Love Thy Neighbor – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Love Thy Neighbor, A Muslim Doctor’s Struggle for Home in Rural America” by Ayaz Virji, With Alan Eisenstock, published in 2019.

This slim volume related how the author tried to counter the “Nasty comments. Ignorant. Bigoted. Hateful.” messages and deeds of Americans pursuant to the mood of the nation that was changed for the worse with the election of Donald Trump. This is NOT to say Trump started the trend toward xenophobia, but he has exacerbated it.

In 2017, the pastor in the medical-doctor-author’s small community of Dawson in western Minnesota (population, about 1,500) suggested that the author give a talk to educate people about his religion.

Read the book to learn why the author decided to continue to dispel “… myths and misinformation about terrorism and Sharia law and how Muslims treat women.” Right now, this nation needs to dispel myths and misinformation about medicine and its medical community. The two major takeaways from the current episode of political shenanigans are (not that there aren’t pros and cons on each side):

  • The Democrats are pushing for national healthcare.
  • Bill Gates is pushing for online education.

Of course, as always, all political donors are pushing for their own agendas. Enough said.

…And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since / Citizen Lane

The first Book of the Week is “…And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since, From the Streets of Harlem to the Halls of Congress” by Charles B. Rangel with Leon Wynter, published in 2007.

This repetitive, stream-of-consciousness autobiography was a bragfest, but the author’s major point was that his near-death experience while serving in the Korean War led him to realize that surviving everything else in his life has been a cakewalk.

Born in June 1930 in West Harlem, New York City– Rangel, his older brother and younger sister were raised mostly by his mother, mother’s brother and mother’s father. His maternal grandparents– white father and black mother– were originally from Virginia. His mother raised him as a Catholic.

Rangel’s mother worked as an attendant in a hotel and in resorts in the Catskills in upstate New York, while the author stayed in West Harlem with his grandfather or uncle, both elevator operators. Starting when he was about nine years old and throughout his childhood, Rangel worked at a drugstore, as a paperboy, at a hardware store, as a shoe-store assistant, cargo loader, etc.

Rangel was deeply influenced by his grandfather’s reverence for attorneys, whom he saw all day at his job in the elevator of a courthouse. Nevertheless, Rangel’s social circles in Harlem did not expose him to anyone who particularly valued education. He therefore dropped out of high school after sophomore year. He was also deeply influenced by his older brother, who valued working and volunteering for the U.S. military.

So after Rangel’s four years in the military, during which he was unexpectedly sent to Korea, he was persuaded by his brother to choose work in civilian life instead of a military career.

Eventually, realizing that his life was directionless and his lack of education was holding him back, Rangel appealed to the Veterans Administration (VA) for help– aggressively, as he was an arrogant youth with a sense of entitlement as a war hero. A VA representative provided him with the kind of guidance he needed, pushing him to focus on the goal of becoming an attorney to please his grandfather.

Rangel expanded his worldview at St. John’s law school, meeting other blacks, plus Italian, Irish and Jewish students. Later, as a Congressman, his frequent international travel led him to change his views on Catholicism.

Rangel became less religious, as “When you find Washington saying it has no moral responsibility for social services, that it’s on local or state government or the private sector, you would expect the Church to be screaming with outrage. Not just about the unborn, but about the born… I had to remind Mayor Mike Bloomberg and the media that we spend $100,000 per year just to keep one kid locked up in the city’s [New York City’s] Rikers Island detention center… Imagine if we were investing even a fraction of that in the education of every kid in New York.”

Read the book to learn how Rangel came to have daily gratitude for life after his war experiences, and rose through the ranks to have an illustrious political career, and for all the great accomplishments he considered himself responsible.

The second Book of the Week is “Citizen Lane, Defending Our Rights in the Courts, the Capitol, and the Streets” by Mark Lane, published in 2012. This autobiography was a bragfest, too.

Born in the Bronx in 1927, Lane spent his childhood in Brooklyn. He spent his early career years practicing law as a solo practitioner in East Harlem. Even though his skin was white, he defended minority teen gang members accused of serious crimes. The juries were wealthy white males only. Lane also sued slumlords on behalf of tenants.

In the second half of the 1950’s, Lane helped reveal the scandalous conditions at the Wassaic State School in upstate New York; human nature, being what it is– in the early 1970’s, Geraldo Rivera told a largely similar story involving Willowbrook State School.

Teenagers accused of petty crimes who were deemed “mental defectives” determined by only one IQ test were placed in Wassaic State School. The IQ test was given in English only. Not coincidentally, many Puerto Ricans (Spanish speakers) were immediately placed in the school.

Despite the name of the institution, inmates received no academic instruction– only psychological, physical and sexual abuse, and solitary confinement for minor infractions, at the hands of sadistic guards.

Restraints were used willy-nilly. The food was inedible. The inmates had no recreation whatsoever, not even reading. In October 1955, Paul H. Hoch, commissioner of the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene called a hearing only after New York State governor Averell Harriman was prompted by political motives to do something. Hoch said it was a public hearing, but banned the press from attending. Big mistake.

The press gathered around the hearing-building and wouldn’t leave. Lane gave them the lowdown on the testimony he heard firsthand. The reader can guess where this is going. The only heads that rolled were the guards’. No one else’s. Dr. George Etling, director of the school, remained so for another eighteen years until he comfortably retired.

The next episode in Lane’s heroic career related to cofounding– with the reverend of the Mid-Harlem Community Parish– of a free-of-charge (unlicensed; read, illegal) heroin rehabilitation clinic in West Harlem. The patients kicked their addictions cold turkey through sedatives and therapy administered by doctors, nurses, social workers and psychologists. Lane allegedly got Jackie Robinson to hire all the recovered addicts (many of whom were ex-cons) by the Chock full o’Nuts restaurant chain.

Prior to election year 1960, judges and other office holders were able to vote for their cronies, even though they had moved out of the candidates’ East Harlem and Yorkville district years before. Lane’s young polling volunteers told the illegal voters they had to sign an affidavit swearing to their current addresses. Busted, the would-be voters slunk away instead.

In spring 1961, Lane and black attorney Percy Sutton went on a “Freedom Ride” (i.e., risked their lives) via buses and a plane through different southern cities, ending in Jackson, Mississippi. There, they were arrested for “…disorderly conduct by improperly ‘congregating’ and placed in separate segregated cells.” But they hadn’t been the least bit hostile. They were convicted without a trial and sentenced to four months’ imprisonment. In March 1962, the state of Mississippi changed its tune and the charges were dropped.

In 2004, Lane started co-hosting a weekly radio show from New Jersey, in which he wasn’t obnoxious to callers, and “…all ridicule would be reserved exclusively for the leaders of our nation who led us into a war in which they traded blood for oil… I read the names of those who died that week in Iraq, to remind us of what we are doing.”

Read the book to learn of other major historical events in which Lane was supposedly front and center, and the ways in which he did his best to investigate scandals (including JFK’s and MLK’s deaths) in a bygone era in which:

  • security in buildings was poor
  • forensics were primitive
  • racism was rampant, and
  • cover-ups were rife (thanks to aggressive, dishonest politicians and intelligence services who spied on and oppressed their own citizens).

Thank goodness cover-ups aren’t rife anymore, given the current mean, nasty divided political situation in the United States. Right.

Gorsuch – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Gorsuch, The Judge Who Speaks For Himself” by John Greenya, published in 2018.

This volume mostly discussed Neil Gorsuch’s nomination for the position of Supreme Court justice, gleaned from opinion pieces in online publications including blogs, and comments from interviews, in a disorganized fashion. With some of Obama’s political career thrown in. Plus the controversy surrounding Gorsuch’s mother. It got tedious after a while, and should not be classified as a biography.

As is well known, Gorsuch was nominated in an era with an especially emotionally charged political atmosphere. Of course, during his confirmation hearings, Gorsuch was grilled on one particularly extremely controversial issue: abortion.

Some Republicans propagandized that Gorsuch was a gentleman, and a good writer. Some Democrats propagandized that Gorsuch would seek to overturn Roe v. Wade. Prior to his SCOTUS nomination, he had served as an appellate judge for a decade, during which he saw no cases directly related to that case’s decision.

Gorsuch himself, in a book he wrote, conceded that whether abortion is the taking of a human life, hinges on the definition of “human life.” At his confirmation hearing, when pressed on whether he accepted that the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does not consider a fetus a person, Gorsuch agreed it is federal law that says a fetus is not a person.

Abortion is one of the most, if not the most, volatile political issue in the United States, because it is a matter of religion and politics, life and death, and its legalization or not, has serious ripple effects on society. There are three major aspects, among a host of peripheral issues, upon which most people seize: biology, women’s rights, and economics.

The first major aspect relates to a few pieces of information that allow people to form opinions on the definition of “human life” to which there is no right or wrong:

A fetus’ heartbeat is detectable approximately two months into a pregnancy. Some people believe that when a heartbeat is detectable in a fetus, that that fetus is a human life.

Besides, a fetus can live outside the womb at approximately two months into a pregnancy, but it still requires a large amount of technological help with sustenance at that stage; around five months is when it can live outside the womb without the extensive assistance of medical technology.

Some people believe that if a fetus can live outside the womb (but the amount of life-support equipment any given fetus requires varies widely), that that fetus is a human life. Thus, some people believe abortion should be illegal from those respective points onward. Others believe life begins at conception. Therefore, according to them, abortion should never be legalized at any point.

The question of abortion obviously disproportionately affects females. Women’s rights involve a female’s control over her own body.

There are two major economics aspects to abortion:

Norman Mailer argued that from a purely economic (non-emotional) standpoint, abortion should have been legalized merely because, according to research, a lot of unwanted babies grow up to become career criminals. Legalization of abortion would eliminate the long-term costs to society of unwanted people.

Moreover, prior to the time abortions became legal, poor women who couldn’t afford illegal abortions done by an experienced medical professional, attempted abortion methods themselves, which were dangerous to their own health. So there arose long-term costs to society in the form of their medical expenses, if they didn’t die from complications.

Even though abortion is now legal conditionally, some poor women still cannot afford it. That raises the can of worms of whether abortions should be publicly funded. Which leads to a vicious cycle for poor women. And society.

Biological aspects of abortion that make abortion laws conditional, include: specifics on the trimester in which the procedure is performed, whether the mother’s or baby’s life is in danger and whether the baby is developmentally normal. An additional wrench in the works is whether a female should be able to have an abortion in a case of rape or incest.

The religious aspects of abortion are a whole other explosive ball of wax. Especially when sex education is thrown into the mix. Yet another cause of heated discussions is that it is impossible to prove how often abortion is used as a birth-control method.

The yelling and screaming, litigation and legislative debate is guaranteed to never stop, because there will always be questions such as: If the mother is extremely young– does she need a parent’s consent to have an abortion?

And can a pregnant woman of any age cross state lines in order to gain access to an abortion that is legal, given her situation? Which leads to the controversy of States’ Rights.

In the last several decades, the Democrats have faced a dilemma when they nominated a Catholic presidential candidate. The Democrats favor laws that allow abortion. Some Catholic and Christian voters say they would never vote for any candidate who is a Democrat for that reason alone. They say they wouldn’t waver on that. The question for the ages is: Is the number of these voters sufficient to affect the outcome of a presidential election?

Anyway, read the book to learn of other issues on which Gorsuch’s positions had yet to be seen as of the book’s writing, and tabloid writers’ and politicians’ take on his fitness for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Child of the Ghetto / The Three of Us

As is well known, WWII did a number on Italy. Here are two books that described the experiences of females during and after the war.

The First Book of the Week is “Child of the Ghetto, Coming of Age in Fascist Italy: A Memoir 1926-1946” by Edda Servi Machlin, published in 1995.

Born in February 1926 in a small village outside Rome, the author was named Edda, after Mussolini’s daughter. Her father was the community’s rabbi. The family was actually anti-fascist, but used her name as a cover for avoiding trouble. The Italian government began its abusive treatment of Jews starting in the late summer of 1938. Jewish teachers and public-school employees were fired.

Since the author was no longer allowed to get an education, she spent her adolescence up until her late teens in real-world job training, as a maid, bookkeeper and seamstress. Signage in retail outlets’ windows stated, “This is an Aryan-race store.” Everyone was required to show ID cards that stated his or her religion.

Mid-July 1943 saw a change in Italy’s government but not in its war alliances, pro-Fascism bent, or treatment of Jews. Even though in September it pledged to stop fighting against the Allies. The author’s two older brothers went to hide in the woods to avoid conscription. Because they were Jews, they were denied admittance to an anti-Fascist youth group.

According to the author, in October 1943, the Germans who were sociopathic sadists with weaponry, descended on Rome in the middle of the night to abduct via truck, more than three thousand Jews. Luckily, in the next two months, when a roundup began in neighboring regions, the author, her brothers, and younger sister had been on the run in an area spanning hundreds of miles of countryside around Tuscany, Umbria, Lazio, etc., hiding in various homes of benevolent farmers willing to risk their lives. Her parents and younger brother, however, were taken away.

The author heard “through the grapevine” that two American soldiers had bailed out of a warplane and parachuted into her village. That was exciting, because she had been rooting for the Allies all along. Her mentality was, “America, the mythical country of our childhood dreams, was so far away… And Lello [her older brother] had met two of her children! We were enthralled.”

Read the book to learn the fate of the author’s family members, her prewar existence, her adventures in the forests and farmyards during the war, and of her later endeavors.

The Second Book of the Week is “The Three of Us” by Marisa Giardina, published in 2012. This is the suspenseful, depressing story of a female whose girlhood ended before she turned three years old, due to WWII.

The author, her mother and older sister fled on a ship bound for Italy from their native Libya with hardly more than the clothes on their backs. They left her father and her two older brothers behind. The goal in their travels was to reach Fiuggi, where her grandfather was being held as a prisoner of war.

They spent an inordinate amount of time in a bomb shelter and their diet consisted of dried bread crumbs when they could get them. As their situation worsened, refugees such as they, resorted to prostitution, thefts of crops from farms, black-market trading, and illegally occupying abandoned, rubble-strewn buildings, among other tactics to stay alive.

“Italy was in chaos after the war and the Italians lost their compassion for their fellow men.” Non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross and CARE handed out food and sweaters, which were acquired after days of waiting in a queue.

Read the book to learn more about the countless hardships endured by the author, and her incredible will to live, considering her circumstances.



Piety & Power / Troublemaker

The First Book of the Week is “Piety & Power, Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House” by Tom LoBianco, published in 2019. This volume recounted the political adventures of Mike Pence, elected vice president of the United States in 2016.

By November 1990, Pence had lost two Congressional races. “He didn’t grasp that using the campaign cash to make his mortgage and car payments was a clear violation of their [his Republican colleagues’] trust.” Thereafter, the Federal Election Commission deemed that activity illegal.

Pence lets political expedience dictate his religious / ideological bent. Over the course of twenty years, beginning in the late 1970’s, he proceeded to play the roles of: evangelist, conservative Republican, mainstream Republican, Libertarian, evangelical megachurch supporter, and finally, Christian Rightist.

Pence was finally elected to Congress in 2000. In 2013, he became governor of Indiana. He gave Hoosiers a small tax cut but promoted it as a big one. He proposed funding free pre-kindergarten for poor kids (of course, knowing him, he’d push for allowing pre-kindergarten to teach religion), but actually obtained more federal Medicare funding. He also proposed a state-run news service– which of course was looked at askance, and died on the drawing board.

In March 2015, Pence signed a bill that allowed (translation: encouraged) religious ministers and businesses to refuse to provide services for gay marriage ceremonies. He failed to anticipate the public relations crisis that ensued.

Pence figured that a Donald Trump loss in 2016 would increase his own chances of getting elected president in 2020. For, Pence was instrumental in helping Trump win the Rust Belt and other swing states.

Read the book to learn of other interesting factoids about Pence.

The Second Book of the Week is “Troublemaker, Let’s Do What It Takes to Make America Great Again” by Christine O’Donnell, published in 2011.

Born in 1969 into a family that was eventually comprised of six children, O’Donnell is of Irish and Italian extraction. The family moved from Philadelphia to Moorestown, New Jersey when she was little.

When O’Donnell participated in the commencement ceremony at Fairleigh Dickinson University, she still owed $8,000 in tuition, and was six credits short of graduating. At the podium, the leather portfolio she was handed contained a bursar’s bill instead of a degree. By that time, she had decided she wanted to pursue a career in politics. Her naivete was a blessing and a curse, as it is with so many passionate young people who seek to work for a cause that is bigger than themselves.

However, the more one reads, hears or sees about politics, the more cynical one becomes; one does not even need to run for office to see what dirty a business it is. The sooner one learns this, and the lessons O’Donnell learned, the better. Apparently, a certain political climate at certain times allows particular instances of what could be considered unethical, or at best, dishonest activities to proceed.

Anyway, O’Donnell wrote candidly about her work experiences. She described what some might say were conflicts of interest that were minor, in that the goals were to spread propaganda and cover all the bases, more than make money.

Some believe that a media outlet should not be used solely as a political mouthpiece. Nevertheless, in 1994, from Washington, D.C., the Republican National Committee aired a Haley Barbour-created TV show, “Rising Tide.” The weekly show had affiliates around the nation, including Chicago. O’Donnell– whose job was to sell the show– got it on the air on a cable access channel in New York City.

In another case, in 2008, Senator Joe Biden re-ran for the U.S. Senate at the same time he ran for vice president. Biden won both elections. As is well known, he has been a gadfly ever since. Currently, some people, even those from his own party, wish he would go away.

At any rate, O’Donnell advised the reader on ways she saved money after she again lost her run for the U.S. Senate as a Republican from Delaware, of all states. In her late thirties, she had crushing debt load, but she swallowed her pride and:

  • worked cleaning houses
  • babysat
  • became a laundress
  • sold her possessions on eBay and Craigslist
  • cancelled her cable TV subscription
  • borrowed free DVDs from her local library
  • got free internet access from her local library
  • moved into a small apartment
  • shopped at thrift stores, and
  • destroyed her credit cards.

Running for office is undeniably expensive, regardless of the age of the candidate; just ask even now-famous politicians who lost elections in the past. Those who emerge as election losers but are still wealthy are those who inherit endless money. Or obtain it through unethical means at the very least, or both.

O’Donnell clearly had a stronger desire to change the world than profit. Obviously, by the third time she ran for the Senate in 2010, she knew there would be adverse financial consequences. However, she did not anticipate the extreme abuse she would suffer.

During the author’s race, the opposition (unsurprisingly), but also her own political party (!) launched vicious smear campaigns against her. And the IRS audited her for years. Notwithstanding, in summer 2010, she went on Mark Levin’s national radio show, and listeners consequently donated $12,000 to her campaign in a matter of hours. After she won the nomination in September, Rush Limbaugh endorsed her on his radio show and donations poured into her campaign.

Mike Castle, O’Donnell’s primary opponent was a sore loser. Karl Rove and his GOP operatives cast aspersions on her, too. Toward the end of this book, she cast aspersions on Barack Obama. She blamed him for almost all the nation’s troubles.

O’Donnell didn’t understand that on the economic front, one economic period cannot be fairly compared to any other, because times and conditions are constantly changing. It is incalculable how much credit the current president deserves for the current success of certain economic sectors or indicators. Does former president Bill Clinton deserve full credit for the economic upturn that, without question, resulted from the rise of the Internet? Anyway– as is well known, Al Gore invented the Information Superhighway, so perhaps he deserves full credit.

One way to get an idea of the extent of dishonesty of idiot-box drama on a political show, or one momentarily reporting on politics– is to mute the TV and see whether the person reading the Teleprompter is blinking frequently. If they are, what they are reading is likely lies; blinking like crazy is body language that likely indicates lying.

O’Donnell gave the reader tips on how to be an activist. She wrote, “Whether liberal, conservative, Republican or Democrat, good people should be able to run for office without concern for getting trashed in the public eye or having phony claims thrown at them. Thug politics have to stop.” Good luck with that, all.

Read the book to learn of O’Donnell’s other political and personal experiences.

The Reckoning

The Book of the Week is “The Reckoning, Death and Intrigue in the Promised Land, a True Detective Story” by Patrick Bishop, published in 2014.

Born in 1907 in Poland near the Lithuanian border, Avraham Stern grew up to become an agent of the Irgun (one of the intelligence services in Palestine), coordinating the purchase of weaponry from Italian and Polish sources, to be smuggled into Palestine to help the Jews fight for an independent state, plus spreading propaganda about offensives in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa.

Ze’ev Jabotinsky was a prominent Zionist in the same underground group, who gathered intelligence and launched military offensives in pursuit of Jewish statehood.

Stern, however, was a more radically violent sort, whose spinoff group (called Betar, or Revisionists) committed acts of terrorism against Arabs, even civilians, and later, the British. His group received funding from wealthy Jews who believed in the cause of helping oppressed Jews live freely in a land of their own.

In May 1939, Great Britain issued a White Paper– a follow-up document to the 1917 Balfour Declaration– stating that since there was then a significant Jewish population (450,000) in Palestine, only an additional 75,000 would be let in in the next five years, and those arriving later than that, would require Arab consent.

A governance arrangement would have to be made in the next ten years between the Arabs and the Jews. Of course, no one could know the untoward historical events soon to occur, let alone the number of Jewish refugees who would ultimately be seeking to reside in Palestine.

By 1940, Great Britain was in trouble militarily. In August, Jabotinsky unexpectedly died of a heart attack. Stern, who took the opportunity to occupy the resulting power vacuum, argued that the Zionists should ally with Germany because although anti-Semitic, the Germans might let the Jews emigrate to Palestine.

In desperate need of money, Stern plotted a successful bank robbery in September 1940 that was executed by his henchmen. He himself was an armchair warrior, only the mastermind behind the group’s activities.

Afterwards, Stern went underground, but got friendly with the anti-British Italians through his spy network, so if the Italians were to march into Palestine, they would be benign colonialists, rather than oppressive imperialists. Early 1941 saw Stern solicit the friendship of the German diplomatic corps, too. His overtures later proved to be a waste of time.

In 1941 and 1942, Stern went all out with planning violence because he knew his days were numbered. His group committed a robbery and launched an attack that resulted in the deaths of innocent people, including British cops. He became public enemy number one. A major historical event that might either discredit or make truthfulness more likely in connection with various historical accounts is: the Wannsee Conference held in late January 1942, at which Hitler discussed his plot to create a master race and eliminate all Jews. Thereafter, parties privy to such knowledge began to change their behavior.

Stern and his cohorts hated the British government because the British knew the Jews were seeking refuge from Hitler’s death camps, but they prevented them from reaching the shores of Palestine via boats, anyway. It was inexcusable not to save their lives. Two of Israel’s future politicians, Irgun members (Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin) fought with the ideologically dogmatic Zionists, newly renamed “Lehi.”

Read the book to learn of the way the British intelligence community treated Stern’s terrorist cell as an organized-crime gang– resorting to frontier justice out of fury when law enforcement officers were killed in attacks; the ensuing propaganda war between the Brits and Jews on a specific incident involving Stern; the fate of the head of British intelligence; and the activities of the British and Zionists from 1944 onward.

Ibn Saud

The Book of the Week is “Ibn Saud, The Desert Warrior Who Created the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” by Michael Darlow and Barbara Bray, originally published in 2010. This wordy and redundant biography described the life of a pivotal figure in the history of the Middle East in the twentieth century and his legacy in the twenty-first century.

Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud (hereinafter referred to as “Saud”) was born circa 1881. He was the oldest surviving son of his forever growing family. The culture of his Islamic, nomadic tribe involved a Robin-Hood like practice called “ghazzu.” Only at a time when a tribe was literally starving, would it rustle camels and/or livestock for itself, from a tribe that was better off, inasmuch as it needed to survive. The raid was not for the purpose of conquest.

A boy would become a man by aiding his fellow men in such a raid. Due to a forced evacuation by a militant attack by the Rashid family in the Middle Eastern desert in 1891, Saud left his family when he was about ten. He assisted with a ghazzu with the Al Murra– one of the poorer Bedouin tribes. They were Muslim, but not as fanatically religious as the Wahhabis in Riyadh, where Saud’s family lived.

Saud’s family was allowed to reside in Kuwait until his father could regain his sheikdom from the Rashid family. In the 1890’s, the whole region was being fought over by the Ottoman Empire, Germany, France, Russia and Great Britain for purposes of international commerce, rail transportation and shipping.

In 1899, Saud took a bride in his second arranged marriage, and his first son was born the following year. He was to have: more than one hundred wives, almost one hundred children, plus numerous concubines in his lifetime, but only three wives at any given time, pursuant to the Quran. At that time in Saud’s culture, divorce was cheap and fast.

Saud led men into the vendetta-laden battle between his family and the Rashid. Allying with other tribes in the area, they fought on camels with swords, rocks and fire. Saud achieved victory in January 1902.

Two months later, his messengers arrived to tell government leaders in London, India, Istanbul and Moscow. Saud’s father’s army retook the territory over the next two years, but the Ottoman empire had the resources to re-conquer the Saud family’s small military and tentative claim on land the Saud family had previously owned. So the two parties signed a treaty conditionally acknowledging the land’s owner.

Until WW I, Saud allied with the Wahhabi tribe, Ottomans and British, but would not help them during the war. To Saud, the Rashid remained an enemy, and Sharif Husayn– British diplomat and leader of a rival tribe– became a new one. All still had territorial claims to the Arabian peninsula.

In 1922, the presence of oil was suspected in the disputed territories. However, the oil drilling equipment at the time was too primitive to the find the oil.

In the mid-1920’s, Saud was allied with the Wahhabi-related Ikhwan tribe, which were fanatically religious and violent with their livestock-grabbing, looting, plundering, destroying Shia artifacts and killing enemy males of all ages– forcing them to flee the Arabia/Iraq border. Saud had to tell the Ikhwan to cool it. Even so, Saud didn’t compensate the enemy for his allies’ war crimes. He kept all the territory he got, and acquired more.

Into the early twentieth century, the Arab tribes thought of the desert as an ocean, around which they could wander because no nation had a sovereign claim on it. Since Najdis (residents of Najd) and Iraqi Bedouins (both allies of Saud) were having border skirmishes against the British, the British thought they had a right to build forts to clarify their claimed territories to corral the local nomadic tribes. Of course the British, having a more advanced military and weaponry, plus the world’s best navy, had the upper hand on the ocean too.

In 1928, one oil company each from America, Britain, Netherlands and France agreed to divvy up any oil that was discovered in the Middle East.

After various battles, finally, in September 1932, Saud named his territory the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, governed exclusively by a literal interpretation of the Quran. In other words, It was a theocratic, not a constitutional, monarchy. For the rest of Saud’s life, excessive amounts of money were spent on keeping Saudi Arabia’s citizens (Saud’s royal family and others, plus millions of charity seekers–to whom hospitality was an obligation according to the Quran) loyal to King Saud.

Read the book to learn what transpired:

  • when a significant amount of oil was finally discovered in Saudi Arabia;
  • what Saud did just before and during WWII;
  • that led the Americans to become besties with Saudi Arabia for decades– which was related to how Saud reacted to the debate over the territory of Palestine and how Saudi Arabia ran into financial trouble in the latter half of the twentieth century; and
  • when Saud died– how his successors led the country in the next half century.

A Fort of Nine Towers

The Book of the Week is “A Fort of Nine Towers, An Afghan Family Story” by Qais Akbar Omar, published in 2013.

As is well known, the Russians marched into Afghanistan in 1979. The resistance fighters were called the Mujahedin, the Holy Warriors. The Russians had advanced aerial bombs, while the Warriors had old hunting-guns. The Russians left in 1989, but continued to financially support the government until spring 1992; galloping inflation ensued.

The author and his growing family lived in Kabul, of which the Mujahedin then took control. Omar’s father and grandfather ran a lucrative Oriental carpet business. They lived in a multi-generational household, with large families of uncles, aunts and cousins.

At the time Omar began to experience the hardships of war, he was about eight years old. His elementary school stopped teaching the basics of evolution, and began to teach creationism instead. There was no more fear of stray bullets in the streets, but there was a food shortage. The following year, tribal infighting plagued the Mujahedin; rockets fired from above by the different tribes– all Muslim– started to kill people.

Omar’s grandfather’s resistance to change, anger at having his livelihood, property and material possessions stolen, and love of his homeland were largely responsible for his family’s precarious situation, and their traumatic experiences in the coming decades. He insisted the family stay in Afghanistan– to try to protect what they had. He was stripped of the fruits of his life’s work, anyway. Most of their community fled. Omar’s family obeyed the law of Islam by which the females and children obeyed the oldest male relatives.

As the year 1993 progressed and the violence worsened, schools closed and no one went outside for fear of getting hit by sniper bullets, or a rocket-propelled grenade or other weaponry.

In late spring, the declaration of a cease-fire prompted Omar’s father to temporarily evacuate the family from their home in a northwesterly direction over a mountainside to a more peaceful village. They were the only people in their area who had a car.

About four miles away, the closest family members who could fit in the car, were driven to and stayed at the quiet estate of the author’s father’s fabulously wealthy business partner. Until the war came to that neighborhood.

The author, as the oldest son in his immediate family, on a few occasions in the next few years, was invited to accompany his grandfather or his father in a return to their old property to see how it was doing, and perhaps to dig up the gold they had buried in the garden there before they left. Those were harrowing, emotionally and physically hurtful episodes with gruesome scenes and near-death experiences.

For, the war had turned illiterate young Muslim men into sociopathic sadists with weaponry. The hatred among different tribes knew no bounds. On the streets, ragged, begging children were used as decoys for hidden robbers who might also commit rape if passersby stopped to help.

“Panjshiris and Hazaras were supposed to stop launching the rockets at each other that had come from the Americans to be used by the Mujahedin against the Russians. But the Russians were defeated and long gone.”

In September 1996, a new tribe, the Taliban– supplied with weapons by Pakistan– was wreaking havoc in Kabul. Omar’s grandfather described them thusly: “They capture a village and torture people and club them to death, then afterwards ask the young boys to do the same to their parents. They tell the young boys that this will make a man of them.”

The Taliban held public executions of thieves, prostitutes, murderers and gays. They enforced their own draconian version of observance of Islam. After a while, though, people at least knew what to expect. The trains ran on time.

Read the book to learn how the author and his family survived in this extremely suspenseful, emotionally-charged cautionary tale whose moral is this: early evacuation of a region with a history of civil war, whose violence is flaring up again, is advisable.