Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Black Stone Excerpted



In defiance of former President Barack Obama’s September 25th 2012 dictum to the General Assembly of the United Nations that “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” that’s my cue to slander, Mohammad, Islamic snowflakes, and Islam. He said more or less the same in June 2009 in Cairo during his pontificating, cliché-rich address at Al-Azhar University, in front of an audience of turbaned and rag-headed Islamic clerics and officials.

Since its original publication in 2014, my detective novel, The Black Stone , set in San Francisco in 1930, has experienced continuing sales in its print, Kindle and Audible editions. In terms of excoriating Islam, however, it was preceded by a suspense novel, We Three Kings, set in our time in New York City, in which an American entrepreneur, Merritt Fury, is thrown to the Saudi wolves who have been granted carte blanche to deal with him as they pleased. It was written in 1980 but not published until 2010. It, too, has enjoyed continuing sales.

While in We Three Kings the hero knows who his enemy is, a member of the Wahhabist Saudi royal family, in The Black Stone Islam is a new nemesis to the hero, new to the police, new to American politicians, new to the FBI, new to virtually everyone.  The Muslim Brotherhood was only a few years old, founded in 1922 by Hassan al-Banna as a private association of Egyptian Muslims obsessed with the austere, alleged purity of Islamic doctrine and practice, and was late in 1928, reorganized into a political organization that has been active in Egyptian politics since the early 20th century.

As a relatively new activist organization, the Brotherhood had its tentacles almost everywhere in Mideast political life. The Brotherhood was hostile to everything Western to modernization, to living on earth. It is basically a death cult. When it speaks of “peace,” it is the quietude of death; that is, it will bring “peace” to Muslims when they are no longer annoyed by the existence of infidels, Jews, and other unbelievers and no longer need to wage jihad on Western civilization, which the Brotherhood wishes to extinguish..

Initially hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood which it regarded as an enemy, Saudi Arabia has become its ally and funder.

Wahhabism is named after an eighteenth-century preacher and activist, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703–1792). He started a reform movement in the remote, sparsely populated region of Najd, advocating a purging of such widespread Sunni practices as the veneration of saints, the seeking of their intercession, and the visiting of their tombs, all of which were practiced all over the Islamic world, but which he considered idolatry (shirk), impurities and innovations in Islam (Bid'ah). Eventually he formed a pact with a local leader Muhammad bin Saud offering political obedience and promising that protection and propagation of the Wahhabi movement mean "power and glory" and rule of "lands and men."

I feature the cover of The Black Stone in my December 2015 column, “Islam in Contemporary Fiction,” but do not discuss the novel. So, here are some excerpts
________________________________________________________________________________
At the request of a local rabbi and scholar, Skeen is investigating the brutal murder of a young Jewish girl, the client’s daughter. Set in San Francisco, the crime is unlike anything he’s ever dealt with before. He knows little or nothing about Islam, only that there are such creatures as “Moslems.” What little he knows he had learned from newspaper accounts of Moslem atrocities committed on Jews, Armenians, and Christians in the Middle East. At one point, he is sitting for his wife, Dilys, an artist, as she sketches him for a planned painting.


            Skeen said, "I've been dipping in the Koran. It's worse than the Bible in many respects. Utterly schizophrenic in parts. One moment you're being urged to behave like St. Francis, and be kind to all animals, even Jews and other infidels. The next it's inveighing against Jews and other infidels, calling for their extermination. It's beginning to read like a manual for a career in sadomasochism, authored apparently by a person currently incarcerated in Sing Sing, and provided with a liberal and lifetime supply of cannabis or some other hallucinatory pharmaceutical product. You know, one of those serial killer convicts who finds religion."

            Dilys said, "Surely you're exaggerating."

            Skeen shook his head. "Remember that my sole encounters with Islam in the past were two of Mr. Winston Churchill's books about his experiences in the Sudan and the Indian Northern Frontier in which he describes Moslems, or Mohammedans, or Muslims and their practices and fanaticism, then my declining an invitation to join the Ancient Arabic Order of the Noble Shriners last year – can you picture me wearing a red fez decorated with mystical symbols? – "

            "No, I couldn't," replied Dilys. "And stop moving your head so much."

            "—and occasionally passing the Temple Islam on Geary Street on my usual rounds of investigation." Skeen paused. "Or is that the Odd Fellows Hall?"

     

The Walking Dead’s  Negan’s spiritual ancestor,
Hassan al-Banna, who would also like to knight
you with a baseball bat sheathed barbed wire.
      
"Sounds as though the Ancient Arabic Order and the Odd Fellows are connected, and have as much to do with Islam as do the Boy Scouts."

            "Anyway, that being my past exposure to Islam, reading about it in such detail is an eye-opener."

            "Move your head, please, to the right, just a smidgen."

            Skeen obliged. "In the one Philby book I discovered the Saudi Ikhwan – "

            "The icky one?" asked Dilys, pausing to scrutinize her husband's face for a moment.

            "The Ikhwan," repeated Skeen, spelling the term. "Plural for Moslem 'brothers.' Tribal allies of this Saudi king. They're Wahhabists, sticklers for pure Islam."

            Again, Dilys looked incredulous. "Wahhabists? As in the Wabash River? Or should it be the Swanee?"

            "No, not quite. I'm not sure of how to pronounce it, either. Say! I think I'll use that phrase of yours the next time anyone asks me about the Ikhwan."

            "What phrase?"

            "The icky ones."

            Dilys shrugged. "I thought that was what you said. You're welcome to it."

            "According to Philby and Picket, they're first-class throat cutters. Very similar to the Thugees of India, who were stranglers." Skeen chuckled. "That would be a sight. Allah versus Kali. More interesting than both Dempsey-Tunney fights. Kali, you see, would have twice the punching power."

            "Why?"

            "She'd have four arms. She could deliver a double sucker punch. I wouldn't put my money on Allah."

            "I'm not a betting woman."

            Skeen paused before replying. "You bet on me."

            Dilys shook her head. "No, I didn't. I set my cap for you the moment I laid eyes on you." She sighed. "I'm finished here. You can go back to your icky ones and the Wabashites."

At another point in the story, Dilys and Skeen are having breakfast:

"Did you know," Skeen asked casually over breakfast the next morning, "that Mohammedans, when they go on a pilgrimage to Mecca, must walk counter-clockwise around the Kaaba seven times, and run between some hills looking for water, and perform a schedule of other rituals, all designed to make them feel like silly, worthless asses?"

 "Kaaba?" asked Dilys, who was paying only half attention to her husband. "Sounds like a Greek dish, smothered in the finest feta cheese sauce, and best served with ouzo." She was reading the morning Observer-World. She had fixed a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast. Skeen had just poured himself a second coffee and was on his first cigarette of the day. He was reading from notes he had made last night in his study and had passed the newspaper over to Dilys.

"The Kaaba," read Skeen, "is a cube-like structure smack in the middle of an open-air mosque about the size of Kezar Stadium, about forty-four feet high and fifty in length. Other scholars reverse the dimensions. It is built of granite on the outside, marble on the inside. It sits on a spot, according to Mohammedan lore, that Allah designated that Adam and Eve should build a temple, or an altar." Skeen paused. "Of course, that story must have been concocted after the Kaaba had been a pagan shrine for an undetermined number of centuries, housing scores of other deities. Allah's own genealogical antecedents seem to be rooted in a moon god of fecundity."

Dilys looked up from the newspaper. She said, wearing an incredulous but amused frown, "You're making that up."

Skeen chuckled. "No, I'm not. It's all in the encyclopedia."

Dilys shook her head. "I know you're not. Forgive me for saying, but it still sounds like you're ad-libbing."

Skeen smiled wickedly. "Great material for a stand-up comedy monologue at the Fantasma Theater." He went on. "The Kaaba is skirted by an enormous black silk table cloth, with Koranic verses embroidered in gold, high enough out of reach of light-fingered pilgrims." He paused. "Presumably, the roof is bare, but somehow water-proofed. All in all, the Kaaba that exists today is just one of several that have been built, destroyed, collapsed by floods, damaged in war, redesigned, and gussied up ever since it probably began as a stone shanty erected by heathens thousands of years ago, housing wart-nosed witches they probably called vestal virgins, visited by decrepit old priests who performed Masonic-like rites over bowls of foul-smelling incense."


Not a tea party: Hassan al-Banana, second from the left.
 “Big Al” to his fellow fez heads.
Dilys chuckled. "I can just picture it now. Thousands of the heathen votary doing a syncopated conga around the place to a mad drum beat. Some cranky old priest on the roof with a megaphone acts as a cheerleader, prompting them to shout en masse some obscene imprecation in Arabic, or whatever they spoke back then." 

"A very fine parody, darling," said Skeen, "worthy of Cecil B. DeMille's talents." He continued reading. "Today, observers write, about one hundred thousand pilgrims perform the Hajj annually." 

Dilys looked up from the newspaper again. "Hodge? As in hodge-podge?"

Skeen shrugged. "I suppose so. Or perhaps it it's 'Hadge,' as in 'badge.' There was no pronunciation guide in the encyclopedia." He frowned. "As for Mecca, historians and cartographers aren’t even sure the place existed when the alleged prophet, Mohammad, or Muhammad, is said to have graced the Kaaba with his presence and laid the Black Stone. They think it might have been a backwater town, a kind of camel stop, noted by Ptolemy, called Macoraba. Which, in turn, raises a question mark over the existence of Mohammad himself. It's all quite hilarious." Skeen put aside his notes. "And that's all I was able to glean from my sources here." He finished his coffee. "I'll be going downtown today to find more books on Islam. Care to come along?" 

Dilys shook her head. "No, thank you. I want to work on 'Phryne' and address some issues about her audience." She frowned again. "Why this sudden interest in Islam?"

"Professor Lerner advised me to look into it."

Later in the novel, Skeen discusses Islam and “Moslems” and the murder of a New York reporter in the city over lunch in a restaurant with Mickey Kane, a local newspaper reporter.

Skeen said, "I think Moslems were behind the murders. Or Mohammadans. Muslims. Muhammadans, or Mahometans. Take your pick." 

Kane replied, "Now you've lost me. I know nothing about them. How many names do they got anyway?"
"Just those, that I know of. And I didn't know much about them or their creed, either, until Professor Lerner suggested that I read up on Islam, which I did over the weekend. It's his contention that the person or persons who killed his daughter were Moslems. Bodily mutilation is their modus operandi, he said, when the issue is differences about religion. Sometimes even race. And these two murders fit it."

"How so?"

"In the realm of Islamic justice, a thief's hand or both hands can be cut off. But Dwyer got the whole business because he wasn’t a Moslem. His head was removed, probably while he was still alive."

"And Rachel Lerner got it because she was a Jew?"

Skeen nodded. "But whoever was responsible for Dwyer was after information. Thus the torture. What was his killer after? Did he succeed in getting what he wanted from Dwyer?"

Their lunches came then. They silently agreed to discuss other things while they ate. Kane gave Skeen a colorful description of Klamath Falls (where he had just vacationed). 

Kane finished his sandwich last, and went for another coffee. When he returned, he asked Skeen, "So, fill me in on these Mummers."

Skeen chuckled. "Mohammedans. Or Moslems. You can look up all the variations at the library." He lit a cigarette and briefly described Islam and its fundamental tenets and rules.

Kane looked incredulous, but he believed what Skeen had told him. "What a bunch of crackers!" he said. "Do these guys also speak in tongues, and roll on the ground, and foam at the mouth?"

"They probably speak Arabic, for starters. At least, that's what the Koran is written in, although there's evidence it was originally penned in Aramaic. They pray five times a day, on their hands and knees, and bang their foreheads on the ground or floor. As for foaming at the mouth, that seems to happen when they're on the warpath, or beating their wives, or cutting men's throats." 

"And this Catawba in Mecca, these pilgrims run around it seven times and kiss something called the Black Stone? Is that anything like the Blarney Stone? You kiss it and you're given the gift of gab?"

Skeen chuckled again. Kane was just as amusing as was Dilys. "It's the Kaaba, and I don’t know of any purpose in kissing the Stone, other than to prove you have a rock fetish, are not a little addled, and wish to be in the company of a multitude of fools."

"Do you think any of these Catawbans live here?"

Skeen shook his head. "It's doubtful." 

"That Hajj pilgrimage you described: It sounds like one long college fraternity initiation."

Partners in Islamic crime: Sayyid Qutb, the theorist of Islamic purity;
And Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Kane sighed. "Well, I think I'll read up on this gang, too. Library, here I come." He put out his Lucky Strike. "But where can you take it from here? What can you do about it? I mean, suppose it wasn't a genuine Catawban who killed the Lerner girl and Dwyer, but someone who wants everyone to think it was?"

"It's a good question, Mickey, and I don’t have an answer. Not yet, anyway. Perhaps never."  He paused. "Would you make me a copy of the Dwyer note?"

"No problem. I'll send it to your office later today." Kane glanced at his watch. He collected the Dwyer note and returned it to his envelope. "I gotta get back to the paper. I'm working on a story about a guy who tried to rob a trolley conductor of his day's fares yesterday, and got the hell beat out of him."


_________________________________________________________________________________



More murders are committed, all pointing to Muslims as the perpetrators, and the murderer himself is murdered to keep him quiet about the identity of his partners in homicide. By novel’s end Skeen has solved the crimes, and recovered the priceless relic sought by the Brotherhood operatives.

It has a just fate in Skeen’s hands. He gives it away to a bankrupted businessman he encounters near a Depression-era “Hooverville” in the city.

Enjoy the novel. There’s much more in it.