On Marienstrasse Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 949

After evening prayers one cold, rainy night, an older man and a younger man stand in the doorway. Hammad blows on his cupped hands for warmth, watches a woman bicycling by, and prepares to listen to the old man’s story.

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Fifteen years ago he had been a rifleman in the Shatt al Arab as he watched thousands of shooting boys pouring across the mudflats. Many were weaponless; many of those who had rifles were so small they were overwhelmed by their heavy weapons. He was a member of Saddam’s army and the boys were martyrs for the Ayatollah’s cause. They seemed to rise from the earth, and he shot at them and watched them fall.

Hammad is nothing more than a casual acquaintance with this man, a baker who had lived in Hamburg for ten years. They both pray here in this graffiti-covered building on a street where prostitutes walk. Now Hammad knows about combat in the “long war.”

Even as the machine guns cut them down, the boys kept coming, vaulting over the “smoking bodies of their brothers, carrying their souls in their hands.” Even if they were the enemy, the older man quit shooting these Shiites, Iranians, heretics; this was a military tactic designed to create a diversion for Iraqi troops as the real army gathered behind the front lines. He was sad to see these boys die by throwing their bodies under tanks and used as human land mines; he was sadder still that they thought they were winning by their so-called glorious deaths.

Hammad is grateful to the man, though he makes no comment. This is a man who is not old in numbers but “carries something heavier than hard years.” Their cry stays with him still—the sharp, piercing cry of ancient battle, the cry of history. It is not the sound of something happening yesterday but of always and continually, happening over a thousand years. The two men stand in silence as the rain and wind and cold seep into their bones.

The men who gather at the Marienstrasse are all growing beards. One of them even told Hammad’s father to grow a beard. They gather here, young and old, to vilify the West, though they are in this country to pursue technical educations such as architecture, engineering, and urban planning. They are quick to blame the Jews for anything they see as a flaw in construction, even something absurd. Hammad simply listens intently. He has a clumsy, bulky body and has always felt as if there were some kind of energy inside him tightly wound, too tight to be released. A small, intense, wiry man named Amir is the leader of this group. He tells them it is acceptable for a man to stay forever in one room to plan, study, pray, and plot; however, he cannot stay there his entire life. Islam is a struggle with the enemy in all places: first the Jews, then the Americans.

Hammad lives in a small apartment with seven other men; when he walks in they are talking and arguing. One had fought in Bosnia, and they are watching videos of jihad in other countries. He tells them about the boys, about the keys to heaven around their necks as they blew up mines, but the men do not want to hear stories about boys. They talk him down, stare him down. Some of the men who pass through the flat are dangerous to the state; they are being watched and their communication monitored. They prefer to talk in person because they know anything traveling through the air is “vulnerable to interception.” These men make their encounters face to...

(The entire section contains 949 words.)

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