Hummus, Hamas, and those fearsome falafel

Hummus, Hamas, and those fearsome falafel
Comment: Muslims, disunite! It's time to start eating baguettes. The Americans, the French and that terrorism expert at the BBC are after you. The path is lit by the food you eat.
7 min read
09 Feb, 2015
The 2009 'Tabouleh War' was an extension of the 'politics of hummus' (AFP)
Let me start with full disclosure: I have a very weak spot for Palestinian musakhan (especially the ones they make in Tanoreen restaurant in Brooklyn), Lebanese falafel (especially the ones they sell on al-Hamra Avenue in Beirut), and Egyptian mulukhiyyah (especially the one my friend Noha Radwan makes for me).

I am under strict medical instructions to opt for hummus instead of cholesterol-infested butter, and my knees weaken when passing by any Persian chelow kebab joint. Yet, truth be told, during my student years, I also had my share of youthful sunsets by the River Seine overlooking Ile de la Cite with baguettes and cheap wine.
     The French were not the first to sense this organic link between what you eat and what gun or grudge you carry.

With that out of the way let me now share my utter amusement at recent BBC report titled: "The government invites you to be wary of those who do not eat baguettes." Huh? You may wonder. Well:

A French government infographic has just been released to help fight "jihadist ideology". In it, we are warned (now be on your guards) that if people opt not to eat baguettes that might be an indication of their about to be embarking on the road to Damascus, as it were, to become a jihadist! I kid you not. The link is there - go see for yourself.

So out fellas with all your terrorist foods: Your pita bread, your lavash, sangag, taftun, naan, kolouchehs and especially those suspicious looking manushehs. Get them out of your backpacks and freezers and put your hands up — the BBC and the French authorities are watching you!

Now in its imperial benevolence, the BBC report scoffs at "the internet" (while publishing its own report on the poor plebian internet) for having ridiculed this bit of Francophone national security measure. The voice and vista of the Empire instead finds the proper tone as embodied by a terrorist expert called - straight out of Orwell -  "Jonathan Russell, a political liaison officer at the London-based counter-extremism Quilliam Foundation" (I swear I am not making this up).

Russell assured the good people of the former Empire that "the campaign was a good and useful response to violent extremism in France".

The bold man who dares eat kebab

"He was a bold man," Jonathan Swift is reported to have quipped, "that first ate an oyster." This was of course before the Italians and their then prime minister Silvio Berlusconi turned against kebabs and kebab eaters.

So, in the interest of fairness, let's not pick on the French too much. They were not, of course, the first to sense this organic link between what you eat and what gun or grudge you carry.

"Italian town bans any new kebab shops or other 'ethnic food'." Remember that headline? The Italians though were entirely open-minded in their gastronomical racism: "One of Italy's most upmarket coastal resorts," we read back in 2011, "has slapped a ban on the opening of kebab shops, Chinese takeaways, Indian restaurants and other purveyors of 'ethnic food'."

To allay any concern of the critics fearing the return of fascism to Benito Mussolini’s homeland, Umberto Buratti, the mayor of the town declared: "This measure has nothing to do with xenophobia - it is about protecting and valuing our culture." Indeed, as the BBC's terrorist expert would undoubtedly concur.

Italian connoisseurs were not entirely amused by the ban. "This is a new Lombard Crusade against the Saracens," La Stampa objected. Another column declared, "the campaign was discrimination and amounted to 'culinary ethnic cleansing'."

You may be salivating for tandoori chicken at this point. Among Italians, however, debate was raging: "To accuse us of racism is outrageous," Filippo Candelise, a Lucca councillor said. "All we are doing is protecting the culinary patrimony of the town." Others viewed tradition from another point in history - the tomato comes from the Andes and spaghetti was probably a gift from China. Subversive!

Confused? Try this. Michele Bachmann, a candidate for the Republican nomination in the 2012 US presidential election, was lampooned that year by a satirical website for her strident opinions on terrorism.

Jim Clancy and the parlous state of US journalism. Read more

The fake article had Bachmann suggesting the banning of falafel in school lunches in the US.

"Falafel is a gateway food," Bachmann was reported to have said. "It starts with falafel, then the kids move on to shawarma. After a while they say 'hey this tastes good, I wonder what else comes from Arabia?'

"Before you know it our children are listening to Muslim music, reading the Quran, and plotting attacks against the homeland. We need to stop these terror cakes now, before they infiltrate any further."

Despite obviously being a joke, other websites picked up and ran with the story.

The point is that in "the West" it is now impossible to tell if people who say such things are just harmless idiots or criminally insane. There is an active fusion of the two extremes. After all Bachman lives in a country that invades, occupies, destroys, maims, and murders people in Iraq.

She lives in a country where one of its most popular filmmakers, Clint Eastwood, has just made a box-office bonanza film called American Sniper in which he unabashedly celebrates a serial murderer and repeats the lies that began the invasion in the first place.

One watches this film always unsure if this is a patriotic act of celebrating fascism or a tongue-in-cheek spoof right out of a Quentin Tarantino workshop.

So what to do? Check into the first McDonald's joint and prove you are a law-abiding, gun-totting patriotic member of the National Rifle Association and a proper citizen.

Conflict Kitchen

Headline: "Total Idiots Offended By Conflict Kitchen Featuring Palestinian Food." I have no doubt such headlines are entirely (and happily) meaningless around the world. But alas here in La La Land it refers to the fact that in Pittsburgh, a restaurant called "Conflict Kitchen" opted to offer Palestinian cuisine during the July 2014 Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza.

A group of our Zionist cousins in the neighbourhood got offended. They believed, it seemed, that the only adjective to come after the noun "Palestinian" should be "terrorist".

We are thus all – us brave souls here in the land of the free - caught in the crossfire of this food fight and must think twice before opting for anything other than an innocuous peanut butter jelly sandwich on white bread (whole grain is considered too suspiciously liberal in the Bible Belt).

Yet entirely oblivious to our predicament, Lebanese and Israeli entrepreneurs continue to wage their battles far from the Hizballah-Israeli military confrontations and right on the streets and back alleys here. Supermarket and restaurant chains in the US are fighting intensely over whether hummus is Lebanese or Israeli — prompting what is here aptly called "the politics of hummus".

It has led to a quite serious medieval and biblical debate with learned scholars informing journalists and bloggers that: "The first documented use of chickpeas to make hummus in the Middle East, is from the age of the crusaders. What few people know is that hummus was also mentioned in the Old Testament. On the first time Ruth and Boaz had met in Bethlehem, he offered her some hummus: "And at meal-time Boaz said unto her, Come hither, and eat of the bread, and dip thy morsel in the vinegar." (Ruth 2: 14)

Speaking of vinegar, a few years ago while sitting down with a group of friends at a restaurant in Princeton, the Syrian colleague who was hosting us asked for the wine list as we made ourselves comfortable around the lovely table. "Ya Akhu Sharmuta!" He was suddenly furious. He had come to "Israeli wine, Golan vintage" on the wine list.

We had to restrain this dear brother the best we could but we all agreed to his suggestion we should immediately leave that restaurant. "They can keep the Golan," a Lebanese colleague offered in sympathy as we were leaving the restaurant, "but please leave our hummus alone."

Such furies are light compared to when my mother-in-law, born and bred in Shiraz, now living in Gothenburg, Sweden, visits us in New York and we chance upon a delicatessen featuring what she – and her entire country – has grown up since childhood calling "Shirazi salad".

In New York this is featured under the banner of "Israeli salad". The poor woman misses her grandchildren dearly but refuses to come to New York any more.

So Muslims of the world (sisters and brothers of the Faith) disunite: Grab your nearest baguettes, plant a French, British or preferably Israeli flag on it, hide and take it easy on your aspirated "h" when pronouncing "hummus". You are confusing the BBC terrorism expert by sounding too much like "Hamas".

While you are at it, just get it over with: fly to Tehran and do a quick nose job, dye your hair blonde, come back to Europe and cast away that scary looking scarf, shave that fearsome beard, wear a pair of coloured contact lenses, change your profile picture to "Je suis Charlie", convert to Christianity, and don’t forget to bleach your entire body white (the best products I hear come from Narendra Modi’s pure Aryan India).

For the BBC terrorism experts and French and other European authorities are all on your case.