"Do not be afraid; our fate cannot be taken from us; it is a gift."

- Inferno, The Divine Comedy

~Dante, circa 1320.

January 1969 - Indonesia


Most of the older men of the village considered Fadhlan Sanjaya, in his early thirties, too young to be deeply learned and experienced in the teachings of the Qu’ran. The disabled veteran’s selection as imam at the village mosque was driven more by a deep sense of appreciation and an acknowledgment of his sacrifices in the name of Allah rather than a confidence in his understanding of the teachings of Muhammad. In fact, it had been less than six months ago when Fadhlan had completed advanced religious training under the tutelage of revolutionary Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan where he had sustained serious wounds fighting the Russians.

Fadhlan was declared a jihad hero by no less than the Ayatollah himself who had visited the hospital in Pakistan to which Fadhlan had been evacuated. He was moved a second time to a better facility in Iran where he underwent surgery and further rehabilitation from his injuries. It was in Islamabad and Tehran during his evacuations that he was educated and further radicalized against all things non-Islamic.

Fadhlan was a taciturn man who smiled infrequently. He was, in fact, somewhat distant from his peers and community outside the confines of his religious duties and setting. Physically, he was scrawny, in fact almost malnourished in appearance, but he possessed dark, deeply set intensely piercing eyes. He wore an immature, ragged henna beard, and possessed a withered left arm. Perhaps most notable of his physical features was a jagged disfiguring scar from shoulder to elbow which continued on to the left flank of his body.

He had returned to his home—a slum village just outside of Jakarta, Indonesia two and one-half years after he had left on a noble quest to kill non-believer hordes of Russian invaders. He came back a bloodied warrior, disabled but proud. He owned only a faded kopiah cap, a tattered teluk beskap, combination Javanese jacket and sarong, worn kasut sandals, and a heroic aura. He had actually shed blood in jihad for Allah. He was a good man and for this, his ardor, and the frightening intensity in his devotion to dogmatic Shiite beliefs, he was respected, admired, and rewarded.

As an imam, Fadhlan fulfilled his younger students imagined fantasies. He was to them, more than others of the village, an exciting and brave warrior hero. One boy who was awed by his teacher was the last of the students to depart the mosque class on this day. From their first meeting, the boy was held spellbound by the intensity of the new imam who he thought to be stirring and courageous. Here was a man to be respected and imitated. More than a teacher he was a soldier—one who had traveled far, had shed his blood, and had demonstrated he was willing to die for Allah.

The child himself was of unremarkable appearance, excepting for his lighter chocolate tone of skin and a large nose. His features betrayed a mixed racial heritage which denied him the assignment to a specific ethnic caste in a caste-oriented society. The boy, however, was forced to attend the same basic Muslim religious training as all other youths of his age.

style='font-size:14.0pt'> The boy was a mediocre student and Fadhlan viewed him only as another indifferent, eight-year-old Indonesian. At that moment in time, there was no way Fadhlan could have guessed the influence he, a wounded warrior and imam, would have as a role model on the child. Nor could he have ever wildly calculated the role which the child would have on the destiny of the most powerful nation in the world.

As the child walked alone back toward his home from the Mosque, the traffic along the irregular paving increased. The dusty roadway was poorly maintained and a jetsam stream of refuse and garbage. As with most of the rural communities in the area around Jakarta, the trash had just accumulated over the years, left by residents, foot weary travelers, and merchants alike resulting in a singular appearance of a never-ending field of debris. In short order, the outpouring of people all moving in his same southward direction became a jam of humanity, a mob that moved with a cacophony of noise and sound. It was an exciting time for today was the day and noon the hour of public sharia punishments. The boy was about to witness an execution, the first to be seen in his young life. The criminal, he had earlier learned from the imam, was to be beheaded for the most serious sin of sacrilege. He had converted to Christianity, an unforgivable offense against the Qu’ran and Allah himself.

The mob, smelling of sweat, hashish, heat, the toxic refuse in the streets, blood lust and the excitement of the day was too dense to permit a full view of the ritual as they gathered in the appointed place. The boy hunkered down on all fours and crawled forward, maneuvering between jerking legs, moving ever forward between the rough, calloused, often unshod feet of adults, to the forward edge of the crowd. Finally, slithering like a snake in the dust he gained a spot at the front of the multitude. Sitting squat legged on the street curb, his view was unobstructed.

A raised circular concrete dais sat within the center of a traffic roundabout, the mildewed monument to a forgotten event. A large red over white flag of Indonesia flew over the entire structure much like an official stamp of approval for the imminent proceedings.

The religious criminal’s body was already bent over, and he struggled weakly against his restraints. Both despair and terror were written across his feral face as he struggled to raise his head. He did not cry out but looked out over the crowd, searching for someone, anyone to rescue him. The prisoner, bony, wiry in build, was like most Indonesians, small in stature. A once white Sikh styled dastaar covered the crown of his head. His sun-browned, sweating neck was fully exposed. A gray flecked length of beard grew from his chin and unshaven stubble covered his cheeks. Both cheeks were streaked with blood and spittle. His breath, which was forced and labored, came through thin split lips which revealed what remained of crooked and decaying betel nut stained tooth stubs. Among his injuries was a large purple contusion. It encircled his left cheek where a trickle of blood flowed from his ear and nose. There was also a swollen red bruise on his forehead above his right eye.

The offender was forced to his knees and there held in place by two cruel looking guards in threadbare, soiled mismatched uniforms. They held his extended arms in vise-like grips. With one hand on the victim’s wrists and the other locking the quarry’s elbows in place, they forced the kneeling man further forward into a bowed over position. A large muscled bald man with a substantial black mustache stood behind the victim. He, himself, was a spectacle and wore only a sleeveless green vest across his vast chest and back while his thighs were encased in light blue pantaloons topped by a scarlet sash. A huge scimitar was gripped in his thick hands, its point resting in the dirt and concrete, a foot from the man’s head. A cleric dressed in white stood off to the side and motioned the crowd to silence as he announced death as the punishment for this defiler of Allah’s law.

With the proclamation concluded, the executioner bent one leg at the knee raised the scimitar above his head and prepared for the downward stroke. As if in slow motion, the boy watched in wonderment as the wide blade descended, softly moaning in the warm air to caress the victims exposed neck, severing the head from the torso with a slight meaty ka-chunk Torrents of bright red pulsing blood gushed forth in a forceful stream from the trunk of the body. The skull bounced once against the concrete platform and rolled to the dusty earth stopping mere inches from where the boy sat, close to his awed face. The eyes of the corpse, wide in astonishment, shone with a fading trace of life, staring inexorably into those of the boy. Then they blinked, not once but twice. A trickle of perspiration escaped from the victim's matted hairline and carved a slow canal toward his eyebrow across the acne scars of his brow. Slowly his top lip curled ever so slightly to one side in an almost disapproving sneer. The boy child was mesmerized, transfixed by the skull and only vaguely aware of the riotous mob surrounding him. Locked on the boy’s eyes, the irises of the victim dimmed and became more opaque until finally they became rigid, bolted in a fixed stare of death. For the youth it was a defining, never to be forgotten moment in both time and memory.