Letters from Africa
Angels and Wheels over Zion
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Once upon a time, in some faraway mountains, there was a bride market in Imilchil…
Salam I am delighted to write to you. I am sorry if this mail will come to you as a surprise, we just felt like emptying ourselfs into you, to confide in you, as we are faced with total frustration and hardship. Ernest prayer is that you find this mail in good health and blessings.
I am Miss Kahina from Morocco and am 18 years old lady recently widowed on account I lost my husband a couple of months ago. I want someone like you to help me out after I had prayed and fasted then believe you are a good person and I can stay with you for the rest of my life.
Before the death of my husband, who was a wealthy and successful business man, he called me secretly in the private hospital and informed me to run away to America because of his blood brother, who is my uncle. It was on that day, my husband reveilled to me that, it was his brother who poisoned him at this level.
In short, he seriously warn me to keep this money (us$10.5 million united state dollars) secretly because he know that his brother decided to kill him so that he can inherit all this properties. i don't suppose to get any of his properties because i am a girl. Because of this reason, i am soliciting your assistance for the claim. Frankly speaking, i am ready to give you 15% of this total money for your assistance. Anyway, you can not understand anything now because it is a long story but please for God sake, reply me so that i can tell you more about myself and the transfer.
Miss Ophelia Kahina
I have been exchanging e-mails with a woman from Morocco and I would appreciate any advice on whether I should marry her. She apparently was forced into an arranged marriage and then she murdered him on their wedding night. It was well known at the time that he was abusive. She was never prosecuted though because the authorities charged the victim’s brother with the crime (it’s a long story and very tragic). I think she is Muslim because she sometimes quotes from the Qur’an but she also uses what looks like an icon of the Virgin or one of the Christian saints (it’s too small to see clearly), so I am confused. She says that divorce is as freely available there as marriage and that they have a bride market every September where we can get hooked up. The way it looks like, all their marriages are trial runs except you can’t marry the virgins. Apparently you can meet men and women on their eighth or ninth marriage. Get it wrong this year and you come back next year for a new one. Sounds amazing. They don’t tolerate infidelity or polygamy, of course, and usually prefer divorce. And all this in a traditional Muslim country. She said that as a woman she can’t actually ask for a divorce herself but wives can make it clear that that is the only alternative, authorizing their husband to ask for a divorce and her last one is dead anyway.
I say go for it, my Brother. My wife is Moroccan and she told me about this traditional story they have about two star-crossed lovers, like Romeo and Juliet, from the area this girl is from. Apparently their families wouldn’t allow them to be together and their tears filled two nearby lakes – the lake of the bride and the lake of the groom – separated by a mountain. The myth says they drowned themselves in those lakes. This is why she does not want to wait too long for you, my Brother. Buy your ticket and go find your dream.
Bismillah al rahman al rahim
You’re being had for a fool. The Kahina is a fake name and refers to a Warrior Queen who may have been Berber, Arab, Byzantine, Roman, Jewish, Christian, or pagan, or whatever. We just don’t know. But nowadays she is an internet scam. The stories of the Kahina are like the medieval tales of King Arthur or Charlemagne. The historian Ibn Khaldun claimed she was Jewish and it is true that North African Jews in Israel and Morocco believe this, but it seems far-fetched to me. Be warned; a shadow’s kiss only brings a shadow’s bliss.
CONFIDENTIAL PROPOSAL FROM MR. TAMRIN
My Good Friend,
How are you doing together with your family? I guess all is well. My message should not be a surprise proposal to you because I got your contact information from the Fertility Clinic of Chicago a few weeks ago before I decided to contact you on this magnitude and lucrative transaction for our future survival in life.
I represent Queen Bilikisu, Sovereign Ruler of Eredo, Nubia, Kush and Sheba. Now I have the intent to contact you regarding a financial transaction worth the sum of NINETEEN MILLION, THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND UNITED STATES DOLLARS ($19,300,000.00) for our future success.
Queen Bilikisu’s dear only son David died along with his entire family through a plane crash disaster since a few years ago and she has only her 20-year-old daughter, Balkis, to leave her fortune to. Balkis is almost white-skinned and according to our tradition, the Queen must leave all monies to an African male descendant. Therefore, Queen Bilikisu has so ordered that in keeping with our traditions, it must be an African man of good Christian character (Pentacostalists preferred) who donates his seed to the daughter of Bilikisu so that they might together have a son.
Because the fair Balkis must remain chaste, the transaction requires a seed donation and a deposit of funds of US$4,000. If the seed is infertile, or the child is female, the deposit will be returned in full.
If Balkis, daughter of Queen Bilikisu has a son by you, in the rules guiding our bank, it hereby is stated that if you are an African citizen of the United States, you have the absolute authority to claim a 39% share of these funds. On the transfer of this fund into your account, this being US$7,527,000.00, it will be your share in respect of the account provision and your assistance rendered. 52% being US$10,036,000.00 will be the share held in trust for the heir, while the rest (9%) being US$1,737,000.00 will be shared by myself, the pillar of the transaction and respectable charity organizations such as Motherless Babies homes, and helpless disabled people in the World.
Now, if you are really sure of your trustworthy, accountability, confidentiality on this transaction, contact me and agree that you will not change your mind to cheat or disappoint me when the funds are in your account. Besides you should not entertain any fear because I am sure of the success as an insider in the bank.
As soon as you reply, give me a call through my private telephone number on (00 237 70637805) so that I will let you know the next step to follow in order to finalize this transaction immediately.
I expect your urgent communication and my best regard to you and all members of your family.
Dear Mr. Tamrin:
Praise the Lord, my brother, I am interested in your invitation. Just the other day my ex- said we should do more to support evangelism in Africa. Malcolm said, “You waste your time in this country if you’re not in direct contact with your brother on the African continent who has his independence.” He was right. We, the original people of this planet, we who taught the whole world and those that came from us what it means to be human. You prick us, we bleed African blood. Not like those melanin deficient Caucasoids who colonized us in Africa. I don’t mean Balkis of course. I will call you tomorrow on this matter.
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Dear Eldad Hadani:
May I make a Modest Business Proposal: For Preventing the Young Women of Judea and Samaria and the North District from having too many children and being a Burden to The State, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public.
I got your contact information from the Center for Health and Reproductive Services in Tel Aviv. As I see it, the problem is that no one in Tel Aviv is having kids. I’m not even sure they are having sex. In the Arab areas I think they are, or at least I’m told they are, and there’s the rubber. The streets, the houses and apartments are crowded with three, four, or six children per family. Why aren’t they having more sex in the Jewish areas? This in a country with more fertility clinics per capita than anywhere else in the world? According to Dr. Ronit Haimov Kochman from Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, their study between 2004 and 2008 found that the amount of sperm in Israeli males has dropped by a whopping 40% over a decade earlier. My mother tells me it’s the water and the cel phones; my cousin tells me In Vitro has become a Halakhic nightmare and she recommends Femi-X instead.
I realize that in the Orthodox community they are doing their best to compete with the Arabs but this isn’t enough. We have a crisis here: with greater affluence, social mobility and secularism comes less sex, fewer children and a demographic vanishing point. Such a terrifying paradox.
So what can we do to reverse Jewish population decline? In Russia they have declared September 12 is officially The Day of Conception and it's a national holiday. Programs like Taglit Birthright Israel can help if they take undersexed young American Jews to Israel, but they don’t go far enough. 10 days isn’t enough time to get somebody pregnant. These things take time. One well-intentioned website has suggested sanctioning official orgies: “The annual IJO: the week-long International Jewish Orgy (perhaps between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but I’m open to Passover, too) will provide Jewish men and women with endless sexual partners in a non-competitive, pro-procreative environment.” While I think their timing is offensive, I do think that there is a precedent for this with the way kibbutz communities raised children. But they are unable to solve the most fundamental problem: Jewish women are becoming impatient with Jewish men and vice versa.I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection. The solution to the population crisis should be immediately obvious.
I have been assured by a very knowing American friend, that a young Palestinian woman of great beauty and talent makes for an excellent mistress or concubine in an Israeli Jewish household. These young women are most beautiful and fertile, whether in bed or out of it, and they can cook falafel too. I have no doubt that if she is given a place of honor in the matrimonial bed, even one’s wife may see some opportunity.
The Americans experimented with this solution for a considerable period of time and it resulted in a most beneficial population increase. Many young white Creole men had free women of color as mistresses and had children with them. This was before their legitimate marriage, of course, rather than concurrently as I am proposing, but we must change with the times.
I have reckoned upon a formula whereby if Israel absorbs 15,000 breeding age Arab women per year into Jewish homes and each mistress is made pregnant on a regular basis and she produces an average of one child per year, then as long as the Rabbis can swing by for more frequent bris, and the families promise to raise the child in the Jewish tradition (thus getting around the Jewish mother bit), and the new constitution doesn’t change the definitions of who is Jewish, then the demographic disaster can be arrested in about 14 years.
Now you may ask how this can be done now that The Wall has gone up. Where are the young women to come from? But there are hundreds of thousands of eligible Arab Israeli women right there in Israel! They are refusing to leave anyway so let’s put them to some gainful employment.
The Northern District is one thing, where consensus will be required, but in Judah and Samaria it is another thing, for there are many hundreds of thousands of eager young women. Give your young men an incentive to be drafted there instead of deferring it. Allow them to take handsome and attractive Palestinian women back home with them as captives, as conquering armies have always done. When Alexander the Great conquered Persia he forced all his generals to marry Persian women. Rapine and plunder have always been perfectly acceptable methods for remedying birthrate problems and, you know what, they were attractive women too. I cannot see how this can fail.
Many young Palestinian women will welcome the soldiers as liberators and throw themselves into their arms if they know they have a chance to live in a modern Israeli home with plumbing, a DVD player and a vibrator. Think what they will be giving up – a life of deprivation and rigid Islamic values.
This should also professionalize the army so that there are no more debacles like Lebanon 2 and Gaza Cast Lead. Instead of sending unmotivated and obese soldiers from the cafes of Tel Aviv, the good looking ones will join up in the hope of pounding some flesh. Sleeping with the enemy and all that.
I grant that the reverse, having Israeli women bringing Palestinian men into their beds might be more appealing to Israeli women but there is obviously a risk here of terrorism. All that glistens isn’t gold. Worse, they might end up becoming interested in these dangerous young men. We all remember the story of Judith. Her story is dismissed by the Rabbis for good reason. We just don’t know what happened in that tent.
Our company has the relationships and business contacts to make the arrangements for you most discreetly and confidentially.
I don’t know how you got my e-mail address but this is racist and anti-Semitic crap (and so is The Merchant of Venice). If you got it from a sperm bank rather than a spam bank, please take me off your list, or tell me if the sperm bank gave it to you. I’m 55, not very well off, and well over the age of reliable reproduction.
Dear Stanley Fish
Your wonderful article “Is it Good for the Jews?” (New York Times March 4, 2007) is a classic case of how to discuss Israel and anti-Semitism without being accused of it yourself, or, for that matter, of being accused of being a self-hating Jew.
I admire its success because, judging by the replies on the NYT blog you managed to be misunderstood by all of your readers. Mostly they thought you were equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, which provoked either sympathy (pro) or irritation (con). But the irony is, you achieved your real goal, which was something else.
First you lay out the way people think Tribally (“Is it good for the Jews?”), then you state that Jews in America today do not really feel a sense of threat (a least for now). You point to Israel’s role in fostering a new anti-Semitism around the world (different from the old stereotypical one), and you name names (the Israel Lobby that consists of prominent Jewish Neo-Cons who got the U.S. into Iraq). At the half-way mark you acknowledge the power of this argument then you spend the remainder dismissing the whole thing, saying you don’t believe it personally because one day there may be that knock at the door.
The “pro” readers focused on the second part, reading into it their own fears, talking of the next pogrom as if it’s coming next year. The “con” readers liked the first part but thought your switch mid-way was a failure of logic. As you well know, this is characteristic of your interpretive communities and their letters reveal them just as clearly as your article reveals your ambidexterity. Neither group really appreciated that you have in fact delivered a frontal attack.
You have got away with accusing the Israel Lobby of stirring up anti-Semitism, as if this was someone else’s argument, then you have made the charges disappear behind a “Oh but I don’t believe this anyway” when you actually do, but you could not come out and say it without enraging half your readers. Wisely, you put the issue on the table and there was a civilized discussion about the Unspeakable, even though they misunderstood you.
Given that you admire and have taught and critiqued Derrida, who was fascinated with aporias, I was surprised no one noticed this. Of course it could be that I’m from Mars and I misunderstood. Wouldn’t be the first time.
You have spoken of the Unspeakable and gotten away with it. In the topsy-turvy world of Middle East politics, you have proven that you cannot say what you mean or mean what you say, but you can still get to your destination.
Dear Teshome Gabriel
Thank you for your moving article The Intolerable Gift. You recognized that your own mother, and Mother Africa, had given you a priceless gift that you could not return: it was your sense of who you are and your place in the cosmos. Not that you would want to return it, but you cannot reciprocate it, which is why it is also The Unspeakable Gift, for there is nothing that needs now to be said. The moment is captured in the child’s cup, a Holy Grail, an icon linking your past to your present. Your cup, my golliwog.
For you the Intolerable Gift came during your trip home, to Ethiopia. Having myself been born in America but now living in Liberia, I realize that I am a stranger here, like Maya Angelou was in Ghana. I realize that what you were saying was that “home” is where we are born and who we are born to, not where our ancestors came from. For me, Roots is set in America, nowhere else. American Afrocentrists are wrong to look to Africa.
It reminded me of the recent Tutankhamen controversy (“Why does King Tut look like Boy George?”). Why? Because, although they are right about King Tut, Afrocentrists are people who do not know who they are. Of course it fills me with joy to see Africa expanding to hug other parts of the world – the Nile Valley to India’s Dalits to Australia’s Aborigines. Lucy is their mother too. This act of piracy causes great consternation among Whites, especially academics. It reminds me of the Black Athena contretemps. But, why do they never get that this is 90% about mocking the old order, for its historic neglect and ignorance about Africa's civilizations?
Subversion scorched Nadine Gordimer, a first generation White Jewish writer in a Black country. I have come to accept that for her South Africa is her home. Things did not turn out so well for Jews elsewhere in Africa, or Indians in East Africa, or Whites anywhere else in Africa. Colonialism was a disaster and only the comfortable are magnanimous. Africa is not comfortable.
I have decided we Americans can always go home again, but if we think home is in Africa, we will never find it. If we become nomads, that is ok, but it is only ok if we know who we are in the first place. The Holy Grail is African and American too – it is the hidden-in-plain-sight icon we no longer see if we are looking for it in the wrong places. For those of us who cannot find home in America, it’s because we are looking backwards through the racist White man’s glasses that can only see color, Code Noir, Quadroons, One Drop Rule…
Home is not where the heart is. It is where the placenta is buried, whether it is trashed in the hospital waste disposal or buried in the ground. White people will never understand what this means. We need to know where we were born, bury our hearts and minds in the symbolic ground we associate with home and get on with living our lives, wherever that may be. Not Mother Africa but Mother America. America is ours.
Dear Father Laurence
I saw a wonderful movie in my film class called Ceddo, but I need your help with it.
In it the Princess is captured by slave traders and taken away and made a hostage. Her father, the King, sends two men to rescue her and they are killed, so the slave traders decide to try to negotiate. They say they only did it because they didn’t want to convert to the new religion sweeping the land. But the Imam rejects them because they won’t convert to Islam.
Then the King dies or is killed and the Imam takes over. His soldiers rescue the Princess and they force the slave traders to convert. But then comes the twist. Right after the ceremony, the Princess grabs a gun and walks over to the Imam, who is seated on her father’s throne and the slave traders suddenly put their guns in the mouths of the Imam’s soldiers. Then the Princess kills the Imam, throws down the gun and just walks away. The film just freezes.
I am a little uncomfortable with this. Why did she side with the slave traders who had kidnapped her and kill the Imam? Is the film criticizing Islam? Is it justifying murder? Can this justify Darfuris taking up arms against the Sudanese government?
The Princess killed the Imam because she found herself agreeing with her kidnappers that it is better to have freedom than to lose your identity. That may sound surprising, since she was herself a hostage at the time, but in this case, the film is Ceddo, a shimmering masterpiece from Senegal by Ousmane Sembène, that he made in 1977.
The thing is, Sembène always understood that Africa’s struggle for freedom wasn’t unique: the oppressed can quickly turn into the oppressor, the occupied can turn into the new occupier, the slave can turn into the slaver. The meek do not inherit the earth. His heroine, the Princess Dior Yassine chooses murder as a solution and her action scandalizes zealous Muslims, Christians and neo-colonialists who, of course, are the ones with the power in the film and in the New Africa. They have banned the film and not distributed it, not talked about it, buried it. The Unspeakable.
All Sembène wants to say is this: freedom fundamentally means the right to speak and if an act of violence is required to protect that right, so be it. This is all about context: her act does not justify anything more than that. Even if the Mau Mau rebellion was justified (and it was), every case is different. One day this won’t be about color or ethnicity or religion, writes Sembène: “I believe today that Africans must get beyond the question of color, they must recognize the problems which confront the whole world, as human beings like other human beings.”
Sembène died in July of last year and he will be missed.
You sound like a WHITE guy trying to defend the film as some classic of Western civilization. Africans have had an oral storytelling tradition for hundreds of thousands of years and we have ALWAYS had the cinema and it NEVER needed validation by the West.
You miss the true message of Ceddo, that none of the men listened to their women. That’s Africa’s great problem. Sembène also said: “Often in Africa it’s only the men who speak, but one forgets the role, interest of women. I think the princess is the incarnation of modern Africa… There can be no development in Africa if women are left out of the account.”
I loved the way the Princess took out the imam but you can’t truly appreciate BLACK WOMEN’s cultural identity if you’re not willing to embrace and celebrate ALL OF IT. Not just their voices but their bodies as well. Like Kola Boof says, nothing symbolizes the cultural identity of Black Women (ALL black women originating from Africa) than bare breasts – which are the symbol of the circle of life itself and are bared in honor of the Creator who is African. We need more bare breasts, not talking heads!
Dear Chinua Achebe:
Congratulations on your Booker Prize. But don’t you go calling those old, dead Europeans racists again. Joseph Conrad may have been a racist, but why choose confrontation when it will make you unpopular? American and European academics know you are talking about them too. Writers always have had three ways to talk about racism: to conceal, to confuse and, of course, to confront. As you know, America has been there already, in the 19th century no less.
To conceal means that everyone misunderstands you. If you keep your meaning and your goal to yourself as Poe did with The Raven, a southern Gothic nightmare that channels the horrors of Slavery (“And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming”), readers will be disturbed but not awakened. Here Blacks are haunting Whites, just as Palestinians are haunting the Israelis over the Wall. It is the same with Twain’s humor in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, where its savage irony (pun intended) is misunderstood and there have been cafeteria food fights ever since. If you end up revealing your meaning but not your goal, as Borat does, or Stanley Fish does, readers quickly divide into the usual two polarized camps, just like in the pre-Civil War South.
Meanings are always contested because they depend on contexts; goals never are...
To confuse means that everyone understands what your goal is, which is to appeal to the readers’ moral sense, but now it is the meanings they have to grapple with. Pathos is preferred here, not humor or the Gothic mode. The irony is restrained. Historically this has been the most effective strategy, since at least nobody misunderstands your intentions. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which gave Tom a voice, helped force Judgment Day on the U.S. public. The confusion and shame propelled the country into a civil war. It was a Christian’s appeal to their moral sense and Tom was a Christ figure martyred by racism. Over a century later, To Kill a Mockingbird aided the Civil Rights Movement and desegregation. For Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch, The Law will set you free and the book was effective because it created moral confusion in a society that was itself in moral confusion.
Racism is when you deny someone else's right to speak, turning them into ghosts. Anti-Semitism is the libel you use when you have allowed the ghosts of the past to inhabit you and you can't stop talking.
In recent decades, Black American writers have moved from concealment (Ellison’s Invisible Man) to the confusion mode and the mix has won accolades in the White Intellectual World, notably Maya Angelou, Alice Walker and Toni Morrison (allowing for the unintended side effect of setting Black men and women at each other’s throats). Morrison’s Beloved especially is a dark and Gothic world, like Poe’s raven, and the ghosts and specters implanted inside many Black Americans are raging to get out. Yet the exorcisms are primarily for Black women... Morrison’s Beloved character is more than a metaphor; she’s in the room with us. Morrison seems to realize that vital as this vision is, it’s doomed – the only viable future is when the ghosts have left the body, her body, and are floating around us out of reach, where they belong, like Rowling’s Hogwarts ghosts. Because they are there, I know, and that’s ok. Honor the dead, especially your relatives, but they need to stay dead please. And don’t give in to the ones that want to get inside you.
Which brings me to the third option, to confront, which usually fails as abysmally as does the first one (irony), whether you are White or Black, Jewish neo-con or Muslim polygon. After successfully trying moral confusion in The Grandissimes of 1880, George Washington Cable tried confrontation in The Silent South, an essay of 1885, where no one was in any doubt about the goal or the meaning. Cable, who was from Louisiana, mounted a letter-writing campaign encouraging the “Silent South” to speak out against racism. They didn’t. Apparently, when America freed the slaves it also freed Racism, which said that the liberated Black man would revert to his inherent bestiality and die out in the competition with Whites. They didn’t. Unilateralism for good or for bad always accelerates The Law of Unintended Consequences…
Caliban the Taliban
So you’re saying that only in confusion – in fiction – can writers change readers’ minds. I agree up to a point, but I think we have to get on with life and ignore the universal torrent of hateful words that sweeps away all common sense.
Harriett Beecher Stowe used Christianity and Harper Lee used The Law, but both are played out, even if Israel is still wrestling with definitions of Judaism and its Constitution, and even if Arab states still practice religious and political intolerance, and even if Black and Jewish American writers are still exorcising their ghosts. To what end? Jews and Arabs seem doomed to always remember history, American Blacks would prefer to forget about it entirely (but can’t), and Whites have forgotten what history is since it’s not around anymore, apparently. For the next generation of writers and artists though, it will be all about sex. Confusion works, but you have to get past the heart and the head and aim lower.
Tell me where is fancy bred,
Sex is the great leveler, even when it is not consensual. These days there’s more leveling going on in White Chicks (nominated for five Golden Raspberry Awards, including “Worst Picture,” and a highly successful theatrical run, with $113 million worldwide) than all your highbrow novels put together. Black audiences don’t want to be reminded of Slavery and Jewish audiences don’t want to be reminded of Apartheid; they want breasts – all religions and ethnicities accepted. Pop culture always trumps High Culture.
Sex works in real life too. For better or worse, Jewish Americans are marrying outside the faith in greater numbers and the Palestinians have been holding on to East Jerusalem by having more kids than the Israelis are. It is what Hispanic families have been doing to White and Black Americans when they emigrate to the U.S., pushing against historically Black communities and even marrying into them. It is a demographic Intifada and reconquista. Is that so bad? Ding, dong, bell.
The lips of the righteous feed many: but fools die for want of wisdom.
During the siege, time becomes a space/ That has hardened in its eternity/ During the siege, space becomes a time/ That is late for its yesterday and tomorrow - (A State of Siege by the late Mahmoud Darwish)