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The Reality of the Burning Sand
January 14, 2003
By Dennis Rahkonen

Remember the Ray Stevens hit from the '60s, Ahab the Arab?

I doubt there's ever been an American pop-culture offering that's so atrociously stereotyped an entire "other" people, unless it's Please, Mr. Custer, by one-hit wonder Larry Verne from a few years earlier. Both "novelty" tunes got their jollies through thoroughly derisive ridicule.

The great, historic defense against genocide at the Little Big Horn was treated as a laughing matter, and Stevens' Ahab - supposedly typifying Muslims around the world - was a camel-jockey sheik with "rubies and diamonds just a-dripping off of him, and a ring on every finger of his hand".

Of course, this abject Aunt Jemimafication of minorities or foreigners wasn't anything unique at the time, and still persists today. Trent Lott virtually turned his tainted carcass inside out trying to wiggle away from the fiasco his thoughtless accommodation with discriminatory wickedness only recently engendered.

And the flip side of our Polish-joke outlook regarding those different from our WASP selves is a wildly glorified portrayal of The American, exemplified by Toby Keith's The Red, White and Blue, a music video I personally can't watch without completely cringing over what we've pathetically become. Furthermore, it's via an officially sanctioned, media-fed extension of popularly pervasive prejudice within U.S. majority ranks that we now stand on the brink of a catastrophic war with Iraq.

Ahab and Osama have morphed in our propagandistically manipulated, collective mind to become Saddam, who's not dripping fabulous jewels, but pure venom, plus biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Apocalypse. The UN sent inspectors to Iraq to verify the ballyhooed threat so profusely alleged by oil-lusters Bush and Cheney, and - after more than a month of aggressively looking - just what have they found?

Nothing. Zip.

What will we do if the ultimate UN conclusion is that no evidence can be unearthed to substantiate Washington's bugbear portrayal of Baghdad as the worst danger to humanity since Berlin's mad machinations in Nazi days?

Will Dubya then go on TV, look us straight in the eyes with that goofy, "Who, me?" mug, and tell us our kids will have to die in a bloody war, regardless, because we have it on his unproven assurance that there actually ARE such weapons out there, hidden in... Ahab's tent?

That's plainly insufficient basis for turning large quantities of recent U.S. high school graduates into perforated and burnt corpses inside returning body bags. Not to mention all those Iraqi civilians whose name isn't Saddam who'd be blown away as our bombers hideously transformed Iraq's cities into new Guernicas.

What goes around comes around. As ye reap so shall ye sow. Our myths and biases are on a definite collision course with reality. We've consistently trivialized or demonized others for long decades, and the short truth is that we're soon about to experience some exceedingly painful payback. I'm not talking about minor come-uppance, either. The hits to our national standing, in global impact, will be staggering.

If we don't get our heads on straight quickly, and get reactionary warmongers under sane control, we'll take a steep dive toward the footnotes of history where the reasons for once-great "empires" going to pale insignificance can sadly be located.

Because no nation, however mighty in military power, can withstand the other person's (world's) truth forever.


Dennis Rahkonen, from Superior, WI, has been writing progressive commentary and verse for various outlets since the '60s. He can be reached at dennisr@cp.duluth.mn.us.

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