"Ralph, that is not the Sufi Way." – from "The Jewel of the Nile"
The film "The Jewel of the Nile," starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner, is perhaps the greatest sequel ever made. It came on the heels of the epic "Romancing the Stone." In the sequel, we meet an archetype Arabian-Islamic character named "Joe" who is, in fact, "The Jewel of the Nile." He's not a literal jewel as in the case of blood diamonds, jade or rubies. Rather he's a Sufi holy man destined to become the leader of many tribes and peoples in North Africa and the Middle East. His delightful character, known as "Al-Julhara," is adroitly played by talented actor Avner Eisenberg.
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The "Joan Wilder" author/character played by Turner opened "Romancing the Stone" by depicting the star of one of her Western novels as a pretty blonde cowgirl who executes an outlaw for various crimes, including "stealing her Bible." It's hard to believe based on her more recent appearances on "Friends" and "Californication" – something very painful for her most devoted fans (such as this writer) to watch – that Kathleen Turner was once regarded as the most beautiful and desirable woman in Hollywood and perhaps the world. Take a look at her here. Turner's fans can enjoy an interview she gave the U.K. Guardian here. She's a brilliant woman who can easily read five books in a single week.
Another character from the film, Danny DeVito (playing "Ralph," a would-be jewel thief), has been similarly disabused in the series, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." This debasement rivals in its own way the decline of our nation since the end of Ronald Reagan's first term as president, when "Romancing the Stone" and "Jewel of the Nile" were back-to-back hits. The turn-around years of the Reagan era eventually evolved into the Pax Americana, which then dissipated during the implosion of America's most vital institutions during the first decades of the 21st century.
Within the broad architecture of the story, the characters in "The Jewel of the Nile" travel to a place called Kadir, where an evil Islamic leader named "Omar" (played by Spiros Focás) wants to use special effects from a U.K.-imported high tech wizard to impersonate the genuine miracles of "Al-Julhara." By doing so, Omar will be seen by everyday Muslims as the savior of the entire region. Secretly, however, he is hiding war plans to take over new countries by military force. Using her talents as a romance writer, Omar wants Joan Wilder to write his definitive story, since she "fantasizes everything."
"The Jewel of the Nile" took roughly 90 days to film. It was shot in exotic locations ranging from Morocco to southern Utah. Although it was at first innocently received as an upbeat look at Sufi Islam, considering the ensuing tensions, jihad, war, bombings and terrorism between 1987 and 2017, the film, as an ancillary cultural product, may offer a potential solution to our intractable problems. Is Sufi Islam the key to world peace, or at least rapprochement between Christianity, Judaism/Israel and Sunni/Shiite Islam?
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There are deadly stakes in this new paradigm, just as there were during the filming of "The Jewel of the Nile." While scouting for locations in Morocco, Brian Coates and Richard Dawking – who both were involved with the production of the film – were killed in a plane crash. Screenwriter Diane Thomas was also killed. Thomas wrote and sold the script for "Romancing the Stone" while working as a waitress in Los Angeles. Perhaps as a silent premonition to such tragedy, Turner tried to back out of the sequel and faced a $25 million lawsuit before Douglas convinced her to rethink her position. One of Douglas' mottos has traditionally been, "The best revenge is revenge."
Such was the pull of the chemistry on screen between Douglas and Turner (they also had a smoldering attraction in real life in addition to reel life) that a trilogy beyond "Romancing the Stone" and "The Jewel of the Nile" was considered as late at 1997. It was to be called "The Crimson Eagle." The plot would have featured Douglas, Turner and their two teenage children stealing a valuable statue in the Royal Kingdom of Thailand.
As for the special chemistry between Douglas and Danny DeVito, the two shared an apartment in New York City in the late 1960s when they were both struggling actors. DeVito eventually found fame on the hit TV show "Taxi," while Douglas continued to seek his own niche typified by films like "Wall Street" and "The Game."
What is Sufi Islam?
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What does the archetype of "Al-Julhara" represent beyond Hollywood-inspired fables? During my on-and-off time in Lebanon, Jordan, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Yemen between 2000 and 2014, I learned that Sufism seeks to internalize and personalize a believer's relationship with Allah. Instead of a far-off Supreme Being, the relationship between the Almighty and the individual is heightened and purified to the greatest extent possible.
Sufism has impacted both Judaism and Christianity. When Islamists conquered Egypt and Syria, they encountered hermits and monks aligned with the Christian faith. Somehow, the very best spirituality of those monks made its way into Sufism. Harith al-Muhasibi was a Sufi believer who expounded upon moral psychology. The schools of Sufism were called "tariqah" during the Middle Ages.
"The Sufi Way" means to deny yourself, seek humility and take away all that is not of God. This process is called "fanaa." (There are parallels to this in Buddhism.) A "wali" is a saint of "The Sufi Way," and such a person is not unlike "Al-Julhara" in "The Jewel of the Nile." For a wali, the true follower of Islam is a healer rather than a warrior. This changes everything in regard to the current failed matrix in which the broken postmodern, post-Christian West and the broken jihadists find themselves entrapped without hope of escape. Gen. Flynn recently proposed his own plan for a reformation of Islamic theology. Paul Sperry's article about Flynn can be found here. A look at Flynn's book on the topic, "The Field of Fight," can be found here.
Why is this important?
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In the most practical sense, it appears the present collision course between the West and Islam shows no promise of abating. For example, President Donald Trump will be giving Saudi Arabia a free hand to continue their war on poor Yemen. Read about it here. New arms sales have already been approved. Read about that here.
One article states: "The expectation now, however, is that the Trump administration is interested in getting the large sales on the books quickly to talk up their ability to keep getting large weapons contracts for key U.S. arms makers. This could force human rights groups trying to limit the use of U.S. weapons in committing war crimes [in Yemen] to start from square one with the new administration."
Talented writer and researcher Gareth Porter succinctly explains:
"The Trump administration's lack of public reservation about the indiscriminate Saudi-led bombing campaign, as well as its lack of interest in exerting pressure on the Saudis to end the war by accepting a compromise with the Houthis and the forces of former Yemeni president Saleh, significantly increases the likelihood that the Saudi bombing will continue indefinitely. That means that the food shortage that is killing thousands of Yemeni children will probably become far worse in the coming months.
"The Saudi attacks' devastating impact on nutrition in Yemen has long since eclipsed direct results of the bombing as a cause of death. No estimates of deaths from starvation have been given by relief organizations but UNICEF reported in December that 462,000 Yemeni children already suffer 'severe acute malnutrition,' a life-threatening condition in which their bodies shrink to little more than skeletons. Another 1.7 million children currently suffering from 'moderate acute malnutrition' are at risk of crossing the threshold to severe malnutrition."
Where do we go from here?
America's and the West's relationship with Islam is broken. Trillions of dollars have been wasted on lost wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia and elsewhere. Countless innocent people have been killed or displaced. Europe is a disaster as millions of refugees overwhelm many nations. Blood, death, famine, chaos, depleted uranium, drones and terrorism are the order of the day.
We all know that Saudi officials supported the 9/11 attackers. Yet instead of sanctions, we have sold (and continue to sell) Saudis (as noted) billions of dollars in weapons to terrorize poor Yemen – including the criminal use of internationally banned cluster bombs formerly manufactured by Textron Systems. Now 14 million people face famine in Yemen. We have allowed Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, to grow stronger. Instead of helping the Houthis kill Al Qaeda, we are helping Saudi Arabia and their mercenaries kill the Houthis. We are foolishly taking sides in the Shiite versus Sunni war between Iran and assorted state and non-state actors.
These days, we see child soldiers and teens in Yemen wearing flip-flops taking on the Saudi regular army and defeating it. These kids have even captured high-tech equipment provided by the U.S. and the U.K. Yemen is now the "graveyard of mercenaries" as ex-Western-nation Special Forces have also been killed there. Now SEAL Team 6 even lost a man, along with a downed aircraft our troops had to blow up when it crashed during the evacuation. The SEALs had to hike in five miles from the landing zone. The AQAP people set up land mines and had snipers around their compound. Someone (guess who?) tipped off AQAP about the raid.
During the raid, an 8-year-old girl, who was an American citizen, was killed, as well as other civilians. If Mr. Obama passed on this raid twice and deferred to President Trump, then that should have been a giant red flag. Yemen is perhaps the world's poorest nation, starving and dying. Why must we add to their pain? Instead of sending them food and medicines, we send them more death. Granted, it is right to hunt down AQAP for America's national security, but we have otherwise strengthened them for several years by default.
The Saudis attacked the Doctors without Borders hospitals in Yemen several times, and even blew up Yemen's School for the Blind. Who helped them target these buildings? What part of their nonstop evil are we missing? Saudi Arabia's almost unlimited financial wealth finds its way into terrorist coffers, crushes Yemen and aids anti-American jihadists in Syria. Obviously the petrodollar remains the fixture of Saudi-U.S. relations. It ensures America's artificially high standard of living and the ability to export inflation to the rest of the world holding those same paper/petrodollars. This is an objective reality any trained economist can affirm.
Saudi Arabia is also actively seeking weapons of mass destruction from Pakistan. How long before nuclear warheads make their way into the hands of America's enemies through Saudi channels? For those who supposedly voted to "drain the swamp," the first step should be acknowledging that Saudi Arabia is like North Korea – only with sand and oil. North Korea boasts "juche" or "self-reliance," while Saudi Arabia exports jihad and Shariah Law.
Considering the POTUS' (alleged) recent statements (since denied) that we must "kill the families" of the terrorists, might we ask if the civilians/children killed in the most recent Yemen raid are collateral damage? Or did the SEALs have explicit orders to kill all of the terrorists and their families – even children – before they entered Yemen for the raid? JFK created the Special Forces to lead partisan rebellions inside places like North Korea. Are they now a de facto Praetorian Guard and death squad? We should return to JFK's original vision for our brave and elite Special Forces. Remember helping the Hmong, Montagnards, Kurds, Kampas and Karen?
Additionally, U.S. vets have been recruited by a Saudi-funded lobbying firm to oppose – before Congress – the Justice against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, aimed at carrying through a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia for its alleged role in 9/11. Read about it here.
As an aside, one of the young actors on "Saturday Night Live," Pete Davidson, lost his father who was killed on 9/11 as a firefighter at the WTC. One can only wonder what kind of skit SNL might come up with concerning Saudi Arabia's terrorism against the U.S. and poor Yemen, and the cozy surroundings of the anti-JASTA vets at the Trump Hotel in D.C. Regardless, Saudi Arabia and the blood money of its lobbyists should not be welcomed in our nation.
Leadership decapitation can take many forms. Samson remains a heroic figure of the Old Testament. He had a destiny to destroy the leadership of the Philistines, a seafaring people from the area around ancient Greece. Because of his love of wine and inability to control his urges around women, he wound up chained in Gaza with his eyes put out, and doing the work of a donkey. Yet, Samson succeeded in his mission by becoming the world's first suicide bomber.
In Ancient Rome, a famous warrior named Spartacus (111 B.C.-71 B.C.), served as a soldier in the Roman Legion's Auxiliary. He hailed from Macedonia. Through complex circumstances, Spartacus became a slave, then a gladiator and, finally, the champion of the gladiators. (He was immortalized in a Hollywood role played by Kirk Douglas, the father of Michael Douglas.)
Spartacus is remembered today as the slave who defied the Roman Empire at the height of its power. It was Spartacus who said, "No one should be maimed or killed for the amusement of another." He led a slave revolt against five Roman armies that were in turn led by Gen. Crassus – likely the richest man in world history. The word "crass" in the English language comes from Crassus. Spartacus fought the Roman Legions from Sicily to the Italian Alps. (Crassus' "Lost Legion" may have found its way to Persia and eventually all the way to China as mercenaries.)
Spartacus' answer to leadership decapitation of the cruel Romans was simple: "Kill them all." Andy Whitfield played "Spartacus" on the Netflix series. He was a beloved, strong, handsome and devoted father and husband who sadly died of cancer after the filming of the first season. His great loss can be echoed forward into history by remembering the original Spartacus' words. No one has the right to kill or maim another.
Discussions with leading Sufi thinkers around the world should begin as soon as possible as a first step toward a reformation in Islam. Some have called such an idea "lazy and historically illiterate." We have been told that Islam has undergone many reformations. Even if that's true, have such reformations produced the desired fruit?
Ultimately, the best way to defeat the evil of ISIS might be deconstructing Islamic theology through Gen. Flynn's plan – not with more U.S.-led killings, droning, bombings, Abu Ghraib archipelagos and waterboarding. Islamist warriors, terrorist bombers and criminal predators running wild in Europe aren't the way Islam is supposed to function. In a nation like Yemen, where a child starves to death every 10 minutes, a radical departure from the current paradigm is desperately needed.
Clearly, there are scientific and theological structures within Islam that do not appeal to the transnational elites – resistance to abortion, fetal tissue experimentation, drunkenness, illegal drug use, the Islamic population bomb and even a manned mission to Mars. (The latter just received a prohibitive fatwa that CNN describes here.) Yet we might say the same for biblical Christianity and Orthodox Judaism. None of these groups fits in with the postmodern MTV morality. Whatever one choses to believe or eschew is simply a matter of faith. Yet nuclear terrorism entering the operational, tactical and strategic calculus of terrorist non-state actors is a very real threat to our world. Read about it here.
Very often, strange and powerful events have overtaken the citizens of planet Earth without a great deal of forewarning. Katrina. Sandy. 9/11. The Asian Financial Meltdown of 1997. The subprime mortgage debacle of 2008. The rise of Mao and eventually the Khmer Rouge. The petrodollar replacing the gold standard. Nelson Mandela becoming the president of South Africa. Chernobyl. Fukushima. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The rise of ISIS. HIV/AIDS. Ebola. Zika. Syria. Libya. Ukraine. The Internet. Social media. President Trump. The melting of the Arctic sea ice. GMO foods. The collapse of the Soviet Union. Such uncertainties point to a lack of awareness, the failure of the public to read the handwriting on the wall, and the need for a new and profound spirituality to help us navigate the future.
Remember that Sufis consider their followers to be "healers" in our broken world. Perhaps the plot of the film "Jewel of the Nile" was correct. Maybe "the Sufi way" of purity and selflessness can be the ultimate form of leadership decapitation. Maybe then and only then will we begin to witness the miracles performed by a wali like "Al-Julhara." For now, there's Gen. Flynn's new approach and book.