A Russian friend has tipped me off to an extraordinary passage in the 1931 Russian novel, The Golden Calf, by Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov. The book, a sequel to the much-better known The Twelve Chairs (made into a 1970 Mel Brooks movie), deals with the adventures of a charming con man named Ostap Bender; at one point, Bender and a fellow crook have to travel through a Central Asian desert on camels, and then ….
For seven days, the camels trudged through the desert carrying the newly minted sheiks. Early in the journey, Ostap was having the time of his life. …. He called himself Lawrence of Arabia.
“I’m a dynamite emir!” he shouted, swaying on the camel’s high back. “If we don’t get some decent food in two days, I’m going to start a rebellion among some tribes. I swear! I am going to apoint myself a representative of the Prophet and declare a holy war — jihad. Against Denmark, for instance. Why were the Danes so mean to their Prince Hamlet? In the current political environment, even the League of Nations will have to find that a satisfactory pretext for war. As God is my witness, I’ll buy a million’s worth of rifles from the British — they love selling weapons to tribesmen — and then, off to Denmark we go! Germany will have to let us through, by way of reparations. Can you imagine the tribesmen storming into Copenhagen? With me leading the way, riding a white camel?”
A jihad against Denmark. A joke, of course. But it’s uncanny, you must admit. And, as another friend of mine comments, full of other contemporary references: Replace “the British” with “the U.S. and/or the Soviet Union,” the League of Nations with the U.N., and “reparations” with “post-colonial white guilt,” and it all fits.