Monday, September 27, 2010


By Rayfield A. Waller, for The Michigan Citizen



The American Ali Baba: George W. Bush & His 40 Thieves

by Dr. Alex Shami, Author House Press, Indiana, published in 2004


When he talked about his book, “The American Ali Baba: George W. Bush and his 40 Thieves,” Alex Shami sat in his office at Wayne County Community College in Detroit, reclining behind his desk, beneath a huge poster of Malcolm X. Shami’s is a voice from what some say is the center of the world—the often attacked, ravaged, and war weary but never-defeated, defiant country of Lebanon.

I found Shami to be a gregarious man with a quick sense of humor, who enthusiastically expressed himself on the issues of race without hesitation. This Arab "race man" may soon come to seem an American rarity if conservative Americans have their way: A teacher, politician, and author who emigrated to the U.S. from his native Lebanon in 1975, Shami is not intimidated by the atmosphere in the U.S. of growing hostility toward Arabs. Come to think of it, Shami, at the time of this interview a full time Professor of English and Psychology at Wayne County Community College Northwest, may become rare among many Americans. As the so-called "Tea Party" grows more and more obnoxious, and as Bush’s reign continues in the form of the continuation of many of Bush's most harsh political, military, social, and economic policies under a new Democratic regime, fewer and fewer professors, journalists, workers, and writers seem willing or able to articulate historically thoughtful challenges to what is happening in America.

Despite voters having elected a Black president, U.S. culture seems to be growing more and more intolerant of, even racist towards Arabs and Muslims. The New York Times reported in September that increasing numbers of Muslim workers are complaining that they are suffering employment discrimination, while federal oversight and civil rights agencies reveal that formal complaints concerning defamation and discrimination against Arabs filed with those agencies increased 60% between 2005 and 2009. Pacifica Network's DEMOCRACY NOW reports that though Muslims make up less than 2% of the U.S. population they now account for 1/4 of all religious discrimination claims filed. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sees the situation as the worst in 30 years. The government anticipates another increase in these statistics by the end of 2010.

The president pronounces tolerance, yet public policy and public thought are lagging behind in many ways as the conservative minority (Republican and Democratic) stonewall economic change in congress and conservative religious leaders (Republican and Democratic) malign various cultural "others," Arabs included. Arabic citizens of the U.S. are routinely being subjected to absurd claims by a minority of crackpot and reactionary Christians that Islam is a 'violent' religion, that there is a danger of Sharia Law being imposed on the American population by Muslim electoral power, and that 'cells' of Arab terrorists lurk everywhere. Witness for instance, the controversy over the building of an Arab community center (mis-characterized by the racist minority of evangelical Christians as a mosque) planned to be located relatively close to Ground Zero of the 911 attack on New York.
Given the political holdover of Bush policies it seems that a book written from an Arabic perspective about the mendacity of the Bush world view and the past Bush crimes that set the stage for the uneasy present is in order right now. If such a book were also to explain a bit of Arabic folk culture and mythology along the way, demystifying some aspects of a culture so readily stereotyped by American mass media, doing so with a slight edge of humor, it would be a welcome book for us to pick up again and re-examine. Alex Shami's 2004 book fits the bill quite well.

In “The American Ali Baba,” Shami accomplishes three rare things. (1) He draws on the roots of Arabic folk culture, comparing George W. Bush to the mythical thief, Ali Baba, (2) analyzes, from a Lebanese perspective, the Bush agenda critically and historically with a primer to the identities and histories of major Bush neo-cons like Donald Rumsfeld who predated, then surrounded, and now continue to echo the Bush presidency, and (3) reminds the reader, from the perspective of a Lebanese native now living in America, of the many Americans, like Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee, who’ve fought for justice both before Bush and now.

“American Ali Baba” has nine chapters. The first retells the ancient tale of Ali Baba, a modest Baghdad wood gatherer who discovers a cave full of treasure horded by a gang of thieves. Ali Baba steals from these thieves, is discovered and nearly murdered by them, and with the help of his companion, Morgiana, succeeds in killing them and taking their ill-gotten treasure. He protects his wealth by passing on to his descendants the secret of gaining access to the cave: the magic words, “open sesame.”

Another section, “The American Ali Baba - George W. Bush,” compares what Shami calls “the greed, lies, and deception in the ancient tale of Ali Baba” to the corruption of the then Thief-in-Chief, George W., who also benefitted from the stolen loot of prior thieves without having worked for it himself.

“The reason I wrote this book,” said Shami when I interviewed him, “Is because I feel Bush is playing strange politics. I call him the ‘American Ali Baba’ ironically. He is heavily involved in religion, yet I can’t really freely practice Islam, my own religion. He’s stealing my right to practice my beliefs, stealing my freedom of speech, putting lots of Arab-American and other citizens into prison under his policy of ‘secret evidence.”

The most enlightening section of this book is chapter six, “His 40 Thieves,” a primer with small but detailed histories of the rouges’ gallery of ‘thieves’ such as Paul Woolfowitz, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, and Karl Rove, who in Shami’s words, are “those individuals who tarnish and erode the rights of all Americans and tarnish world opinion of this great nation.”

Chapter six exposes the web of nepotism and conspiracy between these thieves dating as far back as the 1980’s. Says Shami: “In the process of furthering their dark agendas, they usurp power, stripping Americans of their rights, natural resources, jobs, respect as a nation, and international admiration. This is thievery of the most severe order.”

Shami not only offers a history of Bush’s thieves. His book also offers an optimistic vision, long before Obama appeared on the presidential horizon, of what America was meant to be, and what it could still become for its ethnic citizens. In the chapter, “Early American Perspectives” he provides eye-opening quotes from early American leaders like James Madison and George Washington who both warned of dangerous times like those Americans have faced since 911.

An independent politically, Shami has served on the board of the Dearborn Department of Libraries and on the Board of Trustees of Henry Ford Community College. He has run for Dearborn City Council as an independent, and has run for state office. Like many immigrants, Shami seems to value American democracy even more than some native born Americans.

“I am Lebanese,” he says. “But I am American, I am a Dearborn citizen. Like America itself, every inch of Dearborn is Dearborn. Every citizen is a citizen, whether they are ethnic, newcomer, senior, or not, we are all Americans. I see value in the Republican Party, but I am in trouble with the Republican Party. I’m a Democrat who often runs as an independent. But that’s what Democracy means.”

Though "The American Ali Baba" was published some time ago, and though Bush has passed out of our nightmares since this interview was done, Shami's book still stands as an articulate indictment of the Bush years, a shrewd analysis of Bush's crimes against Islam, and an imaginative glimpse into Arabic mythology and ancient Arab narrative symbolism.

For all those reasons, Alex Shami is a "Race Man" in the old school tradition and in the old school Hadith.

Author House Press can be reached at 800-839-8640; or books can be ordered directly from the author at 313-943-4000, ext. 4020