Amoeba’s Lorica: Of Charity, Security, and Arabian Nights

A 2007 post on the late, lamented Felloffatruck Publications blogsite … in response to a posting by a Facebook friend …

Doubtless you know, better than this mediaphobic amoeba does, that it’s not cool to be an Arab or a Persian in America right now. Hasn’t been for awhile. Your action movie needs a villain? He’s got a burnoose on his head and an AK-47 in each hand. Need a picture of Islam? Here’s one of a turbaned radical cleric, spouting hate, or of a youth with an abnormally hefty midsection, or of a market square empty of everything but shattered steel and corpses.

I read that, to our beloved Armed Forces, the well-trained, compassionate Armed Forces that gave us Abu Ghraib (is it possible that we have, in so short a time, forgotten Abu Ghraib?), every Iraqi, or Syrian, or [etc.], is an Ali Baba, a cunning low-life.

Do I remember correctly that the Baby Boomers who are now in charge of things once railed endlessly against stereotyping?

I remember the young, beautiful Palestinian marine biology student with the Valley Girl accent, a Christian Palestinian no less who lived most of her life in California, who felt compelled to leave the USA because of threats to the lives of members of her family, and to her own.

These A-Rabs are a threat to our security. To our things. We can’t fathom the idea of a suicide bomber because we can’t imagine ever being in such an extremity that we would contemplate losing everything in order to make a point. I mean, we have houses, cars, plasma TVs, refrigerators with the finest organic produce, all this stuff. How can you contemplate losing it all, never mind throwing it all away in a gelignite blast? You did lose it all? Or you never had it? So you’re incompetent. Why are you taking it out on us?

We the People used to think differently. In the last verse of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Julia Ward Howe wrote:

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

In 1862, Americans spoke of the Great Experiment, of republican government and “an equal start in the race for life” (Lincoln, paraphrased), which we were prepared to defend against all foes, including those on our own continent, who stood instead for a society of aristocrats and slaves. And we were prepared to defend that Experiment to the death – of more than 400,000 Union soldiers between 1861 and 1865.

We don’t hear about the Great Experiment much any more. And Howe’s stanza is an embarrassment. Like the New Hampshire state motto, Live Free or Die. “Die? Die?!? I don’t want to die!“, lampooned George Carlin many years ago. And that line in the hymn is now sung:

As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free

Next time that happens in a chorus in which I’m supposed to be singing, I’m walking off the stage. If we’re not prepared to die for what we believe in, then I guess we don’t really believe it. All we’ve got left is stuff. Which is a poor defense against people who do hold beliefs for which they’re prepared to die.

The “Ali Baba” reference got me thinking about the Thousand and One Nights, that classic piece of Arabian fiction from which has come tales like Alaa ed-Din (OK, Aladdin), Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and Sinbad the Sailor. And which surely gave the lie to the notion of an Arab as merely a “cunning low life”. The thing that I had remembered most from my earlier reading of the tales in the Thousand and One Nights is the attitude of many of the protagonists towards stuff. Over and over again, a hero(ine) would acquire vast wealth or prestige, only to lose it on a dare, or a gamble, or even on an act of charity. And then win it back again. The will of Allah … And it’s only the villainous, or the tragically greedy, that will not cut loose from their stuff. Their fates are usually unpleasant.

One story in particular struck me. You can read the original, in a translation by Richard Burton (no, not that Richard Burton; this Richard Burton) here. Though those of you who think that I use too many vocabulary words and complex sentences will find Burton’s Victorian translation rather a pain. So I’ve tried to update it for you.

A certain King once proclaimed to his subjects, ‘I will cut off the hands of anyone who gives to the poor’. The press release was entitled

Welfare Reform

but his subjects got the message. Naturally, everyone stopped making charitable donations. Now, the offices of the Kingdom breathed a sigh of relief, because none of the cubicle dwellers would have to worry about running, or contributing to, that year’s United Way campaign. But things started to get a little tight over at the garbage dump.

Finally, it all got too much for one picker, who staggered downtown and begged of the first woman he saw:

“Sister, can you spare a dime for a cup of coffee?”

“A dime for what? What B-movie set did you just crawl out of? A dime won’t get you a cup of water these days!”

“Lady, I don’t need price quotes, I need food. Can’t you give me a hand?”

“That’s exactly what I’d be giving you if anyone catches me handing you stuff!”

Jesus Christ, woman, I’m starving! Help me!!

At this, the woman started, jostling the shopping bag she was carrying. Two bagels fell out of it. She ran off without them, hoping that no one would see, and if anyone did, they would think it an accident.

Three days later, she was learning how to handle a fork with her feet.

A few months passed, and then, one fine afternoon, the King said to his mother:

“I’m horny. Find me a cutie. You know the drill.”

Again?!? Do you have any idea how hard it is to manage all the wives you already have??

“Why do you think I leave that to you? What’ve you got?”

“Well, there’s a new girl in the mail room that would give Shakira a run for her money. But there’s a problem.”

“What?”

“No hands.”

“Let’s have a look, ma.”

Mom brought her up and handed her over, and though he had to get used to spine walks instead of backrubs, that didn’t stop him from getting her pregnant with a son in pretty close to the minimum time. Now, of course, this was the very same woman who had given those bagels to the beggar, and in addition to being a hottie, she was a saint, for most of the rest of us would have killed that sumbitch of a King if we had to gum him to death.

Evidently the other women in the harem thought she was too damned saintly too, for they got hold of some racy Paris Hilton stories, replaced her name and picture for Paris’s, and made sure the King got the files. He was in the throne room when he read them, and right then and there he emailed his mother with instructions to dump woman and child in the desert. Muttering “I told you so”, and “I’m putting in for an increase in the eunuch budget”, Mom went off to do as she was told.

Needless to say, the woman was less than satisfied with this sudden change in her fortunes. Doubtless, her wailing set off the baby, and sent all the animals of the arid plain scurrying to the nearest city for safety and noise abatement. To make matters worse, she bent down to drink at a river, and her son fell out of the belly pack into the water, and shot off downstream. Her screeches registered on the seismometers at the Royal Geological Survey offices in the palace. And they prevented her from hearing the two men who came up behind her.

“Why are you crying, woman?”

“What the f… Who are you??

“Why are you crying?”

“My baby … my baby …” She pointed with her right stump at the empty carrier, and then at the river.

“Shall we get him for you?”

“What are you waiting for? Go already!!

Instead, the two men bent their heads in prayer. She bent hers too, in bitter disappointment. Until …

“Waaa …”

She looked up and saw her son on the shore of the river, a little damp but otherwise not obviously the worse for wear. She turned her gaze to the two men. “How …”

“Would you have God give you back your hands?”

She bit back the “Duh!” that rose in her throat, and said merely, and meekly, “Yes”.

Again, the two men bent their heads in prayer, this time with the woman joining them. And when she opened her eyes, she could reach out and touch her son with her fingers.

“Do you know who we are?”

“Angels?”

“Close enough. You remember the two bagels you gave to that beggar? We are they. We were sent to restore to you that which you lost on our account.”

I wonder what the current generation of Americans will be remembered for …

– O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2007 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.

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One Response to Amoeba’s Lorica: Of Charity, Security, and Arabian Nights

  1. Caryl says:

    I do hope others take time to read this. Being aware, willing to die for what we believe, actually learning from history needs to become the norm

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