Cardyn Brooks reviews And Then God Created the Middle East and Said ‘Let There Be Breaking News’ by Karl reMarks and The Filth, The Explosive Inside Story of Scotland Yard’s Top Undercover Cop by Duncan MacLaughlin and William Hall
With unapologetic enthusiasm for equal opportunity skewering of hypocrites, xenophobes, gloryhounds, and warmongers of all political stripes, nationalities, religious affiliations, and generations, Karl reMarks offers readers an acerbically wicked collection of sharp geo- and sociopolitical commentary about the internal frictions of the Middle East as exacerbated by the external pressures of the West.
In addition to droll text, the ten sections are filled with an assortment of word play, comic panels, and maps with legends that refer to a bumpy continuum of conflict in the Middle East and between the Middle East and the West from ancient history to the present day. Although the map on page 5 makes it clear that the flow of invasion very decisively runs from the West into the Middle East without reciprocity.
As a spin on the Christian Bible quote from Genesis 1:3, “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light,” the title correctly warns readers that the contents approach all sacred cows with irreverent humor.
On page 3 a hacked up pizza represents the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, which perfectly segues into this quote on page 4, “When God put Europe near the Middle East, it was an Occident waiting to happen.” Substituting “Western” for “Occident” made me think of the usual outcomes of defeat, annihilation, subjugation, and exploitation that happen to indigenous—especially BAME—people in the fantasies of Western movies and the realities of recorded Western history.
This deceptively quick read incorporates a credible indictment of Western Civilization as the ultimate example of cultural appropriation with a spoof of IKEA furniture assembly instructions, and references to the late 1950s to the early 1960s when Beirut, Lebanon was a vibrant tourist destination and Baghdad, Iran was considered the Paris of the Middle East into a profoundly effective intellectual setup for presenting the brilliant “simple one-line explanation for what caused Isis” of viral social media popularity. [Page 50]
The specter of Turkish Pres. Erdogan’s 2017 constitutional changes from parliamentary to executive presidential structure in preparation for his presumptive victory (24 June 2018) hovers beneath every mention of Erdogan and Turkey. So far it seems that the strange bedfellows of the National Alliance have not been able to redirect Turkey’s political momentum.
On a more frivolous note: My favorite biting remark is on page 87 in the Democracy for Realists section where the author opines, “The only real difference between political systems is that under communism you buy everything from a single state outlet, whereas under fully-mature capitalism you buy everything from Amazon.
And Then God Created the Middle East and Said ‘Let There Be Breaking News’ is deliberately smart in its witty dissection of the shady motives and absurd rationales we humans concoct in order to justify not treating each other with the respect and ethical decency we want to receive.
The agile complexity of this book’s thoughtfulness lures readers into the Chomsky versus Zizek debate of empirical investigation versus theoretical focus, privileged versus non-privileged points of view, the stages of Western Civilization, and other assorted conundrums, which ultimately multitask as invitations to check out the author’s The Phoenicians Created Everything cartoon series here and his Twitter thread @KarlreMarks.
In many ways The Filth begins in a similar sociopolitical and cultural bubbling cauldron of conflict as And Then God Created…: the dismantling of the British Empire, only in Indonesia and Borneo instead of the Middle East. This passage from page 22 applies to both (all?) theaters of war, “And the whole mess being fought out in the name of religion seemed so downright pigheaded that it would have been farcical if it weren’t so ugly.”
Born in 1960, Duncan MacLaughlin recounts his childhood in a narrative voice reminiscent of Beryl Markham’s West with the Night. His tone slides into the incorrigible flippancy of Michael Caine’s Alfie (with the taxi driving skills, significantly less womanizing, and minus the impregnated girlfriend) and the playful hyperbole of the Most Interesting Man in the World from the Dos Equis campaign.
The Filth is a memoir about an individual person, the evolution of policing in England, and the transformation of the British Empire and the world during the last two generations up through the late 1990s. The author makes it clear that undercover police work is a dirty, yet necessary job. “The Filth” is the nickname for the Criminal Investigation Department. MacLaughlin’s 1978 entry into the brotherhood of “coppers” weaves tales of fathers and sons between noticeably blasé confessions about the compensation culture on “The Job” and other ethically questionable behavior falling under the prevalent “big boys’ games, big boys’ rules” attitude, which directly contradicts the Constable’s Oath cited on page 75.
As a casebook, Part Two of The Filth dedicates the most space to two seminal investigations: the 1985 riots in Broadwater Farm Estate sparked by the deaths of Cynthia Jarrett and PC Keith Blakelock, and to murderous kidnapper of Julie Dart and Stephanie Slater. Remarks about the murderer of DC John Fordham and Stephen Cameron weave throughout the author’s revelations about the challenges and risks of working to keep the public safe.
It’s within the space between MacLaughlin’s seemingly lighthearted, often macabre humor about the many risks embedded in policing that his most poignant personal truths are revealed: his disillusionment with The Job, the disintegration of his marriage, and the fracturing of his family.
On page 214, this phrase, “The man was strictly non-politically correct, and I warmed to him immediately…” encapsulates the influence of the author’s privileged Anglo male-default approach to gender, ethnicity, and social class. (No judgement, no surprise, and genuine appreciation for D.M.’s unflinching candor.) While projecting absolutely no intention of malice, terms such as spade and Paddies are used. A female informant becomes part of his “harem” and a handsome detective of Portuguese descent would “have made a good gigolo.” Ultimately, it’s this phrase from page 314 that exemplifies how much more work there is to do to ensure that all law enforcement officers consider the intrinsic human value of BAME people as being equal to that of Anglo people: “… and counted sixty black bodies and one white person laid out in the same room…”
Duncan MacLaughlin’s respectful acknowledgement of his early mentor, PC Eddie Grier, who was one of the first black policemen in Britain in the late 1970s has added research about the history of black police officers in the UK to my to be read list. Comparing different points of view should be interesting.
Buy the book here on Amazon.
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