghmaian. <i>Delacorte Press. $24.</i>

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.


Behzad Yaghmaian’s intimate, horrifyingly vivid account of the plight of Muslim refugees is misleadingly titled: Religion plays little role in most of the stories he tells, outside of the religiously inspired warfare and oppression that drove some of his protagonists—women especially—from their homes. Embracing the Infidel is really about the conflict between humanity and law. None of Yaghmaian’s dozens of informants left their homes lightly; yet because most failed to qualify for refugee status under strict United Nations guidelines that ignore the effects of poverty, sexism, and violence, they face uncertain futures as they crisscross Europe.

Yaghmaian, an Iranian exile who is now an American economics professor, is no disinterested observer. Without polem- ics, he takes us deep into the souls of the men and women he befriends, following them from the chaotic human bazaar of Istanbul to Sofia, Athens, Paris, and beyond. Most of the migrants dream of England or Canada or the United States, but very few will make it that far. Among Yaghmaian’s characters is Shadi, obliged in her native Iran to marry first a drug addict and then a man so abusive that his first wife set herself on fire. Both she and her son are nevertheless deported from Turkey back to Iran. Then there is Roberto, whose family was slaughtered in the Angolan civil war. Escaping from Turkey, his small boat is rammed by a Greek coast guard vessel and he clings to wreckage for five hours before rescue arrives. Other migrants live in trucks or boats or in the woods; they scavenge for food, stumble across frigid, snow-covered mountains, endure horrendous beatings by border guards and attacks by police dogs.

But in the coolly heartrending words of one migrant, Kia, an Iranian boy who made it as far as Greece: “These are not the real problems of the journey. The difficulty is finding a place to start a new life, a chance, and an opportunity to live.”

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate