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Literature / The Mirage

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An Alternate History novel by Matt Ruff, published in 2012.

11/9/2001: Christian fundamentalists hijack four jetliners. They fly two into the Tigris & Euphrates World Trade Towers in Baghdad, and a third into the Arab Defense Ministry in Riyadh. The fourth plane, believed to be bound for Mecca, is brought down by its passengers.

The United Arab States declares a version of The War on Terror. Arabian and Persian troops invade the Eastern Seaboard and establish a Green Zone in Washington, D.C.

Summer, 2009: Arab Homeland Security agent Mustafa al Baghdadi interrogates a captured suicide bomber. The prisoner claims that the world they are living in is a mirage—in the real world, America is a superpower, and the Arab states are just a collection of "backward third-world countries." A search of the bomber's apartment turns up a copy of The New York Times, dated September 12, 2001, that appears to support his claim. Other captured terrorists have been telling the same story. The president wants answers, but Mustafa soon discovers he's not the only interested party.

The gangster Saddam Hussein is conducting his own investigation. And the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee—a war hero named Osama bin Laden—will stop at nothing to hide the truth. As Mustafa and his colleagues venture deeper into the unsettling world of terrorism, politics, and espionage, they are confronted with questions without any rational answers, and the terrifying possibility that their world is not what it seems ...

This book provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Alternate History: The original 13 United Arab States broke away from the Ottoman Empire during the 19th century, later expanding to include the entire Arab world. According to the Library of Alexandria website, the Second World War ended when a third atomic bomb was dropped on Tokyo, Hitler didn't commit suicide and was instead beheaded at Nuremberg, there was a Mexican Gulf War fought over the Kingdom of Louisiana, and it's implied that the UAS landed men on the moon and underwent an equivalent to the Civil Rights Movement, and of course, Christian fundamentalist terrorists attacked and destroyed the Tigris and Euphrates World Trade Towers on November 9th, 2001, prompting a war on terror and invasion of the Christian States of America.
  • Balkanize Me: After World War II, Germany was divided into two states: one Christian and one Jewish.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: The twist of the book: an American serviceman in Iraq discovered a bottle containing a Djinn and wished that the entire Iraqi war had never happened. The Djinn interpreted his wish to remake the entire world into one where the UAS dominates and the United States is a third world country. The soldier (who still remembers the original world) lampshades how he should have been a lot more specific in what he meant.
  • Bury Your Gays: Unfortunately for Samir, this is true for the Islamic society of the UAS.
  • Civil War: An interesting example with the Texas CIA, with the more moderate exiled Waco Faction still fighting against the actual Crawford Faction that's the real command of the agency .
  • Divided States of America: Mixed with Different States of America. The Christian States of America is made up of 18 states along the east coast, as well as Alabama and Mississippi. Texas is an Evangelical Republic with claims over Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Coahuila, though the residents there would disagree. Missouri, rather than Utah, is a Mormon State. The Pentecostal Gilead heartland borders the CSA and Great Lakes. A Rocky Mountain nation controls, more in theory than fact, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and the Dakotas. It's split up between many tribal factions.
  • Driving Question: What is the Mirage?
  • Eurabia: In this history, the Arab world became united into a powerful block that has enabled them to pull ahead of the West.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Considering this is a Mirror Universe revolving around The War on Terror, there are plenty.
    • The United Arab States is obviously the USA.
    • The CSA is Iraq, the United Kingdom is Iran, the Rocky Mountain Territories are Afghanistan, Louisiana is Kuwait, Texas is Saudi Arabia, Germany is Palestine, and Austria is Jordan.
    • The Library of Alexandria mentions the Orthodox Union, likely a theocratic version of the USSR.
    • There is a brief mention of a Chwaka Bay detention camp on the island of Zanzibar, a counterpart to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
  • Fictional Counterpart:
    • Halal Enforcement and the Arab Bureau of Investigation are this world's versions of American Law Enforcement's DEA and FBI respectively.
    • The Library of Alexandria is obviously one of The Other Wiki.
    • EBazaar is Ebay.
    • Al Jazeera here fills the role of the Fox News Channel, complete with its own Jazeera & Friends morning talk show.
    • A briefly referenced children's program is called Open Sesame! , obviously being an alternate Sesame Street.
    • 24/7 Jihad is 24, with the protagonist sharing the same initials as Jack Bauer, Jafar Bashir.
    • The conservative party of the UAS is called "Party of God" and its initials (POG) makes it obvious it is a stand-in for the Republican party, which is also called the GOP (for "Grand Old Party").
    • A punk rock group called Green Desert has an anti-war anthem named "Arabian Idiot".
    • While unnamed, the governor of Lebanon is mentioned as having previously been an action movie superstar, just like a certain someone. He is even nicknamed "the Governator"!
    • Instead of UPS, the postal service is called APS, with the slogan "What can Al Arabi do for you?"
  • Genie in a Bottle: A Djinn was the one to create this world, who is later captured by Saddam Hussein. After the Djinn is killed, it's implied that the world returns to normal.
  • The Ghost: There's lots of talking about Bin Laden, but he's never seen directly.
  • Villains Out Shopping: Saddam, who does it on EBazaar.
  • Wretched Hive: The Christian states of America is a horribly corrupt, backward, impoverished totalitarian nation controlled by an aging Lyndon Baines Johnson.