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The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria Paperback – February 28, 2003

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Editorial Reviews Review

Few Americans heard about it, but the story gripped Europe (and especially France) during the summer of 1996: The mysterious kidnapping and murder of seven Trappist monks living in the Algerian village of Tibhirine at their monastery of Notre-Dame de l'Atlas. John W. Kiser III tells their story, or at least what parts of it can be known; much of what happened to them remains unclear, including the motives of their captors. Parts of The Monks of Tibhirine are grim, but this is an unavoidable fact of the case. The monks' bodies, for instance, never have been found--except for their heads. Kiser describes the scene: "The monks' desiccated faces, hollow eye sockets, and exposed teeth made them look like mummies." (Apparently they had been buried, then disinterred.) Readers looking for a nonfiction thriller won't find it on these pages, however. Much of the book is a history of monks living in Algeria, and much of the rest chronicles the good relationships the seven doomed monks shared with their Muslim neighbors. Their devotion to both their faith and their neighbors is inspiring; the way they died is abhorrent. --John Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

During the carnage that followed the 1992 cancellation of elections in Algeria, seven Trappist monks were kidnapped and murdered in 1996 by a group of Islamic extremists, one of many armed elements whose clash exacted a toll of at least 100,000 lives in the former French colony in North Africa. Kiser, whose only previous English-language book dealt with technology and the Soviet Union, focuses on the peaceful and fraternal coexistence of Christians and Muslims in and around a Trappist monastery in the Algerian countryside. Despite warnings for foreigners to leave, the monks maintained their daily witness to peace, offering employment in the monastery gardens and medical care to any Muslims who sought such assistance. The villagers in turn honored the monks' piety and simplicity, and regularly invited their Christian neighbors to weddings and other festivities. Given the complexity of the horrific subsequent events, the thoroughly French and Algerian frame of reference (the story is well known in France) and the importance of a clear chronology in the story, this text cries out for an editor's guidance in reorganizing the narrative and clarifying it for an American audience. Yet the book is still a must for patient American readers interested in the evolution of independent Islamic politics out of a history of European imperialism. Inside a hard shell of confusing politics rests an engrossing and simple tale of love for one's neighbors and a God who does not prefer one faith over another.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint edition (February 28, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312302940
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312302948
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #189,876 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 52 people found the following review helpful By gary m. hamburg on March 15, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The story of Kiser's book is deceptively simple: in 1996 a small group of Christians from a Trappist monastery in Algeria was kidnapped, then murdered by Islamic extremists. The book explains how the Trappists came to Algeria, why they remained there under conditions of great personal danger, how they earned the admiration of hundreds of Muslims from all over Algeria, and why they became in 1996 a convenient target of Islamists. These elements of the story are reported by Kiser in clear, sensitive, sometimes moving prose.
The deeper theme of the book is the prospect of a modus vivendi between Christians and Muslims. Kiser makes the case that living together in community may be possible for those religious peoples with an expansive, inclusive understanding of their faiths. He thinks that the Trappists had such a large, attractive vision of Christianity, and he points out that certain large-hearted Muslims met them half-way. At the end of the book, Kiser speaks of the nineteenth-century Muslim leader Abdel Kader as the heroic model for Muslims who want simultaneously to adhere to their own traditions of worship and to reach out to righteous Christians.
Kiser's book is thought-provoking, right-minded, even lofty in its hopes for the future. I must say, however, that the evidence discussed by Kiser can be read in another way -- namely, as an indication that the differences between Christianity and Islam are so vast that even saintliness cannot bridge them.
For those interested in Algeria, in Islamism and disciplined spiritual life this book is a must.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This excellent book manages the remarkable task of juggling three important themes at once: the touching personal stories of a community of Trappist monks in Algeria, an uplifting investigation of what it means to be a true Christian and "live the Gospels", and finally an unraveling of the confusing and depressing story of Algeria's civil war. The framework for Kiser's book is the sad and unheard (in the US) story of the kidnapping and subsequent murder of seven Trappist monks in 1996 by a group of Islamic extremists. Using a myriad of French-language sources, including the diaries and journals of several of the monks and their personal letters, as well as interviews with family members and friends, and a trip to the monastery in Algeria, Kiser has crafted an fine work of history.
This history is built on his excellent presentation of contextual material. Clear prose takes the reader through brief histories of the formation of the Cistercian order, the Trappist schism, the history of Christianity in Algeria, French colonialism in Algeria, the Algerian revolution, the disastrous rule of the FLN, the rise of the Islamist movement, and the current civil war. Interwoven is the story of the monastery at Tibhirine in the Atlas Mountains and the friendship between the monks and their Muslim neighbors. Most of the French monks had some personal connection to Algeria (several had done military service there), and all felt that their calling demanded that they live a simple life amongst non-Christians, displaying the power of their faith through good works. Kiser takes a great deal of effort to highlight the areas of common ground between the inclusive Christianity of the monks and the Islam of their neighbors.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Kiser has written a compelling and inspiring account that humanizes the tragedy of the monks of Tibhirine and of the Algerian civil war more generally. What I find particularly impressive is Kiser's refusal to exploit the subject matter, and his determination to dig below the surface level and take the drama of events to a deeper level. He provides the necessary information to situate the drama of the monks within a much larger context of politics, history, and culture, and finds hope in the midst of suffering. Kiser is aware that there are two rights and too many wrongs in Muslim-Christian relations. He affirms that, by remembering what is _right_ on both sides of the cultural divide, we can find sufficient energy, resolve, and inspiration to build bridges of understanding between two estranged religious and cultural traditions.
I would recommend this book to anyone who shares Kiser's desire to truly _understand_ what has "gone wrong" and what might "go right" in Muslim-Christian relations. If used in an academic classroom environment, Kiser's well-researched and thoughtful prose narrative would provide valuable supplementation to more standard textbook treatment of Muslim-Christian relations and the modern Middle East.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By P. Nugent on March 24, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In 1996 seven French Catholic monks in Algeria were kidnapped and killed. That fact raises a number of questions: Why were the French monks in Algeria? Why were they kidnapped and why were they killed? John W. Kiser answers those questions in a manner that is at once captivating and complete.

The monks, members of the Trappist order, lived in a monastery at Tibhirine, Algeria. Kiser does a superb job of explaining why these particular monks had a renewed commitment to live among Muslims and the mutually supportive relationship that grew between the monastery and Islamic community. He presents the developing attitude of the insightful and courageous young prior of the community, Fr. Christian, toward Islam from his service in Algeria as a French army officer to his return as a Trappist monk. The author's presentation of how Fr. Christian led his confreres in developing their commitment to stay in Tibhirine in the face of threats from terrorists and the pleading of Algerian government officials to leave is also satisfying.

Kiser provides a thorough explanation of the periodic terrorist attempts to force France to cede government of the country to the indigenous Muslims that developed into the rebellion that included the kidnapping and murder of the monks. The intrigue among the local activists is excitingly offered.
Throughout the book Kiser presents individual testimony of the monks and stories of their daily lives, making the book an intimate journey. His thumbnail sketch of each of the characters in the story enables the reader to become personally involved with the Trappist community.

"The Monks of Tibhirine" reads like a story, rather than as a documentary or newspaper account. It is eventful and engaging and inspiring.
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