Thursday, November 11, 2004

Carpe Diem et Jugulum

Note: An abbreviated version of this post is at - I welcome your comments.

A tide has turned once again in the affairs of men, a chance to break the oil curse that haunts our most ancient lands. The old man of the desert has passed on to another oasis - ironically on Armistice Day.

Yasser Arafat's much-rumored demise became truth early Thursday in Paris, city of lights. His last days were murky, as was much of his life.Yet he was given in the end, that rarest of gifts, a death serene and not by the sword. The challenge of the leadership of the Palestinian peoples is second only to the gravity of seeing a leading actor on the stage pass, his hour done, his role ended - the lion in winter is now no more.

The fact that his biography on wikipedia is disputed is apposite, given that much of his life was spent in dispute and Muhammad Abd al-Rahman ar-Rauf al-Qudwah al-Husayni had a colorful, variegated, violent, hated yet loved time. He was part of another era almost, one where dark deeds were done dirt cheap, one where absolute friends were constant enemies, and one where to love one's country might have been deemed a crime.

Known for memorable quotes like

"I come bearing an olive branch in one hand, and the freedom fighter's gun in the other. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand."
he had made more enemies than friends, yet many will be called on now to say a fair word, not in defence but in respect. He was close to Indira Gandhi, the assasinated Prime Minster of India.

Indira Gandhi had immense liking for Arafat and the PLO leader would not get tired of calling her "my sister, my sister". Arafat was overwhelmed when Mrs. Gandhi visited his high security headquarters in Tunis in April 1984 and, this correspondent accompanying her, saw the genuine concern the Indian Prime Minister had for the PLO leader. She went to Tunisia while on her way back to Delhi after paying a state visit to Libya at the insistence of Col. Muammar Gaddafi. That, unfortunately, turned out to be last of her foreign visit; she was assassinated on October 31, 1984. Arafat was the one who cried bitterly.

His people are hard-headed, wronged, and hurt. Yet they have often harmed their cause. And the man who could have made a difference, perhaps indeed did, is now as silent as the dunes of the desert. He was after all, not the Mahdi, nor a Leto Atreides.

The words from Terry Pratchett's Carpe Jugulum come to mind,

It wasn't that they didn't take an interest in the world around them. On the contrary, they had a deep, personal and passionate involvement in it, but instead of asking "why are we here?" they asked "is it going to rain before the harvest?"

A philosopher might have deplored this lack of mental ambition, but only if he was really certain about where his next meal was coming from.

In fact Lancre's position and climate bred a hard-headed and straightforward people who often excelled in the world down below. It had supplied the plains with many of their greatest wizards and witches and, once again, the philosopher might have marveled that such a four-square people could give the world so many successful magical practitioners, being quite unaware that only those with their feet on rock can build castles in the air.

It is to be hoped that the people of Palestine can indeed build their castles, and move on past this moment in history once the mourning is over, and that the hot-headedness of his people is not a cause for further pain and suffering - there has been too much of that already.

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Time traveler, world traveler, book reader