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on March 15, 2002
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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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. He is also scrupulous in highlighting how the version of violent Islam that plagues Algeria arose from a combination of economic desperation and the influence of those who fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets and returned with Saudi backing to spread Wahabi Islam. Indeed, as Kiser points out, despite the horrific killings of the last decade, there was never a legitimate fatwa (religious decree) issued condoning the killing of noncombatants. While the story of the monk's deaths is certainly tragic, their tale also contains a definite sense of hope for future reconciliation.
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on July 21, 2002
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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on March 24, 2011
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. It is a story of modern martyrs and their "faith, love, and terror" which is the subtitle of the work. An excellent companion work is "How Far to Follow?", the parallel telling of the story written by Bernardo Oliveria O.C.S.O., Abbot General of the Trappist order, who had been personally involved with the monks of Tibhirine.
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on March 29, 2011
Recently, I saw Of Gods and Men and came away from the movie wanting to know more about the monks so I bought The Monks of Tibhirine. I enjoyed and was deeply moved by John Kiser's fine book. Seems a bit odd to say one enjoyed a true story which relates (among many other things) countless brutal deaths but the story Kiser tells, and the way in which he tells it, is fascinating. While The Monks of Tibhirine is about a tragedy, it is also about hope and courage and looking outward. It seems to me that none of the monks were insular thinkers and their lives were truly inspirational. This is a very educational book and an elegant and beautiful tribute to the monks who died and to the country and people they loved.
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VINE VOICEon November 10, 2002
The story of these trappists who died in Algeria in 1996 is a remarkable one that is told very well by the author. It is rare that such a sad event, the kidnapping and decapitation of these good, harmless men can generate such a feeling of hope and optimism. I lost a lot of my prejudices against Muslims reading this book. What a good and hospitable people most of the folk were. I cannot ever forget the reaction of the imams, refusing to condone such a murder, and even suffering death themselves rather than issue fetwas against innocent people. What a wonderful witness to the gospels these men showed. They were good neighbors who didn't deserve this kind of death. But none of the muslim victims of these terrorists deserved it either. The death of the monks brought attention to all the nameless people who had already died. And finally, I cannot read Christian de Cherge's final testiment without crying at the beauty of it: The forgiveness, the fraternal love shown even to his murderer. I will pray with brother Christian that, as he said, one day he and his murderer will meet with forgiveness before God, two good thieves.
Read this book!
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on June 18, 2011
This was a well written interesting book. I loved the movie, "Of Gods and Men", and thought that maybe I would like the book. I learned so much more about the history of France in Algeria, the monks involved. I could not put the book down and if provided so much depth to the subject. While I thought the movie gave a good description of the monks this book did so much mor in terms of historical context and background of the men. A great read!!
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on January 22, 2008
Algeria is one of those places that you know of, but you dont know much about. There are Muslims there, the French USED to be there, and it's in Africa.

But this story really brings Algeria to fruition. You see what a diverse nation it is; Arabs and Berbers; Francophones and Arabaphones; Conservatives and Liberals; Radical Muslims and 21st Century ones. It's with this diversity in mind that one can deal with the tragedy of this story at all. This is really a great book if one is interested in the story of Islam in Africa, the French in Africa or Algeria in general.

I really connected with the monks and the difficulty the Church faces in Algeria. It also made me realise the love required to even stay sane in such hostility. Love was their oxygen.
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on March 17, 2002
I love to read good books.
It is rare that an author can integrate the
chaos of the Muslim terror in Algeria
of the last decade and focus it through
the eyes of seven Trappist monks so that
we can understand man's inhumanity to man
and be willing to accept it.
John Kiser deservs all the accolades on the dust jacket of his work.
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on September 25, 2010
The Monks of Tibhirine tells the true story of wonderful Christian men who were living a life of work and prayer in a Muslim country environment not long ago, where they were welcomed and appreciated by the local community. Things went terribly wrong, and the effects are still felt in Algeria and France. Their story is told with great sympathy and understanding of everyone involved.
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