The recent unrest in the Muslim world


You almost certainly know about the recent unrest in the Muslim world, and the riots, and the death of the American ambassador to Libya.


I subscribe to a Tunisian news service – one of those things that just gives you the headline and the first sentence – and, last Thursday, it was “Le film qui tue!” (Translation: “The killer movie!”)


Oh no, I thought.


You see, this whole manifestation in the Arab world was brought about – supposedly – by the release of a movie mocking the Prophet Mohammed. This movie was – supposedly – made by a Jewish American.


Except that the movies was probably never made as such, and the man behind the project was an Israel-hating Egyptian Copt, who is (apparently) living in the USA.


More than that, though; the idea that the movie was the impetus behind the killing irritated me. Aristotle teaches us that, while guns may be the material causes of death, the real causes are the people who pull the trigger.

But then I read the article in

I was much reassured. True to my experience of Tunisia and Tunisians – thoughtful and intelligent – the author weighed the tension behind Islamists (who are spoiling for a fight with the West) and Islamophobes (who would like to spark a fight, and then create as much havoc as possible).

Both are to blame for the general situation.

Chris Stevens’s death is certainly the fault of the Islamists. I wonder if the simultaneity of the riots in the Muslim world has been very carefully planned (you’ll notice that it took place in September, not long after the commemoration of 9/11).

And the Egyptian / Copt / American provocateur, who produced the “movie,” also appears to have known what he was doing, provoking Muslim reaction at a very key time.

Partner and I are going to France in a few weeks. France (and especially Paris) is inhabited by a lot of North African Muslims.

We will let you know what we find out.

For Hanukkah: Jewish superheroes


Speaking as a Gentile, of all the Jewish holidays, I like Hanukkah best.



Fine, it’s not a High Holiday, it’s an observance.  The gifts are bush-league: chocolate coins, colorful pencils.  Maybe, if you’re lucky, you get a shirt and pants.  But the candles are pretty.  And it’s eight days long.  And who doesn’t like potato pancakes?  Or playing dreidel?



But I was especially amused to find the above image on Tumblr recently.



Evidently Ben Grimm – the everlovin’ blue-eyed Thing from Marvel Comics – is Jewish!  



I love the yarmulke, and the prayer shawl, and most especially the big smile, and most most most especially the fact that this was drawn by classic Marvel artist Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg).


I like the idea of Jewish superheroes.  They’re fictional characters right alongside Miss Elizabeth Bennett and Artur Sammler and Genji, so why not?  I looked online, and found that Doc Samson (who’s a sort of semi-Hulk in the Marvel universe) and Volcana (a heroine/villainess in the Marvel world) are both Jewish, as are a few others.  (Evidently the DC universe is non-denominational.  Although I would not be surprised to discover that the Kents brought up Clark as a Methodist.)



A Kuwaiti Muslim writer named Naif al-Mutawa has, for the past few years, been developing a line of Muslim comics called “The 99.”  The backstory is that a group of Medieval Muslim thinkers / philosophers / clerics harnessed the energy of the 99 names of Allah, but a villain tried to absorb all the power himself; he mostly failed, but the energy of the 99 names went out into the world, and has been absorbed by 99 other people.  One by one they come forward: The Light, The Powerful, The Listener, the Healer, the Destroyer.



I like this too.



We still love mythology, don’t we?  And superheroes are the playactors in our modern versions of those miracle stories and myths.  Did you notice, in last summer’s “Thor,” that the title character died to save his friends, and came back to life?   And I seem to recall the very same thing happening in 2006’s “Superman Returns.”  And think of all the angst and cosmic love triangles in the various X-Men stories –






Cosmic drama and resurrection are terrific things, but sometimes it’s nicer to have candles and potato pancakes and chocolate money.



Gut yontif, Ben Grimm, wherever you are.



Ramadan blog: Welcome Ramadan!


Now (more or less) begins the holy month of Ramadan.



(Actually, it depends upon when they actually sight the new moon in Mecca. In 1984, my first year in Morocco, the weather in Mecca wasn’t very good; there were actually one or two days between the Muslim month of Cha’ban and the beginning of the month of Ramadan that didn’t have Muslim dates. After a little delay, they began Ramadan by default.)



During my first Ramadan in Morocco, I tried to fast.  Most foreigners do. I lasted about three days. (You’re supposed to go without food, smoking, drinking, and sex during the daylight hours. If you can distinguish the difference between a black thread and a white thread, it’s daytime, and you fast. In Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, you’d be arrested if they even suspected you were cooking or eating during daylight hours.)



Tunisia was more forgiving. I knew by my second or third Ramadan that, as a kafir, I wasn’t required to fast; I only needed to eat and drink and smoke out of sight. (Some of my Tunisian co-workers and friends ended up joining me in my office – with the door closed – eating and drinking and smoking. And, the farther we got into Ramadan, the more people crowded into that little office. But – you see? – they were in the company of an unbeliever. It was okay!  I was a bad influence!)



I remember the wonderful rich succulent meals served at sunset on Ramadan evenings, and the sticky honey-laden pastries, and the long nighttime promenades. No one slept much.  Everyone was cranky during the day. (During my first Ramadan in Tunisia, I said something my boss thought was stupid. He slowly turned and banged his head against the wall. “He’s not fasting,” he muttered dramatically in French under his breath. [He knew I understood French better than Arabic, so it was mostly for my benefit.] “He just doesn’t understand.”)



By my last Ramadan, in 1987, I remember walking through the Tunis medina, and seeing a fat German tourist in shorts eating an ice-cream cone in daytime, and I was shocked.



To all my Muslim friends: ! رمضان كريم 






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