In Arabic Literature there are many beautiful stories and myths about dashing, romantic and brave heroes who boasted awesome feats. One of those is Tariq bin Ziyad who was taken as a slave by the Umayyad Empire during their expansionist wars, and who rose amongst the ranks to become a valiant Muslim Warrior around the year 700. To make a long story short: he was tasked with leading his army from North Africa and across the Mediterranean in order to conquer Spain, or, Al-Andalus in Arabic. It is said that the enemy warriors far outnumbered his soldiers, so before facing the formidable foe, he gave an uplifting speech to his troops and instructed that the ships they had arrived in be burnt so that they would have no exit route and would, therefore, be compelled to fight fiercely! Thus, his words have echoed through the ages: Behind You is the Sea, Ahead of You is the Enemy!
I thought of this saying as I observed our world at this precarious moment. At the ineffective UN General Assembly’s 77th. Meeting in New York on 9/20/2022, Antonio Guterres sounded the alarm: This is a watershed and critical moment; there is great peril in our world etc. etc. Of course, the World has never been Shangri-La, that beautiful, remote, peaceful place, however, and aside from the male species’ proclivity for waging wars throughout time, it did have its moments of peace, prosperity, innovation and advancement. But, let’s not go back too far in history and simply look at the recent years since 9/11 when everything seemed to go out of whack and our World has been going downhill since then (and some say even before that) where the trend seems to be for different nations, political and religious leaders, as well as political parties, to be advocating for their own narrow version of Morality, rather than looking broadly and objectively at All of Humanity! This ugly trend has opened the way for more Misinformation, Mistrust, Enmity, Authoritarianism, and Divisiveness amongst Humans within one Nation, as well as amongst Nations, bringing us up to this moment when we are all sitting ducks awaiting Armageddon, as per President Biden? And horrifyingly anticipating naughty Putin lobbing some nukes over Ukraine??? How can that be? How did Political Leaders allow issues to escalate to this point? And how could we have arrived to a place where: Behind Us is a Sea of every ugly incident that has occurred since 9/11 and Ahead of Us is a world writhing from the effects of Climate Change, a Lethal Pandemic, Rampant Racism; Authoritarian Rulers; a War in Ukraine as well as many other Wars and Unrest all over the world? Are we all going to Fight Fiercely and make every Effort to Correct all this, or will our Arrogance and Stubbornness lead us towards a Slow Annihilation? Could we, perhaps, start Communicating Rationally amongst each other? Compromising? De-escalating? Or, will we continue to fight Putin to the “last Ukrainian”? And then what? Fight Xi to the “last Taiwanese”? It is so utterly ridiculous!
Maybe the best example that well reflects the World’s Agony at this moment comes from England where Liz Truss is being Trussed like the turkey she has proven to be and getting readied for a Roasting by a Spunky British Public that is saying: enough Thatcherism and Reaganism and Trickle Down Economics; enough of gutting our Health and Public Services in order to cater to the Billionaires and Connected; enough Corruption and Lofty Speeches while we go further and further down the gutter! These sentiments, in one way or another, are being echoed all over the world as Humans are getting more and more Fed Up with their Leaderships and Miserable Situations and getting ready to Storm the Bastille – so to speak! As well they should! Enough! Enough Already!
In 2016 Noam Chomsky – by far one of the most amazing and respectable human beings walking our earth today – said that the Nuclear Time Clock is at Two Minutes Before Midnight, which is scary enough to think that we were that close to blowing up the Planet! He has now updated this to One Hundred Seconds Before Midnight, which is less than Two Minutes! However, you will Never, Ever see Noam Chomsky, or the many Intellectuals who think like him anywhere on the Mainstream Media explaining why they believe that. We pride ourselves in the US and Western Nations on having Free Speech, but we Ghost intellectuals and any writers, journalists, and bloggers who can truly Educate, Inform and Awaken Humans to what is Really Going On. Chomsky, and those who think like him, are Ghosted! We do not Jail Them, Assassinate Them, or Even Exile Them as they do in Authoritarian Regimes – except when we cold-heartedly and unjustifiably leave Julian Assange to rot in a British jail! Nevertheless, we simply leave those we “Ghosted” to write their books, give their lectures, talk to the Humans who seek them out, but Essentially shut them out lest they inform Mr. and Mrs. Ordinary! It is not the job of the Irresponsible Talking Heads on CNN and MSNBC (Fox News is against the war only because Biden supports it, as they oppose anything he says, or does! Shameless Evil Rupert Murdoch sycophants!) to Educate, Edify, or present Any Alternative View to that of the Administration, the Passé Military War Mongers who have always thrived on having an Enemy even if they have to Lie and Create One – and we have seen that happen on numerous occasions – and the Corrupt Political Leadership that is Profiteering from our Wars and from maintaining the Ignorance of the Citizens as the Wheels of Greed and Neo-Capitalism Grind On! One of the exceptions is Amy Goodman on Democracy Now who has the Integrity to present alternative opinions and analysis! Even Progressives and so-called Leftists have been so intimidated by what is being labelled as “Putin’s War” that they have not dared protest a major conflict that has upended millions of lives and might yet be the harbinger of a wider war! It is shameful!
What keeps my blood pressure up is that when economic conditions are so precarious around the world; when inflation is hitting all people; when recession is threatening; when there are wars and so much unrest everywhere you look then the atmosphere becomes ripe for bigger and more widespread intransigence and conflicts, and I hope I’m wrong! Yes, Behind Us is the Sea, Ahead of Us is a Very Scary Unknown! Horrifying!
1 thought on “Behind You is the Sea, Ahead of You is the Enemy!”
Hala, another well thought out and well presented essay. The current state of affairs is indeed analogous with the story of Tariq bin Ziyad … unbelievable and horrifying; and to make it even worse, preventable. How could the all-embracing idealism of the 60s become the isolationist-authoritarianism of the world today? ( Apropos of nothing, Noam Chomsky is a hero of mine, too.)