I last visited New York in July 2003, around the time the coalition of the willing were getting stuck into dividing Iraq’s spoils between their affiliated corporations, and generally laying the foundations for almost a decade of chaos and sectarian slaughter.
Whenever I’m in the US, it’s always a huge treat for me to gorge myself on the vaguely satanic schmaltz pumped out by its television stations, which at that time naturally consisted of lots of chipper propaganda concerning the occupation (back in the UK, the propaganda was much dourer, and sometimes outright agonized). One very memorable moment was hearing some general-or-other “confide” to some newscaster-or-other that one of the main problems with the freshly “liberated” Iraqis – and so one of the principal challenges faced by the “liberators” – was a want of indigenous “entrepreneurial spirit.”
The phrase entrepreneurial spirit, which can hardly even be enunciated in an English accent (or shouldn’t be – just as Americans do well to steer clear of certain British swear words like “wanker” and “bollocks”), and furthermore conjures – to a Brit – profoundly mundane images of people opening pet shops and pizzerias, clearly possesses some strange sacred quality to various right-wingers across the pond. The general even lowered his voice as he intoned the words, as if to imbue the phrase with its proper dignity, but also spare the blushes of any passing Iraqis that might be within hearing range, swinging by on crutches or whatever (they had, after all, quite recently been subjected to the tough love of Shock and Awe).
Not that, the general immediately added, this unnatural insufficiency was down to some genetic or even cultural predisposition. Hell no. On the contrary, the entrepreneurial spirit – which God Himself lovingly blows into the ear of every human baby – had been contorted, thwarted, crushed (I doubt he used those exact adjectives) by the greed-sapping weight of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. But, sure as day follows night, this general could personally testify that, during the few short months coalition forces had been raping, robbing, killing and – you know – occupying Iraq, the green shoots of renewal were already visible.
Well, almost ten years later, and a remarkable story doing the rounds in some of our gaudier news organs last week suggests that the instinct to imaginatively exploit any given circumstance for monetary gain (in which the invasion of Iraq arguably provided a veritable masterclass) is indeed rediscovering its organic apogee among Iraqis.
Mohamed Bishr (pictured above), is a middle-aged Egyptian bearing a striking resemblance to a certain golden Kalashnikov-loving former Iraqi dictator, a back-handed “gift” from Allah that has seen him repeatedly attacked, and also – I’m guessing – sparked several Saddam-is-alive-and-well-and-living-in-Egypt rumors a la Elvis and Hitler.
For most, Bishr’s uncanny likeness was just that, but one man’s sovereign state is another man’s oil reserves, so to speak, and a few weeks back some men with “Iraqi or Syrian accents” (they are broadly thought to be the former, naturally) approached Bishr and offered him a princely $333,000 to star in a porn film, apparently intending to afterwards palm off the footage as genuine. Our long-suffering doppelganger, however – a devout Muslim – kept his honor, turning down this opportunity to become (presumably) the world’s best paid porn star, at which point the gentlemen, who may or may not have been organized criminals, became increasingly threatening, eventually kidnapping Bishr off the street and bundling him into the back of a van at gun point.
In reports, Bishr complains of his abduction having taken place in plain sight of numerous bystanders, who apparently “did nothing.” We understand how you must feel, Bishr, but try to see it from their perspective. One minute they’d be thinking, “fuck me, isn’t that Sadddam Hussein?” and the next they’re watching Sadddam Hussein get stuffed into a van with a gun to his head. Absolutely anyone, having pinched themselves, would be sure to keep their head down.
Fortunately, having been threatened and roughed up a bit, Bashr’s abductors let him go (the whole thing rather resembles Bob Dylan’s recent video for the splendid “Duquesne Whistle”). Casting aside the small issue of Bashr’s right to “self-determination,” you have to concede that, while they might still be lacking that Anglo-American capacity to stick to your guns until you see the money, these were some pretty ingenious gangsters. The entrepreneurial spirit, it appears, is finally spreading its wings across the Middle East. Yeehaw!