When you strike with the sword
Slain heads fall down
Imploring help from the Almighty
I was last in Oman in May. At a private beach with my feet in the waters of the Gulf of Oman--which feeds into the Arabian Sea--the reality of the world seemed a dystopian futuristic concoction and history seemed dead.
Oman is a mountainous country, its beauty rugged, stark, jagged and surprising. Invisible animals have drilled their homes into impossible spots in the mountains and between their rocky spikes, the sea shimmers. In the hills at the rear of my home in Muscat, I find lizards larger than my hand and the occasional shrub growing out of the hard, dry ground as if by magic; driving into a seaside village, I sit in my car and look at houses built mere feet from the water's edge, white and stout. Old men, with gray-streaked beards, in thobes smoking shisha, lean against the walls of their humble homes and stare out at the sea, their narrow fishing boats turned upside down on the sand on the beach, fishing nets spread on their surface.
If Lord Cromer, the British Consul-General in Egypt in the late 19th century, was in the car with me, he'd repeat the description of the Oriental mind he gave so long ago.
"Want of accuracy, which easily degenerates into untruthfulness, is in fact the main characteristic of the Oriental mind," he said. "[While] the European... is a natural logician... the mind of the Oriental, like his picturesque streets, is eminently wanting in symmetry. His reasoning is the most slipshod description [and he is] singularly deficient in the logical faculty."
If the Lebanese poet Nadia Tueni were in the vehicle with me, staring at the old men, she'd repeat her couplet: "A Bedouin white against the background of sand/And the double noise of fear."
The private beach I was on is owned by Petroleum Development Oman (PDO). The Omani government only has a 60 per cent interest in the lucrative company; 34 per cent of it is owned by Royal Dutch Shell. PDO has built a compound along the beach with central air-conditioning, free electricity and free water for its employees, many of whom are Westerners. Employees enjoy free flights to their home country, free relocation from abroad and free education in expensive American and British private schools where the French and American revolutions are taught, but never the indigenous history. Edward Said, a Christian Palestinian-American, called them "elite colonial schools... designed by the British to bring up a generation of Arabs with natural ties to Britain."
Driving out of the camp the income inequalities become clear. When night falls, young Omani men drive into the prosperous community. At night from my window, I watch them light a fire on the beach, golden and mobile against the flickering light. Vulnerable, for when the embers die, their form disappears.
On the beach under the afternoon sun, I think of Edward William Lane's first glimpse of Egypt with its praying Mohammadans as I watch a British woman in a pink bikini rise from the waves. A few minutes later, an Indian man, blackened by the sun, walks to me and hands me lemonade. He is from Kerala I learn; he was a math teacher in India and now works in the PDO club cafeteria as a waiter. Nearly all the waiters and other menial cleaning staff are immigrants from Asian countries.
When Gilles Kepel was writing The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West, he visited the Saudi Arabian province of Asir where a local tribe--the Ghamdis--had bred many of the 9/11 hijackers.
"I saw few young people," Kepel wrote about his 2004 visit, "because there are no jobs for them. They have all gone to Jeddah, where they scratch out an existence on the city's fringes, along with poor foreigners... Long ago, the Ghamdis were gardeners, cooks, or drivers. They disappeared once [foreigners from the Philippines and South Asian countries] took over those jobs."
The Ghamdi tribe would achieve fame after many of its young men found their way into American skies. Under the unforgiving hot sun, I wonder about the future of the men I have been amongst in Oman and other Mideastern countries.
On the day the Abu Ghraib scandal hit Oman, pictures of the abuse flooded televisions and newspapers like an Indian monsoon. In a country where most women wear a black abaya covering their bodies, and the sexiest thing in public view are female faces appearing next to perfumes and other products in store windows, the nakedness of the Iraqi prisoners was a sick shock. The lack of censorship was designed to amplify the sexual humiliation, to sharpen the point this was not the rape of a relatively small group of Iraqi male prisoners, but rather the West's rape of the veiled and 'pure' Muslim society as a whole.
Last year's Haditha incident, after the disgust and anger elicited by Abu Ghraib, again incited passionate rage among many of the world's Muslims.
"That hatred is blood hatred," Vanity Fair foreign correspondent William Langewiesche said. "It is the kind of hatred people are willing to die for, with no expectation but revenge."
The victims of the Haditha carnage--a revenge act on the part of the Marines after a landmine killed Corporal Miguel Terrazas--lay on the ground caged by the walls of their homes glistening with wet blood.
"People move among the hideous corpses, wailing their grief and vowing vengeance before God," Langewiesche wrote. "'This is my brother! My brother! My brother!' In one of the killing rooms, a hard-looking boy insists that the camera show the body of his father. Sobbing angrily, he shouts, 'I want to say this is my father! God will punish you Americans! Show me on the camera! This is my father!'"
Addressing the abuses, a weeping cleric I spoke to in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, clutching his masbahah quoted a hadeeth where the Prophet Mohammad said: "This ummah of yours has its days of peace and [security] in the beginning of its career, and in the last phases of its existence it will be afflicted with trials and with things disagreeable to you. [In this phase of the ummah], there will be tremendous trials one after the other, each making the previous one dwindle into insignificance."
This hadeeth finds its cousin in the doctrine of al-wala wal-bara--Islam is under siege and the Muslim must accordingly become polarized--and is a feeling voiced by the typical Muslim.
That feeling of peril has in turn led to greater sahwa (Islamist awakening); another spoke in the cycle that has beheaded the life of the Muslim for centuries.
Remember us now wandering...
In the tumult of cities beyond deserts and seas;
With our eyes full of dust
That never clears in our ceaseless wandering