Book Extracts:

Rumsfeld's Return

Somebody spotted Donald Rumsfeld at a stall in an outdoor market, in Dakar, Senegal. We had given him some money, but by the time he was seen, he had spent it all, since he had taken a liking to jollof rice and plantain, and enjoyed sitting on the steps of the local mosque in the evenings, sharing a plateful with the imam and a few of the Tijani brothers. A reporter for The Washington Post, who was in town to research Senegal's new zakat law, saw a tall, white man with mousy brown hair, round glasses and a fairly long beard. He was wearing a long white jubba and wide trousers. As the reporter passed this man, he heard his voice, and instantly recognised the slightly high-pitched twang, as Rumsfeld begged the market woman to spare him a few plantains.

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Being on Time

This time, it was his guest's turn to smile. He stood up, towering over Maurice by about six inches, and held out his hand.
"Allow me to introduce myself: I am Shaykh Amadou Thiam. My grandfather knew your grandfather, many years ago."
"What? That's nonsense!" scoffed Maurice. "My grandfather was an eminent doctor and scientist. How could he have known your grandfather? Why, he had never even set foot in Africa!"
"He didn't have to", replied Shaykh Amadou simply, "for my grandfather had spent a considerable amount of time in France. Actually, he is buried there."
"What was he doing in France?" demanded Maurice incredulously. "France cannot have had any business with him, that's for certain."
"He was in the army", said Shaykh Amadou, "fighting your war against Germany. You must surely know of the great debt that your country owes to my country, in this respect?"
"In the army", echoed Maurice. "What was he doing - helping to load up the pack horses?"
"Oh no", answered Shaykh Amadou, unperturbed by Maurice's goading. "He worked alongside your grandfather as a field doctor. They were great friends. He used to mention your grandfather a lot in his letters: what good work your grandfather was doing; how many lives he had saved."
"Yes", said Maurice proudly, "he was a great man, my grandfather. He almost died at the Battle of Ypres, trying to rescue a young foot soldier who was drowning in a bomb crater. The lad nearly dragged him down, you see. He was in hospital for a long time after that - shrapnel wounds and pneumonia. They awarded him a medal for bravery."
"Yes I know, for it was my grandfather who pulled him out of the bomb crater, although unfortunately the young foot soldier had already drowned", said Shaykh Amadou.

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Chubsy and the Rose of Qamsar

Uncle Mudassar looked at him, puzzled, contemplating. He turned to the samovar in front of him, underneath which a short candle warmed the tea. There were also four glasses, a large bowl of sugar lumps and a plate of cream cakes. Uncle Mudassar picked up the plate and offered the cakes to Chubsy.
'What are they?' demanded Chubsy.
'Cream cakes', said Uncle Mudassar. 'Iran is famous for its cakes.'
'Yeah I know what cream cakes are. I have seen cream cakes before', Chubsy retorted defensively, irrelevantly.
Affecting a kind of nonchalance, he reached out and took one, although Arifa could see that he was not sure if he should eat it.
'Eat it', said Uncle Mudassar, and he smiled.
Without returning the smile, Chubsy put the whole cake in his mouth. Uncle Mudassar poured him some tea and placed the glass on a saucer, accompanied by two sugar lumps. He held the saucer out to Chubsy, who took it while still negotiating the cream cake, which at last he swallowed. Uncle Mudassar then poured tea for Arifa and, likewise, offered her a cream cake. After that, the two elderly gentlemen helped themselves. Uncle Mudassar sat with nothing.
'So where's your nuclear bomb?' Chubsy suddenly asked, raising a curious eyebrow.

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Atsumori

If you awaken from the dream that is this world, you will know what is real... Ah, you are wondering who I am and why I carry this rosary in my hand. I am, in fact, the one who killed Atsumori. He was the same age as my own son, but I had to kill him, as our two clans were at war.

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The Ink of the Scholar

What was to happen next to Ibrahim, however, he was unable to keep to himself. It was one morning, after fajr, as the sky was turning blue and the air was growing hot, and he sat at his wooden desk, head bent closely over the page, stacks of history books and papers piled up around him, that he arrived at the moment where Sayyedna 'Ali was about to be martyred. It was a terrible thing to write about. He felt his whole being gripped with apprehension. He wanted to put it in simple language. It was important to make it clear and easy to understand. Ibn Muljam, the assassin, was sitting amongst the men as Sayyedna 'Ali came out to lead the fajr prayer. In an instant, before anyone knew what was happening, Ibn Muljam had leapt to his feet, at the same time raising his sword high above his head. He brought it with full force down upon Sayyedna Ali's skull and blood gushed down Sayyedna 'Ali's face.
And blood gushed down Sayyedna 'Ali's face... As Ibrahim wrote these words his pen appeared to leak suddenly. A pool of ink poured from the nib and smeared across the page. Then he realised that it was not ink, but blood, for it was red.

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The Beauty of the Banlieue

Razia and I stepped out of the humble, concrete entrance to the station and looked around us, wondering which direction to take, for stretching in front of us were a number of poorly tarmacked roads, and then, towering on the near horizon were several vast, concrete edifices, patterned with hundreds of oblong windows. This was the banlieue, the ghetto, where thousands of people lived, floor upon floor upon floor.
A man passed us and walked on ahead, down a pathway that cut between these monstrous constructions. We asked him the way to the masjid and he indicated that he was going there himself, so we followed in his direction. We passed more edifices, towering above us on either side, to the left and to the right. In some of the windows there were house plants, in others, washing hung out to dry. The air was cool, silent.
Then, out of this grey, Cubist painting floated one or two white, shimmering shapes: women in their Eid clothes - white, glistening jalabias and white or pale coloured scarves with shining pearl-like beads, or embroidered flowers. We followed them as they led a winding route, through a passage way under one of the apartment blocks and down another narrow road, towards the outskirts of the outskirts. The further we walked, the more people came floating out of the concrete - men, too, in white, wearing amamahs.

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New Civilisation

It was discovered yesterday evening that several rebels had escaped. Some of the men were taken out into the village square, stripped naked and put into stress positions for several hours in an attempt to get them to inform the Allies of the whereabouts of the escapees. One of them spat at an Allied soldier and so it was necessary to separate him from the others. He had a hood placed over his head and was taken to an outhouse. I heard a number of screams, but apparently the Allies were unable to get him to cooperate. The Allies were on the alert that day for an attack by insurgents, but all was quiet.
I sat with General Devere and asked him whether he ever thought that it would be possible to establish democracy in this Godforsaken part of the world. He said it would take years, rather than months, as the people were incapable of being given any positions of trust and the area might again slide back into the Middle Ages and cause problems for the Allied administration. I pondered upon the great mission that the Allies had taken upon themselves in order to enlighten the world.

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The Prophet's Birthday

In which a jolly day was had by all...
'Darling', Jeremy called out, putting down his newspaper, 'they've just reported the arrest of another chap suspected of terrorist activities. Awful business this...'
His wife, known affectionately as Biddy, was in the hall, arranging a beautiful bunch of roses which she had just picked from the garden.
'Well', she called back, 'our noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, has mentioned all the signs. Don't be too downhearted. Remember that Imam Mahdi will bring justice in the end.'
'Yes, but in the meantime, all these chaps keep getting arrested', said Jeremy gloomily.
He got up from his armchair and went out of his study, to where Biddy was putting the finishing touches to the bunch of roses.
'There', she said brightly. 'Aren't they lovely?'
'Splendid', replied Jeremy. 'Our Prophet's favourite flower, and you can understand why.'
He bent to inhale their scent.
'Aaah, what a perfect reminder of Heaven.'
They had already arranged the great hall in preparation for the mawlid, the celebration of Prophet Muhammad's birthday. A large tapestry which had been in the family since the fourteenth century was hung across the room, so that men and women could sit separately when they arrived. Carpets were laid out and cushions were placed around the walls, for those who needed to lean back. Incense, brought from Zanzibar by one of their friends, was gently burning in different places throughout the manor house, calming the heart and inspiring the imagination. Tall, glass jugs of freshly-squeezed lemonade were placed on wooden trays painted with flowers, and about forty glasses were arranged next to one another. Homemade shortbread and biscuits sprinkled with lavender were laid out on large plates and covered with glass lids to keep them fresh. The prayer room, next to the great hall, had been cleaned from top to bottom, extra prayer rugs and tasbihs brought in, and again, another tapestry hung so that men and women could pray separately in private.
'That Martin Shamus has been writing about Muslims again', said Jeremy. He tended to worry more than Biddy and always mentioned what was on his mind. 'Says that when we were confronted with modernity we took a wrong turn.'
'Well', said Biddy, 'I must say I can't figure out all the nobs on the new washing machine, if that's what he means.'

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