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One Thousand and One and Counting

2004-09-15 - 9:40 p.m.

While I have been consumed by my self absorbed, self induced identity crisis, one that makes me grateful for this amazing family that I've made for myself, and that I'm still making, that pushes me forward, reminding me that when you feel stupid, it means you're learning, I have taken some time to read the news. It turns out that on Tuesday, the American death toll in Iraq reached 1,001.

Pure poetry. Oh, how narratively delicious it would be if we pulled out now, if every American packed up their things and got the Hell out of the desert before the insurgent population can regroup and reload! Best of all, we don't have to look long for a Scherezade! We're IN BAGHDAD, for God's sake! We can just grab some pretty girl with a nice voice as we're leaving and tell her we'll set her up for life if she can just read out the life stories of these dead men and dead women to us, one a night for one thousand nights and a night. You really can't write it any better than that.

It goes without saying that we won't be pulling out. The American death toll will not stop at 1,001. For all I know, we've already bypassed that number by this writing, much less when I post this damn thing. We'll just have to wait and hope that we decide to pull out at another fitting number, like 1492 or 1776. If we're lucky, we can get out when the combined American AND British toll hit 1776. If not, we can wait until the number hits 2,752. That would be the current official number of people killed on Sept 11th, of course. That number will no doubt worm its way into American literature for decades to come, if we're still allowed to read by then.

Sorry about the dark sarcasm, but I've been reading Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy lately, and I know that neither of them would let such a wonderfully symetrical, mythologically infused number go by without relishing the gruesomeness of it, particularly Rushdie, who weaves that number into Midnight's Children, his brilliant novel that I have been researching since the start of semester, and to whom I owe an apology for the ways in which this entry copies his style, and probably Roy's as well. That having been said, I have no doubt that the two of them would even play to the obvious pun, but since they're not here, I will. Let's call these dead parents and dead children one thousand knights and a knight, noble warriors set out on a Crusade to fight the tawny moor. Why smother the word in literature when we can smother it with history?

Speaking of history, one of these deaths was very historic. It wouldn't be a war worth fighting if we didn't have a first time, now would it? Well, this war apparently featured the first Native American woman to ever be killed in the US Armed Forces. Good thing it wasn't a friendly fire death, because Native American women have been killed BY the US Armed Forces in DROVES. Nothing new there; hardly worth the trouble. Of course, that would have been a double helping of irony on top of the already noteworthy instance of a woman whose people suffered centuries of genocide and apartheid at the hands of continental US imperialism dying due to American imperialism overseas. The only way it could have been better is if we'd invaded India. Of course, if we had, Rushdie and Roy would have had a fucking FIELD DAY with one thousand dead soldiers and a dead soldier. Or they would be in internment camps. One of the two.

I'm sorry, have you had enough? You're right; let me drop this whole idea of one thousand and one stories ended prematurely, one thousand and one books whose last chapters were ripped out so that Bush and Cheney and all their business partners could wipe their asses on the pages. Because there have been so much more than one thousand deaths and a death, So many more Iraqis have died. Didn't we pass one thousand and one in the first month? We should be careful; there are only so many Scherezades in Baghdad to go around. A few of them might have to tell the stories of one thousand and two dead people, or even one thousand and three.

In fact, let's take the pressure off the Scherezades of Baghdad. Why should they have to tell our stories, when we've taken the liberty of rewriting their stories so grotesquely. We need to find Scherezades of our own, if only to referee all these stories, because it's getting hard to keep them straight. Like, remember that story about a massive build up of weapons of mass distraction . . . sorry, destruction . . . in Iraq? Well, turns out Colin Powell just told Congress that they don't expect to find any stockpiles. Not one thousand and one, not even one. Funny. They seemed so certain of it before. But you, know, I feel for them. I can't think of the number of times when I've searched high and low for my car keys, and then realized that they were in my own goddamn fucking pocket the entire fucking time. Those nuclear missiles are always in the last place you look, ain't they? Of course, when I look for my car keys, I only knock over a few books, not a few homes. But no matter. What's a thousand houses and a house these days, particularly when there are only red people living in them? Whoops, that was a century or two ago. We're killing brown people this century, right? Except, you know, for that one woman, and the other thousand.

One thousand and one and one to grow on and one thousand and one thousand Iraqis. How can a Scherezade keep up? Should she just write "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" one thousand and one times on the blackboard, a la Bart Simpson? Should George W. Bush? Should I? Maybe if I do, I won't want to cry and scream and beg forgiveness from God whenever I hear the word "America." Maybe I'll be able to look at the list of names of these soldiers and not understand that we are going to pay for their deaths, one thousand and one times over.

Pardon me, one more time (you've given me a thousand pardons already). Some of you might not know the story of Scherezade. She was a woman living in Baghdad, under a Caliph who, having decided he was through with love after finding out that a wife of his was cheating on him, decided to spend a single night each with every woman he could get his hands on and then kill her in the morning. Screwing and beheading his way through the noble women of Baghdad like Henry VIII on cocaine, he finally got around to Scherezade and her sister, and decided to marry both at once. She spent the night as the previous women had, but after the Caliph satisfied himself she began to tell a story, a tale of miracles and wonders that managed to keep the Caliph's notoriously fickle interest. Scherezade, like any great storyteller, was adept at the art of timeing, and she managed to come to the climax of her tale just as the sun was rising, and the executioner was polishing his axe. The Caliph decided to delay her execution until the following morning, thinking that the story would end the following evening and he'd be rid of her by the afternoon. But Scherezade had a new tale ready as soon as she finished, and so she went on, weaving the stories together, conjuring images of flying carpets and genies in lamps and the hidden riches of 40 thieves, surviving for one thousand nights on the strength of the phrase "To be continued . . . " Then, on the last night, she told the Caliph a story about a ruler who killed the women of his kingdom out of revenge, and of the woman who saved her sister, and every woman she knew, including herself, with stories that calmed the fury of the mighty tyrant, who had come to need her far more than he needed to know the end of a story. And like all her stories, in the telling, it became true.

Dubya and his cohorts have proven that they are no Scherezade; not a single one of their stories have proven true. Roy, on the other hand, managed to predict the invasion of Iraq--or, at least, of an enemy that would be manufactured as soon as Bin Laden wasn't found--back on Sept 29, 2001. She strikes me, therefore, as a storyteller worth listening to. IN her landmark speech, "Confronting Empire," she said this:

"What can we do? We can hone our memory, we can learn from our history. We can continue to build public opinion until it becomes a deafening roar. We can turn the war on Iraq into a fishbowl of the U.S. government's excesses. We can expose George Bush and Tony Blair - and their allies - for the cowardly baby killers, water poisoners, and pusillanimous long-distance bombers that they are. We can re-invent civil disobedience in a million different ways. In other words, we can come up with a million ways of becoming a collective pain in the ass. When George Bush says 'you're either with us, or you are with the terrorists' we can say 'No thank you.' We can let him know that the people of the world do not need to choose between a Malevolent Mickey Mouse and the Mad Mullahs. Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness - and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we're being brainwashed to believe. The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling - their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability. We be many, and they be few. They need us more than we need them."

I literally couldn't have said it better myself.

According to Roy, are only hope is to become Scherezades of imperial resistance. We cannot hope to outgun the Bush Administration or Al Qaeda. All we can do is tell our own stories, all one thousand and one of them, until we outtruth them. The terrible twins of imperialism and terrorism are the axe, and history is still wondering whether we should live to see another day.

So take a big drink of water and get comfortable, folks, because whatever we say now had better be good.

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The End - 2005-02-11
Let's Go on With the Show - 2005-01-30
The Curse, and This Bee's a Keeper - 2005-02-01
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