Sir Salman, meet Saifullah Osama

An eye for an eye, a Sword of Allah for a knighthood. What would Rudyard Kipling think?

By Andrew Leonard
June 21, 2007 11:07PM (UTC)
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This is what we like to call "cultural relativism." Outraged at the knighting of Salman Rushdie, a group of Pakistani clerics, the Pakistan Ulema Council, announced on Thursday that they had given Osama bin Laden the title "Saifullah" -- Sword of Allah.

Reuters reports:


"If a blasphemer can be given the title 'Sir' by the West despite the fact he's hurt the feelings of Muslims, then a mujahid who has been fighting for Islam against the Russians, Americans and British must be given the lofty title of Islam, Saifullah," the chairman, Tahir Ashrafi, said.

Knights aren't allowed to hurt people's feelings?! I'm sure that would shock most of the Western warriors who amused themselves in past eras by gadding about on Crusades to the Holy Land. Regardless, one is reminded of that famous observation by a previous English writer with some familiarity with South Asia, "Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet."

Incidentally, Rudyard Kipling was considered several times to be a prime nominee for knighthood, but rejected the "honor," an example perhaps more people should follow. But even more interestingly, if you actually take the time to read the entire poem, "The Ballad of East and West," you will find no tale of impassable cross-cultural barriers, but instead, an ode to macho bonding between brave men of disparate backgrounds. The "Ballad" tells the dashing, manly tale of how the "Colonel's son" chased down the bandit Kamal, who had stolen his father's horse, but after much bravado and mutual laughing in the face of death, the men end up fast friends, with Kamal even assigning his own son to be the Colonel's son's bodyguard.

They have looked each other between the eyes, and there they found no fault,
They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on leavened bread and salt:
They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on fire and fresh-cut sod,
On the hilt and the haft of the Khyber knife, and the Wondrous Names of God.
The Colonel's son he rides the mare and Kamal's boy the dun,
And two have come back to Fort Bukloh where there went forth but one.
And when they drew to the Quarter-Guard, full twenty swords flew clear --
There was not a man but carried his feud with the blood of the mountaineer.
"Ha' done! ha' done!" said the Colonel's son. "Put up the steel at your sides!
Last night ye had struck at a Border thief -- to-night 't is a man of the Guides!"

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the two shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, tho' they come from the ends of the earth.

Dunno about that last couplet, though. Sir Salman and Saifullah Osama might demur.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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