My Goat for Your Cucumber

My Goat for Your Cucumber

“They killed female goats because their reproductive organs were uncovered and their tails were pointed upward, which they said was haram (profane). They branded cucumbers as male and tomatoes as female, and they forbade our women from buying cucumbers….”
(Hameed al Hayess, one of Anbar’s tribal chiefs on the wondrous teachings of al Qaeda. Quoted in a Reuters article in August).

Heartbreaking, isn’t it, how madness cackles atop our tragedies: hundreds of thousands slain, a people terrorized, a nation shellshocked by a gang of sexually disturbed, God-obsessed suicidal lunatics whose derangement is finally exposed by the bare-assed goat and the perpetually erect cucumber.
Twenty years from now as we all look back on (hopefully) the eclipse of al Qaeda in Sunni Iraq, it might well be the cucumbers and tomatoes we thank although you would not know it from all the recent coverage on the supposed extrication of Anbar (and other provinces) from a terrible predicament. Because, well, where can serious thinkers fit such lunacy in their somber analyses? And so, when time comes to blast, for example, the trumpets for Anbar, death is stripped of its clown suit and sexually harassed goats, allowed to graze in earlier scenes, are airbrushed out of the grand finale, where Petraeus’s genius, the Iraqi army’s revival and awakened tribalism are all given the space to–pardon the pun–surge triumphantly forward. To be fair, al Qaeda’s travails are mentioned but the cucumbers are recycled as strategic mistakes and the killing of cock-teasing goats is touched up as indiscriminate cruelty. This way, mayhem gets to keep its good name and we get to paper over the idiocy that afflicts many of this region’s troublemakers, lest the “silly” talk make light of the genuine catastrophes they helped bring about.

Some jaded observers might protest that this is an old, much covered story. Our sagas have long offered a mélange of filth and flimsiness which always made Western types positively giddy from the seediness of it all. And zany Marquezian characters like Muammar Qaddafi, who are just as good at provoking laughter as they are at snuffing out a life, have been around for decades now. True. But this is not about exotica in deadly locales, this is about a public arena that has become almost totally beholden to a ruinous lot. The cultural malaise that one can sniff everywhere in the air, the political discourse that has deteriorated into farce, the drivel from the pseudo-religious brigades and the sphinxes at the top which insult the mind and deflate the spirit, the perverseness that obsesses about all things sexual; it’s as if this place—this whole Arab dominion—has finally reconciled itself to an existence as jejune as it is indecent. Look under any current high-stakes political game, religious fatwa, draft law, or campaign that promises (or threatens) to leave footprints deep in our mud and you will very likely see a queue of blithering idiots churning out the scripts.

Witness withering Palestine: two failed liberation movements shoved this way and that by a remorseless occupation; fundamentalist currents nibbling on Hamas now, much like Hamas nibbled on Fatah before; rampant poverty; fratricide; a cause in absolute tatters… In full view of this torment, Hamas’s Mahmoud Zahar offers this flash of brilliance in a meeting with a group of journalists last month: “The party that is in Ramallah (Abbas) does not want reconciliation until the American pond dries up and the frogs in it are counted.” Reading these words, I couldn’t but remember another place, another siege and the face of Arafat memorably telling a TV interviewer in 1982: “Put cat in corner…Tiger.”

In Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) claim a solid following and where an estimated 80 percent of women are veiled, it appears that sexual harassment has reached epidemic levels. In the latest survey conducted by the Center for Women’s Rights, 62 percent of interviewed men admitted to harassing women, and the overwhelming majority of surveyed women reported suffering sexual harassment. All this, however, is nowhere near as intriguing as the revelation that veiled women actually encountered higher incidents of harassment after covering up. One such furious soul told Ellen Knickmeyer of the Washington Post (August 17, 2008), “These guys are animals. If they saw a female dog, they would harass it.”

But all this bad news for the veil, for Egypt’s ostensibly conservative values, for the MB’s promise of respect through modesty, for female dogs, has not discouraged an anonymous group of Egyptian do-gooders from launching an on-line campaign to promote the hijab by likening the female to a lollipop and—yup, you guessed it–men to flies. Are you catching on how literally beastly our position has become?

I don’t know? Every time I look at this ad, I think to myself, why cover up when you can just zap the suckers.
While the Egyptian MB were no doubt trying to figure out how a society can be at one and the same time more devout and more predatory towards its women, the head of the Doctor’s Syndicate, a fellow with strong ties to the “Brothers,” proposed a law that would restrict organ transplants to family members and prohibit them between people from different religions and nationalities. Under attack by human rights organizations, the good doctor insisted that the law is meant to address the problem of trafficking in human organs. Which kind of makes you wonder, because if the law restricts transplants to family members, why add nationality and religion?

Not to be outdone, Saudi Arabia’s religious police last July came up with yet another gem. They banned the sale of pet cats and dogs and walking those already sold in public places in Riyadh because they are used by men—here we go again—“as a chick magnet.”
Only two days ago, Al Lihedan, the primo shaikh of KSA, fatwaed (might as well make of the damn thing a verb, it’s practically English now) that owners of TV satellites should be killed because they “broadcast bad programs…Those calling for corrupt beliefs, certainly it’s permissible to kill them. Those calling for sedition, those who are able to prevent it but don’t, it is permissible to kill them.”

Alas, howls and giggles have become the flip sides of Arab life: flip it this way, you get anguish, flip it that way and it’s masquerade party.

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