Monday, 11 June 2012

- Camel Driver Cults Revisited

Book review:

Handbook of Middle Eastern Camel Driver Cults by Edward Says, Konstantinos Mokkosfritos, Oliver Sherlock Holmes et al, 21st ed., Oxbridge University Press, 2012, 2311 pages, 563 illustrations (of which 375 are pornographic), £ 38.95


This massive work of erudition contains priceless ethnological and porno-theological information concerning a gaggle of sleazy superstitions centred in the Middle East but whose repulsive tentacles are snaking out across the globe even as we speak. The typology “camel-driver cult" was coined by Bronisław Malinowski in his epochal tome Latrines of the Near East to characterise certain hygienic customs that seem to be inherited from an ancient caste of Proto-Semitic camel-drivers whose murky superstitions unfortunately still haunt us.

The principal innovation of this 21st edition is the addition of extensive monographs of virtually encyclopaedic scope on female genital mutilation, honour lynchings, recipes for camel urine and decapitation techniques.

Some may object, and indeed they vociferously do so, that certain animist Sudanese (now South Sudanese) tribes also practise FGM, and that two Sikhs were recently convicted for honour lynching at the High Court in Stoke-on-Trent. The implication seems to be that everybody’s doing it, doing it, doing it.

In the European Middle Ages, if you were around at the time, you could have said the same thing about witch-burning. However since then several centuries have elapsed characterised by the evolution of something called civilisation (in some places at least, and with notorious backsliding at times).

Korangutans never tire of lecturing us about how the Arabs invented civilisation practically single-handed when much of Europe was an illiterate hell-hole. How true! Indeed, the first methodical treatise on optics was written by

Abu-Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham, known as Alhazen, 965-I039, of Basra, al-Andalus and Cairo, who, having peered hard and long at the science of looking, wrote Kitab ul-Manazir كتاب المناظر (Book of Optics), with theories of refraction, reflection and focusing with lenses among its other sights [sic] ; he was the first to observe that light comes from the object seen to the eye.*

Nonetheless, to our dismay, as we have witnessed in the 20th century on our own turf, civilisation can move in one of two directions, namely either backward or forward, and the trajectory described by Gangstapimp ideology (to mention but one of the camel driver cults discussed in this tome) has been undeniably monotonously regressive at least since the Mongol invasions, with but a few hesitant steps forward, e.g. in Egypt under Mohammed Ali and in the Ottoman Empire after 1860 or so.

So when they lecture us about how arch-civilised they used to be, we would be well advised to borrow a snappy comeback from American gangster lingo:

“That was then, but this is now.“

Marmaduke Higinbotham

* Jean-Marc Lévy-Leblond: Science is not universal, Le Monde diplomatique, 14 May 2006

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