“Palestine is our land and nation from the sea to the river, from north to south, and we cannot cede an inch or any part of it,” Hamas Political Bureau Chief Khaled Meshaal told the cheering throngs of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip this past week.
Although Palestinian apologists insist that the concept of “pushing all the Jews into the sea” originated in a 1961 speech by Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, Islamic radicals like Khaled Meshaal have given the concept teeth for these last 50 years.
By 1981, when young Barack Obama was an active participant in Occidental College’s Marxist organization, the Democrat Socialist Alliance, the international left had fully embraced the Palestinians’ cause.
Although I could find no hard evidence that Obama spoke publicly at Occidental about Palestine as he had, say, about South Africa, a poem he published that year bears some scrutiny in the light of renewed Mideast tensions.
In researching Obama’s early writing for my book, “Deconstructing Obama,” I had dismissed his poem, “Underground,” as silly and (literally) sophomoric:
Under water grottos, caverns
Filled with apes
That eat figs.
Stepping on the figs
That the apes
Eat, they crunch.
The apes howl, bare
Their fangs, dance,
Tumble in the
Musty, wet pelts
Glistening in the blue.
I had no idea what Obama intended and did not spend much energy trying to figure it out. Researcher Jim O’Hagan, who has made a study of the poem, thought I was too hasty in my dismissal and contacted me.
O’Hagan observed that the poem’s most conspicuous symbols, apes and figs, are mentioned in the Quran. Apparently, there are at least three passages in the Quran in which Jews are denounced as “apes.”
In Sura 5:60, for instance, the Quran reads, “(Worse is he) whom Allah has cursed and brought His wrath upon, and of whom He made apes and swine.” “Swine” is apparently the epithet of choice for Christians, but “Underground” is not about swine. It is about apes, belligerent, boastful apes at that.
As to the figs, O’Hagan cites the 95th sura of the Quran, “At-Tin,” which translates “fig” or “fig tree.” It reads in part: “(I Swear) By the fig and (by) the olive/ And [I Swear by] Mount Sinai/ And [I Swear by] this secure land [of the city of Makkah].”
Writes Muhammad Asad, author of “The Message of The Qur’an,” “The ‘fig’ and the ‘olive’ symbolize, in this context, the lands in which these trees predominate: i.e., the countries bordering on the eastern part of the Mediterranean, especially Palestine and Syria.”
After reading O’Hagan’s comments, I was left with only two real choices. I could continue to think that “Underground” is a dumb undergraduate poem about apes that step on figs – and be denounced as a racist – or I could interpret it as an allegory – and be denounced as a conspiracy theorist.
If I assume, however, that Obama is the sophisticated author the literary world insists he is, I can only interpret the poem as allegory. What is more, we know from his memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” that the young Obama would have identified with the Palestinian cause.
At Occidental, Obama tells us, he and his radical pals discussed “neocolonialism, Franz (sic) Fanon, Eurocentrism, and patriarchy.” Given these interests, an allegory on Palestine would seem to have been well within his ideological wheelhouse.
If the poem is interpreted as allegory, it would seem that these war-like apes, the Jews of Israel, are exploiting, even despoiling the land in which they have settled. Note that the apes both “eat” the figs and are “stepping on” them.
At poem’s end, the apes don’t jump in the water, the “blue.” They “tumble” in, but only after howling and baring their fangs, a gesture of war. Consider Isaiah 9:12, New Living Translation, “The Syrians from the east and the Philistines from the west will bare their fangs and devour Israel.”
The cartoon has been translated and posted by the Middle East Media Research Institute, a Middle Eastern nonprofit press-monitoring organization, and seems authentic.
The cartoon is preceded by an interview in which a woman asks a girl of no more than five or six whether she likes Jews. The girl decidedly does not. Upon prompting, she tells the woman that Jews are “apes and pigs.” She has learned this from “our god” as revealed “in the Quran.”
The cartoon itself is a crude clay animation, which was apparently shown on Al-Manar TV in Lebanon in December 2005. In the opening scene, a group of Jewish traders are selling fish and boasting that they can do so on a “day that the Lord once forbade.”
One of them proudly says, “I am working on the Sabbath, and I challenge the will of the heavens.” So saying, the trader and his colleagues slowly morph into apes.
“Look, my child,” says an Islamic adult to his son, “the young among them have turned into apes.” The boy concedes that the Lord “punishes severely,” and the father thanks the Lord for their deliverance.
A voice-over tells the listener, “The [Jews/apes] remained in this condition for three days, and then were annihilated. The wind cast them into the sea.”
“Was it a wish, a dream,” O’Hagan writes of Obama’s poem, “a prediction that the Palestinian Arabs would rise up in Israel and drive the Jews into the sea?”
In the next four years, if Khaled Meshaal and his pals are allowed to have their way, we may just find out.