In Exit West, Nadia and Saeed’s home country is quickly plunging into the chaos of war between the government and extremist militants. It is a fight for control over land, resources, but most importantly ideology. The circumstances that follow trigger a refugee crisis, and Nadia and Saeed’s subsequent departure.
Extremist militants have just taken over Nadia and Saeed’s neighborhoods; bombs and gunshots still characterize the landscape. Meanwhile, their presence is controlling and ruthless. Considering insights from the author of Exit West, Mohsin Hamid, these extremists are very likely based off of ISIS, an extremist organization. Members of this entity sincerely blow themselves up, kill people with torturous and down right evil methods, have engaged in slave trade, torture, etc. The narrator notes, “public and private executions that now took place almost continuously . . . once a neighborhood had been purged it could then expect a measure of respite, until someone committed an infraction of some kind, because infractions . . . were invariably punished without mercy (pg. 86).” What’s worse, these are religious extremists, the soldiers of the ‘the greater good’, people who think that every action they take – mistake or plain evil, is justified by God, so they are rather self-imposed. These sorts are impossible to reason with because they think difference, even help or advice, is a weapon of the devil, tempting and testing their faith. Nadia and Saeed are at the mercy of these people. A simple accusation of a crime, even false in nature, might spell the end of their lives. On top of that, there is a lack of food, medicine, and resources. Being bombed from both sides, Nadia and Saeed have no choice but to run away.
Even after escaping the country, they fear that they have been abandoned by the world. One must feel helpless in a refugee camp, where they may live for another few years, possibly the rest of their lives. If they’re lucky, they will understandably escape to a country which they perceive to be at peace. As Nadia and Saeed experienced, when they come to Europe, they are not welcome because a large proportion of the native population fears that the refugees bring extremism and poverty with them. Living under such duress affects one’s character, similar to what soldiers experience during war. After all, these people were in a war, they were bombed from one side or the other. So, even if by magic all their material needs were satisfied, they still carry the mental scars of war. There is a profound sense of loss because they lost their family, their friends, their town, culture, habits, home. Some of the people they knew may have died over the period of their escape. They maybe even joined the militants and became the people they so had to fear.