The War of the Hotels

By

In a culture of intellectual quiescence, the Egyptian playwright Ali
Salem stands out for his courage, his willingness to break with the
crowd. Born in 1936, in the time of the monarchy, he made his own
way through life, and educated himself in the classics. Some years
ago he provoked a storm by openly journeying to Israel and writing
about his experience in that country. This led to virtual ostracism
by his peers. But he stood his ground, and in the crucial years
since September 11 he has written scathingly and satirically of the
pathologies of the Arab world--the anti-Americanism, the animus
toward modernism, the refusal of the Arab intellectual elites to
face the burden of Arab history. Salem is fierce in his
denunciation of radical Islamism, and of the evasions and denials
that sustain it in mainstream Arab life. What follows is a piece
occasioned by the terrorist attacks on the hotels in Amman that
took place last November 9. It appeared in Al Hayat, the
London-based pan-Arab daily, from which I have translated it.--Fouad Ajami

The battlefield commander Abu Fulan narrated to us what follows: "In
the war of the hotels--and it was the most arduous of wars--we
pulled off three raids, two of them in southern Sinai, the third in
Amman. We exacted a toll of tens of souls, we made orphans of
hundreds of children, we turned scores of wives into widows, we
brought grief to countless mothers. We were able, with Allah's
blessing, to inflict injuries on hundreds of people, some of whom
lost an arm or a leg, some of whom were disfigured, and some left
paralyzed for life.

In the first two raids in Egypt, we used two cars loaded with
explosives. But in the raid against the Amman hotels it was decided
that the mission would be executed by fierce heroes, from among
ourselves, who had dedicated themselves to the war against the
hotels and the wicked ones who frequent them. Three men and a woman
were selected for that mission when we made sure, after all the
necessary experiments and investigations, that they were people who
hated festive occasions and weddings and those who partook of them.

Read the pages of our history, consult the histories of our
ancestors: did any one of them celebrate a wedding in a hotel? In
the days of old, caravanserais were places where the merchants and
the travelers and their pack animals slept. We never heard of
weddings in those caravanserais of old.

Luckily for us, our enemies are fools. We strike them time after
time and they never know why; we kill them and they wonder by what
right we do so. We see our enemies on the satellite channels, we
hear them react with puzzlement on the airwaves, we hear them
asking, `What is the meaning of this particular attack? Is it aimed
at the Jordanian government or the Jordanian people? Is Jordan
being told to refrain from a particular policy or to adopt a
position on an issue of importance: what is the message?'

As you can see, our enemies are given to ignorance. They refuse to
admit that joy, and all that springs or derives from it, represents
the greatest danger to our people. You who can comprehend things
should know that joy is a contagious disease. What will happen to
the sons of this Islamic community if they all catch the fever of
joy? This bridegroom in Amman whose wedding we destroyed, and his
family: did they not stop for a moment to ask how we could give
ourselves to joy when Palestine is occupied and Jerusalem is not
yet liberated? How can we listen to music while our people in
Baquba and the Anbar province are exposed to the noise and the
attacks of the Apache helicopters? How can we rejoice while the
Egyptian government manipulates elections? How can we celebrate a
wedding in a hotel when the rights of Arabs are violated
everywhere, when France prevents Muslim girls from donning the veil
and the headscarf? How can a believer treat himself to a wedding,
and to the pleasures of the wedding night, in the shadow of the
desperate conditions that prevail in our Arab nation?

We cannot permit ourselves to tire or to give up before this nation
recognizes that joy is our enemy, that explosives are our
constitution, that Zarqawi is our leader, that grief is our goal,
and that destroying all manifestations of pleasure is our mission.
Call up the image of the raid on the Amman hotels: contented
people, happily smiling at each other. They are happy to the extent
that they forget their wretched brothers. All these happy people
have jobs, and government positions; they are possessed of wealth to
spare and can travel to a distant country for a joyful celebration.
Tell me, in the name of God, how else can we remind them of the
suffering of our people if we do not strike them with explosives
and turn them into corpses, into an example for those who should
heed examples? Yes, I know that among the fatalities are innocent
workers and waiters obliged by the nature of their work to be
there. But we should not grieve for these innocents, or fear what
will happen to them, for on Judgment Day everyone will be treated
according to their deeds and their intentions.

We are at war, and victory in this war requires clarity and candor.
It is impossible to change and to reform this region unless we
destroy much of what stands today. We cannot permit the existence
of a state in Palestine, or a state in Iraq. We shall strive to
destroy the state in all the lands of the Arabs and the Muslims.
For the state, with its modern features, with its laws and its
constitution, its parliament and its human rights, and its
separation of powers and its devotion to development, could lead to
human fulfillment, and such an outcome we shall not allow.

Our foolish rivals among the intellectuals speak of moderates and
extremists in our camp. I say to them, `You fools, have you seen
among our ranks anyone who believes in the legitimacy of the modern
state?' You believe in scientific research and think tanks. Take
everything these so-called moderates say by way of speeches and
sermons and pamphleteering, and you will easily discover that no
one among them believes in the modern state. They, like us, want to
destroy the present order of things and to arrive at a new reality
that makes no room for joy or for hotel weddings. We each have our
code, each sheik or preacher has his own way and method. The proof
is that when the extremists among us kill sixty people, they, the
moderate Islamists, step to the microphone to announce that they
condemn this criminal act--but just as the listener is about to be
reassured, they pronounce that we should not be talking about sixty
people while forgetting the thousands killed by the Americans in
Iraq, that we should not forget those killed by Ariel Sharon every
day. Nor should we forget the victims killed by Hulagu, the Mongol
invader. Then our moderates end with the all-time favorite song
among the Arabs, the one that goes: `All those bloody events will
come to an end with the destruction of Israel.'"

By Ali Salem

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