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The Monks of Tibhirine



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About The Author

John Kiser

John Kiser is the author of Communist Entrepreneurs: Unknown Innovators in the Global Economy and Stefan Zweig: Death of a Modern Man. A former international technology broker, he has an M.A. from Columbia University in European History and an M.B.A. from the University of... More

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Reading Group Gold

In the spring of 1996 armed men broke into a Trappist monastery in war-torn Algeria and took seven monks hostage, pawns in a murky negotiation to free imprisoned terrorists. Two months later their severed heads were found in a tree; their bodies were never recovered.
The village of Tibhirine had sprung up around the monastery because it was a holy place protected by the Virgin Mary, revered by Christians and Muslims alike. But napalm, helicopters, and gunfire had become regular accompaniments to the monastic routine as the violence engulfing Algeria drew closer to the isolated cloister high in the Atlas Mountains.


1. How do you compare the Christianity embodied in the lives of the different monks with your own? Which monks do you relate to the most and why?
2. What was the nature of the bond between the monks and their Muslim neighbors? Why did the monks keep renewing their commitment to stay at Tibhirine in the face of such danger?
3. Why do you think the annulation of the 92 national elections did not lead to an immediate outpouring of anger and violence by FIS supporters, even after the outlawing of the FIS in March?
4. Do you think the violence by Islamic militants in the summer of 1992 was a direct result of the elections being cancelled? Was the armed resistance a legitimate response to having a political means to change closed off?
5. By warning foreigners to leave within 30 days or risk being killed, did the GIA give fair warning and hence act morally in their approach to total war against the foreigners? How does the total war waged by the GIA differ from that waged by the US and its allies in WWII? Is there a basic difference, or only a difference in means?
6. What do you think of the message imbedded in Christain Chessel's, "In my weakness, I find my strength (p.199).
7. Do you think a theocratic society can be democratic? Would that be the case if the constitution allows for the "theocratic" party to be voted out of power? Is there not such a thing as secular fundamentalism that can be as intolerant of religious expression in public life as fundamentalists are accused by secularists? How are the Islamic fundamentalists different from 18th century New England Puritans?
8. How do you explain that the monks were so well received in the most conservative, fundamentalist part of Algeria--the Medea?
9. How would you answer the questions posed in the introduction about the meaning of being a Christian?
10. What did you learn about Islam that was new or surprising from reading this book? About the Trappists and the Church?
11. What do you think is the role of the French colonial legacy in the problems that Algeria faces today?
12. Is the France/ Algerian relationship analogous to today's USA/ al Qaeda situation? Do you think America shows "contempt"(what Jules Roy call the essence of the colonial mentality) towards the Arab world in its actions, tone of discourse, assumptions? Is racial prejudice a root issue, even if unspoken?

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