‘Thou marveledst at that which befell thee… yet there betided the Kings of the Chosroes before thee greater mishaps and more grievous than that which hath befallen thee; and indeed I have set forth unto thee that which happened to caliphs and kings and others… but the relation is longsome and harkening growth tedious, and in this is all-sufficient warning for the man of wits and admonishment for the wise.’ — from The Thousand and One Nights
If we understand Shahrazad correctly, then we know that even the greatest of kings were beset with troubles so great that you could always find one whose troubles were greater than another. This is one of the many lessons that Sultan Shahrayar learns from the first great feminist. Shahrazad is a woman who actually changes a man or, more philosophically, helps him to change himself. Within the spectrum of today’s stereotypes, this feat is nigh impossible even on the smallest scale. She helps her husband, a man who had previously legitimized rape and murder to appease his vengeful and lustful appetites following his first wife’s infidelity. Assassination is out of the question; there will be no bloodstained dagger glistening in the marriage bed; rather, the marriage bed becomes a vessel to past, near and far off lands of kings and heroes who have suffered more and learned much.
Today’s answer to such great men who have much sinned ranges from the following: “Hang em!” “Blow up his palace!” “Let somebody assassinate him.” We live in a world in which blood never equalizes blood, and no one is ever completely satisfied by legal justice. Shahrazad’s justice was an emotional, spiritual, and psychological justice. Her husband changed on all fronts. He learned humility. Also, Shahrazad shatters the illusion that all women were not to be trusted and that all would, sooner or later, defile their husbands’ marriage beds. The mist of vain power cleared and before him stood an educated, chaste, humble, yet determined and enthusiastic hero, his own wife. She is the hero of the Middle East’s greatest epic. She exemplifies what it means to be a world citizen through four major aims: save the kingdom, save the women, save the king and to be successful in these endeavors, she must save herself.
It is not uncommon for such great men as Shahrayar to envision that god is on their side, that he guides their moves, that he gives them the power to decide who lives and dies, why and how, when and where. Without healthy democratic elections, these modern sultans aspire to the role of the God-Kings of old. They imagine they are the direct links between god and the average citizen. And that’s how these God-Kings view the people, as average, as the great mass of mediocrity that may occasionally imagine a revolution, but would never realistically pursue one. Yet when they do, as we are currently seeing in Libya, blood becomes the equalizer. The average citizen who suddenly and without warning transforms into the democratic revolutionary just as suddenly for the God-King becomes the unchaste and ungrateful wife. So, Gaddafi’s actions should be no surprise; he’s killing his own people. He blames their desire for liberty on drugs and al-Qaeda. Again, this is no surprise, for the God-King cannot ever imagine that what he does could be wrong or misconstrued as wrong. He is too close to god. He is too close to becoming god. In his mind, what he does and what he has done is absolutely and unequivocally necessary.
In the Analects, Confucius states that a man must have a sense of shame in order to be a gentleman. Behavior according to the rites was essential in one’s development and maturity. If one errs then one must atone. And it is atonement that propels one into maturity, into adulthood, and, finally, into a much wiser state. The God-King, on the other hand, switches blame when the former object of his blame no longer seems realistic. This contradiction is also normal for the delusional autocrat, as we again see in the actions of Gaddafi. When drugs and al-Qaeda no longer work, he blames the United States and Israel (strange, considering these countries are two of the least eager supporters) for fomenting revolution in his country, a country in which he believes the majority of sober and moderate citizens “love” him: “If you love me, protect me,” he says to them. Now, it seems, he is back chanting the original mantra: “They’re on drugs or working for al-Qaeda.” He also promises everyone who interferes an endless and bloody war. Sound familiar?
If we take a long look at any one of Gaddafi’s portraits, as with his fellow God-Kings, ousted Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, and the “high-tailed it” Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, we see an obvious desire to stay young by all three men. These men are old, very old. They will die soon, yet all three look eerily similar, at least if we were to imagine Gaddafi with a haircut. They have jet black hair and wear garments all the way up to their chins, as if mummifying themselves from the natural cycle of age. The desire for the fountain of youth is nothing new. The Conquistadors sought it, but even before its myth reached the ears of the Europeans in the New World, the God-Kings always hoped to attain immortality through indomitable and unlimited power. They betray themselves into believing that they have become both omniscient and omnipotent. There is no desire among them to be the philosopher-king, advocating the ideology that the one who is least desirous of power is fittest to rule.
What the world citizenry has learned is that this cycle of god-kings is so repetitive that it is now generic, and so is the God-King. The God-King’s paid-for, brainwashed, or meek enough citizenry still chant (as of Sunday, March 20th 2011, following U.S. and European aerial bomb attacks), “God, Moammar and Libya, that’s it.” These Gaddafi supporters are themselves just as delusional as the object of their worship. This kind of behavior is more than just the “herd mentality” but, rather, the worst kind of social devolution. We have seen this before too, as Hitler’s Leader of the German Legal Profession declared to a roaring and applause-filled Nuremberg audience in 1934: “Our Supreme Fuehrer is our Supreme Judge!” Looking back now, we see what a frightening power this is for one human to possess. We also saw it in our own citizenry and almost the entirety of the United States’ Legislative and Executive branches in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq. The dissenting voices were either the faintest of murmurs or immediately labeled as unpatriotic liberals and troublemakers, Americans who love terrorists more than freedom. What occurs is a war both in Iraq and Afghanistan longer than our involvement in both World Wars and the Korean War combined. By now, we know that unilateral invasions with hegemonic designs are the keys to imperialistic footholds in the Arab and Muslim world. The support and backing of pre-established democratic movements, as we have seen in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, Jordan, and other countries do not get the vote of unequivocal confidence, only a kind of seesaw rhetoric from a government that has the best constitution at its core. Former President Bush even claimed he talked to God and was told to go to war. The gift of being a God-King, it seems, is not racially discriminatory. But the majority of American citizenry are tired of war in countries that are tired of us. Americans are beginning a new era of respect for Arabs who are proclaiming their world citizenship and representing themselves as democracy-loving humanists.
People are tired of endless repetitive and destructive cycles even if their own leaders decree them. The God-King knows this but still tries to manipulate the mass of mediocrity with repetition that easily becomes liturgy. This idiocy of redundancy manifests itself through circuitous, contradictory, and fallacious rhetoric. The God-King is convinced that the people need and deserve redundancy because that is all they are capable of fathoming. He does not count on the world citizen who has been disillusioned by having no freedom of expression or any sense of autonomy, that the absence of freedom creates a more authentic sense of it, as Sartre describes in his essay “The Resistance.”
What separates the mass of mediocrity from the world citizen is that the former is content in its complacency, ambivalence, and resignation, whereas the world citizen is willing to die for the mere possibility of an actuality, namely freedom. This is resistance at its core. Socrates rebuffs Athenian complacency and criticizes it for its self-assuredness and hypocrisy. And when given the option of death or a “quiet” life elsewhere, he chooses hemlock over silent mediocrity. This kind of courage is the New Age’s hearth fire, bred in the homes of families who want their children fed, educated, healthy and, relatively, happy. Is this not the American Dream? The American Dream is now, more than ever, a worldview (weltanschauung), held by the world citizen. The rise of the world citizen is imminent, and we are seeing it in the Arab World. Americans everywhere should feel joyous and celebratory in seeing their fellow world citizens arise in self-determination with the will to conquer subjugation, dogma, and redundancy.
– Khalil Elayan, Ph.D. teaches Composition, American Literature, World Literature, and Middle Eastern Literature at Kennesaw State University. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.