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Out on a limb

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Philip Whitfield

Philip Whitfield

By Philip Whitfield

Once upon a time a crocodile was snoozing on the banks of the River Nile. Along came a spritely gazelle. She’d spotted a bunch of cherries on the opposite side. How to get across? One crocodile in sight indicated more dozing.

“Wake up, Mr Crocodile,” she pleaded. The crocodile opened one eye warily. What luck. The gazelle would make a tasty dinner. “Our leader Mr Tiger is throwing a party. He wants to know how many to cater for.”

The crocodiles lined up snout-to-tush across the Nile. The gazelle counted as she tripped across on their hides singing: One two, little feet…three four, a little bit more.

“How many are we?” Mr Crocodile inquired as the gazelle reached the other side. “Nine stupid crocodiles. I just wanted these juicy berries,” she mocked.

The weekend warriors Obama and Cameron choose to ignore the No Trespassing signs erected by Shi’as and Sunnis in battle. Pitting the West against the Orient disfigures probity to gloss a folly. Tomahawks don’t distinguish a child from a chump.

Their malice aforethought risks enkindling Syria’s pyre, fuel for the smouldering inferno whether or not they press the trigger. Assad may dodge death this time. But Armageddon nears.

Revelations 14,v19: The angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.

Obscurantism hangs Assad’s kin on history’s gallows. Their mockery of kith bespatters justice, hideous enormity inexpiable.

Contrariety characterises Obama and Cameron.

Oh, the grand old Duke of York. He had ten thousand men. He marched them up to the top of the hill and he marched them down again. And when they were up they were up. And when they were down they were down. And when they were only half way up, they were neither up nor down.

Rather than wave their armies off Obama and Cameron should pick up the chaff left behind harvesting misery at El Alamein. To this day boys and girls are mutilated playing in the sand. Courageous are those that admit to wrongdoing and make amends.

Pip in Great Expectations: I was too cowardly to do what I knew to be right, as I had been too cowardly to avoid doing what I knew to be wrong.

It’s ironic the flower-power-aged orchestrating the newest travesty danced to John Lennon’s tune: Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will be as one.

Albert Einstein: I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.

Obama (b.1961) is under the sway of Susan Rice (b.1964) his national security advisor, Cameron (b.1966) defanged by a querulous parliament refusing to be browbeaten. The obsequious trio think they can wipe up Syria’s snot just as Britain and France thought they’d wipe out Nasser in Suez in 1956.

Then as now they were gung-ho with nought a fraught thought: only to leave empty-handed, their adversary emboldened and Israel cocksure, planning more adventurism.

Unctuous western warmongers unite against chemical killing. They invented it. The British slung mustard gas at the Kaiser’s army entrenched in the Battle of the Somme. The cloud blew back blinding, stinging and killing their own.

Wilfred Owen: Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! An ecstasy of fumbling, fitting the clumsy helmets just in time. But someone still was yelling out and stumbling and floundering like a man in fire or lime.

Thomas Hardy: War makes rattling good history; but peace is poor reading. Thomas Mann: War is only a cowardly escape from the problems of peace.

My trade has flung me into more war than most; killing fields, child soldiers knee-high to AK-47s.

Hemingway: Before the war you always think that it’s not you that dies. But you will die, brother, if you go to it long enough.

Coincidentally The Deer Hunter turns up on TV, gut wrenching for me with a bit of my news footage shot during the Fall of Saigon. The film’s epigraph was filched.

Hemmingway: There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it never care for anything else thereafter.

Forlorn, I shrug off melancholia in the Garden of Remembrance in Heliopolis. Pristine mown lawns cushion anger, sanctifying the rage in which youth was hewn. Andrew Downing: What weak, inglorious fools we mortals are that war must be, or any need of war…The sword and bayonet shall be preserved by the fair children of a nobler race, as relics only of a barbarous past.

Can balm salve humanity’s wounds, satiating the yearning for democracy’s bounty? In its cerebration, could Egypt construct a Pharhaonic memorial to hallow the martyrs whomsoever they are, in whatever circumstances they fell in this ghastly Gahanna?

Can’t Egypt petition its neighbours to form a comity of nations, a free trade bloc from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean, the Great Pyramid of Giza to the Cape of Good Hope: two billion people four times greater than the EU, twice the extent of the Americas, a third more populous than China? That would give contestants pause.

Who’s got the guts to banish vainglory, to realise the dream on this 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s invocation: Now is the time to make justice for all of God’s children… we cannot turn back…we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream?

Children. They recognise the crocodile tears that wet this aeonian waste of life.

We mourn a friend who passed on Friday. Seamus Heaney once held my children spellbound on our sofa, his words a beacon in our time’s dark lacuna.

History says, Don’t hope/ On this side of the grave/ But then, once in a lifetime/ The longed-for tidal wave of justice/ Can rise up/ And hope and history rhyme.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

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  • Ogmius

    I think this article is right up there amongst the weirdest pieces of creative writing I have had the misfortune to read…

  • snaffu

    A rambling collection of literary quotes with little or no attempt at supporting a flow of reasoned argument. If the author was paid for this piece then I have a whole new career opportunity.

    I’ll have a glass of what Mr. Whitfield’s drinking; his world is evidently coloured differently. I take my hat of to Mr. Whitfield for having the courage to submit this piece for publication, and to the Daily News editorial tolerance and diversity in publishing it.


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