Monday, May 30, 2011

434. A Chinese Poem

As a young man listening to the girls
in a tower, I heard the sound of the rain,
while the red candle burnt dim in the damp air.
In middle age, travelling by boat on a river,
I listened to the rain falling, falling:
the river was wide and clouds drifted above.
I heard the solitary cry of a teal borne on the west wind.
And now in a cloister cell I hear the rain again.
My hair is grey and sparse: sadness and happiness,
separation and reunion, all seem one, they move
me no more. Let the rain come falling, falling

on deserted pavements until the day dawns.

-- Jung Jeh, 10th century

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

433. The Conversion to Islam of Conor Mac Art (part 5)

Tá sé an mná nach olc, na mná go maith,
a dhéanamh, dar leat mar fear

November, 1563

Yardım et, yardım et Effendi! Genç kız ağrısı vardır!!
O for God's sake, what now? Yardım et, yardım et !
She was a young girl, trembling, not unattractive,
the principal handmaid to the alluring Yasmin Nur.

I swore. Ne diyorsun? Never mind. Is she sick?
No, no, she has a terrible pain in her little white foot.
Her little white foot. Seven hundred people in this caravan
and this girl has a pain in her little white foot.

Onu bana getir! Şimdi Şimdi! ... Evet, evet. B'duymak ve itaat!
Bring her to me, now. Yes, yes, go away ... . I have enough bloody
trouble without these silly women, the pair of them
tacked on to this serious mission at the very last moment.

This serious mission. Just what in the hell am I doing, tell me?
The Sultan called me in, spoke softly, opaquely, sent me off
in charge of 300 camels, said he would send messengers
and so far hasn't done so. Bert sharpens his killing sword.

I didn't want to bring him. I never wanted to see him again,
but here he is, leering, growling, grumbling, fussing about,
picking his nose. I give him a lash up the arse, distractedly,
just as the women walk in. Two young women. Silence.

She is ... like nothing I have ever seen before
in all the days of my young and nerve-plucked life:
she is covered of course as custom demands
but the fall of her robes sets off a perfect figure.

A slight embarrassment occurs between my thighs,
so I sit down abruptly, cross my legs (ouch!),
and attempt a very lordly masterful languid tone
which to my shame comes out as a squeak:

Nerede acı nedir? ... where, pray tell, is your pain ?
Ağrı benim ayak bileği içinde ... here in my ankle.
Ah, the ankle. A very delicate portion of the female anatomy,
and then I remember my Granny, by God I remember!

Suí síos le do thoil!
... no, sorry, I mean Lütfen oturun!
and immediately she sits like an obedient child,
a child with a burning blaze in her greygreen eyes.
Greygreen? Warning!! Circassian, a concubine?

Granny, ah, yes. Bert! Sah! Bring in a female goat!
One goat, as ordered, female, present and correct, sah!
Milk her into this bowl then slit her throat. Sah??
Give me your blade, poltroon, I'll do it myself.

He hands me his sharpened sword with cautious eyes,
knowing he could do this killing business a lot better,
but I do it myself, and mix the blood with milk in the bowl,
now I need to piss into the mixture, according to Granny,

but how can I do that with this goggle-eyed murderer
staring at me? Jesus! Not to mention the two women.
Depart please, all of you, I need privacy and time to pray.
Out they go. I piss like a racehorse. That should do.

Now, the next thing is to lick it on. I stir the mixture.
God, it looks vile! Out, out, please, we must be alone!
I take a firm grasp of the lady's ankle, slap on a handful
and start licking the mixture home. Ooooh, oooh she says.

That should do it! I smile. Yarın daha iyi hissedeceksiniz!
You will feel better tomorrow. She trembles, she smiles.
Bert comes bursting back in to reclaim his razor sword
and the handmaiden hustles the limping Yasmin Nur away.

Wanna wotch that koinda thing, sir, know what I mean?
Get out of my sight you grinning reptile. Go, disappear!
But I knew he was right. Omigod that slim lovely ankle.
I knew I would dream about it, dream of all of her as well.

Eileen was gone and long forgotten. Her and the wee children.
Ireland seemed distant, so very far away in time. Damn your soul,
Shane O Neill, damn your black and murderous soul. I wept.
In a little while I felt only slightly better. We moved into Syria.

And then: Yardım et, yardım et, Genç kız ağrısı vardır!!
Bring her to me. Goat, milk, knife ... slice ... get out! Piss.
The pain is a bit higher now, my knee. Oh, your poor knee?
Let's just see what we can do. Oh, Hakim, nice my doktor!

Don't like the feel avit, mate, not this country arahnd.
I am not your mate. Orright, orright, keep your shirt on!
Bangin that little Circassian bit, then, the boss's little bint?

What the hell has come over you, you little shit?

Oooh, sorry, sorry, boss. Gonna be havin' a bit of a do then?
He's right. We are going to be attacked. All the signs are there.
The pain is moving up beyond my knee, yes, here ... and here?
O Granny you never knew what you were leading me into ....

They came down at first light, as usual, attacks on the flanks,
Bedouin horsemen, misaimed muskets and lots of noise.
I called for a circle, shouted commands, Bert was fast and efficient
and it was only the edges they over-ran, and they threw the heads

at us, the heads of our unfortunate comrades, their tribal way
of putting the fear of God into their enemies. I called for the cannon
which took a time to unload from the spooked braying camels
and then we blew them to bits. A touch of modern warfare.

In the middle of the confusion, before we were sure we would win,
Bert looked at me with a devilish smile and stroked his blade.
I knew of course what he meant. I had fought and done what I could.
I could have done more but I made my way to her tent

for I had but a single thought in my mind if I was to die,
or at least in the last few minutes if I really had to die,
I was going to ... and it turned out she had the same idea as me,
and in the end we did not die but achieved... a separate victory!

But if the Sultan finds out, or if anyone finds out ...
why is Bert, that bloodstained idiot, grinning?

Sunday, May 08, 2011

432. The Conversion to Islam of Conor Mac Art (part 4)

An Comhshó a Ioslam de Conchubhair Mac Airt

October, 1563

Is féidir le fir mór agus is minic a ríthe a bhás tú

'Tis a glorious great thing to be young and alive,
to be in possession of your heart and liver and lungs,
feet and hands, ears and eyes and lips and teeth, and ...
taking a quick glance at the blubbery Yoonix beyond,
some other things as well! Hup, get a move on, Bert,
arse in gear, yeh fat oul bowzy, get a move on!

Trot, trot me oul' segoshia, earn your bleedin wages!
Wyjess? Wotfackinwygessthenseeinasowyounevah ...
Tut, tut Bertie Boy, you've been stealing me blind,
and look at the belly on you hanging over your belt!
Any lip out of you, and it's back to the galleys you go!

I gave him a kick up the arse by way of punctuation,
for I'd seen the way he'd chopped off heads on the slaver.
I wasn't about to give this murderous little tyke an inch,
for he'd be quick to go back to his lethal practiced ways.
I was his present saviour and he knew it, but even so,
I chained him to the wall each night like a rabid dog.

Being in fine fettle, I gave him another good boot
just to remind him what was what, then went strolling,
very large and wide, shoving all the civilians to the side
with a pleasant smile, benevolent in my yellow pantaloons,
my green crushed velvet jacket all festooned with pistols,
and a great white turban topped with a pink feather.

O God, wasn't I the fine lad, stepping high with a lovely smile?
'Twas a far cry I was from the sheep and the goats of Connemara,
and the way they'd be looking at you, the brown eyes on them,
with their jaws half-hanging down, just waiting for the Latin.
I was a grand scholar of the Latin, but it's the Turkish tongue
I'll need presently, at the stern request of the Sultan Himself!

You have six months within which you will learn our language,
he'd told me in his mildly diffident, cold-eyed manner, after which
you will be required to take an examination. It would not be
in your best interests to fail this examination, you do understand?
I understood him all too well, The Old Boy has a sense of humour.
He plans to let Bert wield the sword if I fail to meet his standard.

God knows it's a frightful bloody language, difficult and perplexing,
every nuance and modification tacked on to the same word root,
but none of the logical clear inflections of the Greek and the Irish.
It's subtle, not a bit like the Bearla (English) which is why fat Bert,
my probable executioner, after fifteen years among these people,
knows only gutter words for drink and whores. The Sultan knows this.

This frightens me. He is a more subtle killer than Shane O Neill, perhaps
more dangerous. A shudder passes over me on this bright sunny day
as I stride along the broad streets in my bright yellow pantaloons,
not the sort of thing (I smile) you'd be doing often in the County Tyrone
where even the sheep and the goats would be looking at you askance!
Here it's the most normal thing. I laugh. Cheer up. It will be all right!

My mammy always said I had a lovely way of soothing people,
even as a wee babby, when I'd be pulling the tail off of the cat
or shoving my sister into the fire. I had a way, she said, of making
evil people smile, so that they'd lose the urge and will to kill me.
That was before I had met mad-eyed Shane O Neill. The very thought
of him frightens me even now, never mind the cold-eyed bloody Sultan!

I had to run off to France because Shane was of a mind to kill me,
but I've already told you of that. Some poisoned words, even though
we'd been together at the court of the pale peculiar English Queen ...
and didn't he move like lightning, as always, and spear one of her lapdogs
with one of his hidden daggers (one of the many they never found)
and drink the blood of the poor squealing beast while looking at her?

He smiled at the Queen all the while, smiling through his red teeth,
and didn't she clap her hands, eyes locked, and smile back at him?
There was a pair of them in it. And I knew in that moment as the chill
froze my ears to my skull, that there would be cruel war between us,
and that I had no safety in Ireland while this madman Shane was alive.
I was on the boat from Galway, later, when his killers came calling.

Following certain events in France, I went to cousin Rodrigo in Spain
for a few healing months on horseback, roving around the estancia,
shared for several quiet centuries in a long entwined family connection.
All this ruaile buaile with the Turks might never have happened
if I'd listened to Rodrigo, and never taken the wine cargo to Sicilia.
But I did, and we were fallen upon by a fleet of Turkish pirates.

The Sultan suddenly calls for me in the morning. Bert! Sah? Coffee!
(This is a most refreshing drink; I think it would taste better with sugar.)
Is this the examination? I'm only three months in, where are my notes?
We hasten away. There are five circles of gates at the Topkapi Palace,
each more closely-guarded than the last. Bert was thrust aside, glowering,
ouside Gate Two, half-hoping ... hoping what? I was escorted inside.

Allah barış, sen genç adam olmak. Sana sağlıklı olacağını umuyorum?
Sire! I answered the Sultan nervously, in a highly polite form of language.
Not at all bad, Conor, but I think you still have some distance to go.
But, Sire, you said six months! ... a languid hand. Never mind that now.
I have something entirely different in mind for you at the moment.
Have you ever heard of an ancient city by the name of Yerushallem?

Yerra-what, Sire? Is this some place you'd expect me to know about?
O, I think I would. We both know, Conor, you were once a Christian.
He smiled an icy smile. My mind started racing, I told myself calm down,
this is not Shane O Neill, Shane would cut your throat and then kiss you,
but ... but this fellow only has to lift his finger and .... a city? Yeru, yerra,
shallem, shalom, what in the name of God is he talking about?

I have a mission for you, said the Sultan. It is of the utmost importance.
I want you to go to this city.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

431. US Forces Murder bin Laden ... Does it Matter?

Probably not. The arch-criminal who has lurked behind the American state of frustration and psychological alienation from that fifth of the world’s population who follow the religion of Islam is dead. In a way that’s good. The Demon King is dead. That still leaves about a billion people who might not have the same reaction. Americans seem to be happy, waving flags and doing their mindless USA USA chants. That’s what people do when they live in America. Back in the 1930s the Germans used to do the same thing with different flags and different chants, in accordance with pretty much the same set of emotions. The difference is this: if you get politically over-excited overseas you are a nationalist (ever and always a bad thing), but if you get hysterical in America you are praised as a patriot.

So what does it mean? Not much, really.

What has changed? Is Al-Quaeda finished, the whole movement destroyed? The simple answer is no. Bin Laden has been no more than a figurehead for the last number of years. There is no evidence that he was the real planner behind the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban government asked America to prove it back in 2002 and America attacked the country instead. We don’t talk to ragheads.

They were after bin Laden for previous attacks on their embassies in Africa. Was he responsible for that? Yes, more than likely.

Was he an innocent guy? Absolutely not. He was at war with the United States.


Same stuff again and again and again. There was no secret about it. It’s one thing to disagree with the guy but it’s impossible to say he didn’t make his opinions clear. Nothing was hidden, he came out and said it.

He wanted to restore the Khallifat, the historical Muslim rule over the Mediterranean basin, including southern Spain (the lost lands) but with no sense of what those intelligent tolerant southern kingdoms had actually been all about. He wanted to bring in a Wahhabi blanket over the whole Muslim world, a thing that a lot of Muslims in outlying areas would rather do without. He wanted to impose Muslim rule over the world because Islam was the only true religion. He wanted to reverse the shame of the last two centuries in which European and then American power had overshadowed the Muslim world. He wanted to recreate an idealized world of the past that, historically, probably never existed.

The popular demonstrations and uprisings across the Arab world in the last few months are a total repudiation of nearly every one of bin Laden’s ideas. These are national movements for principles of freedom and democracy, entirely modern in intent, and with no throwback to any thought of an Islamic khallifat. None. Bin Laden remains a bit of a T-shirt hero because he stood up to the West, attacked them (when nobody else had the balls to do so), but very few young and not so young educated people in the modern Arab world believe in the weird old-fashioned world he believed in and wanted to recreate. They don’t. The guy is a hero, sure, in a setting where there are so few heroes to crow about, but he comes out of the 10th or 11th century : an amazing warrior, a shaheed, but not quite what we need now .... the fact that he died in a blaze of gunfire is going to add to his mythical status, his position in the pantheon of Arab heroes, standing slightly to the side of the great Salah-ad-Din: dead heroes are the best kind in every culture. Being dead they're not going to come up with something new, embarrassing, or unexpected

Salah-ad-Din. Saladin. Respect, awe, reverence. Dropped his clogs 800 years ago. A person of great charm and courtly benevolence but at the same time a shrewd and gifted general. He threw the Crusaders out of Jerusalem. This, not surprisingly, is part of the ongoing problem in a deeply unsettled and unstable political culture. Apart from Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) viewed by many in the Muslim world as an apostate, with good reasons for doing so, it's tough to have to go back so many years to find a person everyone can agree to admire.

Next we need to take a look at the knotty question of "justice". President Obama spoke in measured tones in the wake of what was little more than an assassination, a calculated hit. This was better than what we could have expected from his predecessor who would have been punching the air, beaming from ear to ear, recreating his role as a Yale cheerleader. But this was not justice. Justice involves courts and laws, charges laid down, a defence, a judge and a jury. Osama was simply blown away and apparently dumped in the sea. This has nothing to do with justice. It’s just a question of getting rid of a guy you you don’t like. Back in the 1920s the Chicago Mob used to do this all the time.

So where does that place the US government? Hard to say.

Better to bump him off than put him in court? After all, who knows what he might say about CIA connections during the Afghan war. That’s probably why Saddam Hussein was turned over to an Iraqi kangaroo court before he could spill the beans on where the gas he used on the Kurds came from (Germany and the USA) and his relationship with Donny Rumsfeld. Certain things we just don’t need to hear about. The general public will never understand the ins and outs of statecraft, so better not to bother their potentially troublesome little heads.

Osama is gone. Blown away, in fact. I don’t think he was a very good man. He was an exceedingly dangerous character who, directly or indirectly, caused the deaths of a large number of people, most of them Arabs and Afghans. I am not entirely convinced he was the presiding genius behind the 9/11 attacks in the USA but he came out and approved of them in a video and for that reason alone he stands condemned as a killer. When he comes face-to-face with the God he proclaims to believe in, the God he claims to have been acting for ( 'Hello, God.' -- 'Hello, Osama,' : this could be happening right now as we speak) he might come in for a bit of a shock. God will haul off and slap him.

Guardian (UK) Obituary