Book Review – The Feather Men by Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 1991.

This thought-provoking biography details Middle Eastern beliefs regarding revenge killings. The culture of the Middle East is dominated by tribal clans and their belief in “an eye for an eye” is deeply ingrained in their way of life. This is one of those mind-blowing books, impossible to put down, that you come across from time to time. Reading this book will completely change your understanding of the nature of war, conflict and its ramifications.

This beautifully written and often disturbing true story highlights the activities of three assassins, hired by Sheikh Amr bin Issa, to locate and kill each soldier responsible for the deaths of his four children. The only stipulation is that each death ‘must appear to be an accident’ so that no responsibility can be traced back to the sheikh. There is also no time limit for each “accident”. As a consequence of this, the murders took place over 17 years. The sheikh himself died during this time and the sheikh’s surviving son made the final payment.

The meticulous planning and execution of each murder has been explored in detail and, remarkably, the patience shown by the murderers on each occasion has been nothing short of exemplary. The three men, De Villiers, Meier and Davies (known as ‘the Clinic’) were contacted through a firm called ‘Tadnams’ of Earls Court, London. Fortunately, a group of retired military men called ‘the Feather Men’ suspected these alleged ‘accidents’ of their officers, who had fought in Oman and had since left the forces and returned to civilian life. Had it not been for the tenacity and vigilance of the Feather Men, and their covert surveillance of the alleged Clinic quarry, more deaths would have occurred. In fact, the author, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, was himself a target.

The basis for these events is the haunting realization that this is not fiction. This book portrays cold-blooded murders that were carried out, not by a group of fanatics from the Middle East, but by three Westerners, hired to do a job. Surely, we should ask ourselves, ‘How safe are our men and women in the military, who have served in the Middle East?’ Westerners involved in conflicts with the Middle East do so at their own risk, due to these long-standing tribal beliefs and customs, to ‘save face’ within their clans and avenge the death of their children. Retirement from active duty cannot guarantee that our soldiers are safe from further attacks by people harboring a long-term desire for revenge against those soldiers who took action on behalf of their governments.

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