Who are you, habibi?

We’ve met, you and I, in a country in the Middle East (we need not bother about its name or yours) but I wonder if I know you. I have to guess. So let me speculate a little about who you are, and why you’re so frustrated and angry, and what you did and what happened to you.  Why did you do it?

You’re a young Arab man with no particular place to go: 25 years old and you still live with your parents and brothers and sisters in a big house in a not-bad part of the city. If you were married – and you say you ‘have to marry in the next couple of years – you would have your own place, but the family hasn’t found a girl suitable for you, yet.

You’re intelligent but not all that smart, know what I mean. True you’re a graduate from the national university, but you don’t have a full-time job other than running errands for your Father or helping out in his fabrics shop. You’d like to work some more with your Uncle. He’s better off than Father and has a better car, more servants. You don’t know exactly what he does. Deals mostly. He does a lot of deals. He travels a lot, mostly to Next-Door Country. His English is really good. He knows a lot of people, too, including foreigners: Armenians, Chinese, people like that.

Then there’s Mad Cousin. He’s a teacher.  Gets paid by the government.  He and his mousey little wife live in a different part of town. He always seems to be angry. He talks a lot, but half the time it’s just nonsense. Sometimes it’s risky talk, like when he said that the Big Man gets secret money from the Americans. “For what?” you ask. He’s crazy. You don’t really do politics, see. The country is run by the Big Man and the Army, America’s run by Jews, all Westerners have got it in for Islam, all they want is oil; you see a lot of Chinese nowadays and that’s all there is to it, really. And, no, you don’t buy into that al-Qaeda stuff.

Do you pray? Of course, Father makes sure you do. It’s a comfort going to the mosque, hearing the familiar words. You know all Muslims are brothers but sometimes you hear about some strange brothers in other countries, and strange exceptions to the rules.

Most evenings you hang out with the guys. They’re all unemployed like you. You sit around in a favourite cafe downtown and smoke and watch the news on TV. It’s always tuned to football or music or those news reports showing prisoners in Guantanamo or Israeli troops shooting people, or worse. It really makes you angry. You want to do something, but you don’t know what. One thing is certain: you’re glad Mad Cousin doesn’t join in, not since that one time he came along and he called you a bunch of layabouts. “Wake up, boys,” he shouted, “you should be getting involved!” What’s he on about?

The only places you can meet girls are in the foreign cultural centre libraries. They’re good because they’re air-conditioned and let you go online.  Course there’s some stuff you not supposed to see, but you see enough. The things you can do in the West!

Best if you could go abroad. The only time you left your country was when Uncle took you to Next-Door Country on a business trip and to see the cousins. They live in a nice flat, but that’s not what you remember the most. The cars!The lights! The women! Women without head coverings! Foreign women, too. In the big foreign hotels Uncle takes you to. Wow, you never knew they could dress like that. Up-to-date movies to see, people to meet. Uncle always calls them ‘my best clients.’ They all seem to like deals. Buying shiploads of grain, selling it on the same day, that sort of stuff.

It’s all a bit confusing. What can you do? You want to talk about things, real things, important concerns but who can you talk to? The guys? They’re not interested. Preachers? They’re always being arrested for saying stupid things in public. Got to be careful who you talk to really. The other day Uncle said,”you want to watch your step, laddie, keep your nose clean. Bright boy like you, could do things, but not if you’re daft.” What’s he talking about?

Mad Cousin would have some things to say, that’s for certain, but you’re worried about  what he’s been grousing about recently. Now he’s got this theory that Israelis are in the country secretly, working in some kind of experimental farm down south. How can that be? Why? Mad Cousin says it’s all about the Big Man “betraying the people, what do you expect?”. What kind of talk is that?

Now he’s off again, shouting about how it’s “the regimes” that are the worst,worse than the West, you get nothing from them anyway, blood-sucking, oil-stealing, immoral bastards, murderers!” Now he’s whispering that “he’s got friends”.  They’re going to do something “big” in Next-door Country. You could help. A little job. Just get hold of a car, take something over the border, deliver it to someone in the city. Simple, really. Do something useful for the ummah. How about it?

Where do you get a car? Uncle of course, he has spare ones. What do you want it for? OK, don’t say. He thinks you’re doing some kind of Deal. Which of course you are. And you make it over the border: dozy cops didn’t look in the car and you reach the big city and you hand the thing over. Piece of cake,really. And you decide to hang around for a few days, contact the cousins, have some fun. Then – boom! How many dead, did you say? Oh god. Make for the border.  And you get there.

I know you now. OK, you’re frustrated and angry and bored and itchy and when you had the chance to do a little job for friends you took it. You’re not a terrorist, are you? Just a bloke with a borrowed motor, the barrier down and a dim future and, look, here they come now. They’ll be asking you a lot tougher questions than I have. And you won’t know what to answer, will you? Well, you didn’t know, did you, poor, stupid f**k. Just hang in there, OK.

God be with you.

“Whoever recommends and helps a good cause becomes a partner therein, and whoever recommends and helps an evil cause shares in its burden.” (Holy Quran, 4:85)

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About rimboval

Writer, thinker and proud grandfather
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