Coulter and the Camel

By David Solway on April 23, 2010

The camel is a noble animal. Had it not existed, Islamic civilization would never have gotten off the ground, just as, in the absence of the horse, we in the West would still be lugging barrows and scraping along in donkey-hauled slipes. The camel is perhaps even preferable to the horse. It is fast, carries its own water, and provides what SUV manufacturers call “command seating,” rivaled only by the elephant. Indeed, Mark Twain understood the inherently exalted nature of the creature when he introduced the cameleopard in Huckleberry Finn. Of course, the cameleopard, or “Royal Nonesuch,” is really a giraffe (Arabic: ziraffah, “tallest one”), but it sounds like a camel with a temper and enviable velocity, a beast that demands respect. Detective writer David Baldacci calls his group of likeable, informal sleuths “the camel club,” whose goal, according to author’s website, is “to seek the truth.” With so much going for it, it’s a crying shame to see the desert taxi disparaged, rejected, or ignored, especially by those who should know better.

For example, even the great historian Edward Gibbon and prominent writer and intellectual Jorge Luis Borges lay it down that there are no references to camels in the Koran. Borges comments in his essay, “The Argentine Writer and Tradition”: “Gibbon observes that in the Arabian book par excellence, in the Koran, there are no camels.” Gibbon and Borges obviously skipped surah 88:18 in which the Prophet (PBUH) urges the redeemed in paradise “to reflect on the camels, and how they were created.”

Joining this cabal of camel skeptics is one Fatima Al-Dhaher, a young Muslim student who attended Ann Coulter’s talk at the University of Western Ontario on March 22, the first in a three-lecture swing through Canada. A firebrand conservative critic of the Western multiculti tendency to appease and coddle Islam in the wake of 9/11, Coulter has suggested, with her characteristic brashness, that Muslims be banned from commercial flights and rely on flying carpets instead. Challenged by Ms. Al-Dhaher, who took the jibe with utmost seriousness and felt “stabbed to the heart” by so callous a recommendation, Coulter shot back, “take a camel.” This was not, apparently, an allusion to a famous brand of cigarettes, as if to say, “relax, light up, think it over,” but, from Ms. Al-Dhaher’s perspective, a politically incorrect snub of epic proportions.

I believe the only one who should feel slighted is the camel, who has furnished transportation over the millennia through drought, heat, sandstorm, and mirage with nary a complaint. And maybe, too, the hundreds of thousands of frequent flyers who are subjected to all manner of indignity and inconvenience because some aggrieved Muslims are prone to wreaking destruction in and from the air. Ms. Al-Dhaher should have understood Coulter’s point regardless of its heavy-handedness, namely, given the well-attested fact that the overwhelming majority of the world’s terrorists happen to be Muslims, and assuming that we are really interested in saving lives, what we call “racial profiling,” however unpalatable, is nothing short of a civic obligation. 

To vary the metaphor, how many straws will it take to break the poor camel’s back? How many more victims of their own credulity are needed before the alarm goes off? What are we waiting for? Another 9/11? Another Christmas bomber who this time manages to reduce hundreds of travelers to body parts? A second and successful plan to bring down a fleet of airliners over the Atlantic? Another shoe bomber with somewhat better dexterity? Another Egypt Air Flight 990 with its 217 dead? This is the grisly possibility, and indeed likelihood, that Ann Coulter is addressing and that Fatima Al-Dhaher, like her supporters in the legacy media, steadfastly refuses to acknowledge, let alone contemplate. Instead she is stabbed to the heart by a heuristic wisecrack about camels.

Francois Houle, provost of the University of Ottawa where Coulter was scheduled to speak on March 23, was no less affronted. Houle sent a letter admonishing his guest that inappropriate speech “could in fact lead to criminal charges.” He “encouraged” Coulter to “educate yourself … as to what is acceptable in Canada,” and reminded her of the proud Canadian tradition “of restraint, respect and consideration in expressing even provocative and controversial opinions.” Clearly exemplifying the provost’s celebration of Canadian values, a mob of student protestors went on a rampage and forced the cancellation of the event. (This is the same university that recently hosted Israel Apartheid Week, where hate speech comes as natural as breathing.) The only way these professional hypocrites, or those training to become such, will learn about the real world, I suppose, is when their disintegrated remains are wafting down the air currents. It might be preferable, however, to listen to Ann Coulter and at least recognize that we confront a veritable menace against our way of life, one that thrives upon our willed ignorance and canting sanctimoniousness.

I’m glad to report that Coulter had a more appreciative audience at the University of Calgary in Alberta on March 25. (Adopting American terminology, Alberta is what we might call a “red province” while Ontario is “blue”; in Canada, the colors are reversed, the Conservatives blue and the Liberals red, which makes greater symbolic sense.) The Calgary university provost, Alan Harrison, was demonstrably more urbane and mature than his Ottawa counterpart, stating that the university’s purpose “is to give [Coulter] the same respect that everybody else deserves.” But that did not prevent a clutch of protestors from bearing placards blazoning messages like “Go home u racist pig” and, according to news reports, nearly breaking down the door to the venue, chanting “Coulter go home.” Camel-back, no doubt.

Unfortunately, Coulter’s hectic lecture schedule compels her to spend an inordinate amount of time standing in airport security lines and increases the risk of a terrorist misadventure. For myself, I have decided not to fly anymore except on those rare occasions when it is absolutely necessary. I prefer to walk, drive or get on a train, and, if the opportunity presented, I would be more than disposed to take Mohammed’s advice and consider the glorious and much-abused creature to which Ms. Dhaher took exception. Certainly, I would have no objection to riding the camel. 

David Solway is a Montreal writer and poet. He is author of “The Big Lie” and a two-time winner of Quebec’s National Poetry Prize.


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