The Self, the Otherself, and Love

This is an excerpt from the novel ‘This Moonless Sky’ credited to my pseudonym, Mark Rogerson. See previous posts in this blog for more context about what planet we’re on here and who’s who there. Here, two young gay guys embarked on their first relationship have had a mini-crisis when one of them has disclosed having fantasies about someone else. The main female character in the story, Eleya, 17, has become something of a relationships guru and tries to help them out in a campfire chat, late at night, with some information from her school class material. The material concerns how our concept of gender and our sexual orientations develop, and relates those developments to the impulse to love an ideal partner. Some comments from me about this topic follow the excerpt.

Glossary: khandsh = significant other (boyfriend, girlfriend); sey, sem, seir = neutral singular he/she him/her his/hers. ‘Adherent‘ can be crudely glossed as ‘intuitive,’ but for the real explanation, go to (a chapter on literature in my book ‘The World’s Language’) and word-search on the word ‘Blink’ to get to the start of the explanation. If you don’t know how to word-search on your device, go about half-way down the chapter til you see, in bold-face type, “Bold Statement (BS) number 7.The Teofin is a fictional philosophical textbook on lectics, the study of opportunity, choice, power, and related topics. Samskara is a term from Indian philosophy meaning a fixed mental impression that, once acquired, may seed an altered interpretation of realities. Samseksamoi means gay or lesbian – the term borrowed from the Esperanto language clearly embeds ‘same sex.’

… Eleya took this as a good cue to carry on.  “Maybe you boys have just settled the problem – I hope so – but just to make it easier to talk in the future, I’ll tell you something you need to keep in mind.  How you deal with it is up to you, but you need to weigh its effect on your life whenever you’re thinking about kissin’ someone other than your khandsh. 

“The Teofin says that our khandsh is very special to us because sey’s like a part of us.  This might seem to be exaggeration at first, but there is more to it than meets the eye. Our human minds are stranger than we think.  In my class, we did a group project on self-concept last term and I was the presenter, so I know a bit about this stuff.  Shall I keep going and give you the whole explanation, the way I see it?” 

The boys nodded. 

“OK, you asked for it (grin).  I have to start right at the beginning.  When we’re born, we just are – we don’t know who we are.  Then when we start learning things, as babies, we have no words, and that means that what we learn is taken up in images or impressions.  We learn with the adherent part of our minds because we have no reduction – no words, no logic, no building blocks of cause and effect.  We don’t at first think about whether we are boys or girls, and we don’t even have a strong impression about this.  But somewhere around the time we’re three years old, we start to understand which sex we are. 

“We do this through identification.  Something like ‘I’m a girl like my mom’ enters our mind – not in words – and we girls tend to become aware of ourselves as girls.  Boys realize they’re boys.  But a few boys and girls identify with the opposite sex and they become what we now call transgendered.  If you look at pairs of identical twins in university studies, you’ll find that one twin may become transgendered and the other not.  That shows this process involves something beyond beyond pure genetics – the adherent, identifying mind.  The Teofin says that people come to an ‘adherence of gender.’  The sticky adhesion involved in this ‘adherence’ [she made the quotes with her fingers] is that your broad and fuzzy image of yourself reaches up and attaches at many points to your broad and fuzzy image of what a girl is, or what a boy is, based on females and males you know intimately – usually your parents.  You bind that outer image and bring it into yourself as the foundation of ‘me.’

“Notice that, in a way, you have split in two pieces here.  You were once a piece of everything, as far as you knew, but now you know you’re not a boy, or not a girl.  You’ve been reduced to half the human world.  But you have minimal awareness of this; you’re too young to know it in what we’d call a conscious way.  OK so far?”

“Yep,” said Sambah.  Leyti nodded seriously.  They curled their fingers around each other’s fingers.

“OK, so, then, within the next year or two, you need to discover what a girl or a boy does.  What does it mean to be the sex you are?  At this point, the question of your basis-of-power comes into your life for the first time.  Does a boy do anything different than what a girl does?   Is he supposed to cry less easily, be less emotional, be tougher, build things?  Different cultures have different answers to this question, but the boy usually feels pressure to do something different from the girl, and vice-versa.  Earlier, you made an identification for gender, but now you need to make an identification for power.  You need to build your own views on what your gender is all about in the bigger world.  In fact, you need to get a grip on what everything you seem to be, so far, is going to mean, as you strive to gain control of yourself and your environment. This stage of growth involves some difficult changes in the way you see yourself. 

“Your controlling-aegis, the part of you that takes responsibility for deliberate actions and choices, begins to decide things like “I’m not going to act like a boy” or “I’m not going to act like a baby.”  Now, you even have the words to express this.  The mental faculty of reduction is developing as you learn to speak.  Words, by nature, break down all the things you see and do into little categories, so they’re naturally part of the reducing process.  Your idea of ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ is partly based on your words for those concepts, and it’ll be much more reduced than the complete total of everything that a boy or girl could theoretically do or be. 

“Let’s say you’re a boy.  When you decide, ‘I’m not going to act like a girl,’ this means that you separate yourself from identifications you still had with the kinds of things that you now think are the things girls do.  You cut off some of your own identifications and decide they belong to something else, to something or someone ‘other.’  So what is gained and lost?  What you gain is mostly in reduction, a stripped-down and functional idea of what a boy is.  What you lose is mostly in the adherent – beloved identifications with treasured human characteristics that you have abandoned because they now seem to belong to someone else.  

“The adherent always feels magical.  For example, if you shoot ten arrows absolutely perfectly into the target, it feels like magic even if you’ve spent years developing the skill.  If you write a perfect poem or song, you probably feel like you don’t really know where it came from.  But something feels wonderful about it – magic has touched you.  Well, the adherent part of yourself that you give up, in the process of identifying for power, starts to come together as a magical being who lives in your imagination and memories.  This special lost being we call your ‘adherent-otherself.’  He or she is made of the magical parts of your greater self that you abandoned as not-me in your identification for power.  A place is formed in your mind that will yearn – if not right away, then some day – for the perfect partner that your imagination has built, the perfect other self to get together with.  To be as great as it possibly can be, this magical personality must be carried in the ultimate mystery of another person.

“If you’re a boy and you cut away the girl and mom identifications from your controlling-aegis when you come to power – cut away girlishness, whatever that is to you, maybe a particular kind of intense caring – then you are very masculine – whatever that consists of in your world – but your adherent-otherself is a girl.  You’re heterosexual.  On the other hand, suppose you’re a boy but you find that you’re not fond of what boys are supposed to be in your world, and you feel that you have to cut away your identification with that way of being.  You may play with girls’ toys, even put on girls’ clothing.  Or maybe not, but you feel atypical as a boy in questions of power.  For gender, you identified long ago as a boy and you know you are one.  But for power, the social role of ‘boy’ is off-putting, and you don’t wish to take it on entirely.  You may admire dynamic and powerful women as better models for your own power.  In that case, the prototype rough-boy or dad-like identifications that you cut away may become your adherent-otherself.  You will become a same-sex-loving boy who yearns for a very masculine boy as a partner.  Or, you may feel, in identification for power, that you must take on the coarser and harsher aspects of being a boy yourself, but this means you must leave the gentler and more innocent boyish aspects behind.  In that case, your adherent-otherself may be the gentle and innocent boy you had to lose, and you may dream of a younger, gentler or more feminine boy, or perhaps a transgendered boy. 

“In the Teofin, it mentions that in one of the dialogues of Platoun [Plato], one of the characters [Aristophanes, in fact] tells a mythical story that shows people at the beginning of time, originally appearing as pairs of people fused together back to back.  Besides walking around, they could roll around on their four hands and four feet doing cartwheels.  These double-humans were strong, and they attacked the gods.  The head god Zeus, to teach them a lesson, ordered all the pairs to be cut in half.  The separated people felt they had to look for their missing natural half-partners, and this desire made up their sexuality.  Some of the original pairs were a man attached to a woman, some were a man attached to a man, and some were a woman attached to a woman.  The myth accounted for opposite-sex and same-sex attractions. 

“The adherent-otherself, which is based on identification and to some extent fixed in place by biological imprinting [‘samskara-making,’ she said, the usual term here], is the reality behind that myth.  Inside yourself is a persona of the greater, more magical self you lost when you came to power and reduced yourself for acceptable action.  You want to re-unite with that partner in the magical dimension of sex.  You want to rejoin sem in the ultimate symbol of fusion of human selves, the wetness in which our biology evolved.  You want to feel seir wetness and explode yours into it so you fully regain contact with your existence.  And you want to help your partner regain contact with his.  Or hers.  This is not a reduced plan, of course, but a set of adherent longings.  Fundamental biological factors about the nature of sex interact with it, but they are given their direction by consciousness.  Again, some identical twins may yield one heterosexual person and one samseksamoi, so adherent consciousness rules here, not genetics.  But it isn’t infinitely flexible.  It tends to be set as a biological samskara [imprint], like a footprint in cement that dries out, when you’re around four or five years old. 

“Now, your coming to power was an act of control, and therefore sex involves going back into uncontrol, letting loose, letting go, expending and exhausting yourself, caressing everything you lost. 

“So now you see that when you take someone on as your khandsh, your innocent mind probably wants to see sem as your adherent-otherself, not just as an attractive person.  And, if you’re lucky, seir mind wants to see you as seir adherent-otherself.  Then you’re in love with each other. 

“You can be somewhat attracted to many people, but an adherent-otherself is an intact person by nature.  If you reduce it to fragmented parts that can be impersonated by many people, then you risk abandoning it and losing its magic.  When you deconstruct it so that it is no longer a true other person, you may just turn it into a series of illusions that mostly exclude the other real people involved in sex with you.   In the extreme case, you can end up just sleeping with your fantasies and then leaving them behind.  People who’ve gone this way sometimes say things like, ‘oh, I’ve slept with sixty people who turned out to be boring afterward, but maybe number sixty-one will be the jackpot.’  They’ve reduced their true khandsh to someone who’s a fantasy like the others, but more potent.  That’s not usually the path to love. 

“I’ve heard there are some people who find ways around this and have multiple khandshn in a way that doesn’t reduce them, but I don’t understand how they do it, myself, so I can’t explain that to you.  Anyways, I think you boys are more like me about this – you’d rather be in love with one person than be khandshn with many.” 

“True,” Sambah said.  Leyti nodded. 

“So your magical, wonderful khandsh, who people for a joke call ‘my other half’ or ‘my better half,’ really is your other half, and that person has a special place in your life.  If you then start to do things that tell sem that sey is not really your adherent-otherself, like having sex with other people, then sey knows that sey has failed to represent your full adherent magic to you.  More often than not, sey eventually loses interest and goes away, if not in body, then at least in spirit.  But just to say that you find some other people attractive is only acknowledging reality.  Many people can jangle the many magical facets of the adherent-otherself.  You may see faces every day that wake it up.  But you can only adopt one person into it; in its full integrity, it only has room for one person at a time. 

“So, Sambah, I don’t think you need to worry that you are still the adherent-otherself of Leyti.  What do you think, Leyti?”

“I would give him my whole mind and soul if he wants.  He can be me and himself too if he wants.  As long as I can look into his thoughts and kiss him, he can be as much of me as he wants.” 

“Do you believe him, Sambah?” 

“I believe him,” the boy said solemnly. 

My comments: Sometimes literature can be used to put out ideas in a more succinct way than academic text can, mostly because it pulls out all the possible support citations that could tie the ideas in with previous ideas and research, as well as all the ensuing debate.

People who’ve read a lot of literature about the development of gender and sexuality, for example, will recognize Eleya’s ‘footprint in cement’ as echoing researcher/reviewers like Jesse Bering, in his 2013 book Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us, who says “…Sexual imprinting, just like what happened to those male rats that suckled as pups from a set of lemony teats. The defining ‘imprint’ in our own species seems to occur surprisingly early, usually being reported as sometime between the boy’s fourth and ninth birthdays, although it’s best think of this five-year time frame as a ‘sensitive period’ (with plus or minus several years on either end) rather than as a ‘critical period’ of male development. At puberty, the eroticized imprint is jogged awake by a flood of hormones…” Similar phrasing is found in Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, a 2010 book about the evolution of human mating systems by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá. Eleya, in the novel, has studied a digest of this type of material in school, so even though she’s on another planet some thousands of years in the future, she may be paraphrasing these references, access to which is explained in the story.

She hasn’t explicitly explained intermediate conditions like bisexuality or non-binary gender status in her talk, but built into her discourse about adherence is the idea that identification is a metaphorical process, and some ambivalence or mixing of metaphors is always possible in consciousness. Thus one is not compelled to identify entirely as the cultural concept of ‘male’ or that of ‘female,’ and the ‘adherent otherself’ can also potentially cross genders if the individual doing the identifying has suitably broadly specified conceptions. Whatever it is one finds oneself to be or to lack, however, appears to be hard-wired into a neurological imprint at an early age, especially in males (see Ryan and Jethá on the somewhat greater flexibility seen in females). Effectively, one is belatedly ‘born this way’ through imprinting by around six, with additional input before nine being an outside possibility.

There are many theories of sexual and gender development in humans that, you could say, are more ‘biological’ than this one is, and less dependent on conscious and subconscious environmental impressions. ‘Imprinted this way’ may seem less definitive than a natal ‘born this way,’ and that may be a factor favouring continued concentration on mechanisms involving genes, hormones, epigenetics, and so on. Having sifted through much literature by Michael Seto, Ray Blanchard, and colleagues, I conclude that the matter is by no means settled.

The many ‘more biological’ ideas, however, all depend on one factor for which there is no evidence whatsoever, and that is, an instinctive, pre-conscious way of recognizing male vs. female. We would need to apprehend gender or reproductive sex dualities in a way that stands outside of the consciousness that we build and apprehend internally, through learning, based on what happens to us in the world. You could look upon the above ideas, expounded by Eleya, as based on the notion that human consciousness is so dominant in our development that it has replaced, or placed itself as a powerful filter upon, any other means of recognizing and being attracted to male vs. female, and variations thereupon. To me, it seems unparsimonious to adduce an instinct that we have no measurement or explicit indication of. To others, it may seem unparsimonious to prefer the idea that humans deviate so much from other animals that their conscious intake of impressions has completely supplanted instinctive recognition. One can only note that there is plenty of evidence of imprinting-through-impression in other animal sexualities, especially in birds, as Konrad Lorenz is famous for pointing out – and you can see Bering citing rat studies above. Then, too, we have the matter of kink, fetish or object-paraphilia, where a human can be sexually aroused life-long by something as specific as ‘a boot like daddy’s riding boot,’ or, in one paper I collected, the sight of houseflies being killed by a woman. Those sexual additions are certainly from impression rather than instinct. Perhaps they’re merely augmentations of the system described above.

Actually, I do have a full potential explanation of such things that ties in completely with Eleya’s explanation, above, but it didn’t get into the novel, except in one sentence from another character: “To cite the Teofin again – that Book – a fetish is an ‘adherence of uncontrol that serves as a gateway to the otherself’ – meaning that, if sexuality is something of a search for a missing greater self, or ‘my other half,’ as people say, then certain moments of vulnerability or release of control can reveal the great other person to us in a state of utmost sympathy.” There’s much back-story about that, which I hope to write up somewhere before too long.

Vis-à-vis hormones and genetics, I recognize that our early experience of ourselves may be profoundly influenced by our biological constitution, and that we’re not merely blank slates of consciousness that haphazard impressions write on. This factor, though, is taken as a presupposition in Eleya’s account. The boy who experiences himself as discordant with the societally expected power attitude – which was ‘butchy warrior’ in the culture I grew up in – may do so in part because his constitution makes him less aggressive or less physically coordinated than would be optimal for prototypical boyhood. We are all different in genetically and epigenetically determined factors, but from the present viewpoint, these sources of impulse are much less complicated than the recognition patterns involved in gender and sexual orientation.

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Vladimir Putin’s Niche in Trump’s Red Hat America: Is It a Conspiracy Theory?

Richard Summerbell

Screenshot of 2013 Putin speech discussed below, with slightly tweaked translation from YouTube posted by U.S. Trumpists

It may seem hard to believe today, but there was a time on the internet when the trending controversies of the day seldom involved obvious, outright lies. 

It would be hard now to put a finger on exactly when the conspicuous falsehoods first climbed to the trend-tops, but back as recently as early 2016, to the best of my recollection, there was nothing equivalent to today’s canard that Covid boosters will give you HIV, or that Canadian PM Justin Trudeau was fathered by Fidel Castro (that one is a revival from early 2017). 

Today, we see thousands of mostly anonymous accounts, plus a smattering of major influencers with YouTube accounts and sometimes even people with academic positions, cranking out one dissimulation after another. Most such efforts are focused on medical disinformation, the current hot social vulnerability.  But there are plenty of topics available for billboard-sized lies.  Anything that could instill tension about something a centrist government (called ‘communist’ in mendacious argot) is doing becomes blown up into a major trend, embellished with jeers and guffaw emoticons, as well as retorts of ‘idiot’ against anyone who disagrees. 

Based on pre-2016 experience, I may surprise some readers by stating that I don’t believe this state of affairs is inevitable in social media.  Yes, the ‘same-platform-for-all’ format of sites like Twitter and Facebook gives the racist tinfoiler parity with the saintly philosopher.  On the other hand, the reasoned, fact-respecting politeness that most of us were expected to learn during our education is attractive, and it seems to offer a way of combining intelligences to solve problems.  The pre-2016 Reddit seemed particularly sane, with crank answers mostly downvoted to oblivion. Then, abruptly, crank stuff boomed up and shifted the balance. 

Obvious lies are dirt clods thrown onto the nuanced palette of understanding, except in one context.  If you remember back to school, there were always some people on the edges of the class who wanted lies – namely, bullies, who wanted to publicize their self-fulfilling prophecy of strength by making fictions about the weaknesses of others.  Lies have their place in the service of power, both in schoolrooms and in larger venues of collective society.  A well chosen lie can attract an enthusiastic audience, followed by an intimidated audience, as bullied people soon discover when they see their classmates splitting into the original bullies, their play-along cronies, the people who find the tormenting fiction entertaining, and the people who dare not speak up.  The question about social media is, how did it largely become a bully playground circa 2016? 

I’m sure a look back could reveal many rumblings of deliberately deceptive propaganda prior to 2016.  Most of them were peripheral to the main attention span of most internetters, but they were there.  For example, extensive infrastructure was being built for the cyberwar wing of Vladimir Putin’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine (1, 2, 3).  The US’s Democratic Party got into the bad books of the Putin cyberwar effort in a major way when Barack Obama cooperated with efforts to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria, an ally of Russia and host of its large Mediterranean naval base.  Some effort was being placed into divide-and-conquer strategies with American social media users:

Internet activist Lyudmila Savchuk spent two months working undercover at the troll factory (at 55 Savushkina St. on the outskirts of St. Petersburg) in 2015, creating fake social media accounts and writing blog posts meant to sow divisions in the U.S. and turn Russians against Americans… According to Savchuk, there were a few hundred people in the building at any given time, and the average pay started at $400 a month. The trolls were divided into groups. Those with the best English skills posed as Americans and created accounts on Facebook and Twitter. They’d use those troll accounts to stir up trouble on subjects such as U.S. elections or race relations.

A summary of some of the mid-twenteens efforts by Russian players like the Internet Research Agency (IRA) and the Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije (GRU; formerly KGB) or Main Intelligence Directorate shows that probably the main activity targeted at the American public in that time period was organizing contentious public demonstrations, sometimes with matching counter-demonstrations.

May 21, 2016.  Two competing rallies are held in Houston to alternately protest against and defend the recently opened Library of Islamic Knowledge at the Islamic Da’wah Center. The “Stop Islamization of Texas” rally is organized by the Facebook group “Heart of Texas”. The Facebook posting for the event encourages participants to bring guns. A spokesman for the group converses with the Houston Press via email but declines to give a name. The other rally, “Save Islamic Knowledge”, is organized by the Facebook group “United Muslims of America” for the same time and location. Both Facebook groups are later revealed to be IRA accounts. The entire operation cost $200 and was entirely organized from St. Petersburg.

(Info above is in part from Select Committee on Intelligence, October 2019. “Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence United States Senate on Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the U.S. Election Volume 2: Russia’s Use of Social Media with Additional Views” (PDF). United States Senate.)

Perusing the incidents reported to or by the Select Committee on Intelligence reveals just a few disinformation campaigns targeting the U.S.:

March 15, 2016:  In St. Petersburg, shift workers posing as Americans follow instructions to attack Clinton on Facebook and Twitter.

August 4, 2016:  The IRA’s Facebook account “Stop AI” accuses Hillary Clinton of voter fraud during the Iowa Caucuses. They buy ads promoting the post.

August 11, 2016: The IRA Twitter account @TEN_GOP claims that voter fraud is being investigated in North Carolina.

The @TEN_GOP account is a major player in this period, roleplaying a well-connected Tennessee Republican and amassing over 100,000 followers. 

There’s also an interesting false story incident involving a non-Russian, ominous in hindsight: 

July 10, 2016.  Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer Seth Rich is murdered in Washington, D.C., a block from his home. Julian Assange makes statements about Rich in July and August implying that he is the source of the stolen DNC emails.

Julian Assange, proprietor of the confidential document disclosure website WikiLeaks, had a reputation for dealing purely in information that was verifiably true.  In July, 2016, he was part way through releasing large numbers of emails that had been hacked and phished by Russian hacker groups (Fancy Bear, Cozy Bear) starting in 2014 from the DNC servers, as well as the emails of Hillary Clinton and campaign organizer John Podesta.  The seemingly unprovoked murder of a DNC staffer elicited statements from Assange that Rich, and not Russian groups, had been the source of his DNC material.  Later investigations disclosed that Assange’s GRU contact, user-named ‘Guccifer 2.0,’ had sent him doctored emails placing the timing of the hacks close to the timing of the murder, and had informed him that Rich was the source of the information.

Entraining Assange as a storyteller was a key moment for the GRU.  Based largely on the credibility of this fugitive Australian hacker living in refuge in London’s Ecuadorian embassy, the Seth Rich murder story reappeared in a major way later on, as we shall see. 

I should acknowledge here that Donald Trump, working with limited impact at the time, had long been a purveyor of outrageous fabrications on the internet.  His ‘birther’ conspiracy theory speculating that Barack Obama wasn’t truly born in the USA had been initiated in 2011, and it went through several phases.  Once Obama’s full birth certificate had been disclosed, Trump found ways to claim it was a fake document, and when that became untenable, began to claim that Hillary Clinton had invented the fake-origins story.  He attracted a moderate sized fan club partial to these sorts of manoeuvres.  None of his efforts, however, resulted in large numbers of trending Twitter topics, at least not in Canada.

The big breakthrough, however, in bringing fake stories supported by multiple hundreds of accounts to the forefront of social media involved Julian Assange. 

On Nov. 3, 2016, Assange had Wikileaks release a batch of emails from John Podesta that, to the ordinary viewer, had nothing out of the ordinary in them.  Nonetheless, they were the subjects of intense discussion, speculation and gleaning on the little-regulated 4chan website, /pol/ discussion board. By the end of the next day, an entirely new conspiracy theory had been born.  It all began with a bland dinner invitation that had two unexplained words in it.  Assange himself set the tone for speculation about this invitation by tweeting for more information about the expat New York artist Marina Abramović, who had invited Podesta to join his art collecting brother Tony and wife at a dinner party featuring ‘spirit cooking.’  Abramović later claimed this was just an ordinary dinner invite using a jesting reference to her art.  Googling ‘spirit cooking’ at the time, however, revealed only that Abramović, a native Serbian working the vampire angle from a feminist, blood-of-magic-motherhood perspective (the last bit being a common avant-garde art theme), had used that phrase in an art exhibit nine years earlier in Italy where she painted occultic symbols and body-related poetry on a white wall in pig’s blood.  Assange issued a tweet on Nov. 4 reading

Tony Podesta.  By day, mild mannered Foreign Agent for Saudi Arabia.  By night, Spirit Cooker.

He followed up with some borrowings from a ‘women’s reality and magic’ themed poetry chapbook Abramović had issued in 1997 in connection with the exhibit, and tweeted,

The Podestas’ “Spirit Cooking” dinner?  It’s not what you think.  It’s blood, sperm and breastmilk.  But mostly blood.

He linked to an article by far-right scandal journalist Cassandra Fairbanks saying “Hillary Clinton’s inner circle keeps getting stranger and stranger, but at this point, we really just want to know what Podesta had for dinner.”  (There was no indication that John Podesta, the brother who was in Clinton’s inner circle, had accepted the invitation).

The speculation wizards conferring at /pol/ were no strangers to conspiracy theory, so they had a pre-existing idea that fit the sanguinary Abramović art themes perfectly:  the long-maintained Antisemites’ accusation of blood sacrifice of Christian babies by Jews.  Further search through the Podesta email dump found some mails organizing campaign fundraising events at a trendy Washington restaurant called Comet Ping Pong (it was a pizza joint featuring ping pong tables). Following up on that led to the Instagram account of the owner, James Alefantis.  This source would have proven to be a dead end except for two things:  firstly, Alefantis had a penchant for spicing up the photos he posted by making cinematic quips about them, and, secondly, he got along well with a lot of people, with the result that he was often included in family photos.  He had even received one of the great honours of openly gay life, being asked to be the godfather of a friendly heterosexual couple’s daughter.  So there, in his Instagram, if you looked hard enough, could be found not only a photo of his new shiny metal cooler room tagged with a quip ‘oh yeah, this looks fun,’ followed by a friend chiming in ‘#killroom,’ but also a photo of a little girl playing with masking tape on one of the restaurant’s ping pong tables and smilingly pretending that her wrists had been taped to the table (by her sister, according to Alefantis later).

Finally, baby sacrifice had been found, and lo, Lord have mercy, the perpetrators were not Jews but rather Democrats.  Deep state, Washington Democrats.  A crazed new look at Podesta’s mails took words from his campaign stop fast-food events and turned them into a blood sacrifice code: ‘pizza’ was ‘girl,’ ‘pasta’ was ‘little boy,’ ‘map’ was semen (there was a vast arcana of pseudo-evidence for this one, involving emails about a handkerchief Podesta had left behind during a home tour that was said to have a map on it as a design), ‘sauce’ was an orgy, and so on. 

The internet exploded with this stuff on Nov. 4, 2016, with a fury that had never been seen before.  In a very short time, there was a seemingly boundless array of social media accounts, almost all anonymous and cloaked (e.g., with users deploying virtual private network services to obscure their internet connection addresses), coming up with daily variations and new revelations on the ‘Pizzagate’ theme.  A few accounts could definitely be traced to American conservatives, but many were less traceable.  Retrospectively known IRA pseudo-American accounts like @TEN_GOP helped to give credibility to the material.  Although readers of web archives for Nov. 3 and 4 could see much of Pizzagate being conjured up moment by moment on 4chan, that website also had mysterious users, often sounding American and claiming to be so, but in reality, who knew?  All one could tell is that they all spoke colloquial English modified by their own 4chan code terms, one of which, long before Pizzagate had come along, was to euphemize ‘child pornography (c.p.)’ (commonly posted on the anything-goes site up to a certain point in its history) as ‘cheese pizza.’ 

The new variations included now-famous themes like ‘tunnels under Washington for baby sacrifice,’ with maps appearing speculating where these tunnels could be.  The anonymous furies decided that a pizza slice shape was a symbol of pedophilia, especially if it was drawn as a spiralling design, and began to find symbols of the deep state baby sacrificers not just in pizza joints, but also in the stonework of government buildings, in product logos, and anywhere else where a designer had used a wedge shape.  Since ‘ice cream’ was held to be secret pedophile/killer code for a male prostitute, some ice cream places also were heavily publicized as nodes of the blood sacrifice network, especially if the owners’ ideas of trendy décor included anything hallowe’enish.  John Podesta was relentlessly publicized as ‘molesta,’ and one contact of his, a grandmother whose email had wittily excused her grandchildren’s intrusion at political connections’ party as ‘further entertainment,’ was excoriated and relentlessly hounded by vigilantes as a child trafficker. 

If any analysis was ever done of how much Pizzagate flim-flam was put out by non-American agents, I’ve never seen it.  In the midst of it all, however, one of the daily frenzies of Pizzagate novelty contained something special: a Russian plan to save America from pedophilia. 

Pizzagate had brought out from the woodwork a number of activists who attempted to become major influencers by looking for and rousting out the huge ring of ‘Satanic pedophiles’ that they mooted were networking throughout America.   One of them, Liz Crokin, was at least an early adopter, if not the originator, of a troll-frenzy-of-the-day claiming that Vladimir Putin had made a Christmas speech in 2016 leading the way for the West to follow Russia’s lead and rescue itself from incursions of pedophilia.  To introduce Crokin, now banned from all mainstream social media and found only where QAnon is fostered, here’s a paragraph from her Wikipedia page:  

Crokin was the original source for Roseanne Barr’s deleted tweet in March 2018 claiming President Donald Trump had released hundreds of children from bondage each month. Crokin had used fake figures in a 2017 blog post for the conservative Townhall website entitled “Why the MSM Is Ignoring Trump’s Sex Trafficking Busts” claiming a “staggering 1,500-plus arrests” of involved individuals in the first 30 days of Trump’s presidency. Another thesis she has spread is that John F. Kennedy Jr. did not die in a 1999 plane crash, but faked his death, and is behind QAnon. According to Right Wing Watch, she predicted in March 2018 that the conspiracy theories suggesting “thousands of high-level political, business and entertainment figures are involved in cannibalistic satanic pedophilia” would be proven as true before President Trump leaves office.

On March 5, 2017, responding to fears or notions that ‘deep state’ operatives organized by Barack Obama were trying to undermine Donald Trump’s new presidency, Crokin published a column at called “Trump, Sex Trafficking, and How It Ties to Russia.”  In it, she said,

…Could the shadow government’s coup against Trump be tied to child sex trafficking? After all, both General Mike Flynn and his son were targeted after making public statements about sex trafficking. And if you look deeper, why is the shadow government using Russia as the scapegoat? When you listen to President Vladimir Putin’s speeches, like Trump, he’s a Christian, a nationalist, a staunch anti-globalist/NWO (‘New World Order’) and an outspoken critic of pedophilia. During Putin’s 2016 Christmas speech, something you’ll never see in the MSM (mainstream media), he spoke out against the New World Order agenda to promote pedophilia. He stated that Western culture is promoting that “faith in God is equal to faith in Satan”. Putin said this about pedophilia:

“The excesses and exaggerations of political correctness in these countries indeed leads to serious consideration for the legitimization of parties that promote the propaganda of pedophilia.”

These sentiments are very similar to statements Trump has made. We also know that General Mike Flynn was taken out after addressing Hillary and Bill Clinton’s ties to sex crimes and Russia was used as a scapegoat.

The reference to “Putin’s 2016 Christmas speech” was linked to a piece in the notorious fake news bulletin YourNewsWire, and in turn to a now long-gone YouTube video.  The speech is by no means gone, though, even though Liz and the YouTube channel gave out the wrong reference for it.  It was actually a speech (occasionally unavailable on my internet, presumably due to the Ukraine situation) Vladimir Putin gave to the Valdai International Discussion Club in the Novgorod Region on Sept. 19, 2013; Valdai club meetings frequently serve as venues where Putin makes major policy statements. 

This speech, though addressing and praising Russia and Russianhood, played like a symphony in the ears of many Trump supporters.  The quote about pedophilia in Crokin’s article was there in the speech, albeit as a minor point; it was based on a true story about an abortive attempt in the Netherlands to get a party organized by three self-proclaimed pedophiles onto the national ballot.  Besides planning to lower the age of consent to 12, the party (PNVD) also aspired to ban the eating of meat and fish.  It never collected enough signatures nationally to run a candidate in the country’s proportional representation system (which gives remote hope to highly unpopular factions), but it did get some press.   Putin’s mention of the matter as one of many signs of Western democracy falling apart had nothing to do with Crokin’s fantasies about Satanic pedophile mobs in Washington, but clearly that was not a deterrent to his winning a new fan. 

There were other, more controversial rejections in the Putin speech of “excesses and exaggerations of political correctness.”  These tended to be attractive to American conservatives worried about the perceived guilt-tripping of Anglo-European American culture by racial and sexual minorities.  I’ll quote some of this material at length.  I stress, though, that Putin, rather than directly gratifying white-nationalist urges, stressed the multi-ethnic, multicultural nature of Russia.  The subtext that appealed to the American conservatives seemed to be Putin’s promotion of an idealized, ostensibly non-racist but morally assured dominance by the primary culture, Russian in his own land, and, by extension, Anglo-American in the U.S. 

We must be proud of our history, and we have things to be proud of. Our entire, uncensored history must be a part of Russian identity. Without recognising this it is impossible to establish mutual trust and allow society to move forward…

…The different cultures in Russia have the unique experience of mutual influence, mutual enrichment and mutual respect. This multiculturalism and multi-ethnicity live in our historical consciousness, in our spirit and in our historical makeup. Our state was built in the course of a millennium on this organic model.

Russia – as philosopher Konstantin Leontyev vividly put it – has always evolved in “blossoming complexity” as a state-civilisation, reinforced by the Russian people, Russian language, Russian culture, Russian Orthodox Church and the country’s other traditional religions. It is precisely the state-civilisation model that has shaped our state polity. It has always sought to flexibly accommodate the ethnic and religious specificity of particular territories, ensuring diversity in unity.

Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and other religions are an integral part of Russia’s identity, its historical heritage and the present-day lives of its citizens. The main task of the state, as enshrined in the Constitution, is to ensure equal rights for members of traditional religions and atheists, and the right to freedom of conscience for all citizens.

However, it is clearly impossible to identify oneself only through one’s ethnicity or religion in such a large nation with a multi-ethnic population. In order to maintain the nation’s unity, people must develop a civic identity on the basis of shared values, a patriotic consciousness, civic responsibility and solidarity, respect for the law, and a sense of responsibility for their homeland’s fate, without losing touch with their ethnic or religious roots.

Most importantly, Putin reveals himself here as – or at least speaks as if he were – a fundamentalist Christian, nominally Russian Orthodox, and returns to the long-standing issue, born of 15 centuries of dread about highly reproductive Islamic societies, of a weakness in the believers in reproducing themselves. 

Another serious challenge to Russia’s identity is linked to events taking place in the world. Here there are both foreign policy and moral aspects. We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilisation. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.

People in many European countries are embarrassed or afraid to talk about their religious affiliations. Holidays are abolished or even called something different; their essence is hidden away, as is their moral foundation. And people are aggressively trying to export this model all over the world. I am convinced that this opens a direct path to degradation and primitivism, resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis.

What else but the loss of the ability to self-reproduce could act as the greatest testimony of the moral crisis facing a human society? Today almost all developed nations are no longer able to reproduce themselves, even with the help of migration. Without the values ​​embedded in Christianity and other world religions, without the standards of morality that have taken shape over millennia, people will inevitably lose their human dignity. We consider it natural and right to defend these values​​. One must respect every minority’s right to be different, but the rights of the majority must not be put into question.

This prospect of a kinder, gentler cultural, sexual and reproductive dominance was truly a siren song. 

The cultural back story on this romance with Vlad Putin is probably known to everyone who lived through the sixties and onward.  In the late sixties, women’s liberation upset the traditional power imbalance between men and women, just around the time new birth control methods gave women power over reproduction.  The proliferation of new domestic convenience devices like clothes dryers and dishwashers removed the last traces of familial necessity from housewifedom, and women’s creativity was freed to find places in the work force.  The social tradition of giving the better jobs to ‘family men’ because they needed to support a household was deprecated as discriminatory.  Probably for the sake of competitiveness and profits, other built-in charitable impulses in the business community were also eroded, especially after post-Soviet-Union globalization vitiated union protections.  Before long, middle class women raising families needed to work to keep the family well provided for.  Couples adapted by limiting the size of their families; some decided that having any kids was too fraught.  The need to have next-generation support in old age had been partially erased by social services and private and state pensions, as well as medical benefits for seniors.  At the same time, there was strong awareness in the world about pollution (a major keyword of the day) and the ongoing destruction of wilderness and space by rampant economic expansion.  Even before climate change emerged as a social topic, ‘overpopulation’ was a trending concern.  When LGBT people began to come out, the traditional Christian panic that had been levelled against them as non-reproducers who would sabotage the race from within lost nearly all of its social traction. 

Reproduction panic simmered for a couple of decades in the religious right, but when the 9-11 destruction of the World Trade Centre convinced the far right that the Saracens (medieval term for Mediterranean-region Muslims) were attacking Christendom yet again, the red button was officially pressed.  Meanwhile, some western governments, such as the Canadian government, having realized that the slowdown in reproduction was heading towards a crunch in tax-funded old-age pension systems, had begun actively encouraging immigration by young people who had or seemed likely to have good-sized families.  Many of these were Muslim.  Conflicts throughout much of the Islamic world amplified this process by producing myriads of refugees.  Some of these were from countries where hostility to western countries and belief systems was common, but unlike in previous historical periods, this factor wasn’t used to screen out whole nationalities.  Governments instead made a nominal effort to vet individuals, though this process predictably let some hostiles in. Embarrassment over histories like the Japanese internment camps in World War 2 essentially prevented any archaic tribal defences like ‘keep out all Muslims’ until Donald Trump made that one of his winning election planks in 2016 – though he soon abandoned thorough application of his ban.  Liberal and egalitarian North Americans, who were often secularized, expected to integrate the newcomers and to prosper and befriend them away from any historic rivalries, but the more rightward Conservatives, often religious, were convinced the medieval enmities were indelible.  Therefore, much of the relatively far right felt that the Anglo conservative side, if nothing else, needed to crank up reproduction to ensure they weren’t overwhelmed.   Just around that time, a large number of trans people who didn’t fit the exact ‘gender A trapped in gender B’s body’ concept of the T in LGBT began to find ways to come out in unfamiliar modes, such as non-binary.  Trans children became emboldened to start planning the alteration of their reproductive systems prior to being locked into secondary sexual characteristics by puberty.  Edvard Munch’s famous painting ‘The Scream’ doesn’t even being to describe the look on the collective face of the Christian far right. 

Some rightists went frankly fascistic, and social media in 2016-17 saw a massive upsurge in openly Nazi-admiring, racist, sexist, genocidal, homophobic, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim accounts, run by people like Andrew Anglin, who had been radicalized by far-right political-horror-fiction radio host Alex Jones.  In 2017, no openly Jewish person on Twitter could post anything even slightly politically controversial without receiving an icon of a gas oven from an anonymous account.  Many conservatives, however, were by no means ready to cross the border of World War 2, leaving behind the glory of postwar American righteous triumph to start slumming with the headbanger principles of Naziism.  Putin’s ostensible 2016 Christmas speech vindicated their dedication to traditional Christian power principles and prosperous post-settler culture, and did so in a way that de-emphasized racism and similar impulses.  This was just the tonic they needed.  Donald Trump was clearly a wild card, more a sybarite than a Christian, a crazed, golfing, wealth-bloated cowboy whose heart was kinda-sorta waffling in the right place; but Putin had his act together – he was the chess game of subliminal European power. 

After Liz Crokin and her Trump-trumpeting Pizzagate contemporaries – especially Doug Hagmann of, and Sean G. Turnbull of the SGT Reports conspiracy website ( – had introduced the wonder of Putin’s traditional Christian party line to the hungry American right, the Russian leader became established permanently as an underground American saint.   It was very easy for the rightists to insist that stories of collusion between the Trump election campaign and the Putin government were fake.  No collusion was needed.  There was effectively no difference between the Trumpist right’s perspective and the perspective they attributed to Putin.  “Putin Just Exposed the Plot to Destroy America” was the joyous headline on SGT Report’s now-banned YouTube channel on Jan. 10, 2017, when they first disclosed the “recent Christmas speech.”  “The most maligned man on the planet,” says the blurb below the YouTube (now on excerpting the speech, “exposed the plot to destroy America and the West.”  Putin is the saviour; Trump sits at his right hand as the U.S. agent of Euro-American greatness, as well as the side-show entertainment. 

The fusion of Russ-troll and American acolyte online endeavours made it impossible for anyone except admins with access to website log-ons to discern where postings supporting Trump-loving conspiracy theories were coming from.  Enriched by Russian and American anonymous publicity and trolling activities, as well as input from other nations’ cyberwar efforts, the Lie of the Day (LOD) efforts just kept rolling.  As Pizzagate waned – weakened after Edgar Maddison Welch from Salisbury NC shot up Comet Ping Pong with an AR-15 and found that the secret basement with child slaughter room didn’t exist – new lie fronts replaced it.  There was #Pedogate, which tried to broaden the scope of Pizzagate to all perceived liberal celebrities (many satanic and crypto-pedophilic signs found in Lady Gaga videos, for example).  It spun out #Pedowood, specifically targeting Hollywood for the conspiracies of the cinema community, who were revealed to be spicing up their wild parties by bringing in school buses full of children for rape and slaughter. 

The Seth Rich murder conspiracy theory blew up bigtime in May, 2017, when it was publicized by Sean Hannity of Fox News.  Eventually, in 2019, Rich’s family was able to gain a 7-figure settlement in a lawsuit against Fox News for harassment they’d experienced during the publicizing of the LOD .  A distinct ‘usual gang of suspects’ cropped up amongst verifiable American pundits who pushed each successive LOD; those active in the Rich story included Mike Cernovich, Sean Hannity, Geraldo Rivera, Kim Dotcom, Paul Joseph Watson, Newt Gingrich, Jack Posobiec, and Tim Pool  (

Another biggie at the time was an attempt to connect Hillary Clinton to child trafficking based on her husband Bill Clinton’s intervention in an unauthorized child adoption fiasco.  A trip to Haiti had been organized by a fundamentalist Christian adoption program from Idaho in response to the 2010 Haitian earthquake, but lacked official authorization and failed to authenticate orphan status for the children it picked up.  Bill Clinton negotiated to get most of the missionaries released from Haitian prison, leaving only organizer Laura Silsby to serve a prison sentence.  Thousands of LOD posts were dedicated to cryptic clues connecting Hillary and the Clinton Foundation charity to some imagined larger scheme of child removal from Haiti and beyond, in which the Idaho-based New Life Children’s Refuge, the actual perpetrator of the aborted adoption effort, was invariably omitted. 

A sea change occurred in LOD content in Oct., 2018, when the QAnon conspiracy theory kicked off with some posts at the LOD central station, 4chan /pol/.  Here’s a synopsis from the Wikipedia summary.  In this case, I’ve left the citation numbers in the text just to stress that people skeptical of Wikipedia and interested in original sources can access them through the summary.   

A 4chan user named “Q Clearance Patriot” first appeared on the site’s /pol/ board on October 28, 2017, posting in a thread titled “Calm Before the Storm”,[56] a phrase Trump had previously used to describe a gathering of American military leaders he attended.[56] “The Storm” later became QAnon parlance for an imminent event in which thousands of alleged suspects would be arrested, imprisoned, and executed for being child-eating pedophiles.[8] The poster’s username implied that they held Q clearance,[57][58] a United States Department of Energy security clearance required to access Top Secret information on nuclear weapons and materials.[59]

Q’s first post said that Hillary Clinton was about to be arrested, which would cause massive unrest and be followed by numerous other arrests. A second message was posted a few hours later, saying that Clinton was being “detained” though not arrested yet, and that Trump was planning to remove “criminal rogue elements”.

The QAnon conspiracy LOD scheme was based on a long-reliable conspiracy theory staple, the secret, highly connected observer in the halls of power (compare the fictional Washington source Thomas Heneghan in mid-2000s material reviving the Franklin scandal), but its fantasy world, featuring thousands of liberal killer pedophiles and huge imminent arrests by the Trump government, soon took on the earmarks of a medieval cult, with dozens of secret-handshake slogans like “Follow the white rabbit” and “#WWG1WGA” (“Where we go one, we go all”).  The appearance of vigilantes who appeared to be willing to use violence against imaginary satanic targets led to social media sites banning the QAnon theme, starting with Reddit in Mar., 2018.   In 2019, Twitter took action specifically against highly active LOD accounts using “#WWG1WGA” that appeared to be connected to the Russian IRA.  In May, 2019, an FBI memo identified QAnon as a domestic terrorism threat.  The theme has since transplanted itself to Trumpist echo-chamber social media like Gab, Parler and bitchute. 

In 2020, as soon as the Covid outbreak began invoking lockdowns to reduce disease transmission, the usual LOD groups took up potentially divisive Covid disinformation with intense enthusiasm, spearheading efforts like ‘it’s just a flu’ and accusations that it was a deliberately designed weapon.  Some posts railed that Covid was designed and deliberately exported by the Chinese, while others, such as Dr. David E. Martin from Charlottesville, VA, stuck to the ‘Bush brought down the towers’ template for conspiracy theories (‘The causality isn’t real if it doesn’t feature e-vil actions by powerful Americans’) and announced that Covid had been built at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  As vaccines emerged for Covid, LODs about hazardous human experimentation, vast numbers of covered-up deaths, complete ineffectiveness, and so on became an incessant roar.  In the midst of it, the curious scientific phenomenon that I call ‘Duesbergs’ appeared in small but influential numbers.  Peter Duesberg, a prominent University of California molecular biologist, rose to worldwide fame in the 1980s and 90s when he pulled out every conceivable technical stop, and many that weren’t conceivable, to furiously resist the idea that the HIV virus was the cause of AIDS.  The Covid-inspired contributors to this scientific, furiously-discombobulated-contrarian theme, such as Dr. Robert Malone, supplied the anonymous LOD accounts and bots with a constant supply of hours-long YouTube and Spotify presentations opining that vaccines were toxic and that the intent behind them was rapaciously profit-driven or frankly criminal. 

Incidentally, being a member of a university Public Health department and a long-time wrangler of airborne infectious diseases, I’ve taken to challenging tweeted misinformation and disinformation about Covid and its vaccines.  I’ve been astonished by the number of what I might call ‘downmarket Duesbergs’ I encounter.  Whereas once LOD purveyors could come at you with barrage after barrage after barrage of Pizzagate talking points and internet links (‘Podesta’s weird paintings!’ ‘Craig Sawyer found underground bunker with kids’ clothes near border!), now, legions of scabrously contemptuous, yet clearly scientifically uneducated, anonymous accounts have their hands on reams of misinterpreted, scientifically dubious and methodically cherrypicked data links.  In a discussion with a scientist, they heap on, at rapid-fire pace, piles of diverse technical points that are laborious to respond to, a technique I call ‘technical snowing.’ All the data they link point to the conclusion that any effort made against Covid other than brandishing one’s immune system is worthless and probably lethal in its own right.  Also, anyone responsible for trying to obstruct Covid, such as Anthony Fauci, is probably in the pocket of Big Pharma (the mRNAgate equivalent of ‘the Jews’). If not, then they represent the New World Order in a quixotically sadistic quest to reduce the world’s population to a few – a venerable conspiracy theory with roots lost in the mists of time. 

In terms of scientific parsimony (minimizing the number of causes needed to explain a phenomenon), I find it far more likely that there’s a centralized specialist committee feeding a well stocked farm of cantankerous boobs technical web links than that there are thousands of isolated, cantankerous boobs who each amass daily up-to-date reams of deliberately skewed data.  I surmise that the technical contempt farm is either run by Russians or by wealthy Americans who can hire a small team to supply the technical dope.  It’s also clear that any new scientific publication emerging that has any feature that can be spun to distort its meaning will have a tech troll on the case very rapidly.  Someone out there is monitoring the literature, looking for medically disruptive spin opportunities.  A recent example was a the spin, mentioned at the beginning of this article, that Covid vaccinations contained HIV, based on a technical report explaining that a candidate vaccine being developed in Australia would not be released, because a small, completely non-infectious fragment of HIV RNA that was used in its construction caused false-positive reactions in HIV tests.    

In the midst of the Covid LOD spew, the bot waves parted to let Donald Trump’s most successful personally launched conspiracy theory, the ‘stolen election’ LOD theme, clamour through and babble its way to producing the Jan. 6 Capitol Insurrection in Washington, DC. 

The take-home message from all this is not “Russians are agitating on social media” or “Russians have duped Americans to take up their social fracture campaigns.”  It’s that the Russian-sponsored cyberwar farms and the Trumpist North American cyberwarriors, whether private or farmed, share the same strategies so closely that they can’t be distinguished.  The link between these groups is highly probably not collusion or conspiracy, but rather native affinity and identification.  In my Twitter account, I’ve been somewhat ponderously referring to the LOD campaigns as ‘Trumpo-Putinist,’ a term that I’ve never fully explained until now.  Many people now are astonished to hear Tucker Carlson on Fox news reciting Russian press lines from the official state RT News service, or to hear prominent American politicians like Ted Cruz and Newt Gingrich chiming in with LODs like ‘Justin Trudeau is a tyrant turning Canada into a dictatorship’ (a theme currently heavily featured at lingering Pizzagate news venues like SGTReport).  There is nothing to be surprised about here, not even Donald Trump’s recent accolade of Vlad Putin as a ‘genius’ for his invasion strategy of Ukraine. 

“I said, ‘This is genius,’” Trump said on a right-wing podcast. “Putin declared a big portion of … Ukraine … as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful. … I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s going to go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s strongest peace force. … We could use that on our southern border. That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. There were more army tanks than I’ve ever seen. They’re going to keep the peace all right. Here’s a guy who’s very savvy … I know him very well. Very, very well.”

Justin Trudeau is a far more evil dictator than Vladimir Putin in the Trumpist right’s world-view

In fact, Putin’s knowledge that he has such a vast, VIP-laden fan base in the US may have been a factor motivating him to pull off the invasion. If Biden doesn’t like it, the heat will be gone when Trump is re-elected – a troll farm project undoubtedly already loaded into the internet seed drills.

The mega-panic initiated by 9-11 has produced a scheme to stabilize a cultural domination pattern that Russians and Trumpist Americans equally want to hold on to.  This scheme will require moving some distance from classic democracy, since there are too many minority members, as well as far too many ‘libtards’ who don’t agree with the power scheme, to guarantee stability.  In the US, the resulting anti-democratic efforts involve gerrymandering, voter restriction, false claims of stolen elections, and furious attempts to propagandize the school systems.  Putin’s Valdai statement that “We must be proud of our history, and we have things to be proud of” has been adopted whole-heartedly in a strident effort to prevent any embarrassment of Euro-Americans from teachings about the history of slavery, or discrimination, or removal and conquering of indigenous peoples. 

I’ve saved a screenshot of one of the relatively uncommon, openly fascistic accounts remaining on Twitter (I’ve reported it, but Twitter has only ticked its fingers so far); the proprietor, amidst white-power and antisemitic posts, says “Vladimir Putin will go down as one of the greatest statesman (sic) of the 21st century and our degenerate elites can kiss my ass if they think they’re gonna draft me to fight against him.” 

Whether or not @brent_allen94, the proprietor of the probably pseudonymous account, is American or Russian (or Kosovar or Chinese or North Korean) doesn’t matter at all. 

It’s a genuine American sentiment.    


Follow-up, see:

We Mock ‘Jesus Guns Babies’ Platform at Our Own Peril

by Wajahat Ali

Published Feb. 27, 2022 8:35PM ET 

It’s time to confront the Trump-Putin network
Rebecca Solnit

Wed 2 Mar 2022 11.22

‘Key to white survival’: how Putin has morphed into a far-right savior

Sergio Olmos

Sat 5 Mar 2022

MARCH 13, 2022
Leaked Kremlin Memo to Russian Media: It Is “Essential” to Feature Tucker Carlson

David Corn

There’s No Such Thing as Nationalism Without Ethnic Cleansing

David M. Perry

… strongly overlapping with my article:

Why do Putin, Trump, Tucker Carlson and the Republican party sound so alike?

Robert Reich 29 March 2022

Plus more background on the Russian efforts, especially before 2016

Inside the secret Russian troll farms targeting Ukraine (Jack Bryan) | Kremlin File — Meidas Touch YouTube account, March 30, 2022

Vladimir Putin’s shady history of cooking up pedophilia-related false accusations against his opponents, long before Pizzagate.

A Field Guide to Understanding GOP Authoritarianism and the Future of America

11 books that explain the forces trying to dismantle our freedoms and how to mobilize against them

Wajahat Ali, Apr. 29, 2022

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The five basic political parties

At the moment, this post is just to provide a place for me to link this graphic.

There is a brief explanation of this terminology and where it came from in the second book of the trilogy-in-one This Moonless Sky. I am in the process of preparing more material on this topic. In the meantime, another complex graphic represents the basic terminology of self-fulfilling prophecy cycles, this time with an example from sports and involving a single individual’s felicitous and vicious cycles rather than multiple people’s interlocking cycles as in political examples. This material is covered in a easily read, conversational way in This Moonless Sky, where the context is a gripping story about characters trapped in a prison camp in a totalitarian society.

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‘This Moonless Sky’ by Mark Rogerson review — Paul Van Der Spiegel

Okay, wow. I’ve just finished ‘This Moonless Sky’ by Mark Rogerson and I’m overwhelmed. It is rare to finish reading a book, a long book, and be compelled to read it again from the start.TMS is a journey in three parts, set thousands of years in the future, on a world like our own in […]

‘This Moonless Sky’ by Mark Rogerson review — Paul Van Der Spiegel
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment




Exciting recent developments for the research start-up TradLib Laboratories were announced Tuesday at a press conference in Wokefield, CA.  A vaccine has been developed, based on the genetic material “messenger RNA” combined with “epigenetic modifiers,” that will help the USA solve one of its most lethal public health problems, gun violence. 

The US suffers approximately 15,000 homicides and 25,000 suicides per year caused by firearm use, with over 70% coming from handgun use. 

“This is literally a vaccination against harmful gun ownership,” said Dr. Liberace Pizzeria, the principal scientist in charge.  “It uses mechanisms involved in heritable tendencies to fear spiders and snakes, and introduces an extreme dread of handguns in the geno-converted individual.  The aversion doesn’t extend to single-shot rifles, so the injectees can still hunt wild game, but the combined sound and sensation of repeat or automated weapons fire in any weapon touching their body will make them nauseous and soon reduce them to vomiting uncontrollably.” 

“After basic safety checks on Amish volunteers, the efficacy of the vaccine was tested in several urban communities where people didn’t want their children to join violent gangs, and it showed 100% efficacy.  All vaccine-inoculated children stayed in school and off drugs, and crime in the areas fell by 50%.  You have to remember that there had to be a placebo group in the study design, and they remained at pre-vaccine gun violence levels.” 

“We are urging the government to give all citizens of the USA this vaccination as soon as possible as an urgent public health measure.  Since the use of drones in modern warfare removes the last possible need to fire an automatic weapon in person, this will not disadvantage our nation’s heroic military in any way.” 

Expressions of outrage from internet users and the National Rifle Association (NRA) were immediate. 

“This is yet another attempt to remove our constitutional and fundamental freedoms,” said David “Smokey” McCordite, an NRA spokesperson. “Just as you can see with the Covid hoax, the people of this country are sick and tired of public health busybodies trying to manipulate citizens into living indefinitely long lives.”

“Most urgently, in this time of leftist chaos, we have a duty to remain vigilant about possible armed response to people whose vague and shadowy presence in our neighborhoods can’t be explained.”

(“Vague and shadowy,” according to the Southern Really Poor Law Association, is a recent euphemism for people whose skin doesn’t reflect sodium-vapor street light as contrastingly as that of some of their fellow citizens.)  

Highly agitated internet people with anonymous accounts have organized Twitter, Facebook and Parler networks with tens of thousands of members, collectively responsible for almost 900,000 uses of the word ‘idiot’ on social media per day.  The internetters are particularly vocal about one aspect of the new vaccine.

“The scientists admitted there was an unexplained side effect, and a really horrible one,” says prominent online name LibBallsMcMangler.  “None of the vaccinated people were able to do anything but laugh at the Truth that the SphereCucks are dead wrong.  This is mind control, total and insidious.” 

Dr. Pizzeria admitted that the side effect had not yet been explained by his group’s research.  “Some sort of cross reaction seems to prevent our handgun-immune subjects from subscribing to Flat Earth theories,” he said.  “There may be a developmental link between that sort of wacko conspiracy theorizing and handgun fascination.  But we don’t yet know its nature.” 

“We thought this would be a great step forward for social harmony in the USA,” Pizzeria added.  “We urge everyone online to calm the situation by ceasing all talk about White people kidnapping all Black people and injecting them, and vice-versa.” 

Just yesterday, however, the first case was reported of possible unconsented vaccination.  A swastika-tattooed white separatist and large-motorcycle hobbyist, Hardy McBanger, complained that both his 6-year-old and 12-year-old sons had lost their suppers when he was giving them lessons on his AR-15 rifle in the hills behind Bungalow, AK. 

“I don’t know who got to them,” McBanger told the local Bungalow Billetin, “but they sure as hell ain’t goin’ to no public school til we fix this (expletive deleted) country.” 

The newly elected President, currently tied up in a frenzy of internet accusations that his son went on a pedophilic orgy in a space capsule with Elon Musk and Oprah Winfrey, has not yet commented on the development. 

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Fresh air!! Windows open!!

Kind friends in the Netherlands once invited me and my partner to stay in their impressively large 5-bedroom house while we were on a trip.  I had stayed with them before, but to my partner, this environment was all new.  My friends’ two daughters had grown up and moved out, leaving the entire upper floor of the house empty; to take advantage of the emptiness, the upstairs bathroom was being renovated.  The plumbing all functioned normally; the only inconvenience in the bathroom was that the mirror had been taken away and not yet replaced. 

It was winter, which meant, in the Netherlands, that the outdoor temperature at night rested somewhere between freezing and 10 Celsius.  Our hosts turned the home heating off every night at 11 pm, and to my partner’s incredulity, heartily advised us to open our window to get fresh air all night in our guest bedroom. 

Canadians, generally, don’t do that in winter.  In a land where the temperature might drop to -20 C at any moment, you’d probably wake up frozen stiff.  If not you, then your water lines would freeze and your pipes would burst.  

Our Dutch bedroom, even with its window stubbornly closed, soon became frigid. This was partly because our hosts had opened the windows in the two rooms they slept in on the next floor down.  There were plenty of blankets on hand, so we survived nicely, but the frosty, see-your-breath bedroom in the morning caused my partner to expostulate, “Rooms cold as a tomb – no mirrors in the place – are these people vampires??” 

This was his introduction to north European fresh-air culture.  Our host was originally Tyrolean, and our hostess native Dutch, but they both concurred absolutely that open windows on cold winter nights were the path to health and longevity.  Many people have commented on this cultural phenomenon.  University student Claire, writing under the pen name Yocom Yocom, said “Ever since arriving in Germany I knew that Germans loved opening their window all the time for fresh air or “frisches Luft“.   Blogger Andrew Couch reports that he, too, was taken by surprise by fresh-air culture in Germany, and asked local friends about it.

“’Germans need fresh air. Americans need air fresheners,’ was the wonderfully pithy response from a colleague when I mentioned the open windows in the dead of winter. It does seem true at a culture wide level though.”

Digging deeper, expat HF, living in Germany, found that the love of bracing cold air was coupled with detestation of minor drafts.  

“…Most Germans are … fresh-air freaks. My cleaning lady in Berlin would open every door and window in the apartment while doing her bi-weekly cleaning, even on cold winter days. Yet on the S-Bahn (subway), she would have been one of the first to close any open window. Many Germans sleep with the windows open at night (usually protected by perforated metal Rollläden shutters). In the morning they get up and air out the place (durchlüften) by opening several windows. They’ll head out to the great outdoors and subject themselves to a 30 km/h head wind by riding a bike, but if they’re sitting in a car, the slightest draft coming through a window will put them in a panic, even if it’s the hottest summer on record!” 

Is this just cultural zaniness?  Not at all.  In fact, further reading discloses that all these beliefs and practices evolved during a type of event that we are all too familiar with:  pandemics. 

European history features one plague pandemic after another, bubonic and pneumonic (respiratory), followed by tuberculosis.  And let’s not forget malaria in the more southerly climes: the disease was once common in swampy areas in many parts of Europe, and, as its name shows (‘mal aria’ = ‘bad air’), it was associated in people’s minds with stale, smelly air.  The mosquito connection was discovered only in the 20th century. 

Tuberculosis, one of the most horrifying diseases ever invented by biology, was rife in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and transmission was associated with crowded conditions.  Physicians intuitively began to prescribe fresh, country air as a remedy, and, in fact, this seemed to be among the few prescriptions that were of any help. 

In the 1840s, pioneering hydrotherapist Hermann Brehmer began to advocate building open-air sanatoria for TB patients in the hilly country in and around Germany, starting in Silesian Görbersdorf, now Sokołowsko, Poland.  Similar institutions were soon set up in the U.S. and other countries.  From 1904 onward, students with tuberculosis-like symptoms in Germany were gathered together into outdoor schools.  The belief in fresh air as therapy became so intense that in the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, citizens were urged to leave their bedroom windows open, as shown in the photograph from Cincinnati at the top of this article. 

Culturally entrenched health remedies rapidly acquire moral overtones.  In my field, medical mycology, we relentlessly confront the stereotype that fungal skin infections like athlete’s foot are associated with dirt and poor hygiene, even though the most efficient way to acquire a new infection is probably to take a shower where an infected person has recently done the same.  The connection of health and vigour to ‘fresh air’ is firmly rooted in North American culture, even if it’s not quite at the level of mandating open windows in January. 

This brings us to Covid-19.  

Its early intersection with public health was nothing if not confusing, with health authorities at first pretending to be in control when they weren’t, then deceitfully stating masks were of no use simply to prevent a run on the minimal supply available to medical personnel. 

Then we endured a phase where they perversely insisted aerosol transmission – defined as transmission by particles under 100 micrometers in diameter, but often involving tinier particles in the 5 -10 micrometer range – wasn’t important in disease spread, even though a March 17, 2020 outbreak among members of a Washington state choir had clearly evidenced that it was.  Apparently, this idea was too horrifying to announce to the hysteria-prone public until the weight of evidence forced the admission to bust out into the open like a bleeding information hernia.  The upshot of it all was, however, that everyone was advised to wear masks whenever they were in indoor public spaces and in outdoor spaces where they were close enough to other people to be significantly exposed to exhalations.   

No problem, right?  People in Japan, Korea and China had been preventing flu and cold transmission for decades by wearing masks when they felt infected, and the masks were also handy for evading the yellow dust clouds that regularly blew from the Gobi Desert through Beijing and into Seoul. 

That was when Covid prevention ran straight into European fresh air culture, and its American offshoots. 

As @RealBenCarlisle put it on Twitter on Oct 24, “Respect your immune system. Burn your mask. Breathe fresh air.”  

I’ve collected a few more random and recent samples to represent the tens of thousands of social media posts along these lines. 

@scrahallia:  Oct 28, If you want to breath fresh air, stay healthy and enjoy human company only wear one (a mask) sparingly and only if you absolutely must. Worth a thought. 

@MarkMarkschfer, Oct 27, Wearing masks outside on fresh air, is ridiculous and fully degenerated. (Note the use of the Victorian moralist’s ‘degeneration’ trope, also used relentlessly by the Nazis during their German Reich). 

@WendyM90054273, Oct 27, I prefer to protect my own health by going mask free and breathing fresh air rather than exhaled air from a bacteria ridden piece of cloth. Why should I protect random strangers by damaging my own health & immunity?

God and the Constitution want you to have fresh air!
Defend fresh air by making up bacteriological fake news about the 1918 pandemic! (Though influenza may be followed by Pneumococcal pneumonia, this comes from increased penetration of resident bacteria normally present in the respiratory tract, not from a mask)

Volumes of fake science speculation were produced about the ‘mal aria’ blocked within masks causing asphyxiation from carbon dioxide buildup or making people faint away from reduced oxygen.  These unsubstantiated ideas were mainly propagated by Donald Trump’s supporters, who, like him, often made a point of refusing masks.  The politically frenzied notions were then laboriously debunked in the laboratory by experimenters, but as with all such brouhahas based on cultural moral shibboleths, they kept right on propagating while giving the internet finger to the data wranglers. 

I don’t know if it’s germane or not that both Donald Trump and a very high proportion of his supporters are of German background, with ancestors arrived in America prior to the Second World War, when tuberculosis was still treatable only by fresh air.  German language scholars Per Urlaub and David Huenlich, writing in The Conversation on Oct. 1, 2020 note that

“Forty-four million Americans claim German ancestry. They constitute a large white heritage group in the United States, and the largest by far in the Midwest. (In fact, they’re the largest single ethnic origin group in the US ) … in the wake of two world wars, to avoid stigmatization, German Americans stopped speaking German, anglicized their German names and became outwardly more American than any other European immigrant group.  As a result, most contemporary German Americans have lost an authentic connection to their cultural heritage. Unlike other ethnic groups, they do not collectively link their identity to political action. Yet, despite this low level of community organization and activism, German Americans show common voting patterns.  Today’s German Americans are more conservative than their ancestors. Most counties of heavy German American heritage are rural and vote Republican.” 

The authors go on to analyse general voting patterns still forming common links among many members of this long-assimilated population.  They attribute some patterns, especially support of isolationist or protectionist policies, to ‘ghost pain’ from the cultural past. 

My conjecture is that the dread of masks that has leapt out to become part of Covid policy is just such a ‘ghost pain’ from the cultural pain of peoples – not just Germans, but also Anglo-Saxons, Poles, Russians, and so on – who endured the north European tuberculosis outbreaks.  This Covid remedy, threatening to interrupt the flow of ‘fresh air,’ seems inherently perilous for the health. 

The mask, too, as a damp and swampy place, seems to be a bog of contamination – an impression nonsensically reinforced by frequently seen, well publicized findings of common, harmless skin bacteria on any and all surfaces that we touch. 

(It’s become a fad in bacterial research to take some swabs from any common and trendy item – phones for example – and prove they’re just teeming with bacteria. Lots of publicity and even funding can be generated by these reports terrorizing people with completely normal conditions.)

The remedies from old pandemics appear to be actively sabotaging the remedies that will work for the current one. 

American and European cultures are chock-full of health prescriptions that started off as tuberculosis protection talismans, touched up by memories of malaria, plague, typhus and cholera. These handy blasts from the past are not in the least applicable to Covid. They are near-superstitions that have ossified as moralisms about vigorous living. All of them are perfectly fine until they spring up like martial arts boxers to block the path of science when new and different pandemics come along.

These days, these health precepts are directly contradicting realistic advice for staying healthy.   

It’s time to unmask these cultural holdovers and let some fresh air in. 



Statement of interests: The author is of ~25% Rhineland German ancestry from the 1600s.

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The Muscularium

by Richard Summerbell

  • A tale of mice and civilization


I live in an apartment above the raccoons and I often hear them banging about below.  They’re citizens; it’s their right to make a little clatter.  If I hadn’t been fired from my job, I would have had better digs – better than this converted attic above what used to be a garage.  Sometimes I tell my friends I’m the token human of the building.  But I can’t complain too much.  Downstairs can only have improved since the 2020’s, when it still harboured the evil automobile.  Now, it’s a dusty, semi-indoor space inhabited by four friendly, masky omnivores who are tolerated by us all.  Animals are so much better than cars, don’t you think?

Love for animals has always enriched my life, spiritually if not economically.  I was only a dozen years old when the famous Innocence First animal rights movement succeeded in convincing Parliament to add “species” to the anti-discrimination section of the Charter of Rights, but already I was involved, posing for campaign photographs and appearing at rallies.  On weekends, I entertained myself by watching birds in the city parks, and spent so much time with the starlings that one old bird actually learned to imitate my boyish “hello.”  He didn’t understand the word, but he inserted it into his spring mating song along with robin calls, cat meows, and lawnmower growls.

I started working in the muscularium in the evenings when I was in grade 11.  It was probably my activist connections that got me this coveted but low-paying civic student job, but perhaps my incandescent love of animals made me stand out even among the many animal-loving applicants.  It always seemed to me that the muscularium would be a sort of Eden where thousands of tiny heartbeats would resound like a heavenly chorus, and the air would be scented with the slight, mammalian musk of true innocence.  Now, in case you don’t have a muscularium in your area, I should explain that it’s not a gymnasium – nothing to do with muscles – but instead is a civic shelter for Mus musculus, the civilized mouse, formerly known as the “house mouse.”

Even in enlightened times, it is difficult for some people to share their dwellings with this inoffensive whiskerling, and their main legal recourse is to live-trap the animals and bring them in to the civic facility.  Myself, I could never understand why people would go to the trouble of harassing such an amiable cohabitant, evicting it from the house.  The amount of food mice eat is affordable in this society, and if the animals have any fleas or disease, heaven forbid, you can treat them by putting out medicated grain.  To put out grain treated with birth-control steroids is more expensive, but in theory it ought to bring about a pleasant equilibrium.  The once-dreaded “mouse pellets,” if they need be mentioned at all (we must all digest!), are not difficult to sweep up – scarcely worse than bread crumbs.  And the sound of contented munching and enthusiastic scurrying in the walls at night is heartwarming, well worth a little money and effort.

But the muscularium is a social necessity, and the militants who once criticized it as pandering to neurotics have mostly accepted it now.  I went to work there without trepidation, glad to be part of something worthwhile.  Certainly, there is little in any modern city more impressive than one of these vast arenas, stacked floor to ceiling with prefabricated miniature apartments, runways, stairways, pipes, and even a few toasters and refrigerators for the sake of a familiar ambience.  The mice themselves play about exuberantly, digging in their wheat troughs (the lot of farmers has improved!), squeaking at each other, and endlessly exploring the vast hermetic cavern that they live in.  They maintain their own nests, and rebuild them from shredded tissue every couple of weeks when a machine automatically sweeps away the old ones.  The amount of birth control medicine they get is set low enough that some of them occasionally have litters.  This is partly for the amusement of tourists and other human visitors, but it also keeps this immigrant society from losing all contact with its wild-animal roots.  We cannot take the chance that strong parental urges are going unfulfilled because of our selfish human needs.

At first, I did manual labour, feeding the grain-dispensing machines and bagging offal, plus discreetly playing the role of undertaker for those clients who had reached the limit of their enjoyment.  Later I went full-time and was promoted to jobs requiring more paperwork.  I made visitor’s passes, drew up fundraising “adoption certificates,” and helped the purchasing clerks with their orders of medication and foodstuffs.

It was actually during the hours of paperwork that I first noticed a certain jitteriness among the mice.  I watched them through my office window, and wondered about a quality of unease the arena had in the late hours, when I was struggling to finish up my forms, even in the dim twilit hours that should have been the most enjoyable of all.  Was some old instinct coming back to haunt our clients, I wondered.  Do these creatures of the peaceful hours dread the dark even as we sometimes do?  Almost absent-mindedly, I began staying later to contemplate them.

One night I fell asleep, and when I awoke in the wee, empty hours, I was dripping sweat like a hot marshmallow.  The heat controls must have gone crazy!  I looked out over the cityscape below and saw rodents obviously in distress, running in a near panic.  I rushed out, stumbling and clanging my way down to the basement control room.

“Is that you, Rachel?”  It was a nervous question from down below.  Now who on earth?  The place ran automatically: it needed no night maintenance.  Perhaps someone had been called in to fix the heat, maybe by means of an automatic alarm system.  I tripped down the final ladder and jumped off the last few rungs.  A bearded man turned abruptly, startled.  “Who the devil are you?”  he demanded breathily.

He was not a maintenance person – his clothing was all wrong. In fact, I recognized him: he was the Director, the person in charge, the bureaucrat responsible for seven muscularia and one rattery in our regional district.

“Ronald Ferenc, sir.  I thought there might be an emergency here, with the heat.”

“Oh-hoh, Ronald, well, we have it all under control, don’t you worry.  That’s why I’m here.  Got an alarm. Uh – aren’t you a little late leaving?”

I explained my situation, stammering a little, and yet, even though I felt foolish, I also felt a scurry of suspicion in the back of my mind.  Why would such a highly paid guy be called out in the middle of the night?  Who was Rachel?  Why did the man look as if he knew I was thinking all this?  To tell the truth, he looked positively demonic, like a person who could sit there eating a chicken wing without even blinking.  Maybe it was just the light.

The heat in the muscularium was falling even as I left to make my way home, but I had the feeling, soon to be confirmed, that for me the heat was now on.  Two weeks after my unexpected meeting in the control room, a bureaucrat a couple of levels above me sent some forms back to me with a short memorandum criticising the way I’d filled them out.  This, I knew, was the workplace equivalent of a witch’s hex, and I wrote back the best memo of reply, the best counter-hex, that I possibly could.

That was a mistake.  It called down new memoranda from higher levels of management, some with criticisms of other work I’d done.  One outright fabrication appeared.  I knew that someone up there in the management stratosphere was trying to get rid of me.

I am not a fighter by nature but from somewhere in my mind, a survival instinct began to take hold.  I started staying late at night, keeping quiet and sleeping lightly in the gloom.  Something was going on, and with persistence, I would find out what it was.  Every day I worked in a state of near exhaustion, unintentionally providing mistakes that more memos could be written about.  I began to sleep heavily, and feared missing whatever it was I was looking for.

One night I snapped awake like a searchlight coming on.  It was too warm again.  Raising my eyes to look over the sea of mice, I saw the animals were panicking, coursing over objects like a vertical flash flood.  Then, on the far side of the hall, dim shapes – a man, bearded, a woman, dressed in strange, triangular-cut clothing, two or three other men in the shadows, and a thing, a lump on one man’s arm, a lump that suddenly unfurled two enormous wings and expanded itself into the air above the surging city.

An owl.

Witnessing this corruption, this primaeval “sport,” I could only tremble and seethe.  The owl pounced on citizen after citizen, tearing them up with its beak.  I could see the shadowed hands of its keepers clapping at times – how they were enjoying the decimation of this captive population!  What fun it was perverting the natural instincts of the owl in a way that made this perfect bird into a perfect fiend.  Finally, they turned down the heat, did a quick, furtive cleanup and left, with their duped avian accomplice on one arm.

I felt an attack of nausea.  Such powerful people had the world at their command: they had bureaucratic owls that could take care of me just as sportingly as their bird took care of my mice!  There was only one thing I could do.  I immobilized the security system and spent the rest of the small hours opening up hatches and gates, even padlocked outer gates with warning signs saying DO NOT OPEN WITHOUT AUTHORIZATION CODE 41133.

Finally, I went to the basement and turned the heat back up to the discomfort level.  “Flee,” I told my grey, cowering charges, as I fled myself.

The next day, hours later, I showed up to work at the usual time and found many police, and perhaps a dozen mice.  Special-edition newspapers told the rest of the story: “RODENT RAMPAGE.”  “MOUSE STAMPEDE FILLS STREETS, BEDROOMS.”  “METRO MOUSE MAELSTROM.”  Oh yes, the police asked me a lot of questions, even got a bit nasty, but in the end didn’t get lucky.  I was fired the next day strictly because of my lousy paperwork, or so the manager told me.  Now I’m a free man, but with a curious bitterness about me that I’ve never had before.

Yes, bitterness, rage.  And it’s terrible.  I don’t understand it or know what to do about it.  Every day my mind boils over with thoughts of those men, that woman – Rachel? – and their hearts are a blank to me.  It’s like looking over the side of a sailboat into a green-grey lake that seems to have no bottom.  The sensation has transformed me into a stranger, someone I don’t know myself.

Why, just two nights ago I found a mouse inside my bed covers, chewing away on my sheets in a place I’d shooed him away from only the night before.  This time, I actually seized him with the covers and transferred him, struggling, into a casserole dish.  I put the lid down over him, and as he ran from corner to corner, I stared at him.  Waves of irritation surged through me.  I wanted to…well, I had a fantasy that was as fiendish as anything I’ve seen in movies or on the internet.  But why?  I asked myself.  Where’s your conscience?  The little mouse is innocent!  I pleaded.  Let it go!  And then a mental voice I’ve never heard before rose out of the depths of my consciousness, furious, violent, screaming at me like a police siren: “BUT I’M INNOCENT TOO!!!

And, in that instant, I knew I wasn’t.  Still, I should add that the mouse was released a few minutes later in the alley – running at top speed to get away from an animal whose nature I will never understand.



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The scriptural and psychological errors of gay-negative Islam are fundamentally the same as those of gay-negative Christianity and Judiasm

All over the world, somewhere between 2 and 5% of young people growing up realize that they are sexually and romantically attracted only to members of their own sex. Traditional societies in most parts of the world have asked these people to suppress this reality as unthinkably wicked. To add injury to insult, they have also asked these people, at maturity, to feign a heterosexual relationship, after misrepresenting themselves to a member of the opposite sex by saying that they are interested in such a relationship. Wherever such relationships are encouraged, women who want to marry a man have no guarantee of getting a genuinely interested male partner; they may get a concealed gay man instead. Men who want to marry a woman may be similarly tricked into taking a partner who secretly finds them sexually repellent. Religions that principally strive to uphold love and justice have been the main enforcers of this system of arbitrary fraud, which has gay and heterosexual victims in equal numbers. These religions have done this not deliberately, but as a result of misunderstanding – misunderstanding that has extended to misinterpretation of their own sacred texts.

Not long ago, the rejection of gay relationships by Christianity went without question. Since the 1950’s, however, biblical scholarship and an increased understanding of gay relationships have completely changed this situation. Two old self-fulfilling prophecy deadlocks between Christianity and its gay children, the rebellious “you reject me therefore I’ll reject you” and the self-hating “you reject me therefore I’ll reject myself” were seen through by Rev. Troy Perry and other pioneers of gay-positive Christianity (not to mention the Society of Friends who decided to accept gay relationships many years earlier), and an infusion of first-hand knowledge about gay lives and loves transformed our perspectives on the scriptures.

The key to this transformation was that the unmistakable presence of love in gay relationships could not be reconciled with scriptures clearly aimed at loveless acts. Therefore these scriptures could only reasonably be understood as criticisms of other phenomena, such as temple cult prostitution or exploitative sexual surrogacy (using the same sex as a rough, second-rate substitute for the opposite sex). Numerous statements made by Jesus validated this focus on love as the basis of scriptural interpretation, especially “you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind (and) you must love your neighbour as yourself – on these two commandments depend the whole Law and the prophets also.” The idea that every one of the Laws of Moses was dedicated to this love and reverence left very little room for miscellaneous, inscrutable commands that forbade loving actions.

The ancient Hebrew Law (often termed “Mosaic law” in honour of its putative authorship by Moses) was, of course, replete with many seemingly inscrutable commands, including such famous prohibitions as those against planting mixed crops in the same field and against mixing two types of thread in a single cloth. Although Christians were released from the letter of these commands, instructed by examples such as Jesus’ saving of an adulteress from stoning and Peter’s revelation about the potential ritual cleanliness of the gentiles (symbolized by his vision about being commanded to eat meats considered unclean by the Mosaic laws), they were still left with the problem of considering how such seemingly inexplicable prohibitions could ever have been valid. The problem was all the more poignant because Jesus himself defended the law as divine work, saying that “not one dot or stroke” of it (perhaps originally “one yowd or khiriq,” two small symbols in Hebrew writing) would pass away “until everything is accomplished.” If God were an author of impossible-to-explain, apparently arbitrary prohibitions (despite statements from Jesus such as “the sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the sabbath” and his defiance of arbitrary prohibition by allowing his followers to pick grain for eating on the holy day), then perhaps a divine prohibition against all homosexual acts could still exist, even though it obstructed and mischaracterized love, and tended to force people into insincere pseudo-heterosexual marriages. Certainly, some fundamentalists, who envision God as an all-powerful celestial despot with the right and power to make unexplained demands for anything God has a whim to demand, are only too happy to accept a stray anti-homosexual law that exists independent of any revealed tie-in with the general promotion of divine love. Their happiness with this goes well beyond the common religious acceptance that God has a knowledge and a scope of vision infinitely surpassing our own (“my thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways – it is YHVH who speaks – yes, as high as the heavens are above the earth are my ways above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts”), and goes on to accept unquestioningly that God, who otherwise seems to have taken some pains to communicate with people, would not bother to try to explain such prohibitions. But, as Jesus said, “no one lights a lamp to cover it with a bowl or to put it under a bed. No, he puts it on a lampstand so that people may see the light when they come in. For nothing is hidden but it will be made clear, and nothing is secret but it will be known and brought to light.”

A greater understanding of the Law of Moses, indeed, contradicts the will to kowtow to the arbitrary and to unthinkingly salute the inscrutable. Many of the otherwise difficult-to-understand laws in the Mosaic canon are clearly linked to the overall theme of “monotypic ideality:” “the renunciation of unnecessary diversity of sensual experiences in favour of the ideal.” The phrase used to connote this idea in scripture is one rather difficult for most modern people to understand, namely, the injunction to “circumsize the heart” (Deuteronomy 10:16). Monotypic ideality specifically supports the promotion of monotheism in a polytheistic time and place, and might be roughly summarized as “getting people to see that it is better for them to be a holy people, one whose members know that they do not need to grab and mix every possible experience and apparent worldly advantage, even going into the muck and filth, or into incest and bestiality, or into the eating of unlikely creatures, or into worship of multiple made-up bronze gods.” The Mosaic prohibitions against a man “lying with a man as with a woman,” when they are considered in the context in which they arise, are clearly based on the underlying conception of a typologically definitive man whose ideal situation would be heterosexual marriage, but who has diverted himself to lying with other men out of sensual rapacity, motivated by the same factors as might motivate a man to sexually invade a beast (an act mentioned in the very next line of scripture after this prohibition in Leviticus 18). These scriptures, so long used to condemn homosexuals, are not related in any way to the situation of typologically distinct men who are intrinsically barred from the ideal of heterosexual marriage by a lack of the required heterosexual impulse, and who instead are best fit for an ideal of the gay relationship. Like the New Testament scriptures written by Paul, the Mosaic scriptures against men-with-men are directed against surrogacy, the common ancient and modern Middle Eastern/Mediterranean practice of the exploitation of “soft” men or boys by heterosexuals as surrogates for women.

Although it has become trendy among gay and other queer-identified academics recently to deny the existence of innately non-heterosexual men, or equivalent women, or to say that we are artifacts of a verbal definition of “the homosexual” and therefore don’t exist in societies that lack this concept, the plain truth underlying the existence of gay people as such is borne out in most of us by our obvious lack of viable heterosexual potential: we could possibly fake heterosexuality, or perhaps some of us could get into it to a very limited extent if we were desperate or determined to explore everything, but it is really not in our nature. No verbal definition or any other thought process did that to us. It is simply the way we are. Whether or not we could ever successfully perform a sex act with a person of the opposite sex, we don’t have the potential to experience the enduring sexual love that is the basis and reward of a loving relationship with members of the opposite sex. If we had sex with a partner so unnatural to our own natures, our feelings would not be much different from those of the person who has sex with a beast (apart from our guilt at having to tell lies to an innocent human partner in order to involve them in such a situation). Such an act would be an insult to its unwitting heterosexual co-participant, such as the woman in a socially forced marriage involving a gay man. It would be a fraudulent imitation of the potential of a real relationship. The principle of monotypic ideality laid out in Mosaic law inevitably directs us away from this fraud and towards finding our best loving potential in same-sex relationships. Not only, then, are we not condemned by these scriptures, but we are strongly directed to pay attention to our own ideality as God ordained it to us, and not to settle for anything less than our full loving potential. This is not self-willed attachment to our lusts of the flesh, as some fundamentalists would have it, but is rather, simply, a respect for love, a determination not to mix or confuse love with fakery. Herein lies the basis of a gay-positive orthodox Judaism.

People with no understanding of gay relationships or their potentials have great difficulty conceiving that the Mosaic scriptures against men lying with men might be specific to surrogacy and not applicable to gay men. The reason is that these scriptures seem so plain, so straightforward, and so simply vehement. In the minds of naïve readers, a picture is created of a man lying with a man, and then this picture seems to be branded with condemnation. “What could be easier to understand?” they ask. The problem with this simple interpretation is that life is sometimes more complex than the simple pictures that can be taken of it. Actions consist not just of what they look like, but also of their motivations and their consequences. A picture of someone giving a hungry child a piece of bread to eat may look good, but what if the bread is poisoned because the motivation is to kill the child? You and I may not be able to recognize the difference between the charity we seem to see and the homicide we are actually watching, but if we believe in God, we know that God knows the difference. God knows motive and consequence; God is perfectly aware when the same simple picture can represent two different situations. To take the Mosaic commandment as a simple picture encompassing every similar action is an oversimplification based on a denial of divine insight.

So how, then, could God actually condemn gays if that were truly God’s will? What kind of a scripture could be written that willful gay people couldn’t dodge around, if they were really condemned? The answer is obvious: a scripture giving an insightful and fully realistic condemnation, one going beyond an external view that also coincides with completely different phenomena. The situation of gays and Christianity would be entirely different if there were a divinely inspired scripture saying, “God knows that men-lying-with-men and women-lying-with-women can lead to rewarding relationships of love, trust and mutual support, and that the partners involved may by nature be unable to build such marital relationships with members of the opposite sex, but nonetheless this is considered evil and if you participate in such a relationship, you should be killed.” The commandment might go on to explain, “your built-in preference for this sort of relation is merely a whimsical cosmic torture exercised at God’s lordly pleasure and should not be taken as a license to love accordingly.” (Note that God, as all-seeing, would not have any access to the common fundamentalist denial that same-sex preference is predominantly an intrinsic characteristic.) The existing scriptures make it perfectly obvious that we are not dealing with such a macabre deity, but rather with a loving God. The same-sex acts that are condemned are perfectly clearly represented, explicitly or in context with nearby scriptures, as acts with no loving content or potential, exploitative in motive, commission and consequence. Many opposite-sex acts of the same unloving and exploitative, lustful (in the older sense of the word) nature are condemned with equal force.

So why, then, was there no contrastingly clear support of more loving same-sex relations as there was for loving heterosexual relations? The answer here must surely be that gay relationships as we know them today were not present, or at least not apparent, in order to become the subject of evaluation. Even though the potential for such relationships has clearly always existed and may have been realized sporadically in ancient history, the gay relationship, like democracy and the stock market, is for the most part a creative social construction that requires considerable social sophistication to come into being. The unavoidable difficulty of the gay relationship is that it, like the interracial marriage, is a minority phenomenon easily crushed by social prejudice. It can therefore be made to disappear, or at least to seem to disappear, for prolonged periods of time. Even individual gay people are easily rendered silent by social prejudice, leaving their reality out of the public sphere of discourse and understanding. It is thus not surprising that the bible that did not comment on the unrealized potential for loving same-sex relationships. There are many other obviously good, unrealized potentials that the bible did not comment on – for example, the potential for a law categorically banning slavery (The scripture “In Christ there is neither slave nor free” hints at this, but not strongly, as it seems to describe an equal status limited to dealings among Christians, and could be taken to suggest that the inferior status of a slave be temporarily ignored in religious meetings but otherwise preserved. The limitations on slavery in Deuteronomy 15 are limited to fellow-Hebrew slaves; foreigners are not included, as Deut. 20 makes clear.)

We do not normally expect scriptures to deal with unrealized social potentials. For example, we know that an all-knowing God, transcendent of spacetime, could at any point in biblical history have produced a scripture lauding elective democracy as fulfilling Jesus’ ideal of servant leadership among equals, and could even have complimented the future English, French and American peoples for their roles in developing such institutions. Nonetheless, we would find such an anachronistic scripture completely out of keeping with the rest of our known scriptures, including those with prophetic content. Likewise, then, the anomaly of an ancient scripture explicitly supporting the same-sex loving relationship (David’s famous comment about Jonathan’s love “surpassing the love of women” is encouraging, but ambiguous in context. Similarly, the profound devotion of Ruth and Naomi is touching, but there is nothing to suggest the two of them ever did any amorous touching). We find scriptural support for same-sex relationships mostly by deeply understanding the principles of love and honesty that are explicitly given in scripture.

The apparent condemnation of same-sex sexual acts in the Quran is fundamentally similar to that found in the Mosaic laws. It is complicated, however, by an extra degree of emphasis on the story of Lot. In Jewish and Christian scripture, the story of Lot is told in detail, but the frank accusations of male sex with males are missing. At most, the scriptures may have an obscure, veiled reference to a possible intention to commit same-sex rape. Any connection between the story as written and a general condemnation of same-sex acts withstands scrutiny so poorly that even most Christian and Jewish fundamentalists have abandoned this line of argument. In the Genesis version of this story, angels disguised as humans visit Lot in the wicked town of Sodom, where he lives under some suspicion as a resident alien, and are perceived as a threat by the locals. Lot’s house is besieged by a mob demanding that the visitors be sent out so that the mob can “know” them. The Hebrew verb “yadha” used to indicate this demand in the text happens by chance to be ambiguous, usually meaning ‘to know’ in the regular sense but sometimes serving as a euphemism for having sex. Lot refuses to send out the strangers to the mob and offers to send out his virgin daughters instead, presumably to be raped by the crowd. The angels rescue him from doing this by blinding the crowd. Lot’s (unlawful in Judaism) offer of his daughters was often interpreted in traditional Christianity as suggesting that the mob intended to sexually violate the angels, although, as many commentators have noted, this conclusion does not in any way logically follow from the sequence of events given. It is just as possible that Lot was hoping that the unruly mob, which would otherwise commit unspecified acts of violence against the strangers in his house, might decide to sate their aggressions by means of sexual violence directed at the daughters. Even if same-sex sexual acts were actually threatened by the mob, these acts could only have been acts of same-sex rape, and rape is always condemned. It makes no religious difference which sex is sexually violated in such an attack. Lot’s daughters were lower on the social totem pole than his visitors not just because they were women and humans, but also because they were family, not protected guests. (They also went on almost immediately to commit incest in a later story, perhaps making them unwholesome characters for the writer of the parable-like stories of Lot.) As for the men of Sodom, it seems much more reasonable that they were motivated by xenophobia and hostility to unauthorized strangers than that they were moved by a strange form of mass sexual aggression (which has no remotely known parallel in any gay milieu). They appear to be the equivalent of modern people who set fire to refugee centres. This interpretation is completely consistent with traditional interpretations of the story prior to the Christian era.

John Boswell thoroughly investigated Jewish and Christian interpretations of the Sodom story in Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (University of Chicago Press, 1980). He found that this story is referred to at several later points in Jewish scripture, and the sin attributed to the Sodomites is generally characterized as a violation of the hospitality laws protecting travellers, not as a sexual sin. Only at a much later point in history does a connection between homosexual behaviour and the Sodom story enter into circulation in some non-scriptural writings. Boswell also pointed out the correspondence between the Sodom story and the later story of Gibeah (Judges 19:22 ff.), in which virtually the same events were described again without attracting a traditional interpretation of same-sex lust. (Such an interpretation, however, has unrealistically been written in recently by translators of the New International Version and some other relatively interpretive, speculative modern bible translations. Other original aspects of the story, such as the description of the Benjaminite assailants as “sons of Belial” [the devil] may also have been suppressed in such translations, giving a clue that the text has been tampered with).

In the Quran, unlike in the Judaeo-Christian scriptures, the same-sex idea is strongly stressed in connection with Lot. The Quran, as a series of lectures (“Quran” is often translated as “lecture”), often repeats key stories several times, and the story of Lot is one of these recurring themes. It generally occurs in a fragmentary form as one of a series of brief examples of what happened to societies that rejected their divinely ordained prophets. Here is a composite version of the story, with surah (Quranic chapter) names in square brackets: “And we (God) sent forth Lot to his people. He said to them: ‘You commit indecent acts that no other nation has committed before you. You lust after men and assault them on your highways. You turn your gatherings into orgies.'” [The Spider] “You commit the carnal act, in lust, with men instead of women. Truly, you are an impious people.” [The Heights] “‘Are you blind that you should commit indecency, lustfully seeking men instead of women? Surely you are a senseless people.'” [The Ant] “‘Will you fornicate with males and leave your wives, whom God has created for you? Surely you are great transgressors.'” [The Poets]

“But his people’s only reply was: ‘Bring down God’s scourge on us if what you say is true.'” [The Spider] “Their only answer was: ‘Banish him from your city, him and his followers. They are men who would keep chaste.'” [The Heights]

“‘Lord,’ said he, ‘deliver me from these degenerate men.’ And when our messengers brought Abraham the good news (about the birth of his son), they said: ‘we are about to destroy the people of this town, for they are wicked men.’ Abraham said, ‘Lot dwells in it.'” [The Spider]

“‘We know well who lives in it,’ they replied. ‘We shall deliver him and all his relatives, except his wife, who will remain behind.'” [The Spider]

“And when our messengers came to Lot, he grew anxious about them, for he was unable to offer them protection. He thought, ‘this is indeed a day of grief.'” [Houd]

“His people, long addicted to evil practices, came running towards him.” [Houd] “The townsfolk came to him rejoicing.” [Al-Hijr] “He said: ‘These men are my guests; do not disgrace me. Have fear of God and do not shame me.’ They replied, ‘Did we not forbid you to entertain strangers?'” [Al-Hijr] “‘My people,’ he said, ‘here are my daughters: they are more lawful to you'” [Houd] “‘Take them, if you are bent on evil.'” [Al-Hijr].

“They replied, ‘You know we have no need of (Pickthall translation: ‘we have no right to’) your daughters. You know full well what we are seeking.'” [Houd]

“They (the angels) said, ‘Lot, we are the messengers of your lord; they shall not touch you…In the morning their hour will come.'” [Houd] “We (God) put out their sight and said, ‘Taste my punishment, now that you have heard my warning.'” [The Moon] “When the sun rose a dreadful cry rang above them. We laid their town in ruin and rained clay stones upon them.” [Al-Hijr].

The Quran retells several other biblical stories with altered details: for example, a different account is given of the story of Joseph in Egypt. The newborn Jesus delivers a speech from the cradle that is not recorded in Christian scripture. In the Quran, Jesus is just a man, albeit an important prophet, and (according to traditional interpretation of an ambiguous passage) is not crucified but instead ascends to heaven intact. The explicit same-sex reference in the story of Lot (the word “Sodom” is never mentioned) is in keeping with this general trend towards revised or reinterpreted Quranic versions of earlier scriptures. The traditional Muslim interpretation of the discrepancies among the scriptures is that the Jewish and Christian scriptures were incorrect or incomplete, since the divinely composed books of scripture originally given to these people were not compiled into written form immediately and were therefore corrupted with accidental or willful errors. The traditional Christian interpretation is that Muhammad, who is not accepted as a true prophet (just as Islam does not accept Paul as a true prophet), had only a partial knowledge of Judaeo-Christian scriptures and could produce only rudimentary versions or novel embellishments in the Quran. My own view is that these age-old contentions about which religion is correct are not relevant to the consideration of the scriptures regarding same-sex sexual actions, and the balance of this article is written treating the Quran as valid scripture, and the well-attested hadiths (sayings of the Prophet) as having their customary Islamic significance.

There are actually two sides to the traditional Islamic condemnation of same-sex sexual activities. The specific condemnation of the people to whom Lot was sent is one of these; the other is the issue of zina, or sex outside of marriage (sometimes translated as “indecency” or “fornication”). The sole Quranic quotation linking same sex activity to zina without mentioning Lot is from the surah “Women”: “if two men among you (commit zina), punish them both. If they repent and mend their ways, let them be. God is forgiving and merciful.” The injunction against zina, like the Mosaic laws against same sex activity, is clearly based on a scenario in which two men who ought to restrict themselves to marital sex, the opposite of zina (implying that this better option was perfectly plausible for them), lustfully had sex with one another instead. In doing so, they did something equivalent to adultery or premarital sex, which are also described as zina. That is to say, they were indulging in sexual extras or diversions, not in acts that worked for the good of their potential or current loving relationships. The word zina is consistently used to denote these breaches into deleterious extramarital excess. It is clear that this point of view can be applied without problem to same-sex surrogacy, which is just such a sexual diversion for an ordinarily heterosexual person. If applied to lesbians and gay men, for whom sex within heterosexual marriage is only possible in an atmosphere of deception or dishonesty, it has the strange effect of sanctioning this ugliness for them while banning their honest relationships. The Quran does not appear to sanction this situation; it says, for example, “brothers, fear God and speak the truth.” There is no religious sanction for homosexuals to feign heterosexuality. It also says, “God has never put two hearts within one man’s body.” The idea, entertained by some naïve young gays, that marriage alone will somehow make them heterosexual, is not plausible. It seems much more reasonable overall to conclude that the ban against same-sex extramarital or premarital sex is exactly that – an injunction against such activities by people who are, will be or could be legitimately heterosexually married.

The ban against zina is further reinforced by Quranic statements such as “blessed are the believers who restrain their carnal desires – except with their wives and slave girls, for these are lawful to them – and do not transgress through lusting after other women” and “worshippers…who restrain their carnal desire (save with their wives and slave-girls for these are lawful to them: he that lusts for other than these is a transgressor)…shall be laden with honours and shall dwell in fair gardens.” It is clear that such statements, although referring to believers in general, address only a subset of people. Women are obviously not addressed. The injunctions are directed to men alone; the men in question appear to be free heterosexual males who would commonly own slaves. The question is whether the statements are nonetheless intended to extend to men of all sorts. That there might be more than one recognized, fundamentally different type of man is suggested elsewhere in the Quran: the surah “Light” states that women “can reveal their splendour” to a limited number of people, including “male attendants lacking in natural vigour.” Although this description may seem to suggest ancient court eunuchs, it is now well known that the very rare individuals who are born as eunuchs, as well as men made eunuchs early in life through castration, often experience strong heterosexual desire and may well have sex with women, even though they cannot impregnate them. On the other hand, any woman is perfectly safe from interference if she reveals her splendour to a typical (i.e., non-bisexual) gay man. It would make little sense to prescribe to any man lacking natural vigour with women that he should regard wives and slave girls as his legal mates. Moreover, it seems illogical that statements about restraining one’s desires in favour of one’s wives and slave girls could apply to those who have no desires for wives and slave girls in the first place; to try to fake a desire for such things would hardly qualify as restraint. It seems impossible to believe that an all-knowing God would enjoin gay men, via the Quran, to restrict themselves to a desire that God knows full well they do not experience. On the other hand, it is perfectly understandable that heterosexual men would be asked to restrain themselves in this fashion.

Some readers may nonetheless find it simpler to deduce that all men are being addressed by the statements about legal sex partners, since women are clearly excluded and nothing is immediately said that seems to suggest a division among the men being addressed. This problem with this deduction is that it ignores a fundamental ambiguity in the philosophy of categories (taxonomy) that affects all public statements. I apologize in advance that parts of the rest of this paragraph may be difficult to read, but I can see no way around this issue. Whenever a category of natural objects is being cited, it can be cited either in a prototypifying (or normatizing or idealistic) way, or in a circumscriptional (or all-encompassing) way. To use an example from my own technical field, if one says “yeast” protypically, one means a few fermentative species that cause bread to rise and produce alcohol in wine. If, however, one says “yeast” circumscriptionally, one also includes several hundred additional fungal species with small budding cells and no leavening or fermentative capacity whatsoever. This sort of linguistic ambiguity is often found in statements about men, as is best illustrated by sayings about rough-and-tough places “where men are men” (or “where men are real men”). In such phrases, the first word “men” is circumscriptional (indicating all men) and the second is prototypifying. Every circumscriptional natural category includes plenty of exceptional and marginal items – for example, a person born with both male and female sexual organs could not be excluded from “all men.” Prototypifying categories, however, automatically exclude or minimize the unusual cases. The Quran, which is often explicitly directed towards men of Mecca and Medina, would not have succeeded in being a beautifully written, plain-language book if it had gone off on tangents about all sorts of unusual and exceptional cases every time it addressed its main audience. In order to be rhetorically effective, the Quran had to be spoken clearly to its prototypical, normal audience. Therefore, one does not expect an immediate, extended side-track about what rare categories of men, hermaphrodites and so on ought to do with their marital lives when Mohammed is reciting to an audience of typical Arabian clansmen at the time of the hejira. Words such as “believers” and “worshippers,” in statements about sexual restraint, were clearly addressed to mature Muslim, heterosexual men. This does not mean that the precepts given cannot edify other kinds of men, such as non-Muslims or pubescent youth, but it does entail that some of the heterosexual injunctions may be specifically intended for heterosexuals.

With regard to liwat, the sin of the people Lot was sent to, the Quran, like the Mosaic law, seems to present a simple picture of men with men, and an apparent blanket condemnation. Again, the context is violence. To put it mildly, none of the kind, loving, supportive or uplifting qualities commonly found in gay or lesbian relationships are seen in the same-sex relations that are depicted. Inhospitality and rape are unambiguously connected. The men involved are unquestionably heterosexual and mostly or all married, as seen by the mention of their wives “whom God has created for you.” In Islam, however, the contrast between these violent acts and the constructive, loving acts seen in gay relationships does not immediately put these two types of acts into different religious categories as it does in Christianity. The reason is that Islamic scripture, while supportive of love in many of its forms (ranging from friendly to parental to marital) does not appear to root the basis of all scriptural evaluation explicitly in love as Christian scripture does. Similarly, Islamic law does not appear to relate as consistently as Mosaic law does to the theme of the holiness of optimal relationships based on self-restraint. Such optimal and balanced relationships are generally favoured in Islam, of course, but the rhetorical construction of Islamic law is not conspicuously attached to this common thread in the way that the rhetoric of Mosaic law is. It is more or less taken for granted by many interpreters that God’s commands in Islamic scripture and the Prophet’s hadiths may well be self-standing; no correlation with general moral themes is strongly expected of every single commandment, although such correlations may of course be found in profound insight. Indeed, God has laid out in Islam several constructive formulas that simply appear to give the ummah, the community, common direction: the qiblah or direction of prayer, the timing and length of Ramadan, the month of fasting, the times of daily prayer, and so on. A blanket injunction against homosexuality, at first sight, seems a plausible addition to this catalogue of community-structuring admonitions. Even loving relations that maximized a non-heterosexual person’s moral potential and prevented false heterosexual pretenses could perhaps be banned by such an injunction.

The main problem with this scenario, although its possibility must be admitted, is that it seems far-fetched. Especially given the traditional connection between zina, extramarital sex, and same-sex activities, a connection between the apparent ban on homosexuality and the general scope of moral matters seems much more plausible. It is unlikely, for example, that anyone would claim that the Islamic ban on adultery was an otherwise unexplained constructive injunction not connecting with moral responsibilities, so why make this claim for same-sex activities? It seems likely that the sexual injunctions in the Quran all relate to the ethics of relationships. The Quranic passages condemning the people of Lot clearly suggest that if these people had better judgement, they would desist from same-sex activities and restrict themselves to heterosexual acts. One thing that all non-bisexual gay men and lesbians know, however, is that a gay person cannot acquire heterosexual potential through an act of judgement or wisdom. The matter in question is not one of free will or cognition. One can certainly, in the name of religious obedience, acquire a will to fake heterosexual interest, even to the point of trying to fool oneself, but somehow this does not seem to be what the scriptures are aiming at. At the same time, it would seem very strange to reinterpret the Quranic passages as suggesting that the people of Lot were gay men who lacked the power to turn away from their same-sex interests. It is much more traditional and more psychologically realistic to infer that the scripture attributed free moral choice to these people, and condemned them for choosing wrongly. The passages only make sense if they refer to people fully capable of ordinary heterosexual lives. Once again, as in the Judaeo-Christian situation, it really appears as if two different situations are being conflated together by traditional scriptural interpretation: a situation, mentioned in scripture, in which people who have ordinary levels of heterosexual potential are being condemned for deliberately and wantonly choosing to engage in aggressive or otherwise unsavoury same-sex actions, and a situation, not mentioned in scripture, where a people who through no choice of their own have no or insufficient heterosexual potential for true heterosexuality and conventional marriage, and whose same-sex actions would ordinarily be connected with behaviours that would otherwise be considered meritorious, are associated with the former scenario through mistaken identity.

The idea that traditional Muslim societies would normally confuse the heterosexual deviation of same-sex surrogacy with all same-sex sexual activity is strongly reinforced when one knows how common same-sex sexual exploitation has traditionally been in many middle-eastern and north African countries. Some Arabic, Turkish and Persian-speaking societies have traditionally carried over the ancient Greek de facto tolerance of using malakoi, “soft” men or boys who are willing to take the passive role in anal sex, as surrogate women. The survival of these customs into modern times is abundantly documented, for example in Arno Schmitt and Jehoeda Sofer’s Sexuality and Eroticism among Males in Moslem Societies (Harrington Park Press, New York, 1992). This book contains some scholarly writings, but also contains several personal accounts in which western or western-educated gay men with post-gay-liberation cultural assumptions recount their attempts to establish sexual liaisons with men informed by traditional middle eastern assumptions. They are greatly surprised to find out that the great majority of their partners consider themselves heterosexual and will only take the sexual role that they consider to be masculine, i.e., the penetrating role. There is generally no question of an equal relationship ever being formed or even contemplated. Consider these quotes from David Reed, who tried to carry on a North American style promiscuous gay lifestyle in Pahlevi-era Tehran:

“Men with beards will improve their (passive) gay sex life by shaving. Remember that Iranians, many of whom sport beards, want female surrogates for sex…” (Schmitt and Sofer, op. cit., p. 65)

(An Iranian “trick” or sexual contact, if given a pile of sex magazines to look at in Reed’s apartment) “will pick up Playboy, never Playgirl. He will turn to photos of women’s rear ends (and)…he will point to the woman and point at you. He does not ask if you like her; he asks if you will be her.” (Schmitt and Sofer, op. cit., p. 66)

Comments like this from a single person could just be the grousing of one disgruntled westerner, but all other accounts support the same general scenario, and the specific vocabulary connected with the sorts of actions and people involved are given in several languages and dialects – for example, the Moroccan zamel or the Persian kuni, indicating a malakos or catamite. The sexual acts that take place are often technically illegal under religious or civil law, but are seldom prosecuted or popularly considered to be worthy of special attention if kept quiet. In any case, for example, in the highly traditionally influenced Islamic Republic of Iran Penal Code (1982), acts of this nature could only be successfully prosecuted if attested to by four male, Muslim eyewitnesses, or confessed four times, or otherwise elaborately evidenced. Prosecution is thus reserved for the utterly careless, the flagrant, the unlucky or the politically persecuted.

It has often been pointed out that this common surrogacy is correlated with the extreme isolation of women in traditional Islamic societies. There is minimal interaction between young men and unrelated women prior to the beginning of marriage arrangements. Just as many heterosexual men in western prisons begin to find their younger and smoother fellow-inmates interesting, especially face-down, single heterosexual men in Middle-Eastern countries, lacking an alternative sexual outlet, have traditionally often exercised the option of turning to malakoi as a substitute. As the Kinsey report showed in 1949, this practice is by no means unknown in Christian societies as well. Its proliferation in Christian areas, however, seems to have been partly obstructed by the long-standing European tradition of labelling both participants as deviants (originally as “sodomites,” later as homosexuals), whereas Middle Eastern societies appear to have been more likely to accept the active partner’s (generally true) assessment of himself as an ordinary heterosexual person.

Apart from this ordinary surrogacy, there is also an ultra-aggressive form in which a man may be raped for pure reasons of violence and domination. The Quranic accounts of the people of Lot strongly suggest that such violation was threatened, even though the accusation “you lust after men instead of women, you are truly an impious people” suggests that ordinary surrogacy may also have been a general social trend, unless the people were incredibly violent with one another all the time. Both the violence and the general trend to wholesale sexual rapacity appear vividly in certain versions of the Lot story, e.g., the previously quoted version from the surah “The Spider:” “You commit indecent acts which no other nation has committed before you. You lust after men and assault them on your highways. You turn your very gatherings into orgies.”

Surrogacy, known in traditional gay American parlance as “rough trade,” is not necessarily so very violent, and it may therefore mystify some people why religions would impose such heavy interdictions upon it in general, when it might be taken as an often harmless and temporary sexual outlet. Books could be written in explanation of this matter, but even a brief sketch may serve to convince many people that such bans are not anomalous. Taking the active role in sex is commonly taken to indicate and substantiate male power, whereas being penetrated is considered to indicate unmasculine submission. The more a society divests women of social power, the more a surrogate submission seems to transform a potentially powerful man into a powerless virtual woman. Since God is conceived in such societies as male and powerful, and as identifying with men and their power, such a crushing of a man’s masculinity seems virtually to be an attack on God. Hence reactions like the hadith “whenever a male mounts another male, the throne of God trembles.” To complicate matters, and to give some substance to this otherwise theoretical male power concern, surrogacy also entails a taste for young, smooth men or boys, and it may treat them roughly, as men in conservative societies often treat women. Young men or boys may therefore be raped, or more-or-less coerced, tricked or bribed into serving the passive role, and they may experience all the psychological dislocations that victims of rape or child sexual violation often experience. Surrogacy by nature treats the passive partner as an object, as something other than what he or she is; it is therefore an alienated act right from the outset, and can easily add indignities and injuries to its basic penetration if the controlling partner is so inclined. Arno Schmitt, in Sexuality and Eroticism among Males in Moslem Societies, points out that the act of penetrating a malakos is expressed in Arabic with the instrumental expression lata bi, not the cooperative lata ma?: that is, one sodomizes by means of a sexual object, not with a partner. People in western countries, unless they have done extended prison time, have mostly seen so little surrogacy that they may be unaware of its intrinsically dehumanizing and potentially violent nature. The writers of scripture, however, lived in areas where surrogacy was common, at least among some peoples. It is no surprise that they commented on it and condemned it.

In same-sex relationships among gays, by contrast, penetration may not occur, but if it does, it is generally simply considered to be an act of loving intimacy that has no influence on the masculinity or the femininity of either participant. No one is placed in subjection; penetration does not force anyone into a role (although the theatre of roles may be toyed with as an intimate game, as in the “butch” and “femme” roles that lesbians have sometimes assigned themselves). Sex is not an act of usage, and both partners are respected; there is no intergradation into actual coercion or rape. One’s powers and integrity are left intact or even built up.

When homosexuality is not hidden and people freely tell researchers and pollsters the truth about themselves, the proportion of gays and lesbians in the population does not appear to change significantly over time. Surrogacy, however, can become a fashion. Eva Cantarella, in her Bisexuality in the Ancient World (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1992) documents the dramatic spread of this habit from ancient Greece to Rome. The widespread habit of using sex for any exploitative purpose tends to degrade relationships as a whole – for example, a married man chasing boys on the side engages in shallow and unequal, self-gratifying relations with both the boys and with his spouse. The contagion of selfishness and degraded personal integrity entailed by such fashions is difficult to combat, especially when linked to the innate addictiveness of the sex drive; hence the severe penalties often proposed by religious scriptures. An Islamic example is the hadith “if you see two people who act like the people of Lot, then kill the active and the passive” (an injunction that would contradict the much milder command about male-male zina in the Quran, unless ‘acting like the people of Lot’ were an aggravated offense like mixing surrogacy with violence) while a Judaeo-Christian example is “if a man also lies with mankind, as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; [the responsibility for shedding of] their blood shall be upon them.” (Note how well an application to surrogacy fits the wording of the Levitical passage, whereas the “as he lies with a woman” is unfitting if an application to gay men is intended.) Similar penalties tend to be prescribed for adultery, which can also become fashionable and addictive (“If a man is caught sleeping with another man’s wife, both must die” [Deut. 22:22]). The extremity of the penalty reflects the impotence of any lesser penalty to deter the sexually rampant, exploitative transgressor.

Such extreme penalties in ancient times may well have reversed social trends towards surrogacy or adultery, and may have relieved traditional relationships, which were intended to be mutualistic, of this consumerist, sensualist fashion pressure directed against them. On the other hand, such penalties have no ability to influence the number of people in each generation who experience themselves as non-heterosexual and who can only find marital-level love with members of their own sex. If such people are imperilled by these penalties, they can only respond by increasing the degree to which they conceal themselves and the degree to which they are forced to retreat into pseudo-heterosexuality. It seems unlikely, even bizarre, to suppose that the intention underlying these penalties could be to launch the back-handed attack on heterosexual sincerity that inevitably ensues when a lot of non-heterosexuals are pushed into pseudo-heterosexuality. The penalties are intended to support heterosexual marriage, not to create farcical versions of it – which is all they can do if they are applied to gay men and lesbians. So applied, such penalties literally become attacks on the heterosexual family – fundamentalists who believe that they support the family could not be more completely mistaken. Let anyone from any religion consider whether he or she can conscientiously deny the following principle: “a heterosexual person entering in good faith into marriage deserves a truly heterosexual spouse.” How many sincere heterosexual wives and husbands in past centuries have been the victims of the unavoidable apathy in relations that is invariably caused by the pressuring of gay men and lesbians into heterosexual marriage? Who, if anyone, would knowledgeably promote the conditions that lead to the formation of such pseudo-relationships?

Surrogacy and its attendant descent into the use of people as objects clearly violates the potential of people to reserve their sexual powers for constructive, harmonious relationships. Possibly some Christians have wondered if the importance of enduring love in marriage is de-emphasized in Islam, with its traditional tolerance of up to four wives and its relatively easy divorce (now also available in secularized western countries in any case). Whatever the situation may be in traditional society, which often deviates from religious precepts (for example, the common Islamic African practice of “female circumcision” has no backing in scripture or written religious tradition), it would be very hard to justify a claim that Islamic scripture and religious thought in any way devalue the genuine harmony and mutual interest of husband and wife. Indeed, such harmony is called a sign of God in the Quran: “By another sign he gave you wives from among yourselves, that you might live in joy with them, and planted love and kindness in your hearts.” If one were to ask Muslim thinkers, “should husband and wife in a marriage be able to partake of a genuine heterosexual union with each other, or is the perpetual, unwilling mimicry of this state by one partner an equally desirable situation?” there is little doubt that all would agree that the potential for real, honest, mutual sexual relations in marriage is preferable (notwithstanding that disease or accident may take away the ability to have sex at some later point in life). To quote the Quran again, “women are your fields; go, then, into your fields as you please.” There is undoubtedly a clear contrast between the alienation of surrogacy and the mutuality of marriage in Islamic precepts. Only a person biased against Islam would be likely to suggest otherwise, i.e., to suggest that heterosexual love is irrelevant to Islamic marriages. It must be noted that arranged marriages, even if not based on “falling in love” beforehand, are still generally expected to engender loving harmony, not just in Muslim but also in Hindu societies. Therefore, the mere fact that a marriage has been arranged by parents, with or without the consultation of the bride or groom, is not by itself an indication that emotional commitment is not supposed to matter in these marriages and that they are merely perfunctory constructions of social convenience. (The construction of pseudo-relationships based on social convenience may happen, e.g., the classic nightmare story of the teenage bride given to the rich and cruel elderly man, but such things are a greedy violation of the ground-rules of arranged marriage and would not be recommended by any religious authority.) Once again, we are discussing social ideals, not realities as seen from ground level. Many kinds of marriages may develop discord, but this does not mean that they began as alienated arrangements or were intended to be that way.

The inescapable conclusions of the discussion above are that the Quranic passages about the people of Lot refer to essentially uncaring sexual actions wilfully undertaken as deviations by persons with normal heterosexual potential, and that the whole moral question of whether sexual actions are destructive or supportive of valuable relationships is as important in Islam as it is in Judaeo-Christianity. Therefore, Islam does not fundamentally differ from Christianity and Judaism in regard to the impact of its apparent bans on same-sex relations. Although Judaism, Christianity and Islam have traditionally not authorized same-sex marriage (except perhaps in eastern Europe in the first dozen or so centuries of Christianity, as John Boswell has pointed out in Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, Villard Books, New York, 1994), neither have they traditionally dealt in any way with the reality of gay persons with negligible potential for standard heterosexual relationships; this reality was always obscured, in scripture-writing periods of history, by the much more socially prevalent reality of surrogacy. The realistic and honest choices for gay persons in traditional societies, assuming that these people do not want to take the traditional route of faking heterosexuality or becoming furtively promiscuous (or both), are to become celibate, or to attempt to form gay relationships that are de facto marriages. The route of faking heterosexuality is very difficult to undertake for anyone with any scriptural understanding, because any sex undertaken to support this fakery is in fact surrogacy, using a heterosexual partner as an object with the aim of proving one’s own heterosexuality or of producing progeny, pleasing the family, avoiding execution, etc. This loveless, exploitative use of sexuality is quite obviously, to the insightful gay person, the very thing condemned by seemingly homophobic scripture. Only a naïve person or the most abject hypocrite could engage in it.

Perhaps with some view to this moral bind, conservative religious thinkers throughout the sphere of the “Religions of the Book” (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and controversially Bahá’í) who have begun to understand this problem in recent years have often recommended celibacy to people of gay inclination. Because of the strong integration of sexuality in normal human existence, however, celibacy is not an ordinary ascetic renunciation like forswearing coffee or alcohol. It is a highly cognitively involved form of focused religious dedication that is really only painlessly adopted by the few, and that is realistically best reserved for those exceptional people whose potential as human beings is maximized by it. After all, it does not merely consist in giving up sex, but also in giving up the loving relationship that is the centre of most peoples’ everyday lives, and for religious people, the central human complement to their relationship with God. As the Quran says, “we (God) created you in pairs.” This statement, clearly not just directed to the usual prototypical men, must be reasonably known to apply to lesbians and gay men as well – it certainly appears to do so in real life. The most straightforward and consistent way for the religions of the book to deal with gay persons who could bring out the best in themselves and their partners through gay relationships would be to include them in marriage or to give their relationships an equivalent status. This would in no way be a violation of scriptures against surrogate exploitation and violence; in fact, it would prevent the same phenomenon from occurring in pseudo-heterosexual disguise. The problem of homosexuality vs. zina/extramarital sex in all these religions would thereby be solved. In the meantime, all those people, whether heterosexual or not, with a special gift of taking God as their sole spiritual companion, could renounce ordinary life and take up celibacy in the traditional manner.

When the idea of legitimate same-sex marriage is raised, the seemingly proscriptive scriptures will undoubtedly be read again and, as with the Mosaic scriptures mentioned above, a protest will surely arise: “but those scriptures are so clear, so plain: they show an unequivocal picture of man with man and state that this is evil. There is no hedging, no qualification, no road out.” In Islam in particular, this impression is amplified by the overall idea that the Quran is written in “plain Arabic” for everyone to understand and memorize, and that it should in no way be turned into an academic document full of hidden caveats and qualifications. Any rethinking of scriptural interpretation, a practice called ijtihad, has been controversial for centuries, even in connection with learned religious scholars. Thus the temptation to cleave to a blanket condemnation of homosexuality as the plainest interpretation is hard to resist, even when one knows that the seemingly beneficial gay relationships one sees in the westernized world are not exactly what is described there. Again, however, the counterargument must be that simple pictures of two different actions can look the same; that giving a child bread laced with poison is not the same as giving a child good bread, even though a visual description of the transfer of bread would be the same in both cases. To take the act as an image, and to abstract away the real motive and the real consequences (“real” is stressed because one can idly imagine that gay relationships will always have horrible consequences, but this phantasm is not matched by reality) is, in effect, to yank scripture out of its context in full reality and to impose one’s own desire for simplicity on it. Islam has a particularly strongly developed point of view on the problems that images may pose for people – several hadiths suggest that pictures may seem to imitate life and even to feign God’s power of creative animation. People searching for simplicity in worship may thus turn to images instead of to God, who cannot be represented as an image. To take a full-bodied scriptural passage composed by a divinely informed author aware of motive and consequence, and to turn it into an image of itself, where only the picture matters, and then to reattribute that oversimplified picture to God, is a kind of idolatry or image-worship. It is a sin, an act of turning religion into superstition. The realities of the two completely different kinds of same-sex sexual activity – of heterosexual surrogate exploiters with their free-willed choice of oblivious and potentially destructive usage, as opposed to gay persons with their innate, God-given potential for same-sex but not opposite-sex loving harmony, cannot be ignored by the conscientious adherent of any religion. God does not brush realities under the carpet of convenience, and humans who interpret God’s word have no license to do so. It can be quite simply seen from the plain Arabic on the page that the people of Lot were not, by any stretch of the imagination, folk who intended supportive, loving gay relationships that were their best option given that honest heterosexual marriage was impossible for them. None of this ordinary, simple, everyday gay reality is present in the plain scripture at all.

Religious authorities who want gay persons to accept the traditional, pictorial views of the same-sex scriptures in question have to consider the position this simplicity puts some people in. The actual loving and supportive qualities of gay relations, and the dearth of potential for heterosexuality in the partners, may be known not only to the gay people themselves, but also to their friends and family. In saying that God finds every act of same-sex love lustful (in the traditional rapacious sense of the word), exploitative, violent, personality-destroying, and a deviation from heterosexual nature, these religious authorities are in effect telling all these people that God is either accidentally or wilfully ignorant of the obvious reality of the situation. Such an accusation is completely unacceptable to any religious person – a God who does not know the truth is not God. Thus any person, gay or otherwise, who has experienced the reality of loving gay relationships and then accepts the fundamentalist point of view, has been driven not only into faking heterosexuality, but also into faking worship. In general, only gay persons who have had bad experiences – acts of surrogacy, unrewarding contact with the gay bar scene, or unsuccessful relationships – or the friends or family of such people, could adopt the fundamentalist point of view and still remain a sincere Christian, Jew or Muslim. No one who has known the full reality of gay relationships could realistically imagine that God was too unperceptive to understand this reality.

In any case, the forces in very conservative forms of Islam that insist that religious writing not be interpreted, and that everything in society except science should remain as it was in Islam’s first three centuries, ignore the fact that these writings often give examples in which they interpret themselves and explain themselves at a deeper level. For example, as pointed out in the (admittedly difficult language of the) Book of Power (currently offline), “Muhammad the Prophet, upon whom be peace, was often frank about the underlying protocols assumed in his hadithic exclusions, and did not present himself as rendering arbitrary taboos or random flecks of divine micro-regulatory opacity. For example, after he had forbidden the eating of donkey meat, he granted an exemption to a family which was recently beset by famine but which had donkeys that earlier had been fattened with good fodder. As the Sunnan Abu Dawud (a collection of sayings of the prophet) entry has it, he said, ‘feed your family on those fattened donkeys of yours, for I forbade them (donkeys) on account of the animal which feeds on the filth of the town.'”

Mohammed, then, at first categorically and clearly banned eating donkeys, but later distinguished between clean donkeys and filthy donkeys. Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, has traditionally simply not dealt with gay relationships because it has not been able to make the parallel distinction between these clean relationships and the filth of common, exploitative same-sex surrogacy.

The prevention and obliteration of gay relationships owing to social prejudice, which is often misguidedly based on dislike of surrogacy or on uncomprehending adherence to scriptures intended against surrogacy, has created a vacuum in visible manifestations of supportive gay relationships, and has also fostered pseudo-heterosexual fakery that perpetuated the false idea that heterosexual potential was universal. This situation, like slavery and monarchial despotism, went on for centuries with apparent religious justification, but the truth has now come out. Regardless of all the violence that will be done to gay people around the world in upcoming decades, this truth can never be buried again.

O thank you O God Baruch Adonai Y’Allah through whose mercy and benevolence love has been given to us.

For a more detailed and less academic look at the interactions between gay relationships and Islam, see all the confrontations and reconciliations play out in fictional form in the book excerpts starting at the blog post, A Same Sex Marriage in the Sharia Zone 


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Expendable Selves: Suicide Attackers May Be Sexual Self-Haters


                                                                                                                       Flickr Creative Commons/Nicole Beaulac

One thing I can tell you from personal experience about sexual orientation is that it’s very easy to go for years telling NO ONE about your deviant nature.

I realized with vivid clarity that I was gay at the age of 12. I didn’t make contact with another gay person until I was 21, and I didn’t tell any of my friends or family until I was 23.  At age 15, I was given a medical questionnaire that inquired about my sexual orientation; I lied.  Even though I was bold enough never openly to profess interest in the opposite sex, I dated a few girls whom friends had arranged for me, and had a seemingly typical boy-girl relationship with the girl I took out to prom.  I knew she was planning to leave the region and move far away after she graduated, but no one else perceived this as a factor that made it possible for me to date her.

My mainstream Christian religious background held homosexual acts to be sinful, but such matters weren’t among its high priorities. My local community was also uniformly anti-gay, but we were exposed to print media where gay liberation was discussed.  I had hope for a future where I could live with myself.  But what if I hadn’t had that hope?  What if I’d come from a society that was very clear that my impulses were entirely sinful, a society where I’d never, realistically, be able to tell anyone about myself?  What would my life, then, seem to be worth?

All societies based on religions condemning deviant sexualities have to have some place to dispose of the people they alienate from self-acceptance.

In Christian societies with a tradition of priestly or monastic celibacy, clearly the place to go if you were queer was into the clergy.  You’d be preserved from sinful sex, in theory, by the celibacy rules; and you’d be doing religious service to offset the damage done to the creation by the your sinful existence.  Given a little creativity or corruption in the ranks of the religious, you might even be able to have a sex life, especially if you could find some way to portray your actions as controlling sin.  Think of Milwaukee priest Lawrence Murphy, who caught boys at a deaf school doing sexual actions with each other, and then punished them by engaging them in masturbation involving himself, supposedly to show them how private masturbation was done ‘properly.’

Sunni Islam, diverse as it is, is mostly anti-monastic, and it promotes marriage rather than life-long celibacy.  Though Muslim countries tend to have an underground tradition of same-sex sex among unmarried young males – one boy playing the available hole and the others playing the ‘real men’ making use of it – there is no long-term place in that world for anyone who knows he is purely homosexual.  All he can do is hoax a woman into marriage and do his best to pretend to be heterosexual.

And then there are deviants who are, let’s say, ‘more deviant’ than gays.  There are diverse fetishists, who may or may not be able to have sexual relations outside their fetish.  There are pedophiles, who may, if attracted to females, be able to marry a 9-year-old girl in Yemen, but who won’t be loved for it and won’t rise in her esteem as she ages out of attraction range. There are pedophiles and pederasts attracted to males who are absolutely beyond the borders of accepted life.

Warlike sects within Sunni society have long offered a position of honour for these deviants, who are given every incentive to rate themselves as worthless and unfitting for normal family life.  They can become martyrs.  People imagine that martyrs in Islam are horny heterosexual males who find the promised virgins of paradise a strong come-on.  We are led to suppose that the availability, in real life, of up to four wives who may be divorced and replaced isn’t sufficient variety for these randy al-dudes.  Actually, the idea that one may become attracted to such virgins may be real the come-on.  In any event, from the viewpoint of the deviant, one certainly has no place remaining on the world below.  It’s far better to consummate one’s religion and die a martyr than it is to carry on as a sneaking pervert, loved only by those who don’t yet know you well enough to hate you.  Martyrdom is the only consummation you will know, the only release to infinite spiritual union.

Many suicide bombers are deviants.  I guarantee you that.  Whether they’ve been married, whether they’ve had children, whether they’ve complained that girls ignore them, whether they’ve seemed to be ironclad religious fanatics – these are people who are convinced they are expendable.  They have no place on Earth, even though the armies they support need plenty of children who can become the soldiers of the future.  These people can’t be of child-raising service, except at the cost of hypocrisy and personal psychosexual agony.  Their only value lies in the capital raised for their religious mentors by their deaths.

I don’t subscribe to any view that supposes that the general population of gays, or of any other sexual minority, has more callous, venal or self-serving people in it than does the general population of ‘normal’ people.  There is no inherent tendency of gays or voyeurs or zoophiles or pedophiles to engage in killing of the innocent. But when one’s life is valueless except as a living bomb, then one can only be tempted to explode. If religion tells you that those who you’re blowing up are only kaffirs anyway, degraded and dehumanized by their lack of true religion, then your niche in heroism becomes clear.

The best part of blowing yourself up is that you never have to tell anyone about your deviancy.  Your intolerable urge to make contact with the human race and plead for yourself is ended.  You can take your secret to your Earthly grave, and then be rewarded with acceptability in paradise.  For surely, you wouldn’t arrive there in all Allah’s honour and still be a pervert. Eternal life is eternal secrecy.

Therefore, I believe anyone wishing to combat Islamic suicide attacks should begin to take the liberation of sexual minorities in Muslim countries very seriously. The key to this effort, with regard to gays, is to understand that traditional Islam, like traditional Christianity, confused gay relations with opportunistic same-sex sex among horny and frustrated heterosexual males.  Notice that the problem of what you should do if you find you are ONLY attracted to your own sex is NEVER discussed in scriptures.  Only stray acts of craven lust by people who are assumed to be essentially heterosexual are discussed.  Real homosexuals are completely off the hook for this condemnation. They are not perverting their natural heterosexuality with unbounded lust. They don’t have a heterosexuality to pervert.  If male, they are what the Quran calls, kindly, ‘men who have no natural power with women.’ What such men should do with their lives is not fleshed out, except to say that they may legally look upon the nakedness of women to whom they are not married, and thus be personal servants.

For extensive discussion of all surrounding details and queries, and reconciliation of homosexuality with all relevant quotations from the Quran and hadiths, read through the three-part illustrative story starting here.

As for non-gay deviants, the western combination of tolerance for those who may safely practice their paraphilias, and helpful therapy for those who may not, are great improvements upon the existing funnel into destructive martyrdom.

We must take sexual politics in Islamic societies as a top priority.  Give hope to the legions of expendable selves who are created by conservative religious traditions.  Solicit LGBT refugees and treat them as prizes for human rights.  Let every deviant from Marrakesh to Mecca to Maluku know that life has more to offer than having his or her sinful flesh blown to pieces.

And repeat the basic understanding as often and as prominently as you can:  we know that most suicide bombers are probably sexual deviants. To engage in suicide combat is a confession of self-perceived unfitness to live.  We will all know you were a pervert if you explode.  Your secrecy is over.  You’ve not only been blown up – you’ve been outed.





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Part 3: Truth and Reconciliation Hearing in the Sharia Zone

Before reading this, please see Part 1 and Part 2.


**A couple of months later.


Our heroes at this point have gone through several completely different adventures in the polytheistic part of Qodra.  On the way, they’ve been spotted and ordered to an audience by the Emperor of Qodra.  His intelligence services have told him about the strange things Yith and Eleya have done, stunning people and making thunder sounds (with a gun which is an unknown device here).  Also, he has found out that Yith claimed to be from the sky.  He understands Yith as a minor polytheistic god who has come to visit his country, and Yith has not been able to talk him out of this idea.  The Emperor has had Yith bow down to him, and now has a vested interest in Yith’s godhood, since only he, among all rulers, has been bowed down to by a god.  In exchange for the bow, Yith has asked to be allowed to free some slaves, and they are now travelling with our party.  One of the slaves is a young girl who was about to be sold as a sex slave (important in the story to follow).  Some of the slaves worship Yith in secret as a god, even though they know he doesn’t approve at all.  They just think he’s modest – and after all, he did free them, so they worship him as the god of manumission (liberating of slaves).  Right now, the Emperor is sending our heroes, along with the freed slaves, two royal princes and some officials, including the Governor (khalzukhli) of the Sharia Zone, back to the law courts of the Sharia Zone for a sort of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, looking into how our heroes were mistreated on their first time through (as seen in Part 2). **




Story begins



After four more days of travel, we came out onto the coastal lowlands again, and on the fifth day, the northwest border checkpoint of Daa’if came right up on a curve in the road.  No place for little Tekhub-shenni’s here, I thought.  I suddenly had the strongest wish to see my young buddy again, but we were heading for the opposite side of the bay, back to the law courts and grand buildings that, in my case, only seemed to presage pain and punishment.

As it happens, though I had no way of knowing it, I’d be seeing him very soon, so I didn’t need to feel frustrated.  But what the heck – frustration is a poignant reminder of ongoing vitality.  Enjoy it while you can’t.

There was, needless to say, no problem going through the checkpoint, though in retrospect, we could have worked a little harder to get the girls and women past the initial shock of having to cover their heads with a head-scarf.  It isn’t easy to get ex-slaves to accept a new restriction, and there’s no reasonable way to argue that an item that covers so much of the head, including a major sensory system – the ears – isn’t restrictive.  Perhaps with a specific cultural perspective, you could imagine that the relative modesty of the scarf was more liberating than the natural clarity of being uncovered from the neck up, but this idea didn’t work for any of our double-X-chromosome people.  They did see, though, as passersby reminded us with dappled and calicoed hijabs, that you could make the item look stylish.  Tuni {one of the freed slaves, a young woman} was the most reluctant of our group to go with the look, but when Yith and I told her about my prison adventures, she bit her lip and strapped on the modesty saddle.  The one she chose from the box offered by our soldiers was magenta.  Yes, the half-colour of creative exuberance – as far from modesty as a person can get in a flutter of pigmentation.

A ceremonial guard corps from the district government was ready to receive us on the other side of the line, and the governor himself was there, in full splendour, at the head of their formation.  Faisul ben Muhhammad ad-Dtaa’ifi, the khalzukhli, as he was officially titled, wore a green tunic robe that extended to his ankles.  The tunic had woven-in quranic inscriptions in white on the upper half – he looked like he was swathed in an elaborate version of our Earthly Saudi flag.  The inscriptions were partially obscured by a broad, fringed, ivory coloured sash, with braided white fringe tassels, that went over one shoulder and draped down to his hemline on the opposite side.  He also wore a green version of the peaked cap of high sQodravtse authority.  His beard was an unusual auburn shade, and I wondered if he’d been having a go with some henna, but I later decided that it was natural.  He was a sQodravtse chestnut redhead – part-Kurdish by descent, as I later found out.   His most unusual feature, though, was that he had braided the bottom two-thirds of his beard in cross-hatching braids, in the style of an ancient Assyrian king.  This gave him a remarkable look of civility.  By contrast, the emperor, whose beard was au-naturel, would have seemed like a wild hunter by comparison.  No doubt ‘the eagle’ preferred to look ready for the hunt.

“In the name God, the merciful, the compassionate, we bid you peace,” the khalzukhli began.   “In the name of his majesty, Kelum-arssibi, the Emperor of the Central Qodra, the Eagle, it is my privilege to welcome all of you here to our Daa’if Autonomous City.  We bow to their royal highnesses Prince Khashib-arssibi, the ushriannei (heir to the throne), and prince Talbush-arssibi, visiting our City for the first time.  It is our deepest honour to have you in our home, and all that we have is yours.”

The assembled delegation all bowed deeply, as did our own soldiers.   Not wanting to breach protocol, Yith, Xus, Eleya and I did so as well, after a brief exchange of looks among ourselves.  Talbush gave us a comical “O” face and a cutely modest little grin.  The khalzukhlu continued his welcome speech.

“We extend a special welcome to the emperor’s distinguished guests from outside this nation and even outside this world, and we wish to assure you that your safety here is under unbreachable imperial guarantee.  We’re aware of how you left this region when you were last here, and we hope you will be gratified by our attempts to rectify the injustice that was done to you.  Please follow me now, and you will be received in our visiting diplomatic and military quarters as valued guests of our City and our nation.”

I still had to take a deep breath as I crossed the border.  My first impulse was to hold onto Yith’s hand, but I caught myself.  Even though boys not uncommonly walked hand-in-hand here, the context we arrived in tended to make it controversial.  Darn.

Holding that supersmooth hand would have been like a drink of water on a very hot day.  Speaking of weather, it was distinctly warmer here than it had been in the interior, and the sun was brilliant, off-and-on, as patches of cloud trooped across the heavens.

We rode across the line on our horses and glanced around at the gazes of the small crowd that had assembled to see what was going on.  A great deal of whispering was going on amongst the robed, hijabed and otherwise curtained people.  A few people shouted ‘salaam’ – peace! – and I wasn’t sure if they meant it or if they were being ironic.  I did hear one boy excitedly say ‘luti’ to his little friend – meaning sodomizer or arsenocoit – but then a woman, probably his mom, shushed him up.

(‘Arsenocoit’ is a sDiyyanantse English word that basically means ‘sodomite,’ but undoes the disputed link of that concept to the Sodom story in the Bible – it’s derived from Saint Paul’s use of the word αρσενοκοίτης – arsenokoites – in 1st Corinthians 6:9 and can be translated, if you don’t want to use four-letter sex words, as male-doer.  In our culture, it means the ‘top’ in a relationship of same-sex surrogacy.  You can see the word ‘coitus,’ meaning penetrative sex, in the word roots.)

We filed down long avenues on our horses.  The markets we passed still looked sumptuous, and I had to repress my long-standing urge to go on a Daa’if shopping spree.  This probably wasn’t the best time for me to buy a carpet, in any case – but maybe with all my connections here now, I could leave it with someone until Tashei {a trader} could come and ship it back for me.  Of course, this meant I’d somehow have to get back home myself.  Easier fantasized than done.  Best to simplify things and just plot my own trajectory.

The reasonably palatial military compound had its own set of walls.  They were devoid of the usual array of divinities and creatures.  Just the mushkhushshu, the birdfoot dragon, prowled on the stonework, and only in relief, not in colour.  His snappy jaws looked ready to blow out fire or eat whatever it is that such creatures eat – military captives, perhaps.  His girlfriend or boyfriend on the other side of the gateway looked just as hungry.

We deposited our materials in our living quarters and were immediately ushered to a large dining hall.  There, we had a meal of whole roasted lambs that was the equal of anything we’d had from the garbage pits of Qodra City {our heroes were reduced to scavenging garbage for a few weeks}.  It was much better when the previous day’s purulent chicken bones and date pits didn’t need to be shaved away from the meat.  Coming back to the coast automatically reminded me of our last trip here, and I found that my friends had the same thoughts on their minds.  Only Kheshmi {a dog} seemed to be able to ignore reminiscence and just concentrate on the meat of the moment.   We humans pay dogs for that exact clairvoyance, that steadfast alluminance, so I gratefully gave him lamb bits and reminded myself that the world is forever new.  Only a surfeit of brains causes you to think otherwise.  Alas, I possessed – and possess – that surfeit.

After dinner, we had a chance to mingle with the other diners and lounge around on divans.  Those who wished could go into the outdoor plaza and smoke apple-flavoured tobacco from the qaliyan pipe, or shisha.  I was actually persuaded to try one toke by a friendly soldier, bravely trying to make contact despite the language barrier, and it gave me a mild buzz reminiscent of a barely missed hangover.  I declined to amplify the sensation, but I made my refusal as friendly as I could.  I hope the man thought he’d made my day in one puff of smoke.

Kirib-tareshei {a tradesman and friend of our heroes} and his prince dropped by to ask if they could borrow our dog for the evening – they’d become hooked on the joys of dogwalking by torchlight, and the evening was gorgeous – so Yith and I found ourselves keeping purely human company.

“What’s the word on tomorrow?” I asked Yith after he’d been talking to the Captain and other officials for awhile.

“They say there’s going to be a moderated open tribunal about what happened to us here, and everyone they can round up who was involved will be there.  You might get to see some of your friends again.  Maybe even our closet-stalker.”

“Nightmare.  I don’t want to lay eyes on those people ever again.”

“I’m not eager to see them, either, but maybe we can get some satisfaction.”

“Hah.  Or ‘closure’ as they always used to say on the news back on Earth – reassurance for the weak-kneed that their futile anguish has been leavened by a minor illusion of being in control … most often derived from obtaining a nibble of revenge.”

“Oh, we are in an angsty mood tonight!”

“True, true.  And what good does it do?  Maybe ‘we’ think too much, in between bouts of not thinking enough.”

“I think you’ve just written out the recipe for being human.”

“Don’t go post-ironic on me – life is complicated enough.”

We gladly took the next escort over to our dormitory corridor, bringing Xus and Eleya along and leaving them at their door with a prayer for a safe night.  In our own room, with the door locked, after checking every space big enough to hide a human, we ducked under the blankets and did something very simple and pointedly straightforward with each other.  It was cathartically pleasurable and changed my mood completely.  Perhaps forever.

Daa’if, a place for lovers.

***************  ********************  *********************

“In the name of God, the compassionate, the beneficent and the merciful, peace be with you.  We open this tribunal in the name of God’s compassionate justice; we act today directly under the auspices of his imperial majesty, Kelum-arssibi, our emperor, who we praise for fostering our holy justice system in this region.”

Faisul ben Muhhammad ad-Dtaa’ifi sat behind a broad oaken bench at its central podium; we had just filed in to take our seats in a special side gallery in the progressively elevated, semicircular rows of wooden seats that were arranged opposite the bench.   I sat at the end of a row, overlooking my dog, who was doing well holding a ‘stay’ position on a square of deep carpet placed beside me.  He was looking very pleased with himself, as dogs do when they understand they’re at work and have a respectable place in the human sphere.

We were surrounded by our freed-slave friends, the princes, and Kirib-tareshei.  Kelu-Shawushka {a middle-aged woman who is a state financial official} sat with little Keli {a young girl, one of the freed slaves}, who seemed very serious, as if she was worried about the outcome of the proceedings.  Perhaps we should all be, I thought.  We’re not out of the juridical woods yet.

“Today we are assembled to inquire into the matter of how visitors representing the messenger peoples who traverse between worlds, as well as unannounced emissaries of the benign emperor Deiyah in the country called Diyyanah in the east, were treated in this autonomous region.  This is a fair tribunal and its results are not pre-ordained – with the exception of one imperial directive that will be disclosed in due time.  Everyone will be heard and may speak their mind freely.  No one will be criminally prosecuted unless they confess a crime in a spirit of searching for further justice.  If they do that, their case will be handled with a recommendation for mercy.  This tribunal is for purposes of elucidation, reconciliation and learning.  If our justice system is found to need refinement, then we will begin to study the changes that are needed.

“We do not prejudge whether our extra-territorial visitors were right or wrong in anything they did here; however, their safety has been guaranteed, and whether their actions in retrospect appear to be good or regrettable, holy or sinful, they will be escorted under military protection to their destination, the border point of our Tsaga neighbour.  This tribunal is not to benefit them; it is for our benefit.”

“We will begin with witnesses who can establish the nature and general character of these guests.  As our first witness, we’ll call the first person who met these individuals upon their entry into our territory.  Tekhub-shenni, son of Agib-attili of Daa’if Khemzikhei, can you come forward to our witness chair here?

And there he was, rising out of a seat at the back, our little mentor.  I noticed a familiar face beside him, as well – his elderly friend Miikha.  We exchanged waves of greeting.  Tekhub-shenni gave us a broad smile that would have melted the frozen space travellers on a passing Communicator vessel.

“You may bring your father with you if you want to, young man,” Faisul ad-Dtaa’ifi suggested in solicitous tones.

“My father isn’t here,” the boy responded.  “I asked, but, as always, he has no time for me.  My friend Miikha came with me – and your soldiers.”

The independent tone of voice seemed to settle the matter of whether Shenakka – his mom’s nickname for him, as you recall – needed adult hand-holding to ease the strain of testifying.

“Since this is an imperial tribunal, you may swear to tell the truth on a holy book or on a statue of your dedication god.  What is your choice?”

“Um… I was dedicated to Kumarbi but … I don’t know … let me swear on the book of my friends.”

“What book is that?”

“The holy book of Miikha and Marrik and Yit’.”

“It’s not possible if you’re not a member of the religion of Isa (Jesus), son.  And my understanding is that that can only be accomplished with consecrated water.  Did anyone happen to bring any?”

There were chuckles around the room.  No one raised their hand.

“You can say our shahada and accept Islam right here, and swear on the Quran,” Faisul suggested.  “Same god.”

“I respect your religion, lord,” the little stalwart answered, “but I would rather go in with these friends who’ve helped me so much.”

Yith, as usual, was translating to us.

“May I speak, Lord?”  I asked.  Yith echoed me in the usual strange syllables, like sound breaking up on a cliff face.

“Marrik Rajjarsoun, you are recognized to speak.”

“There is a sort of shahada from our church Tekhub-shenni can say if he wishes.  The baptism can be left until later.”

“We don’t know your church, but I accept this.  Tell us.”

“It’s our ‘Baptism in the holy spirit,’ Lord: ‘I accept Yeshua the Anointed into my heart as my basis-of-power in understanding God’s love, and as my revivalist and the preserver of my spirit; and I accept the holy spirit into fellowship with my spirit as the provider of the adherent of God’s grace; so be with me, God.’”

Yith later said he was forced to translate ‘adherent’ as either ‘gripping-surface’ or ‘handholds,’ and he went with the latter because his language-chip found it in the Quran: ‘And whoever submits his face to God, while he is a muhsin (doer of good), then he has grasped the most trustworthy handhold.’

“If you would like to repeat that saying after our messenger friend, Tekhub-shenni, then you may,” Faisul said.

“Abi?”  Tekhub-shenni bleated, meaning ‘who?’  Yith put up his hand and waved it slightly.  “Oh!” The boy smiled crosswise.  He could now see who was being indicated by ‘our messenger friend,’ but clearly, he had no idea why Yith was being called that.  It must have sounded like ‘courier’ to his practical ears.  Yith as tablet-postman?

Yith quoted the saying to him and the boy repeated it, with a smorgasbord of nuance-motions flitting over his subtle face.  He seemed satisfied.  Then an official brought him another tattered antique cuneiform bible.  That was what I would have liked to buy around here.  I wondered if we’d have time to cruise the antique shops.  Of course, I still had no money.  Oh well.  Meanwhile, as this bit of bible-covetousness was zapping across my mind, Shennaka was swearing to tell the truth.  Then Faisul started right in, using a more formal sort of nickname.

“Tekhubshe, where did you meet the four travellers.”

“Mm…at the border.”

“Why were you at the border?”

“I was … mm … helping people.”

“Guiding them?  Helping them find their way?”

“Mm well … do I really need to say?”

“You don’t need to worry here, we’re just interested in finding out how these travellers behaved with you.”

“Lord,” a bushy-black-bearded man broke in from the left front benches.  He was an armed official, seemingly associated with the tribunal since he spoke without introduction.  “The boy was probably involved in a little smuggling operation that was broken up recently.  He wasn’t with the ones we found, though.”

“Smuggling!  Is that right, young man?”

“Um …”  Tekhub-shenni crossed and uncrossed his legs as he sat, and puckered up the side of his mouth in boyish vexation and hesitation.

“Son, you just swore on a holy book of the God who created you and the world that you would tell the truth, and he recognizes the truth without fail, because he knows all.”

“OK (sigh) … yes.  I did that because I was too hungry but later I stopped after these four friends helped me.”

“How did it become possible for you to stop if you were hungry?”

“They gave my mother a lot of money and paid for my school, so I learned to write and do arithmetic so now I scribe for my neighbours and I help the shopkeepers with their tax.”

“In such a short time you learned all that?”

“I had to because my family has no money and my mother is too good to be let down.”

“Did you smuggle something into our zone for them?”

“Mmm (wince), yes, Lord.”

“What was it?”

“A spice grinder, Lord, very heavy, made of iron.”

“Ah, we have a description of an object people saw later – black with a thin end, straight, and also a thick end, curved.  Was it like that?”

“Yes, lord!”

“Pardon me, I’m going to ask your friend a question.  Yithythyth, what was this object Tekhubshe had?  Not a spice grinder, I take it.”

“No, lord, as you’ve guessed, it was a piece of the thunder mechanism.  But we had no way of explaining that to Tekhub-shenni, so I made up that description.  It was as harmless as a spice grinder by itself.”

“And where is that mechanism now?”

“When put together, it was a dangerous device.  We dreaded having it fall into the wrong hands, or having it copied by artisans in this country.  So, after leaving Daa’if, we disposed of it piece by piece as we went along.  And it was a good thing, since we were later robbed by a freed slave who tried to become a bandit.  It would have been terrible if he had had that device and taken it to Gashru {a bandit chief}.”

“As curious as I am about it, I can’t say you did wrong in destroying it.  Now back to our young man here.  Tekhubshe, it seems some good was done for you.  I wonder how profound it was.  Did meeting these strangers allow you to give up any other bad things you felt you had to do, besides smuggling?”

“I …”  The voice dropped off; the eyes were downcast.

At this point Xus urgently asked to speak.

“We recognize Qesassaroun Zouiatkouitch,” the khalzukhlu said – obviously reading Xus’s name from Arabic-Persian script, according to Yith.  The correct pronunciation of Yith’s name earlier, complete with its ‘th’ sound, showed that Faisul ben Muhhammad ad-Dtaa’ifi was well educated in classical Arabic diction.  Unfortunately, Xus’s name wasn’t really friendly with Arabic script or sQodravtse phonics.

Xus quickly said, “I ask for the sake of Tekhub-shenni’s dignity that he not be asked to talk about something we think he only tried once.  We spoke to him against it, but I don’t think our persuasion was necessary.”

Even with this, the boy turned red and squirmed.

“This is a merciful tribunal.  You need not say anything about this misadventure, young man.”

The boy closed his eyelids and raised his forehead in relief.

“How are you liking school?”

“Lord,” the boy answered, swinging his dusty sandal-clad feet in the chair, “it’s a blessing to me – one that’s so high above us that … my words can’t reach it.  I feel like a lizard who’s been turned into a falcon.  I want to run over and hug my friends for all the good things they’ve brought into my life.”

“I see no reason why you shouldn’t do that.  You may leave the chair.”

There was a discreet but clearly audible groan of disapproval from somewhere behind us.  I looked and, as chillings shot through my shoulder muscles, I saw that it was the man from the morality watch, Mr. Fancy Dress.   Next to him was the judge who convicted me.  I closed my eyes for a moment in dismay, but there was no time to cringe – a love-seeking missile hit me and exploded its arms around me.  And my arms exploded back.  It was so good to see him again!  “Tadav!” he whispered. “I love you,” Yith translated this in the same sort of whisper it was said in.  Then the boy was on the move again, and Yith, Eleya and Xus got their hugs.  To Xus, the boy said “Shawushi!” – colloquially, ‘fantastic.’  He was pleased to have been bailed out of his embarrassing moment on the stand.  The word he used was edgy, because it almost took the name of Shawushka, the goddess, in vain – but clearly, he wasn’t worried about offending her.

“Let’s carry on,” said Faisul from his bench.

There were three complex seconds of eye contact and other non-verbal subtlety as all of us, including Shennaka, thought about whether he was too big to be offered a place on someone’s lap.  There were no empty seats nearby.  Then we saw a face-set of decision – he looked up at Miikha and gave him a wave that seemed to say, “coming in a moment” – sure, he couldn’t just desert the recruited granddad who’d brought him here.  But then a surprise intervened.

“We call Miikha ben Butrus of Daa’if Khemzikhei to the stand.”

Oh – the little face registered the new situation.  There was a look at the empty seat where he’d have to sit alone among complete strangers if he went back right away to where he’d been.  Then a look at us and a calculation of whether or not he was just overall too big and manly to sit on someone’s knee.  Then a slight inclining of the eyebrow from me, indicating knee-ish availability.  Then a release in the face from manhood to boyhood, a mini-flush of slight embarrassment and/or excitement, and he took the invitation.  I hoisted him up and put one arm around him.  “Tadav,” I said.  It’s awfully strange loving someone who you can’t talk to at all, so since we now had one good word, I was darn well going to use it.  He smiled up at me.

Yith later explained the grammar of that word to me, and that pretty much discouraged me from trying to learn a second one any time soon.  Oi vey.  A first person antipassive in absolutive form with implied object, used in order to give an imperfective sense to what would otherwise be an ergative transitive form (thank you, notebook).  I think I’ll study French instead.  {The language is ancient Hurrian; qv Google}

We must try to find a cuneiform “Conversational English in 3 Months” for the little guy, I thought.  He could probably do it in three months.  And, as I’m sure you know, reader, the ‘in 3 months’ part of such titles is more comedic than realistic for most people.

Meanwhile Miikha was being sworn in on the tattered sheets of cuneiform.  His arthritic limp on the way over to the stand had made it clear that he was well on in years.  Faisul began very respectfully.

“Grandfather, how did you meet these travellers?”

“The boy brought them to me.  I’m not sure why – supposedly because we had the same religion.”

Reading between the lines, I would say Tekhub-shenni had wanted to show Miikha off to us as a ‘find’ in his search for missing fatherhood.  But I’m glad Miikha didn’t come out and say anything like that.

“Did you see anything good, bad, or unusual about them when they stayed with you?”

“They struck me as good people, and they’d been very kind to the lad.  I appreciated that, because he’d been running a little wild there and he was hungry a lot of the time.  But the young woman, Eleya, did an amazing thing for me – she gave me some seed-shaped things made of bitter material, and every time I ate one, all the pain in my bones lifted out of me like steam from a kettle, and only came back hours later.  I used them very sparingly, and I was able to take one for the ride here, and I have another ready for the ride back.  Otherwise, I’m in too much pain to ride so far.

“And one other thing happened.  The boy Marrik, or Marqos as we would call him, mentioned a woman over in the border lands who was looking for a partner.  One day I took one of those bitter seeds and came to central Daa’if to see my kids and grandchildren – first time I’d made the trip in a long time.  I remembered this woman and dropped the word about her, describing her as I’d had her described to me.  One of my cousin’s sons had been widowed and he was in a bind with four kids and a poor estate.  He was adventurous enough to check the story out.  The angels were on his side and the two of them liked each other – they’ll marry next month and his family will move out there with some capital from our family.  Perhaps it’s an ordinary story, Lord, but I don’t regret the day I served some mint tea and dates to these travellers.”

And Shrug Sheep Cheese, I thought.  The expert always remembers.

“Yes, our thorough investigation of the route and history of these travellers disclosed Tisha-dimmuzi to us, and we have a deposition from her.  She’s very happy indeed to meet your cousin’s son.  Now let me ask you – did the travellers make any claims to be gods or to have god-like powers?”

“Not at all, Lord, they were ordinary people and they share one of our religions of the book – they wouldn’t claim to be pagan gods, I’m sure.”

“They testified in court here that Marrik and Yithythyth are married – what does your religion make of that?  Can they be genuine members of your religion?”

“In traditional times, we found all such relations to be sinful, but we laboured under a misapprehension.  We thought that no one was really a eunuch unless they’d been cut that way with a knife, so to speak, or born with visible parts of both sexes.  But then we had to discuss this matter with those from our own community who felt they were true eunuchs driven against their will into the pagan community, even though they loved our Lord and our God.  I am of the group that believes that the love within their relationships is evidence that they are of a common spirit with our Lord, insofar as any of us is, through his grace.  As the bible says, “the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”  We don’t ask more than that.

“We know that there are forms of love that are to be avoided.  In our scripture Polous the Apostle says, ‘It’s said that there is sexual immorality among you of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has married his father’s wife. And you are arrogant about it! Shouldn’t you mourn instead? Let the one who has done this be removed from among you.’  But in these cases, in our view, the people involved are not making the most ideal use of their true natures, whereas in the case of a marriage among eunuchs, they are doing this.  We cannot visit upon a woman that she should have a eunuch as a husband, except in the remarkable case that such a pair wishes each other.  A man and wife become ‘one body,’ as our scripture says, through an experience of mutual desire for the body of the other, not just through contact alone.  To be blunt, if you could become ‘one body’ through contact alone, then some farm boys would be half goat, like the Roman fauns.

“We accept that the sincere marriages of eunuchs are not a cloak for exploitation by people pressed under a frenzy of sin.  I find the kindly actions of these travellers consistent with their natures, and many of those who share my religion agree.  Not all, I admit.  But some people put fear before ahava, real love, in their priorities, and I am one of the ones who feels obliged to put love first.  Perhaps, Lord, you know the saying of Isa (Jesus) to a young man: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your understanding, and you shall love your neighbour as yourself – on these two directions all of the law and the prophets do hang.’  There is no room there for strange extra laws against the true natures of other loving human beings.  That’s all.”

I had no idea.  I thought he’d be completely traditional.  I was very moved to know that little Shennaka wouldn’t be raised by his adopted granddad to think me a monster of sin.  Not that I claim to be anything better than error-prone, but surely my love is my good side.

“Thank you, grandfather, that’s all I wish to ask you now.  You may return to your seat.”

Tekhub-shenni glanced up at me tentatively.  I remember very well from my childhood days that a lap feels great for ten minutes and then the bones come out and you start to squirm.  “Okay, go and keep that wonderful man company; we’ll see you at the break,” I said, with Yith doing the usual strange echo.  The boy gave us both another hug, and couldn’t resist Xus and Eleya as well; then he rocketed off towards his previous seat and, after helping Miikha up the stairs, gladly accepted an arm draped over his shoulder.

“As another character witness, we call Kirib-tareshei of Qodra City, whose patronymic we don’t know, to the stand.”

Under questioning, Kiir again recounted the story, as he’d done for the emperor, of all the things Yith disclosed to him as we walked along together in that pivotal evening in Qodra City.   He also gave an overview of the conditions in that city that drove hundreds a year into slavery, and all the things desperate people did to try to ward off the permanent loss of their freedom.  My story of desperation was included.  Finally, he recounted the history of how our close brush with slavery had led us to our efforts to free slaves later on.

“As a representative of the emperor,” Faisul said, shaking his head, “I must reserve comment on the moral condition of Qodra City.  But let us thank God that our own regional autonomy allows us to substitute the zakat, holy charity, for forced prostitution, and lets us honour the principle that freeing a slave is a generous act recognized by God, may his name be praised.  Now, Kirib-tareshei, do you find that these travellers claim to be gods or to have gods among them?”

“No, lord, but we were all put in a difficult situation when the emperor felt that he had proven Yiffiffei {Yith as named by the Emperor and other Qodra people unable to pronounce ‘th’} and his fellow messengers were minor gods in the sQodravtse pantheon.  Myself, I still wonder if he was not right about that, because we saw a strange, miraculous act where two men were rendered pleasantly mindless, to remain that way for a week.  Later, too, there was another unworldly event in the slave market, where a soldier beat himself into a revelation of kindness.  Whatever the true nature of these events were, my friends attempted to use their influence to free slaves, and this led my wonderful new friend, the prince Talbush-arssibi, to hope that Yiffiffei could be recognized as the god of manumission.  We – the prince and I – hate slavery, you see, and it would be to our advantage to have an extraordinarily likeable god on our side.  Recently, the matter has been a topic of strange tension, with Yiffiffei insisting that he isn’t a god, and many of our party of freed slaves – and I reveal this in the hope of eventual harmony among us all – worshipping him in secret as a very modest and reticent god.   For how else can he do what he does?   He’s a wonderful boy, but he’s not like any other boy.”

“Yes, we of the eagle have documented many witnesses of the events you mention.  There was also a similar event involving a guard in our prison here in Daa’if.  You may stand down, Kirib-tareshei.  While your story is fresh in our ears, we will have one more witness before the break.   I call his honour, Qadi Muhammed ben Uthman al-Khourrikhi; lord, will you please take the stand?”

“If I’m compelled to participate in this pagan spectacle, I suppose I will,” the judge groused.

“Let me mildly warn you, your honour, that you, like me, are a subject of the Emperor Kelum-arssibi, and he is famous among all emperors for the respect and latitude he proffers to our religious integrity.  Do you accuse his tribunal, held under my jurisdiction as Governor, of unfairness?  Do you aver that our Islamic standards are inferior to yours?”

“I do not make this accusation – though you must know that for a pagan truly to be rightly guided is unlikely.  You have heard how he decided this youth was a god.”

“We’ll come to that presently, sir.  I agree, of course, that this can only be a misunderstanding.  But what is he?  Do you find that the history recounted by Kirib-tareshei is consistent with the history the youth Yithythyth told you in your court?”

“Yes, the ‘youth’ [quotation marks were added a flick of the eyebrows] has his story well memorized, it would seem.”

“Are you aware, your honour, of the tale of Maryam Sipkamari, one of the founders of west Daa’if?”

“I have heard of this fairy tale, yes.”

“She recounts a family of six, including three men and a boy, being awakened in the skies over this world, and being instructed in her own Khoeini language by six creatures she describes as ‘like siege engines the size of a pony, with legs, always changing in form.’  She mentions being told that she was frozen like ice for many thousands of years, and had been revived.”

“A woman can have many imaginings.  Djinns [genies – earth spirits] and devils can inspire people with their tales.”

“Perhaps there is another explanation, your honour.  Yithythyth, does the description given by Maryam Sipkamari sound familiar to you?

“Certainly, Lord; these are our Communicators as we normally are.  If I had access to our information library, I could easily find you the number of the ship and the names of the messengers involved, as well as all the names of the people who were with Maryam.  To do that, though, I would have to go back to the plague land and send a message in a sort of lightning bolt to Communicators who are now flying away from our world.”

“Respected Khalzukhlu,” said the judge, “how much of this ungodly prattle will you listen to in our presence?  Aren’t you worried about demonic influence on us and yourself?”

“Judging requires not pre-judging, your honour.  [The judge frowned like a fleshy thundercloud when he heard this.]  The insincerity of this speech is nowhere in evidence.  You heard the character witnesses, and we can add in many more, based on our investigations.  These people never acted in a way suggesting they served an evil cause, and they often worked for good.  Do you know something about them that we don’t?”

“You know that the one male admitted being married to the other and they were apprehended in the act of kissing in the manner of husband and wife.  Our guideline is the hadith of Abu Daoud: ‘The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “Whoever you find doing the action of the people of Lut, execute the one who does it and the one to whom it is done.”’ We didn’t catch them fully in the act, but if you ask them, I expect they will confess it.  They may even have done it under your roof last night, here in our zone of supposed purity from evil.”

“We do know about the history of the case you judged; to that topic we will return as well.  My current concern is the true and correct nature of Yithythyth; he cannot be judged by our law until we know how it applies to him as a being, man, djinn or other.  The laws are given to men, but they apply to others created by God, subhanahah wa taÿala (the most glorified, the highest).  We know that djinns may be Muslims; as one of them stated in our holy Quran: “And of us some are Muslims, and of us some are al-qasitun (disbelievers). And whoever has embraced Islam, then such have sought the Right Path.”  If there are men and also djinns who have free will and may embrace Islam or disbelieve, is it not possible that in this broad universe, full of stars, where we know of at least two separate worlds, there may be other intelligent beings endowed by God with choice?”

“If such beings are not mentioned in the Quran, which was written before the worlds were made, how can they exist?”

“Let me recite to you, respected Muhammed ben Uthman [switch to Arabic for the quotes]:

“‘Praise be to God, unto whom belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth. His is the praise in the hereafter, and he is the wise, the aware.  He knows all that goes into the earth and all that comes forth from it, and everything that descends from the heaven and everything that that ascends into it. He is the merciful, the forgiving.’

“Now, as you recognize, here is our Quran as brought to us by our Prophet, on whom be peace.  I ask you now – who descends from the heaven and ascends into it?  More than once, I mean.”

“The Ruhh Jibril [the spirit/angel Gabriel], certainly.”

“How can you be certain that in this wide universe, there are not many other creatures who can descend from the above and ascend back into it?  Even birds can do this to some extent, and creatures as lowly as vultures can ascend above our sight.  We can shoot arrows and stones high into the sky; who is to say how much further a thing could be shot with better propulsion?   Some have assumed that God placed us here on this world, but no one has received a valid revelation from an angel to this effect.  Perhaps even our ancestors ascended into the heaven and then descended from it.”

“This comes near to blasphemy, your lordship.”

“Not when only the use of mechanism and mathematics are involved, as you see with our engineers finding better ways to hurl rocks against city walls.  Have you seen everything that exists?   Let me continue my recitation where I left off.

“‘Those who disbelieve say: the hour will never come unto us. Say: no, by my Lord, but it is coming unto you surely – the Knower of the Unseen. Not an atom’s weight, or less than that or greater, escapes him in the heavens or in the Earth, but it is in a clear record, so that he may reward those who believe and do good works. For them is pardon and a rich provision, but those who strive against our revelations, challenging, theirs will be a painful doom of wrath.  Those who have been given knowledge see that what is revealed unto you from your Lord is the truth and leads to the path of the Mighty, the Owner of Praise.’

“Respected Judge, you will tell me there are many scriptures concerning the ghaib, the Unseen.  Sometimes this word refers to things that humans cannot see, known only to God, but other times it refers to what is revealed to us through our Prophet and earlier prophets; and at times it even refers to mundane matters like the histories of nations for which we have lost the records.  I submit to you that you, who are determined not to be a knower of what you have not seen, are striving against a revelation of truth of this kind – that there is a type of creature apart from men and djinns with God’s endowment of choice, and this species can descend from the heavens and ascend to it.”

The judge leaned back and breathed in as he took in this grave accusation of bias against divine reality.  This left an opening, and as a keener-student from away back, I just had to break in.

“Your lordship, there is something I can add here.”

“You may speak, Marrik.”

“During the time I was on Earth, people often ascended into the heavens using a sort of flying ship, shaped like a tube with a pointed end, and before I was born, two men had even walked on the surface of the moon.”

“I have read much about this moon.  Men did that?”

“Yes, shielded by special clothing and carrying tanks of their own air along with them, since there is no air to breathe on the moon.”

“Astonishing, but I can’t call it impossible.”

“Respected Governor,” the judge interjected testily, “you almost had me changing my mind there, but this addition to the fairy tale has tipped the balance.  There is nothing in the Quran that suggests in any way that a man could walk on an object in the heavens, whether moon, planet or star.”

“Respected judge, it is not ijtihad to assume that the Quran, holy as it is, leaves many natural phenomena out of its discourse.  Otherwise, it would be as big as the universe itself.

“There is that which is seen in the worlds, and that which is seen in the Quran, and then also the Unseen, and our god is the Knower of the Unseen. The unseen divides, as I said, into what is unseeable by humans and what is seeable by us, if it is revealed or disclosed.  Yet you seem to be insisting that the whole of the Unseen – unseen by you, that is – does not exist, even though God is repeatedly stated to know much that lies in this domain.”

“Anything can be said to exist.  Fantasy is prolific.  The Unseen that is mentioned in the Quran mostly stays that way – it remains beyond us.”

“Nonetheless, I take it from your ‘mostly’ that we agree on this much: the Unseen does exist and is known by God, and God has been known to allow portions of it to be revealed.  Shall we accept a small revelation of it in the nature of ordinary phenomenal knowledge that is new to us? – nothing involving spirits, but merely beings with choice, and the mechanisms they devise.”

“The possibility you refer to can’t be denied, but you must exercise utmost caution and not be misled.”

“I promise you my best effort in this regard; I am not a naïf, and I treasure the integrity of our religion and customs.  Nonetheless, we have a history of friendliness to true natural knowledge, and our astronomers have progressed far beyond the knowledge of the pagans because they accept God’s truth, as disclosed by instruments made of metal and glass.  But I must clarify one other subtle point with you, judge, related to the matter of visibility.   I think that if Yithythyth were standing before you in his messenger form, as described by Maryam, not looking like a human and yet speaking any language you wish, you wouldn’t question that he is another sort of being, neither human nor djinn.  That is, unless you insist on calling everything intelligent that isn’t a human a djinn – for this exclusive logic, I see no support.

“You have the problem that his nature is currently unseen.  I apologize for grinding at this rhetorical point, but are you truly willing to let yourself, in the name of caution, be limited to knowing things that you can see, when you serve a god who expressly states that he knows the Unseen and sometimes discloses a fraction of it?”

“Even in an ordinary human, there’s much that is unseen.  But clearly we stand on firmer ground when we recognize things mentioned in our holy scripture.”

“That only means that we can’t always stand on firmer ground.  You mention that there is nothing in the Quran to suggest a human can travel to a planet or stand on one, and yet, our astronomers have suggested that this is a planet we are standing on – and moreover, the Earth is another planet of the same kind.  So here we stand, and there they stand, across the heavens, or at least what we took to be the heavens, on two planets, one without a moon, and one in possession of one.  The firm ground that we stand on, here, is not mentioned in the Quran.”

“All right.  I concede the unsophisticated point that there might be reality God can see that I can’t see, even in what appears to be a person.”

“Yithythyth, are you a human?”

“Lord, this body is a human body, grown by me and my friends out of the material of Marrik’s body.   It looks different because we made some changes to its constitutive information and its development in order to make another individual.  But the information that animates it – the spirit or soul – is from my original person.  For many tens of thousands of years, I was a mechanism as described by Maryam Sipkamari, and before that I was something that looked like an animal.  But nothing djinn-like or god-like was done by our crew.  My spirit was all transferred as information, like stitches on an embroidery cloth, not as something from the classical spirit world like the movements of a djinn.  In principle, everything about me that was transferred could be written into a book, though that book would be almost impossibly long.

“So what this means is that much of the threadwork in the upper and forward parts of my brain is in patterns that carry memories and motivations of another kind of creature entirely, not a human – a form of existence that showed a parallel sort of genesis to the one that gave rise to the human species.  In terms of biology, the knowledge of living things, we were not humans at all; we had four feet and were covered in ooze.   Spiritually, though, we are much like humans, but cast, as the plague people would say, ‘in an arbitrat’ – which means, in a series of differences that scarcely relate to the opportunities we address as an intelligent species.

“Think of a tribe that always makes carpets with a different kind of stitching from that used by most tribes.  The carpet is still a carpet and it functions normally as one, but the stitchwork is completely different throughout – it seems very strange to anyone who knows carpets well.  This is how we are in relation to humans.  That’s why I was so similar to humans that I could fall in love with one, to my great surprise.   So I became as human as I could for him.  That’s why my non-human part is invisible.  My body is entirely human other than the tiny mechanism, someplace inside, that gives me the languages of this planet – and yes, it is a planet.”

“Respected governor!” the judge said impatiently, “regardless of the truth of this, isn’t it enough to turn your gut?  An animal of some kind turned human who now uses material severed from the body of his partner-in-sin to become a boy who is the perfect match for him in the act of Lut?  I once thought that the older had seduced the younger in this crime; but in what we have heard now, the seemingly younger may have seduced the older.  Nonetheless, the crime is just as heinous; in fact, now there is something akin to bestiality involved, so it may be much worse.”

“Respected judge, folk-sayings aside, is anything that takes place between these two an act of Lut?  Now that we have conceded the possibility of an invisible nature outside of humanity to Yithythyth, let us look at other possible invisible natures.  I find that the holy Quran offers us two kinds of interpretation for people of the nature of Marrik, and, in his human form, Yithythyth.  One interpretation casts them in with the wild and aggressive rapists and robbers of Lut, who had wives but nonetheless also enjoyed sexual pillaging directed against their own sex.  In our regular civil life, we see men who leave their wives at home and go to one sort of prostitution or another, whether with girls or with boys, whether in exchange for money or purely for mutual expression of lusts of the flesh.  Although some such people retain civil and humane behaviour even in such circumstances, this is still zina, extramarital sex, as is clearly called wrong in our Quran.  And many are indeed aggressive, as the Lutis were, and merely use others as objects of their will.

“So then we come to the alternate group mentioned in the Quran, men who have no natural power with women.   Here, there is a group of males for whom marriage to women is surely not recommended.   The Quran says to men of the ordinary kind, ‘your wives are a ploughable field for you, so go into your field when you like.’  Now if your ploughshare droops like a flag on that day, then you cannot raise much of a crop.  I find it highly questionable that if such men prove to be fit to marry each other, the aggressions of the Lutis should be predicated upon them.  Likewise, they are hardly like married men or unmarried, marriageable men, going to prostitutes or other diversions.   We pride ourselves on being the religion that is compatible with science, with the continuous learning of realities, and yet we impose such a ridiculous classification error on these people, lumping the gentle and kindly ones who lack power with women in with the rapists of Lut.  What is this but superstition?  Now you can see why I brought our character witnesses forward before we had this discussion.  How can we divest ourselves of this grotesque error that causes us to see evil in people of love and kindness, to imprison people who, in their relations with each other, cannot have extramarital sex in the usual sense because they are not created for man-woman marriage in the first place?

“Marrik and Yithythyth brought education and hope to the near-orphan, a good husband to a woman needing one, relief from pain to a grandfather, freedom to many slaves, and even a revelation of kindness to a military officer who was using child slaves for sexual purposes.  As we have not yet heard but may hear later, they freed a child from such usage and also cured the congenital binding of her tongue with deft surgery that involved almost no bleeding.  How many testimonies do we need to hear about them before we concede that they cannot be of the people of Lut, even in their marriage?”

“Even if we conceded that, governor, we couldn’t allow them to do the act of concupiscence.  As the sura ‘The Believers’ says, ‘Successful indeed are the believers who are humble in their prayers and who shun vain conversation; and who are payers of the zakat poor-tax; and who guard their modesty save from their wives or those that their right hands possess [their slaves], for then they are not blameworthy, but whoever craves beyond that, such are transgressors.’  How can you say that a craving of one boy for another isn’t ‘beyond that?’”

“In the following way.  Firstly, you know that we traditionally take ‘the believers,’ ‘l’muuminuuna,’ in this passage, as referring to men, since the masculine form of the word is used.  Consistently with that, then, we take the later word ‘azouajim,’ as ‘their wives.’ In fact, though, this is also a masculine noun meaning ‘their partners’ or ‘their paired ones’ – it doesn’t specifically refer to females in itself.  If we take ‘believers’ as a generic referring to all believers, male and female, then they are simply advised to stay with their partners, or alternatively, their slaves.  If we take the word as referring strictly to men, then our previous topic about visibility returns.  In what is seen, Marrik and Yithythyth look to be men no different from any others except in their individual form, but in what is unseen, they are clearly different in the ways we’ve discussed.  In that case, how can we say that their ‘paired one’ is a wife, given that they can’t serve as typical men with a wife?  According to all our evidence, they do not crave beyond each other as partners, and to me, even if I use the most cautious and conservative logic, that fulfills the verse.”

“Preposterous.  Wicked.   In sura al-Najm [‘the star’], it clearly states ‘(is the apostate not informed that) it is he (Allah) who causes death and gives life, and that he creates the pairs, male and female, from nutfah [semen and female reproductive materials] when it is emitted…?’  Here you can see that the same ‘pairs,’ in the grammatical form ‘l’zaoujaini,’ are specified as male and female.  With all respect, how can you even think of monkeying with that?  My brother, I apologize for speaking so frankly from this inferior position, but I must preserve you from this error.”

“Hear, hear,” said the Fancy Dress man from the audience, or sQodravtse words to that effect.

“My brother, you are among our most respected judges and I deem that frank conversation between us is permitted here.  Let it not be said that I intimidated you into silence when you believed you should have spoken.  I bring your attention to sura Adth-Dthariyat [‘the winnowing winds,’ ‘dth’ being pronounced like ‘th’ in ‘then’]: ‘and of everything we [God] have created pairs, so that you may remember.’  And sura ‘Ya Siin’ where we have the saying ‘Glory be to him who has created in pairs all of what grows on the earth, as well as themselves [humans], and that of which they know nothing.’  Now, if there is an apparent man who finds himself, as created by God, to be an impossible match for a pair involving a woman, because of an unseen difference from typical maleness, and yet a perfect pairing partner appears to him in the form of another of the same kind, is that not a sign of God’s glory?  Even if such things, for many of us, come under the banner of ‘things of which we know nothing,’ the pairs are still there, as evidence of God’s mercy, even if reproduction doesn’t follow from them.  To recognize this doesn’t in any way allow the aggressive and degrading sin of Lut, any more than our love of our wives allows pillaging random women on the roadways.

“I had such reflections privately before this case came along, having shared the company of many God-created eunuchs throughout this empire, but this case and the interest of the emperor has brought the matter to a head.   Do you find, respected judge, that my reasoning about God’s mercy towards the unseen in different men – the unseen that he in his glory can see perfectly well – is admissible?   And do you see that to compare any method of sharing love among God-granted eunuchs to the sexual lootings of Lutis is simply an error?”

“Governor, one of these boys claims to have made himself this way, so ‘God-granted’ hardly seems to apply – though I concede that he was constrained by the nature of the other.  To extend from this to more typical cases, Lord, I simply find it incautious in the extreme to extend God’s concept of ‘pairs’ outside of reproductive pairs.  I understand your reasoning, but I don’t accept it.”

“May I say something, Lord,” I asked, and got a nod.

“When we studied reproduction in school, we found that it doesn’t always involve pairs of strictly opposite sex – for example, the split-gill mushroom that grows on wood has over 20,000 sexes of equal importance, and most of them can mate with most of the others.  Meanwhile, the Parisian cave mushroom that we grow to eat [or the ‘store-bought mushroom’ as we called it in my home town] reproduces without mating.  You just need one strain and all reproduction occurs, and the kind of tiny seed that is produced is like the seed produced by sexual reproduction in related mushrooms.  And when there are pairs, sometimes they aren’t male and female.  The little sad-voiced gecko [Lepidodactylus lugubris], a lizard that lives in some of our tropical areas, has only females, no males, but they come together in pairs to stimulate each other to lay eggs.”

“Respected governor!” the judge expostulated.  “This person neither helps his own case nor yours.  We are trying to discuss moral issues of importance to our Creator, and here he is prating about mushrooms and lizards, talking of things we can’t possibly verify.  And he even says that his people grow mushrooms to eat, as if they lived on rot!  Let’s resist the urge to hear any more of this outlandish, fantastical stuff.  If anyone wants this sort of unbridled imaginings, let them read Abu Bakr ibn Tufail’s book” [‘Haiy ibn Yaqzan,’ ‘Alive, son of Awake,’ an early 12th century fantasy novel from Andalusia, about a boy raised by a gazelle on a desert island, and his ascent to philosophical reason].

“Not so fast, judge, your reflex of rejecting the unfamiliar is something that must be moderated here.  What he says is perfectly sensible – God in his wisdom has made some pairs that differ from obligatory male-female pairs, whether there are more than two kinds or fewer than two, and yet reproduction continues.  This illustrates the vast diversity of our Creator’s inventions in nature.  We need not take every mushroom as an example for our own families, but surely it is logical for Marrik, and us, to be interested in pairs created by God that are not male-female.  We can only read the Quran perfectly if we test each word with the reality it betokens.  The word in this case is ‘pairs.’  Our own literature describes the mating of this lizard, which we also have, since people have tried to raise it as a house animal.  The idea that everywhere throughout nature the ‘pairs’ that God has implanted are all male-female pairs can be rejected.  Thus the word is slightly prised ajar of the male-female concept, even though most pairs are of that nature.

“I have no doubt that you will not be comfortable in agreeing with me, at least not for some time, but I have a suggestion that was discussed with our emperor, that I will herewith proclaim as implemented.  I do not have the jurisdiction to order you to judge our holy scripture this way or that, nor do I wish to subsume the role for which you have studied so diligently.  I am only a governor, not a final arbiter of our scripture.  My jurisdiction, however, does extend to the range of persons you may apply our laws to.  I hereby proclaim that pairs of men who claim reduced natural power with women are not to be prosecuted for their marriage-like loving relationships under our Luti or zina laws if they are of any religion other than our own.  The same applies to pairs of women who make the same sort of proclamation.  Furthermore, if those claiming to be same-sex pairs espouse what we have long called the Siwi heresy, the Hanafi code from that Siwa oasis where same-sex pairs long lived in peace under the fold of Islam, then they will not be prosecuted, though you may deport them from our zone if you feel you must.

“I hope that in time, this confusion of invisibly eunuch-made persons with plundering Lutis will end, and our culture will purify itself of this embarrassingly primitive association, which ignores all reality of people’s love, motivations, and nature.  Frankly, I hope that if you study the issue in detail, you’ll formally adopt the Siwi point of view. Until that time, though, there will be no more imprisonment or whipping of the flesh for those who undertake such relations in good conscience with their religion.  So proclaimed in the name of the emperor Kelum-arssibi, may he be favoured and enlightened by God, subhanahah wa taÿala.”

“This is an infringement on our autonomy.  I record myself as having objected to it, but I will comply with the emperor’s jurisdictional changes as I must.”

“I am glad to hear that.   For the sake of any others who may feel more resistant, I am forced by my position to proclaim this addendum:  all must know that any fomenting of rebellion or mob scenes about this matter will be dealt with.  If such unwanted confrontations occur, the emperor decrees that subsequent funerals for the dead, if any, will be held purely in private.  He adds that if anyone lights fires to kill large numbers of random people and then kills himself, in defiance of Islamic law, the severe empire-wide principle of lineal suicide will be used in retribution – the perpetrator’s entire family line, including parents, children, wives, brothers and sisters, and their wives, husbands and children, will all be eliminated.  This scripturally unlawful and hideous measure I do not condone in any way, but the emperor has warned that anyone committing such a mass-murdering atrocity against the innocent, as was done in a previous time of trouble, will be answered by an equal atrocity against the innocents in the family line they came from.  ‘If anyone commits such an act of suicide warfare, thinking to devastate and then evade their due shame by killing themself,’ he says, ‘let the entire line that bred and nurtured that soulless creature be forever eliminated from the face of Ullikummi {Vweialer}.’  Subsequent to my negotiation, we’re entitled to make certain exemptions, such as for family members who try to give authorities advance warning of such a plan, but I wish this proclamation to serve as a deterrent so that I never have to see the implementation of this kind of measure.

“In general, as we wish to protect ourselves against the encroachment of such a barbarous civilization into our autonomous zone, it is best to comply with the emperor’s jurisdictional wishes without militant complaint.  Well-considered quranic argument may still be used to build a case against this measure over time if you wish to reasonably apply for revision.  I urge you, however, to consider the merits of the case I have made.  You may stand down.  The tribunal will recess until after the mid-afternoon prayer.”

The release initiated a melée.  There were a lot of emotional people in the room.  The freed-people were astonished at the goings-on – none of them had ever heard any Islamic discourse before. Also, they hadn’t heard much of our back-story.  Talbush knew about how I’d met Kirib-tareshei, but he hadn’t spread the tale of my venture into prostitution around {Marrik was nearly forced into it, but was bailed out by Kirib-tareshei}.  Still, the story only won me sympathy and admiration for my courage; Talbush would be forced to re-tell the tale several times to different people.  I got congratulations from Tuni about speaking so well in the midst of the complicated discourse, and for holding my own.  Yith clearly hadn’t lost any of his godly status and was deferred to with barely concealed reverence.  Tekhub-shenni led Miikha down (the exit could only be attained by going downstairs anyways) as quickly as he could, and he received rapturously good reviews and congratulations from the crowd while we four were giving Miikha our embrace of peace.

“A true friend of Yiffiffei, and so clever!” was how Lelwani {a freed slave, mature woman) put it as she gave the youngster a motherly hug twice the size of any he’d ever had before.  He resisted excessive congratulation, however, because he wanted to keep helping Miikha walk along.  He did take a moment to grab Yith’s sleeve and say, “now I know why your ‘spice grinder’ seemed so stupid.”  He grinned in great satisfaction.  He’d known all along there was something fishy about that story.

There was something else on his mind, too.

“Are you and Marrik really from the sky?” he asked.

“Yep,” Yith answered, “and getting to know you made it worth the trip.”

“You’re crazy but I’m glad you guys came.”

“Thanks, buddy, so are we.”

“Can I learn some magical stuff from you?”

“Nope, there are just five things and they’re things only I can do.  But anyway, your smarts [he pointed at the boy’s head] and your good character are all the magic you need.  And your learning.”

“True, people already say I’m magical when I read them stuff.”

“There you go, see?”

The army had arranged lunch for us all, and that was our next destination, give or take a washroom trip.

The judge and Mr. Fancy Dress left, along with some supporters, in a disgruntled sweep of robes, and their beards thorned into the air as they discussed the unprecedented assault on their traditions.  Yith had the impression, though, that their discussion was more scholarly than personal, and they weren’t merely reacting to the power plays inherent in the recent drama.

Xus, Eleya, Keli and Kelu-Shawushka walked along arm in arm in an almost familial way – their conversation was halting but clearly enjoyable.  I speculated that they could all have happily have moved in with Kelu-Shawushka in Damosun and settled down to be civil servants in sword-land.  Alas, though, that was impossible.  We still had to move on, assuming we really could get out of this city alive.

Lunch was served for all the travellers, and to our surprise, it was not in the military compound, but rather across the street from the tribunal hall in a restaurant.  The establishment had domes on its roof and looked almost like a flattened concept of a Turkish mosque.  Inside, it was the sort of place I’d only seen, and coveted, the garbage of – all red- and gold- and black-patterned carpets, with quartz-inlaid tables bearing ornamental teapots and coffeepots with long handles and necks, some in brass polished so bright that it looked like gold that had swallowed the sun.  I got to sit at a polished oaken table with Yith on one side of me and Shennaka on the other, and Miikha beside him sat with Talbush.  We were all soon engrossed in lively chat and, wherever imaginably appropriate, lively hugs, pats and love-punches.  Between courses – roast doves, saffron rice, spitted meatballs, tabbouleh salad – everyone got up and talked to everyone else.  It was glorious, memorable, affectionate, and very tiring.

Luckily, the time just after lunch in Daa’if was normally a two-hour rest break, and as my friends had noted in their times of freedom here, most people had a nap.  I’d spent my whole sojourn in prison, so I hadn’t seen this.  Today, I actually got to participate in the community rhythm and go lay my head on the pillow to sleep off my sumptuous lunch.  I’m afraid to say Yith and I warded off sleep for awhile with activities that I presume the judge would think about only with reluctance.  I hoped, as I hit that bodily stratosphere that’s so far up into feelings that it can’t go into memory, that his own meditations, whatever their subject, were going well.

I did, of course, check the closets again before lying down.  This had become part of my routine.

Coming out of the closet had become a whole different concept for me.

The call of the muezzin for the mid-afternoon ÿasr prayer was as pleasant a wake-up call as I’ve ever had.  I looked out our unglazed windows and saw jackdaws wheeling around in the sky, circling some old chimney they’d taken over as their colonial roost.  The air was warm and the smell of the sea came to my nostrils – we weren’t far from the harbour.  It almost made me feel like swimming – but then again, it didn’t.  Funny about that.

I wanna go home.  My palace, my kingdom for my palace.

I did say an afternoon prayer for everyone involved in our tribunal, including the judge and the embroidered morality man.  As I gave my thanks at the end, I looked outward.  The blue of the sky there was so much like home, so much like hope.

Yith took me around the shoulder and pulled me away from the window.  One kiss and then we robed up and readied ourselves for part two of the tribunal.  I wondered if I’d be asked to take the stand.

We’d once again loaned our dog to Kirib-tareshei and Talbush, but happily met up with the doughty quadruped as the group of us assembled in the courtyard in front of our barracks.  We walked the five-minute walk to the hall where the tribunal was held.  Kheshmi found it a fascinating excursion – the food stands along the way must have reminded him of his glory days as chief food wolf in Qodra.  At least two sausages that for some reason had hit the dirt took on a second life as comestibles when his iron digestive tract incorporated them.  It was good to have a dog who was insensitive to the tricks and traps of trashivory.

The only reason he was allowed in the hall was that we were attending an imperial tribunal, which was multicultural in nature.  In a purely Islamic tribunal, he would have been barred – several hadiths had noted the prophet, on whom be peace, stating that the angel of God had refused to enter a building that contained a dog or an image.  I was glad that the great liberality of Christianity, laid out in no uncertain terms for saints Peter and Paul, allowed us both pics and puppies in our dwellings.  Call me sentimental, but I’m sure that if the angel Gabriel were ever to drop by my tent, he would take a moment to pat my dog.  Everyone else does.

Miikha and Tekhub-shenni rejoined our party just before we went into the hall.  The older of the pair had asked the younger if he’d rather not skip the rest of the hearing, but the younger was far too curious to miss anything.  In any case, soldiers weren’t available for an escort until the tribunal was over, and the little guy wanted to spend more time with us before heading back to help his mother out with regular life.  “I told Pashshib-Kumarbi he had to take over all my chores, including the scribing,” he said with precise efficiency.  “He was really nervous because no one’s ever corrected his writing except me, but I told him if he’s not sure about something, Sharum-elli can help him.”

Aha, firm evidence of a girl getting an education – we were ‘in the know’ with a hard crowd of borderlands desperados.

Our tribunal had no published agenda, and when we were all back and assembled – other than the judge, who didn’t reappear – we got a surprise.  Faisul ben Muhhammad ad-Dtaa’ifi, his beard freshly braided and coppery in the windowlight, made just one announcement.

“In the name of God, the beneficent, the merciful, peace be upon you.  I begin this session by inviting a special guest to take my place to administer a matter that came up in our investigation but that took place well beyond this jurisdiction.  My lord, the heir to the throne, his imperial highness, Prince Khashib-arssibi will take this seat to inquire into the matter of the border official Ar-ewri.”

{A legal case related to another story line is edited out here.  Then we return to the matter of Marrik and Yith.}

The regular program of the tribunal was now back in session.

“It has been our most special honour to have you in our chair, and your leadership and mercy are an education and a beneficence to us all,” Faisul ben Muhhammad ad-Dtaa’ifi intoned.   Khashib moved with leopard-like grace back to the discreet seat of the judge-in-waiting, while the burning-haired Faisul resumed the podium.

“We have now dealt with two matters out of three.  We have dealt with the interaction of the four travellers with our judicial system.  We have dealt with official extortion.  Now we will deal with the interaction of the travellers and our Morality Watch.  Will Ahhmed ben Ahhmed ben Ahhmed al-Quwaini please come to the witness chair.”

Oh oh oh my ghosh.  Mr. Embroidery.  He scowled openly in our direction as he rose to go to the chair.  His raiment was especially fine – a pale gold tunic with two black vertical bands on the front embroidered in gold abstractions, almost like diamonds in shape but looping and swooping with each other so that they looked like descending columns of diamond birds.  He had his peaked hat of high office on, and seemed confident he wouldn’t be asked to remove it.

With energy and reverence, he held a velvet-bound copy of the Quran and swore to be truthful.  I had no doubt he would be.  It’s a pity there’s no swearing against selective truth or bias, I thought.  But then again, could anyone swear such a thing in complete self-candour?  I probably have a few biases myself.  Perhaps many.  I may be too biased to know it.  And too biased at the next level to know that I’m too biased.  Could I possibly be unbiased at the 677th  level of regress and then work down to fairness from there? {the 677th level of ‘decision regress’ is explained elsewhere in the book}

I didn’t think the embroidered man – Ahhmed ben Ahhmed, since I finally knew his name – was troubled by such questions.

“Sir,” Faisul said.  “Once these travellers came to your attention, you and your service made a special effort to prosecute them, investigate them, and to invigilate against their escape.  Ordinarily, such energy devoted to the upkeep of the law and the public morals would be highly commendable.  On the other hand, their initial offense was seen by no members of our society except those who were watching with special instruments, and a strong case could be made that, given the naiveté of this group in our society, the offense was worthy only of a warning.  Furthermore, in light of our conversation earlier today, the second group of offenses they were charged for has now been stricken from the jurisdiction of your service.  This is something you had no way of anticipating, but I still find it poignant that if just one well-concealed kiss among these people had been ignored by your service, the travellers would have left your jurisdiction that day and gone to where their affectionate acts were unquestionably legal.  Yet, for that kiss, you wished to detain Marrik Rajjarsoun for many years, and mark him with many stripes.  I have reviewed the transcripts of both proceedings, and I speculate that Marrik and Yithythyth became pawns for you in what amounts to an attempt to one-up Qadi al-Khourrikhi [the judge].  Our holy book says, “Worship Allah and join none with him; and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, the poor, the neighbour who is near of kin, the neighbour who is a stranger, the companion by your side, the traveller, and those (slaves) whom your right hands possess.”  Do you wish to render an apology for this twofold episode of apparent overzealousness against our travellers, and perhaps also for distortion of justice for the sake of personal rhetorical advantage?”

“Your lordship, may I speak frankly?”

“Yes – that’s the nature of this tribunal.  You may speak with frankness and I will respond the same way.”

“I have no idea why you would defend these horrible people or any of their acts.  I appreciate it that you have been placed in a bind, having to serve a pagan emperor, but in my service, we are privileged to deal not with local or compromised standards, but with absolute standards that are handed down from God himself, subhanahah wa taÿala.  You, as a Muslim, ultimately must serve the same standards we do or prepare to be cast down to flames and thorns by a far greater Emperor than the one you serve in your temporal position.

“Let’s review the facts.  These people were first seen interfering with a pagan family.  They admit that they smuggled something, seemingly a frightful object of evil power, past our beneficent border control, in the hands of an impressionable young boy.  They have now lured that boy into the arms of their self-gratifying mimic of Christianity, where immorality may run rampant, with things permitted that no Christians ever allowed.  Furthermore, our diligent investigations in the neighbourhood around that house have shown that one of the girls has learned to cipher mathematics, as if she is being clandestinely taught by her brother – we cannot catch them at it, as yet, but note this breach of the purity of the female.   And compare, incidentally, the virago, the amazon, who represents the female sex among these four.  Are you raising your daughters to be thunder-wielding, swordfighting monsters like this?  I think not.”

Eleya, hearing this on a delay, merely smiled wanly.  Xus gave her a proud ‘that’s my girl’ hug that drew a lot of notice around the room.  It seemed thunder-wielding females might have a fan base here after all.  Meanwhile –

“The list of offenses committed by these people goes on and on.  They flouted their nakedness on our beaches in front of women and children.  They committed immorality with each other, but of that, enough has been spoken.  Although let me just say the word ‘marriage’ to you.  Remember what it has meant to you so far in your life.  Hasn’t it now changed to an amalgam of gold and pig dung if the coupling of these two is included in it?”

Guess who he pointed to.  My heart doubled its beats per minute.

“They twice bribed one of our court officials with their foreign riches, the second time with items of colossal value that they failed to declare at the border.  The Marrik one screamed incomprehensible curses in unknown tongues during his punishment.  The young one cast a satanic witch spell on two members of our prison system – your lordship, regardless of what he was reacting to, if you had the power of witchery at your fingertips, knowing that God abominates and condemns such practices, would you use it?

“Then they took part in a violent escape from lawful custody after corrupting our officials with their wealth, and the female put a sword cut into one of my men that is taking unusually long to heal, and has left a swollen type scar [keloid] that threatens to rupture whenever he thrusts his sword.  He had to be given a job where he doesn’t bear arms.  During the prison break, these kaffirs and their mercenaries appropriated the cry of God himself destroying the infidel strongholds, as if they could supplant the power of God.

“And speaking of supplanting God!  The glib-tongued boy, to my mind, has a demon whether he is from the heavens, hell or both.  How has he convinced the emperor, that benighted heathen, that he is a god?  A few acts of witchcraft do not qualify a person for appropriating the corner of God’s throne in a bold move to establish shirk!  [That’s the cardinal sin of attributing divinity to lesser beings, in case you’ve forgotten.]  Call some more of your so-called character witnesses and see if they don’t call him a god – see if they are not planning a ghastly new religion based on the worship of this filthy, male-kissing, snake-tongued monstrosity.

“Respected Faisul ben Muhhammad, you must serve your position in a way that also serves your Creator.  I suggest that instead of accusing me and the respected judge of wrongdoing, you disassemble this tribunal and expel these emissaries of plague from our region and our empire with no further ado.  Our prison is too good for them.  Let them wander until they come to some land where devils walk in the place of men, as I’m told is the case in the nation to the north.  If they wish, they may apologize to me, to our nation, and to God, if indeed our God is the God they serve.”

There was a moment of silence as rhetorical chips fell where they may.

Faisul spoke.

“Your disquisition, respected Ahhmed, is like something learned from a philosopher, a student of how to compile small stones of bias together until a mountain is made that can sweep away all thought with a landslide.

“You have already heard that their caution about their thunder object was partly based on fears of what this frightful object could do if it got into malevolent hands.  I don’t condone smuggling in any way, but in this case, the item was of no known value or interest to our system, and the effort to conceal it, arguably, was meant to protect us.  Is that correct, Yithythyth?”

“Yes, lord, the thunder object has caused the deaths of millions upon millions of people.  We made a point of never using it lethally, and I wish not to say too much about it for fear of exciting people here about such objects. If you wish to have peace and good order, you do not want them here.  I myself have been the witness of whole worlds where all the inhabitants destroyed themselves to rubble, like Thamuud and Ÿa’aad, by the use of these objects and their conceptual descendents.  If we had left such a thing intact here, perhaps seized by a border guard for examination, we could rightly be accused of bringing eternal bloodshed and destruction to your society.  All inhabitants of Qodra should thank God, as we do, that this instrument has not become a part of your society.  I regret that we brought it here at all, but it did save us from calamity twice.”

“Yes, respected Ahhmed,” Faisul rejoined, “you don’t know that the thunder object was again used, further east, to dissuade brigands who held these travellers at swordpoint, and were on the verge of committing rape.”

“And did the travellers use it as men, or as supposed gods?”

“They used the imitation of a descent of Teshshupp {a major Hurrian god}.  That terrorized the brigands into flight.  The chief thug was so moved that he renounced crime.”

“Odious – wherever they go, they attempt to simulate God’s own divinity in vulgar pagan forms.”

“Far from it.  They merely used the imaginations of criminal minds to deliver a needed shock.  In times of combat, tactics must be effective.”

“And,” Yith added in, “the motive was humane, because with the yell of ‘Teshshupp,’ Xusxerron avoided the other example he could have used – to kill or severely wound some of those present by means of the thunder object.  His use of imagination was purely an act of mercy.”

“As for the possible education of a girl,” Faisul said, “you know that making such efforts a crime has no scriptural basis, and it’s completely uncontroversial in West Daa’if in the Shiite fiqh.”

“We are not comfortable with the practices of these human-worshipping …”

“Silence.  Partisan slandering of one of our communities by the other is not permitted in this tribunal in any way.  I’m sorry if you thought my permission for frank speech could allow this intolerable breach of our civil treaties.  The Shiites are to be tolerated and treated with respect, without backbiting.”

“As you wish, your Lordship, though what goes under a carpet is still…”

“Shut your animal mouth now.”




“In any case, look what you’ve done.  You’ve taken an effort to educate a boy and raise the level of the rest of the family, and twisted it into a whispery rumour of an assault on God.  The boy has stopped smuggling, he has renounced the vice we chose not to name, and now he has become a person of the Book.  Yet everywhere, your narrowed eyes see only wickedness.

“About the nakedness, you know full well that this was explained as customary in these people’s homeland, and our investigation with plaguish friends of the emperor has confirmed that this assertion is true.  They believed they had privacy, and you invaded it with instruments they had no means of knowing you had.  The law against what they did was broken off the sign at the border point where they crossed – and in any case, it was only by the most extraordinary circumstance – having a heavenly messenger present – that they could read the parts of the sign that still existed.  A warning would have sufficed, once the circumstances became known.  The judge was correct in his mildness.  Yet you wished to teach him a lesson, and maximized the opportunity provided by the kiss.  If not for your surfeit of vigilance, no one in our zone would ever have seen such a thing from these frightened travellers who were planning to leave the zone before sundown.  To win an egotistical bureaucratic argument, you would send a kind and loving boy, a guest in our zone, to prison for ten years, and have him heavily beaten.  And you say you serve a God who has ‘the merciful’ among his sacred names.  If you thought goodness had a sand-grain’s weight of importance compared to transgression, you would burst into flames of shame, but instead you vibrate in self-justification, biting your hand in your mouth because your urge to vanquish all mercies with your opinions is so obsessive.

“The actions of the bailiff, relieving our prisons of inmates through transfers of wealth into various pockets including his own, was not a secret, was it?  It was done routinely and openly in a special room.  I have no way of knowing who got a percentage of this industry, but it’s odd that you don’t either, as a supposed guardian of our morality.  Who had you ever arrested who was involved in this monkey business?”

More silence.

“Personally, I would be glad to prosecute this bailiff and to trace down all the trails of his financings, even to the last stitch of embroidery they paid for [a comment that received a start, followed by a furious scowl] but alas, someone, someone living well outside this zone at the moment, has had the perspicacity to donate an emerald to the temple of Ullikummi – perhaps someone who heard rumours of an imperial investigation that might touch on these matters.   The priests use the green stones arranged around obsidian to compose the eyes of Ullikummi in their most prized idols, and this extraordinary donation has helped to convince the emperor that the man should not be prosecuted.  He also feels the man saved a visiting god and important emissaries from injustice and abuse in our system, and that the man is something of an underhanded hero.  Without the central figure of this graft scheme to examine, we are at a disadvantage, and we may focus more on prevention of future occurrences.   I hope you and your service will be diligent in helping us.  I myself will be watching you Watchers, as will the Eagle.”

More silence.

“Now about your other charges.  Yithythyth, what is the nature of the strange occurrences you can bring on with your hand gestures.  Is this witchcraft?”

“No, but its nature as a mechanism is very hard to explain, lord.  I’ll try.

“You know that our friend Kirib-tareshei here has invented a way to put large, flat pieces of glass into doors that fit into window frames.  In the plague lands, such windows with glass have been standard in all houses and other buildings for over a hundred and fifty years.  On Earth, they were widespread over 400,000 years ago.  On our home planet, they were in use so long ago that the number words for the time span seem almost meaningless – long before any human, man or woman, ever existed anywhere.  Every year that goes by, some new mechanism or technical improvement is added to society.  In hundreds of years, great changes occur, especially if competition among societies forces development to move quickly.  Here on this planet, the population has been sparse, the nationalities have been few, and the isolation between countries has been great, so, in Qodra, development has slowed.  Everything here is at least 500 years behind the stage of development in the plague lands – though, the case of the thunder object shows, this may not be a bad thing.  Meanwhile, our civilization is advanced over this by thousands of tens-of-thousands of years.  We have had some time to invent things.

“The actions that a human carries out are normally initiated when the brain has one of two experiences.  Sometimes it receives a stimulus, external or internal, that it is predetermined to react to – if an object flies toward the eyes, the body will duck and raise its hand, ‘without thinking,’ people say; and if a body is hungry, the eye will turn to food.  These actions address the needs of what the plague people call ‘vegetal paralection’ [‘vegetal paralection’ came out in sQodravtse as ‘bodily pseudo-choice;’ in ordinary English, I would have to shift over to the alectical ‘evolutionary differentiation’].  This refers to the responses that have been built into the human species addressing the opportunity that nature offers for the basic human modes of life and reproduction.  But sometimes the mind, in its ability to manipulate images and processes, foresees upcoming opportunities that only its decisions can address.  Then, it uses mechanisms it possesses, both intuitively fast and deliberately slow, to evaluate these decision points and arbitrate among them.  Even if the alternatives seem to be equal in desirability or fearfulness, it can still choose among them.  And why not?  What’s to stop it?

“This second capability gives people free will and makes them essentially uncontrollable.  The majority can be controlled, more or less, through persuasive rhetoric and their own social need for sympathetic and imitative solidarity, but some always escape into their own ways, even if those ways are self-destructive.  We just saw a tragically good example of that in our travels, when a young man was killed because his unquenchable craving for freedom made him a brigand.  When our messenger civilization began to deal with humans, some of us were concerned about that sort of thing, so in humans that we transported to this planet and elsewhere, we sometimes embedded some vegetal-paralection material into the brain meat of their minds, so that their free will could be overwhelmed in specific ways by a few distinctive gestures or sounds.  These gestures and sounds were designed to be produced either by someone in normal messenger form or by someone in human form.  We slightly altered the process of childbirth in a way that caused the children of everyone here to have the same changes hidden in their brains.  It so happens that we didn’t invent these mechanisms entirely newly, but instead borrowed their elements from a group of animals from the same home planet with minds made of similar brain substance, namely insects.  Thus, to make a very long story short, we embedded a series of insect-like reactions to visual and sound cues into the build of every human who was born on this planet.  Not every one of us agrees that this was a good or a right thing to do, but we did it.  I hope that your world will never again see the use of these signs, and that knowledge of them will be lost.  Perhaps I should have allowed myself to be raped in order to avoid disclosing them, but my human vulnerability encouraged me to defend myself.”

“I scarcely understand what you said, young man, though I followed it diligently.  But I don’t argue with your defending yourself against rape with this exotic mechanism.  No man should attempt what was about to be done to you, and if he does, let him be humanely stopped if he can be.  You did him no harm, and that is extraordinarily merciful.  Ahhmed, do you not agree?”

“Governor, with respect, you are letting a talkative devil infest your judgment with fantasy.”

“What’s more fanciful, his account or the suggestion of witchcraft?”

“Witchcraft is mentioned in the Quran; infesting our minds with locust souls through ‘brain meat’ is not accepted by the wisdom of God.  In any case, our human decisions are not made by a part of the body, but rather the spirit, which is later evaluated by God.  God does not put ‘brain meat’ onto the scales of good and evil.”

“The spirit is information nested in the brain,” Yith said.  “A human whose brain is injured no longer has full access to this information.”

Faisul tilted his head slightly at Yith.  He pulled at his beard.

“I don’t think we have time, young man, to discuss exactly where the spirit is located and what it is.  But yes, in military and accident casualties, we have noticed that head injuries may greatly affect the ability to make decisions.  The brain appears to be involved.  Respected Ahhmed, about your religious rejection of Yithythyth’s explanation, you presume that God has not granted the messengers revelations and information that differ in some technical details from what we have been offered.  But you know your Quran.  ‘And for every ummah [a community or a nation] there is a messenger; when their messenger comes, the matter will be judged between them with justice, and they will not be wronged.’  ‘In truth, we [God] have sent you [Muhammad] with the truth, a bearer of glad tidings and a warner. And there never was a nation but a warner had passed among them.’  Scholars have noted that the Earth’s moon is mentioned over thirty times in the Quran.  Is it not perhaps a book written expressly for humans?”

“Do these so-called messengers claim to have a Quran written for their own kind?”

“No,” Yith interjected.

“It doesn’t matter,” Faisul noted.  “There’s no implication in the scripture that every isolated nation who has been sent a messenger will produce a different Quran or, anomalously, the same one.  We don’t know how God will work to send his message to those who come from other planets.  This messenger, we’ve been told, is the first of his ummah ever to convert to a religion of the book.  Perhaps God is using him, not as a prophet, but as a preparer of the way.”

“Blasphemy, deviltry – your logic turns me around inside my soul, but I don’t believe it.”

“That is sheer stubbornness.  You have no corroborating evidence of witchcraft – no spells, no pits, no divination, no curses, no blessings, no evidence of a soul disposed to malevolence or magical grandiosity.  The only evidence you have is your label.  That, I reject as unsupported.  I accept that the hand gestures used could have been a sort of highly developed mechanism rather than witchcraft, and I am glad that I don’t understand such things further.  I would not want our people to have their own hands on such devices.

“I also don’t take seriously, in light of the miscarriage of justice that was perpetrated on the travellers, that they were entirely in the wrong to cooperate with our corrupt bailiff and to aid him in Marrik’s prison break.  After all, the matter at hand was ten years’ imprisonment and 150 lashes for a private kiss among brief sojourners from a country where the act is unquestionably legal.  And their use of loud warnings, even words abstracted from our scripture, in lieu of injuring and killing, has to be recognized as humane.  Your best officers might not be alive today, sir, if these travellers were inclined in any way to violence.  I fully support our legal system and our penal system, but here it malfunctioned badly and only desperate measures could be used to correct the wrong that had been done.  Our emperor, incidentally, more than agrees.  The justice system itself does not function with impunity.  If it commits horrors for no good reason, God himself will arrange for justice to be done to it.  Here the judge, understandably but somewhat recklessly, didn’t believe scripturally sworn testimony and dismissed it as demonic ravings.  Well, the universe is sometimes more nuanced than we are in the habit of believing it is.  If we think everything we don’t understand belongs to witchcraft, djinns and demons, then we don’t have a religion any more – we have a superstition, and Allah has been replaced by a shirk figurehead who gapes in menace as he sways under the weight of sacred names he lacks the strength to bear – merciful, beneficent, compassionate.  For all of those names entail a willingness to work with absolutely everything that is true and real.”

“Well, speaking of shirk, your lordship, isn’t that exactly what we see here?  This minor god whose story you accept so graciously is entering the pagan pantheon of your country.  What kind of a creature would do this?  And all the worse if he claims to accept God as his creator.  Tell me this is not a rebel djinn if you dare, pulling the wool over your eyes.  The emperor, I understand, made him prove he was a god.  Can you make him prove he is not claiming to be a god?”

Yith interrupted.

“Even the people who are most tempted to call me a god can testify that I’ve insisted over and over that I was not one.”

“Very well,” Faisul said, “that’s a good start.  Let’s call upon the most innocent and the least likely to dissemble.  What’s the name of the young girl amongst your freed people?”

There was a very quiet moment.

“Kelib-Yiffiffei,” Kelu-Shawushka announced.

Even my hair stood up.

The embroidered man actually laughed.

“’Yiffiffei healed me.’  With his name in the god’s place in these heathen phrase-names.  And he has permitted this.  If he were not under the protection of that carrion-feeding mountain bird, he should be tried before a death sentence in this city, and with God’s pleasure, dispatched from the universe of the living.”

Your head will roll off this mountain and down into the mire it belongs to!” Khashib shouted, standing fully upright in front of his chair and glowering.  That someone should be killed for publicly denouncing the emperor in such terms, in this country, was thought to be so obvious that there wasn’t even a law against it.  It was an obvious act of war.

“I am not afraid to be a martyr for truth.”

“My friend,” Faisul said, “I believe that, since you’re not even afraid to be a martyr for your own folly.  Shall we hear the facts before you judge?”

“Your majesty,” the governor continued, looking piercingly at the crowd and then back at his master’s boy, “I have been given special powers of mercy in this tribunal, and if that was a death charge you just uttered against this man, I would ask you to withdraw it.  Would that he see your father’s mercy as an example.”

“As you wish, governor.  My father’s example should be an emblem of the just.  But note that the sword of death was withdrawn by my clemency.”

“It is credited to you, your majesty, and speaks well for your rule.  Now, will Kelib-Yiffiffei please come to the chair.”

“Must she?”  Kelu-Shawushka spoke up.  “This is a terrible new trauma for a girl who has had a deeply painful life.”

“I have daughters myself,” Faisul answered gently.  “I’ll be kind.”

Keli slowly disengaged herself from Kelu’s protective arm and made her way up towards the chair, more warily than timidly.  She pulled at her hair and tilted her head a little to one side.

“Daughter,” said Faisul, “how would you like to swear that you will tell the truth – on a book or on a statue?”

“I will tell the truth.”

“I believe you, but the procedures of our courts require swearing on a holy book or a god.”

Keli looked around.  She caught Talbush’s eye.

“I only know one god,” she said.

Talbush suddenly seemed to have a mild headache.  “Whwww!” I could see him saying inaudibly, with air blowing out through his pursed lips. Then he reached into the chest folds of his robe, along the side, and pulled out, you guessed it, the statue of Yith.  He rose tentatively, and Faisul gave him a semicircular nod indicating ‘if that’s how it’s going to be, get on with it.’

The prince rose and took the statue down to the girl, and held it before her.

It was fully finished and resplendent.  I looked behind me and Tekhub-shenni, sitting one row back, widened his eyes to the size of owl eyes as he gave it the once-over.  I almost expected him to turn his head 270 degrees and take it from another angle.  He pressed his upper lip over his lower in a ‘hmph’ of astonishment, gave me a puzzled shrug and mini-headshake, and looked at Yith.

Yith, meanwhile, was wincing with one eye.  Talbush looked around, and he and Yith exchanged a neutral look. Talbush seemed to shrug slightly, but I couldn’t be sure.

“I swear by Lord Yiffiffei that I will tell the truth,” Keli said, in a voice as clear as a tuned, rim-rubbed wineglass.  She held Talbush by the hand, and he stayed with her, with the statue in his other hand.

“Thank you, daughter.  I’m going to ask you some questions and you needn’t worry about anything – just say the truth and you’ll go back to your friends in peace.  How did you come to know Yithythyth, or Yiffiffei as you call him?”

“He and Marrik and his majesty came to buy me from a man who … was touching me.  And the man refused to sell, and the Lord smote him with magic so that he let me go.  I was the first to fall and worship him.  He is my god.”

“Do you need to hear more?” Ahhmed ben Ahhmed said ominously.

“Of course,” the governor replied, giving an eagle-ish frown.  “This is a tribunal where truth is welcome.  Reality is not a barking dog.”

Hearing the word ‘dog’ made me look to see if Kheshmi was taking this all in, but he was asleep with his chin on his forepaws.  Bliss anywhere.  Or at least patience.  Gotta love dogs.

“Daughter, did Yiffiffei do any other magical things that you saw?”

“Saw?  Well, no.  But.  He could understand me talking when my tongue was stuck to my jaw, and no one else could – and then he freed my tongue.  {Keli was born tongue-tied, and Yith, with help from his friends and an emergency medical kit, did field surgery to free her tongue.} And they say he put magic stems in my mouth so the cut couldn’t bleed {He had some surgical styptic pads, unknown in the early iron age culture Keli comes from}.  He gave me speech, your honour.  I bless him forever.  And his friends who helped him.”

Aww, you’re worth it, love, we’re lucky we found you, I wanted to say.  She was turning out to be quite the sweetheart.  I hoped her loving attitude wasn’t going to get Yith into trouble.  Or embarrassment, I suppose I should say, since we’d been guaranteed we’d get out of here in one piece.  By an apparently trustworthy source.  This line of thought made me start to sweat.

“Did he ever say that he was a god?”

The girl looked over at Yith with eyes full of wan appeal.

“He’s very shy,” she said.

“You can tell the governor the truth, love,” Yith said softly.

“Ever since then he’s said he’s not a god.  But when he freed me, he told the man he was Yiffiffei Enni Kirenzivi [the god of manumission].”

“You see?”  Ahhmed ben Ahhmed demanded of the governor, with a sideways toss of his head in Yith’s direction.  “And here are you and your infidel employer, challenging our jurisprudence for the sake of this blasphemer!  How many verses are there in the Quran, and how many hadiths in Bukhari [Sunan Bukhari, one of the main books of sayings of the prophet] about the interest of Allah, the one and only true god, in the virtue of freeing slaves?!  And here is this alien idol of flesh simulating God’s mercy, openly, as a would-be alternative god!”

“I really didn’t want to do it,” Yith explained, “but I could see this general was going to make Keli very, very unhappy, and he wouldn’t sell her or be outbid.  He refused the emperor’s own writ of expropriation and threatened a rebellion of his military unit if the writ were enforced.  And this was right in the presence of Prince Talbush-arssibi, who had already been threatened at spearpoint by his father for making trouble about manumission.  I didn’t want to get him in trouble, either.  The only chance I had to make sure the imperial house didn’t get the blame and become the target of the general’s fury was to claim I outranked the emperor.  And even then, I had to use a hand gesture to make the man know the pain he was going to cause.  Maybe I could have done it differently – maybe I could have used the sign without saying I was a god – but then that would have made my actions nothing but an alien assault, because he wouldn’t have had the last chance to change his mind freely.  It seems to have been a sin – yes, really – [Yith was reacting to several onlookers shaking their heads ‘no’] but one that was needed to do the right thing.  It was a lie, if nothing else.”

Ahhmed cleared his throat.  “Blaspheming for the sake of an opportunity is still blaspheming.  A grave sin against God can’t ever be the right thing to do.  Your lordship, the dangerous confusion emanating from this group of weird Christian heretics is obvious.  This incident happened far out of our jurisdiction, but when it comes to judging whether our Watch was mistaken in keeping the sword point close against this group of travellers, I think this proves that we had it right.”

“Respected Ahhmed ben Ahhmed, I find some mitigating factors in the situation.  Firstly, the man was already a heathen and this approach just used his own belief system to show him his true deviation from the path of kindness and mercy.  Secondly, through the use of the manumission idea, you’ve managed to represent the impersonation of a nonexistent pagan god as if it were an attempt to simulate being Allah, the Creator of the Worlds.   I am sorry, but that’s ridiculous.  Yes, the impersonation may mislead some gullible pagans into believing in more strongly in their pagan gods, but it is still merely play-acting about a fictional subject.  You could just as easily accuse someone of blasphemy for imitating the mushkhushshu {dragon symbol carved onto buildings}.  And if the play-actor advocates a good quality like mercy, that doesn’t make him more deeply implicated as a blasphemous mimic of the true God.

“In this case, the general was stubbornly determined to do what was harmful.  When blocked, he threatened to turn the loyalty of his forces against the emperor.  What happened next, according to the most recent news from our investigation, was that he became a changed man.  He has already freed two female slaves from his household in Damosun, with substantial monies.  The emperor is satisfied that he remains completely loyal.”

“Your lordship, you justify or ‘mitigate’ this blasphemy based on talking about the harm the general planned to do, but what harm was this? And moreover, what about the harm that was done to him?   He bought a slave to do what was legal in his law and in ours, even if he intended to take her as a concubine.  You know that what is legal to a man in his time of desire is his wife or ‘maa malakat aymaankum’ [ما ملكت أيمانکم , Arabic for ‘what your right hand possesses,’ i.e., ‘your slaves’].  Since he had bought the girl as his slave, she was already legal for that purpose.  Yes, she was young, but not prohibited – you know the many hadiths about Ÿa,,isha [Aisha], the second new wife of the prophet, peace be upon him, after he became a widower.   ‘Narrated Ÿa,,isha – the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years [that is, until his death, when she was 18].’ And she had already been betrothed to Jubayr ben Mut’im prior to being reassigned to the Prophet.”

“How can you say ‘what harm was this’??”  Talbush broke in incredulously.  “If you’d seen the look in Keli’s eye, you’d have known she was revolted and really scared.”

“His majesty, Prince Talbush-arssibi,” Faisul noted by way of general introduction.

“Your majesty,” Ahhmed replied with a hooded gaze, “it’s not uncommon for someone that age to balk at changes in their life, but firm and merciful discipline will set them on the right path.”

Talbush sighed and raised his eyes up.  “This wasn’t just a ‘change in her life:’ while she was in the auction line, the general had already touched her where girls have privacy.”

“That was wanton of him and if he did it in my jurisdiction, he would be arrested for it – he wasn’t married to the girl, nor did he possess her.  Even after he bought her, to do it openly would be indecency.  On the other hand, where he did it, in your city, such actions are not uncommon, or so I’m told.  Now that I’m under pressure to tolerate heedless foreigners displaying themselves nakedly on our beaches, I suppose I mustn’t condemn the general in his naiveté either.   If he became a believer, I promise you that he wouldn’t do such ignorant things.”

“This was just the beginning, though,” Talbush replied.  “The real horror was that he clearly was going to take her to concubinage and make her his sexual partner, and obviously against her will.”

“Two sons of my old owner did things to me I hated,” Keli said, “and the general did the same as they did in the beginning.  I would rather die.”

“In our law,” the embroidered man said with his jaw set, “assuming you were a virgin, he would have to ask you for your consent and you would say yes by remaining silent.  Here is the saying from the life of our Prophet:  ‘Narrated Abu Haraira: Allah’s apostle said, ‘A female slave should not be given in marriage until she is consulted, and a virgin should not be given in marriage until her permission is granted.’ The people said, ‘How will she express her permission?’ The Prophet said, ‘By keeping silent.’”

“Oh yes, I was that thing – virgin.  The family told the boys not to ‘ruin her market value.’  They kept telling me I was just lucky they were good boys.  But then they did disgusting things that … ,,hmhh [throat catch and release] … got around that.  But I always kept silent.  My tongue was attached, I couldn’t really talk, and I was beaten up or played with if I tried to say ‘no’ with sounds.  What kind of a ‘yes’ is staying silent?  My heart refused and the Lord and his majesty and Marrik saw that and they did everything for me.”

“Daughter,” said Faisul, “my daughters would feel the same as you.  None of them was ready for men at your age.  In fact, the reason the Prophet uttered the hadith that my colleague Ahhmed ben Ahhmed just quoted was to stop a scam designed to allow men to marry young girls who refused.  I will quote part of a related hadith that has all the information about the scam:  “Some people had said, ‘If a man falls in love with an orphan slave girl or a virgin and she refuses him, and then he pulls a trick by bringing two false witnesses to testify that he has married her, and then she attains the age of puberty and agrees to marry him and the judge accepts the false witness and the husband knows that the witnesses were false ones, he may consummate his marriage.”  To this, the Prophet responded by giving the orphan slave girl or virgin the unquestioned right to refuse the marriage.  I can only hope he merely overlooked the case of the pre-pubescent girl who for whatever reason is not a virgin.  And you see that the age of puberty is mentioned in the hadith as a time when the girl is more likely to agree to marry and the marriage to be consummated.  So I hold you to have been within your rights, in our moral code, to refuse the General, and I hold that Yithythyth was benevolently motivated to try to secure your refusal for you.  I can see he went into the situation with no intention of proclaiming himself a god, and felt driven to it by circumstances.  I don’t say it was right, but I like the result – hearing you here today as a free young woman, speaking your thoughts with dignity and modesty.  I commend those who freed you.

“Your forced silence due to your tied tongue and your history of slave-beatings is the third example in these hearings of something that is real but is unanticipated, or insufficiently adumbrated, in our laws.  In these cases, we are forced to appear to bend the laws to make an exception, even though the reality is that the central justice within the law makes the apparent bend a hidden straight path.  The person who is partially not a person, the male who is opposite to typical males with regard to women, and the virgin whose refusal of consent must be made silently – these are matters that we can deal with as long as we understand the justice of our law instead of picking at phrases.  This is not of interest to you, daughter, since you have not been under our law so far, but it’s of interest to us, since we must deal well with situations like yours if they arise in our own city.

“Ahhmed ben Ahhmed, if you said, ‘I’ll continue to arrest anyone who says in the market “I’m a god” and tries to use this assertion to get his way in something,’ I wouldn’t disagree with you.  The person would be a swindler using spirit impersonation, or perhaps a lost soul, out of contact with reality.  But I don’t think we will ever see a case like this one again – a person not quite a person, who really does have some abilities we traditionally ascribe to gods and spirits, making one such statement in desperation, as a last resort, to save a young girl from a lot she perceives as horrible.  Why don’t we agree to let God himself decide this one, and derive some satisfaction from recognizing the good in the outcome?  Kelib-Yiffiffei, you may go back to your seat, and I thank you very much for your truthfulness in speaking with us.  May God be with you always.”

“OK,” Keli said simply, and she allowed Talbush to lead her to her seat.  We could see she was trembling a little, but she gave us a slight smile.  It seems we were always getting to see her being brave.  Perhaps she was the bravest of us all.

“Do you wish to respond?” the governor asked Ahhmed ben Ahhmed, who was sitting and stroking his beard with his lip curled as if he wasn’t satisfied at all.

“Governor, you might say it is not our business, but here in this courtroom we have a person [he gave Yith a little nod] who was formerly an inmate in our prison system, who watches the ignorant and the innocent, and also some respected royal persons whom I must not seem to slander, worship him in the form of an idol and says next to nothing against it.  He purports to be a person of the book, and yet he facilitates a virtual new religion dedicated to his false godhood.  If the question for our Watch is ‘should we have treated such a person and his accomplices as prime suspects for immorality?’ I would say that the answer is ‘yes.’  This very tolerance of false worship abundantly proves the moral looseness of the person and the group.  Is there something in the injil (the gospels) that permits a Christian to become the object of idolatrous worship when it suits his convenience?  I think not.

“But we can give the young man one good chance to clear his name, and reconcile himself to the greatest extent he can with our Morality Watch.  Yithythyth, from the moral point of view, you must either say that you will allow them to treat you as a god, or that you will not allow this.  If you say you will allow it, you will be chargeable with blasphemy in our jurisdiction, even if your imperial protection prevents the charge from being laid.  If you say that you will not allow this, then I will set my suspicions aside and acclaim you as a person of the Book, even in the light of everything you have done.  God can judge the rest.”

There was a moment of complete silence.  Yith nodded his head back and forth, deep in thought.  I put my right hand over the back of his left hand.

“That,” he said, “is a brilliant solution.  I haven’t had any leverage so far, but now I do.  I’m not a god.  I don’t wish to be seen or treated as a god.  And I don’t think it will help anyone if this illusion replaces reality.  I am so far from godhood – I couldn’t even decide if I should use my powers or even my authority to save the life of our confused friend Shekhi {refers to a storyline that isn’t in these excerpts}.  I cried out ‘no’ to the soldiers when I saw that he was about to be shot, but I didn’t say it with real force, or try to stop them with signs – maybe partly because Shekhi had stolen the manuscript our emperor told us to carry – but does losing a priceless manuscript come close to the cost of erasing an existence and denying the person all their future chances to make good?  I don’t know – I still don’t hear a clear answer in my mind about this. So governor, I make zero claim on godhood.  BUT if his majesty, Prince Talbush-arssibi, or any one of these people here, even Keli, wants to insist that I am their god, then I will state for their sake that I am the god Yiffiffei, created as such by God the creator.  This will be a formal blasphemy and I waive my protection.  You can punish me according to your law.”

“You’re not able to waive your protection,” Faisul said with the faintest curl of a smile.  “But so that your plan isn’t thwarted, I’ll allow you to be sentenced to up to fifty lashes if you make this statement.”

“Yith, you have no idea!” I said with my heart in my mouth.  I could feel it beating against my lips.  I gripped his hand and he gripped me back with the force of resolution.  Now it was my turn, I thought, to weakly protest ‘no’ and watch in horror as things went out of control.  I couldn’t really think of how I could stop Yith now.

The uniformly blanched faces of the Yiffiffei cult gave a tone of Hallowe’en to the right central front benches of the tribunal.

“May we have a few moments outside to discuss this matter?” Talbush asked the governor.

“By all means,” Faisul said, expanding his left hand toward the ornately carved doorframe of the entranceway.

The freed people and their prince exited, as did their sponsoring tradesman.  Talbush also beckoned to Miikha, and he went painfully with them, with the stick-like arm of Tekhub-shenni under his elbow.

After five minutes, they returned, like a jury, and they had the colour back in their faces.

“I’ll speak for us all,” Talbush announced.

“Go ahead, your majesty,” Faisul said.

“This will make me an outcast forever from my father’s religion,” Talbush said, raising his eyebrows to the look of alarm his brother cast his way, “and maybe he’ll kill me – but there’s no other way.  We’ll all follow the lead of the little guy here, Tekhub-shenni, and join the religion our Yiffiffei belongs to.  We like the sound of the church that Miikha belongs to because they have lots of images of saints and founders, but we don’t speak their language of worship [Syriac Aramaic] and so we’ll start a church of our own in Qodra, dedicated to freeing slaves and bringing Yiffiffei’s kind of love to the people of that city.  Miikha tells us that we should wait for completely unexplained miracles done in his name before we called him a saint, but we will honour him anyways in some way.  Wise people from Miikha’s church and maybe the church from the plagues can come and help us start up, if they will be so kind.  We’ll call Yiffiffei the founder of our church.”

“Then there’ll be no lashes after all!”  Faisul said with a smile.  His coppery beard exchanged scintillations with his teeth as a beam of sunlight struck him from an open window.

Khashib, sitting behind him, was still shaking his head in disbelief.  He clearly wasn’t inclined to co-found the Church of Qodra and risk his father’s spearpoint.

“You’re completely mad, brother,” he announced, “but your motives are good.  I’ll make one heartfelt request to our father to tolerate you if he becomes alarmed.  If he decides against you, though, my loyalty is to him.”

“I understand, brother,” Talbush answered.  “But think of the freed slaves who are loyal to you and would remain so.”

Brilliant.  I’d never before met a kid who was a born politician – he just whipped these things out effortlessly.  Amazing.

Yith, meanwhile, had gathered his thoughts, and stood up to speak to the group of freed people.  Some of them were still looking at Khashib, and Kirib-tareshei called them around with “let’s hear what Yiffiffei has to say.”  They all turned to face their former god.

“I really want to thank you very much, you guys,” Yith said, and then added hesitantly.  “I think… though … you might want to credit Marrik as the original founder of the church.”

I heard my name and said “heh?”

He translated what he’d said for me.  Everyone waited for him to do it.

“Me?” I said.  “I haven’t done anything.”

“This whole thing happened because of your wild idea to trade the freeing of slaves for my bow to the emperor,” Yith said.  “And that idea made Talbush and Kiir see each other in a new light.  If not for that, we would have just bowed to the emperor and been brought back here as a foursome.”

He explained to the others what he’d said.

“My brain just pops out ideas all the time,” I said.  “Gee, if you shouldn’t blame yourself for minor things you did or didn’t do when someone dies, how can you start giving yourself credit for tiny things you did when something really good happens?”

“It was an inspired idea, buddy,” Xus commented, reaching across to punch my shoulder.  “Maybe it came from beyond you someplace, or maybe it came from you yourself.  Maybe you should take personal credit for it so we don’t have to make you Saint Marrik.”  He grinned at me.  He knows me too well.  To be called a saint is even more embarrassing than taking credit for a good thing.

“Oh no,” I said, “that’s crazy, and there’s already been enough of Saint Marriks.  I don’t qualify to be in that crowd.  Not that I’m against the holy spirit passing on some tips to me or you or whoever, but I just feel like my normal self, and after what I’ve done in my life, I’m very sure I’m no saint.  Ask my late mother.  OK, for what it’s worth, I take credit for having had that idea.  But just thank God I had it.”

Yith translated.

The freed people gave all four of us a cheer, with the governor nodding his indulgence up above:  “Yiffiffei!  Marrik!  Eleya!  Xusxerron!”

“May we take another few moments?”  Talbush asked the governor.

“It’s close to our break time, but go ahead.”

“Miikha?  As we planned… ”

Miikha spoke.

“To formalize our friends’ decision, they’ve asked me to recite our special prayer, the one Yeshua the messiah gave to us, as spoken in our sacred language of worship.  This is the language that he originally said it in – he whom you Muslims call Isa.  Talbush assures me that Yithythyth can translate it, even though he’s probably never heard our language before.  He’s so sure about this that I guess I’ll just have to believe it.”

And so he recited this direct, rhyming quote out of religious history, line by line, with Yith following up in sQodravtse.  Tekhub-shenni, his spiritual son, took his hand and looked up at him with pride.

“Aboon dbashmayo,”

“Our father who exists in heaven,”

“nethqadash shmokh.”

“honoured be your name.”

“Teethe malkoothokh,”

“Your kingdom come,”

“nehwe sebyonokh,”

“your will be done,”

“aykano dbashmayo off bar’o.”

“as in heaven, so on Earth.” [yes, the church here left it as ‘Earth’]

“Hab lan lahmo dsoonqonan yawmono”

“Give us our needful bread this day”

“washbooq lan khowbain wahtohain,”

“and forgive us our shortcomings,”

“aykano doff khnan shbaqan il hayobain”

“as we also have forgiven those who’ve come up short with us.”

“Lo thaalan il nessyoono elo fasson men beesho”

“And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”

“metool dedeelokhee malkootho,”

“for yours is the kingdom”

“ou haylo ou teshbohto,”

“and the power, and the glory”

“loalam olmen Amen.”

“for ever and ever. Amen.”


Miikha added, “I pledge that we’ll baptise these people into the Church and give them a firm footing in the love and salvation of our Lord.  You too, Shennaka.”

The boy gave one of his lopsided, supple smiles.  He looked around and ended up exchanging some eyebrow movements with Kheshmi, who had woken up and was beaming good dog vibes at the crowd of friends gathered in front of him.

Yith then spoke up for himself.

“I have something else to say now.  I want to thank you again, Ahhmed ben Ahhmed, for your stringent correctness that led to solving this problem.  You’ve rescued me from the worst kind of knowledge-bending political falsehood – the type that’s intended to do good.  Now we can all do our best without the falsehood, and I can be remembered for what I am.”

“Whatever that may be,” Ahhmed commented.  “I acknowledge your thanks with gratitude.  I am not comfortable that every issue that troubles me has been reconciled in God’s best light, but we have brought many people here over from symbolic wandering to the Book, and I can go home with that much satisfaction.”

Faisul decided it was time for the moderator to retake the helm.

“May the peoples of the Book, Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Sabaean, always fulfill God’s mission for them, to correct and improve one another when they have strayed from their assigned path in God’s service.  I believe that with that, this tribunal has fulfilled its purpose.

“Thank you to everyone who contributed to this search for truth and understanding.  We will follow up with the matters I pledged myself to earlier.   Now, though, there is another excellent meal prepared, this time at the military compound so that all of us can be present.  I declare this tribunal discharged, in the name of our Emperor, and in the sight of God, the beneficent.  To each one of you, salaam [‘peace’ in Arabic].”

I was bold enough to give the newly secularized Yith a huge hug, and then we were surrounded by freed people, who partially hid our next act – a full kiss on the lips.  Tekhub-shenni clambered up over the front rail of the seating and squeezed in between Yith and me as we reached over to hug everyone in our group, starting with Tuni and Keli.  It was an amazingly celebratory time, like a fireworks display made of hugging arms and broad smiles.

As our mutual well-wishing began to taper, at last, Ahhmed ben Ahhmed came over.  To my shock, he spoke to me with one of the two words in his lexicon that I could understand.

‘Salaam,’ he said, and he held out his right arm in an arc, with the embroidered gold band on his arm glowing in the light.

My throat caught.  ‘Salaam,’ I said back, and then, yes, we did it – exchanged the kiss of peace on each other’s cheek.

And then Yith got the same.  After he broke off the embrace and Ahhmed turned away towards the door, Yith looked at me and I looked at him.  His all-coloured eyes were as round as Tekhub-shenni’s, which were also gazing at me from below.

Ahhmed ben Ahhmed gave a nominal bow to Talbush and Khashib on the way by – they were deep in conversation at this point – and left the hall.


**We then go on to other things*

— END —









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