I'll be honest, I've always found anything involving the Middle East to be really confusing. The strings upon strings of names hang upon my brain like limp noodles, and I find myself struggling to sort through a long history of ancient grudges and shifting alliances. My brain just has a limited capacity for these sorts of things, especially when I have Corb asking me questions from the kitchen and Ashley and Tiger bickering inches away from me. As a result, even though this article patiently parsed through all the major components (and I think I now understand the difference between a Shiite and Sunni, really I do), I still found myself staring dully in my armchair for fifteen minutes at a time, wrestling over sentences such as this:
"Someone had propped up a wide, vividly painted canvas: an old man with a white beard, standing against a flaming sky, was pushing a boatload of pilgrims across a desert-colored ocean toward the distant gold-domed shrine of Imam Ali, in Najaf. The old man was Moqtada al-Sadr's father. Fadilah's founder, Ayatollah Muhammed al-Yacoubi, claimed that Moqtada's father, before his murder at the hands of Baathist agents, had chosen him as his successor--making Yacoubi, not Moqtada, the genuine heir of hard-line Iraqui Shiism."
See what I mean? It makes sense, typing it out, but sitting there yesterday, trying to process that paragraph between outbursts of "Ashley's doing this" and "He just hit me!" and "What are we doing for supper?" and "Where'd you put the mouthwash?"...well, it was a challenge , let's put it like that.
But even without distractions, it's an uphill battle. I remember once, in college, I signed up for an introductory class in the Middle East. I thought it would make me more well rounded. I envisioned myself taking this knowledge and putting it like a cosmopolitan suit, so that I'd be able to discuss politics with ease and precision at the dozens of wine and cheese parties that I was never invited to.
I didn't realize that even though the course had the word "Introduction" at the beginning, the professor was going to travel at the speed of light through a dizzying array of people and places. (As I recall, I actually had mistaken the class for an "introduction," when it was actually geared toward history majors.)
I sat in that class, and had the uneasy sensation that one of my worst nightmares had come to life. You know the one where you're working through a semester, and suddenly realize that you've totally forgotten one class, and as a result, you've missed all the lectures, and now it's the day of the final exam? Under those fluorescent lights, I felt as though I had missed half of the semester. As the professor droned on, I felt I had been handed a life sentence, and my mind desperately tried to figure out a way out, tried to mentally figure a way to use a rusty soup lid to burrow a tunnel through the floor, to freedom.
And meanwhile, everyone else in the class is there, understanding every little bit of what is going on, nodding appreciatively, while the professor, who had shiny black hair and a cute clipped accent, stood at the front of the class, propelling us headlong into Shiitism. By the end of the class I was a dazed, sweaty, mumbling wreck.
I ended up switching out the class for Genocide. I actually aced that class. Something about genocide really appealed to me. I think it was the professor--a middle aged, heavy woman with dark black hair, thick glasses, a raspy voice, and comfortable shoes. She made genocide seem sexy.
Professor Marx. I actually had one or two erotic dreams about her. That also left me feeling slightly bewildered.