marabout hideousness

"And the Iraqi says, "What do you mean this is a show?'"

On April 18, 1999, in the NYT Magazine section, there was a brief article by Teller about Robert-Houdin’s trip to Algeria:

“On Oct. 28, 60 burnoose-clad chieftains and their retinues arrived at Algiers's Bab Azoun Theater to see Houdin. The magician began with a few pleasant surprises: he produced cannonballs and bouquets from a hat; he threw coins into the air, which then appeared in a crystal box suspended above the audience; he filled an empty silver punch bowl with steaming coffee -- a great hit with the Arab java lovers.

Having tantalized the audience with humor, Houdin began the psychological assault. He brought out a strongbox with a ring for a handle, and placed it on the floor. He asked for a muscular volunteer to come up onstage and lift the chest. A volunteer, a particularly burly man, did so easily.

Then Houdin waved his wand at the volunteer and said, ''Voila! You are weaker than a woman; now, try to lift the box.'' With a disdainful swagger, the volunteer seized the handle again, but though he sweated and strained, though his compatriots cheered him on, he could not move the chest. After a few minutes he suddenly screamed, fell to his knees, tore his hands from the ring and fled, crying for Allah to save him.

Houdin followed this trick by catching a marked bullet in an apple, and by making a member of the audience vanish. By the end of the show, the chieftains were exclaiming, ''Shaitan!'' (the Arabic equivalent of ''Satan'') as they ran for the exits in terror.
But Houdin was a magician, not a politician, so he had a conscience. After the show he sent translators to explain to the spectators that his tricks were just like the tricks of the marabouts -- theater and science, not the supernatural. (A powerful electromagnet under the stage kept the box on the ground; an electrical shock sent the strongman running.) In this case, a magician revealing his tricks paid off. Three days after the performance, 30 of the most powerful chieftains presented Houdin with an illuminated manuscript praising his art and pledging their steadfast allegiance to France.”

Since that article appeared in the golden age of Good King Bill, our politicians have invaded Mohammedan countries as the best damn team of stage magicians ever assembled – for instance, doing the disappearing army trick in Iraq. However, to LI, Teller’s story – which of course derives from Robert-Houdin’s excellent memoirs (sadly, to those who’ve emailed asking about said memoirs, Dover Press apparently has discontinued printing them – although this is a great opportunity for some Publishing company to hire LI to translate them for a whole new audience!) – puts into question the fissure between magic and politics, magic and the marketplace, magic and rational choice, etc. For it is the story of a type: it is the story of white magic that is favored by historians and the writers of Ripley’s believe it or not as well. It is the superstitious native vs. the rational white man. It is the script of a thousand Tarzan movies, and returns (turned about, satanically, the seachange undergone by the repressed) as voodoo attacks, or the Cat Woman, or I walked with a Zombie, or the Night of the Living Dead. It has a lively, marginal existence, and a happy ending – they always bring the illuminated manuscript in the end, and they always pledge their steadfast allegiance to France – or even better, Uncle Sam!

I’ve noticed that the disgruntlement with the ingratitude of the marabout has seeped far into the belligeranti culture. It was always going to happen. In the first few weeks of the occupation, when the looting broke out, there was the beginning of the narrative of Iraqi ‘immaturity’ – plus the shame of so many of the small dicked males in said soon to be paradise of free enterprise that it took the White Gods to drive Saddam into his spiderhole. However, we were going to be on the case in a jiffy, teaching the Iraqi policeman to respect democracy as much as American policemen do, and things like that. Oh, the things we wanted to teach the Iraqis! Our hearts were so open. We even wanted to play sex games with them at Abu Ghraib, or at least according to Representative Shays from Connecticut. How American is that? Not only fun now, but later on, you can have repressed memories therapy and learn what has been fucking up your whole life. So it is a twofer.

I am not, of course, saying that we were stupid – the savage knows one thing, and that is fear. But, like the kindest, gentlest Dr. Moreau’s, we were going to train that group of mutants into the best damn step and fetchit nation you ever saw.

But now, three years later – why you just have to go to National Review’s current source of Oriental wisdom, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies to see how damned depressed our belligeranti are becoming. It isn't the war so much - the belligeranti have the stomach for war. They are tough like that. But it is the realization that our gentleness has been misinterpreted as general pussiness by the hideous 'Umma', the insurgents, the cowards and fiends. Andrew McCarthy, a fellow at the institute and an absolute expert in Islam - in his bio, he modestly claims to have seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom ten times - has been on the case:

“Much of this worldwide community of believers, you may have noticed, has a hard time with some basic tenets of Western civilization — freedom of speech, of religion, separation of church and state, equality between men and women, between Muslims and non-Muslims, and so on. Not exactly what you'd call a running start toward anything we'd recognize as a democracy.

The Umma, moreover, has a hard time with … well, the Umma. Today marks the end of Ramadan, said to be the sacred month in the Islamic calendar. Yet this year, as in many years past, it will be marked in blood. Ironically, just a few days ago Muslim activists were rising up in anger (is there ever a time when they're not rising up in anger?) over the realization that the 2012 Olympics in London will collide with Ramadan, putting observant pole-vaulters at a competitive disadvantage. Fasting obligations, however, seem to detract little from the energy required for slaughter. Shiites and Sunnis in Baghdad have somehow managed to bomb, bludgeon, and behead each other with furious abandon throughout this “holy month.””

Marabout fuckers. The Umma is a wonderful word – sorta like Smersh – and you can tell right away that it is a regular beehive of evil. And he who says evil says the devil – something that the white magicians can’t abide.

McCarthy’s column is about a recent statement by a State Department official that the U.S. has been arrogant and ignorant in Iraq. So not the truth!

“In any event, the Associated Press reported on Sunday that Fernandez now believes he has the problem figured out: We need to talk more. You see, though we have freed 26 million Muslims from Saddam's sadistic tyranny and given them a chance — whether or not they want it — to taste freedom, the United States is ignorant and imperious because we haven't had enough dialogue with the malcontents. But finally, according to Fernandez, “We are open to dialogue.” Why? Because “we all know that, at the end of the day, the solution to the hell and the killings in Iraq is linked to an effective Iraqi national reconciliation[.] … The Iraqi government is convinced of this.”

So there you have it. State's assessment from the senior diplomat responsible for conveying our position: The U.S. is arrogant and stupid, and what we need to pursue is the chatter course preferred by the Iraqi government. And, yes, that would be the same government whose thoroughly ineffective, Hezbollah-supporting, Iran apologist of a leader, Nouri al-Maliki, can't or won't crack down on Shiite militias — particularly the one led by his political ally, Muqtada al-Sadr, who may now outpace al Qaeda and disgruntled Baathists among Iraq's countless destabilizers.”

Truly, the Offending Freedom, er, or Defending Democracies is the think pack to join in this, a trough time in the forty year war to rid the world of terrorism. The sample from McCarthy, by the way, represents the moderate wing of this group of Front Liners.


Brian Miller said…
You know, while I reject 110% the war and the whole imperial enterprise, I'm not so sure I'm ready to concede the glories of Islam. I actually thought this was pretty darn "funny" (in a sad way):

"Fasting obligations, however, seem to detract little from the energy required for slaughter. Shiites and Sunnis in Baghdad have somehow managed to bomb, bludgeon, and behead each other with furious abandon throughout this “holy month.””

While acknowledging our own evil, we need not be so cavalier about the evil of The Other. There are too many on the left who (rightfully) bemoan the Christian Dominionists in power in the US, who yet somehow find it a-ok when an Iman or Islamic leader goes into a frothing rage about how women who are raped deserve it because they're not covered from head to toe in burlap.

I guess I remain more sympathetic than you to the Butterflies and Wheels position (while remaining deeply hostile to the interventionist tone of some commentors there).