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The Featherless Parrot: A Zoologist's Reply to Anonymous

When T. S. Eliot wrote of a superficial world where

                  In the room the women come and go
                  Talking of Michael Angelo

he was not describing all women, but only the type represented by Ali Errishi. Hiding behind a thin veil of anonymity, Errishi, like Eliot's women, piles cliché upon cliché to impress the half-baked and the semi-educated. This is the tone and substance of the entire piece he ostensibly wrote to discuss Mansour El-Kikhia's book. Every line of that piece rings with Errishi's self-satisfied voice: Oh, how fashionable! Oh, how clever I am! Who said I know only 'aseeda and hareesa? Look how modish, how up-to-date, how learned I am! Have you heard of Edward Said? There he is, I quote him. Do you know of Noam Chomsky? Well, there he is right at the top of my piece, in intimate neighbourliness with Edward Said. Who said I am a mere emigrant from Tarhuna to Benghazi? I am a citoyen du monde! Jew and Christian rub shoulders right at the beginning of my discourse. And when later on I drink green tea, I don't drink it like those Bedouins of Libya. No, I drink it like an elegant, fashionable American of Libyan extraction. A Libyan with an American wife, an American degree and, hopefully, an American accent. And to be fashionable, and fashionable in America, one cannot ignore the Jews. Sophistication and modernity must pay homage not to halal, but to kosher. This is why when I drink my green tea, I drink it with beagles!

And so it goes on, this café chatter– cliché tumbling on cliché, one trite phrase crowding out another trite phrase. A stale saying from German is followed by the slang idiom of American school girls. And as the eloquence of barmaids intermingles with lines from Errishi's heavily used book of quotations, the reader is impressed by the striking similarity between Errishi and Eliot's women:

                  In the café Errishi goes forth and back
                  Talking of Freud and Bismarck

So numerous and so various are the chic boutiques of elegant gossip that Errishi frequents. The list of fashionable phrases he dutifully hears is too long and too tedious to repeat. And with stupendous faithfulness, though out of context, he parrots them back to us. And what a parrot! A more honest, high -fi parrot is hard to find. True, the feathers (the borrowed cleverness, the hackneyed phrases, the stale quotations) are not Libyan. But the parrot is! He is indeed The Featherless Parrot. He describes himself as 'The Featherful' or Errishi– an exaggeration we must excuse. For our chattering friend does not realize his true value. His scarcity lies precisely in his being destitute of natural feathers. Errishi's feathers are not bestowed by nature but acquired through art and industry and, like the Great Man-Made River, they must be regarded as a unique achievement. We Libyans must do our best to preserve this Featherless Parrot as a valuable specimen of an endangered species, a gift that does not belong to our nation alone but to all mankind. And when the history of nations is assessed in remote futurity, Libyans must not be shy of their TWO greatest contributions to human heritage: The Green BOOK and The Featherless Parrot: Mua'ammar Gaddafi and Ali Errishi.

But parrotry as practised by Errishi is no easy art. It enables a poor emigrant from Tarhuna to attain what he might well think the amplitude of Dante, the epic grandeur of Milton, and the originality of Abu Al-'Ala Al-M'arri. Parrot and featherless though he is, he makes a noble attempt at originality. He tries to say three strong words to El-Kikhia: "I hate you". But, the poor thing– he overstrains himself. His cliché-box bursts, and 10,500 words are let loose. Yes, thousands of dead phrases and dull sounds spill all over the place. They say nothing, but tell us everything: here is a parrot, full of hate and dirt. Here is a parrot who tried to say, in human language, I hate this El-Kikhia, because everybody seems to like him and to honour him. It is this psychology of envy and megalomania which underlies Errishi's hatred for El-Kikhia. And in this he is an eerie duplicate of his hero, Gaddafi, who doesn't even allow football players to be called by their names. They are referred to as numbers only, for fear that there should be any competition for Gaddafi's name in Libyan ears. He is the One to be called, and the One to be worshipped. "There is no Name but Gaddafi's Name, and The Green Book is his Book" Errishi doesn't, of course , have the gold and guns of Gaddafi, but at least he has the words to serve his master's gold and guns, and he could do that by attacking those who challenge Gaddafi's power and Gaddafi's vulgarity, which in turn support Errishi's arrogance and Errishi's vulgarity.

All the sentences in Errishi's 'anonymous' letter can be translated into one big sentence: I hate El-Kikhia. I hate him because I envy him. I hate him because he can say what he likes. I hate him because he is published and well-known, although he, unlike me, doesn't know the great author of the Green Book and, unlike me, he doesn't know the symbolic significance and the cultural sophistication of dipping beagles into green tea.

Such is the psychological constitution of Errishi. Libyans I have met are unanimous on this. It is true that most Libyans are not blessed like Errishi with an American wife (and Errishi never tires of telling the world that he is possessed of an American wife and an American citizenship–– mabrook hisanak, brother!) and yet these humble Libyans have enough common sense to realize that all the fury of Errishi at Ray Takeyh and at Daniel Pipes is in fact nothing but a pretext, a feeble excuse to pour out his spleen, to say to El-kikhia: "I hate you." We know that Errishi lacks the manliness to say what every honourable Libyan thinks of Gaddafi. Deprived of this manliness, Errishi transforms his deprivation into envy. In Freudian terms (and he is, of course, fond of Freud), Errishi is in fact envious of El-Kikhia's manly PEN !

And now, gentle reader, behold! I am going to do something spectacular; something that impresses Errishi and his admirers, the dull tribe of pseudo-researchers. I will inscribe a FOOTNOTE! Here it is–– a comment on Errishi's envy of El-Kikhia's "Manly PEN"*

This explains the real secret of Errishi's envy of El-Kikhia, his IMPOTENT rage at the man's vigour and courage. Errishi hasn't got that sort of power, and like Eliot's women, he goes on talking of great men, but wishing deep inside him to rob them of what he has not got–– the virile pen! Errishi's inadequacies are real. Add to them the perceived deficiencies (what he imagines he lacks), and Errishi's misery is boundless. Despite all his bravado, he is literally pathetic. Being an incurable fool, he takes Libyans for fools. He believes that the smattering of German he knows will make up for his massive silliness. I happen to know six languages in addition to Arabic, but this gives me no license to use now Latin, now Greek, now German, now French every other line.

I know there are many other Libyans who are widely read and highly educated. They don't parade their culture on the net or bore us with bogus footnotes. Why? Because they have that humility which genuinely marks the real scholar and distinguishes him from the pseudo-scholar–– decorum, a sense of modesty. And these, like the real pen, are precisely the qualities that Errishi lacks. What he does possess is a sterile womb of quotations, the seeds of other pens, the fertile fruits of men. Our really educated fellow-Libyans don't quote or over-quote from foreign languages, because they know those languages and don't have to prove their knowledge. If one quotes another language, it is only because one is forced to, and because no translation will do. This is nowhere apparent in Errishi's desperate attempts at every possible opportunity to display the treasures he borrows from Clichedom, the Kingdom of charlatans and fools.

For what is the hallmark of a charlatan? Pretence and vulgar display. And of these qualities he has a rich store. Consider, for instance his recent piece on Al-Mawlid Al-Nabawi Al-Shareef. Consider how this beagle-eating, fashion-loving, false aesthete (claiming that he spends his leisure time enjoying Western music and Western art)–– consider how he decides suddenly to be an admirer of Islam and the simplicity of the Prophet, not because simplicity runs in his blood or admiration of heroism is one of his virtues, but because Western quotations tell him these are good qualities, boy! How fake, how false rings every line of that piece! And how false is his claim that he feels embarrassed that he can't type Arabic! You have a sense of embarrassment, of shame, Featherless Parrot? Oh, how sweet of you to be ashamed! Allow me, please to touch your artificial feathers. Let me gently caress them. Let me tenderly and lovingly stroke them. It is good of you to be so kind to the Arabic language, the language of the Koran and the tongue of the Prophet, the Prophet who says: "Al-hayau min al iman."

Where has your haya, your sense of shame and modesty gone, when you tell us about your LOVELY wife? Remember, brother, we are Libyans after all. If your wife has lovely qualities, you don't have to tell the entire Libyan nation about her charms. Her loveliness should be a private matter between you and her, and al-mawlid al-nabawi should not be the occasion for you to tell us about your wife. The Libyan people have had enough of the loveliness of Miss 'Ayesha Gaddafi. So please, spare us now the loveliness of Mrs Errishi!

Embarrassed that you can't type Arabic, eh? But not embarrassed to tell us about your mother's bathing habits? In a pervious piece, you told us she looked like a mermaid! You told us she captivated the attention of onlookers when she came out with some of your female relatives from a bathing session in the sea of Benghazi. Let me tell you the truth, son of a mermaid! Believe me, proud boy, no true son of Benghazi would go round telling other boys of the loveliness of his bathing mother. It is none of our business to know of your mother's mermaid beauty, or of the loveliness of your American wife. And if you really had even a Western scholar's sense of decorum, you would have kept these private affairs to yourself when you discuss matters that apparently have nothing to do with Mrs (...) (your mother) and Mrs Errishi (your wife). Why drag your poor mother and wife into the Internet? Because you have no real sense of shame.

Patriotism is not your line, Featherless Parrot. Many of the contributors to this site have irrefutably proven it: you don't have a single feather of courage, sincerity or sacrifice. The only contribution I wished to make was to show you for what you are when it comes to what you fancy as your verbal cleverness and academic distinction. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of how good English prose is written will be amused by the structure of your sentences, your pathetic attempts at parallel structures, your strings of limp sentences, ill-chosen epithets, silly hyperboles and, above all, the embarrassingly long list of grammatical mistakes–– mistakes which a school teacher would be justifiably indignant if he found them in the exercise book of a high school pupil.

Take, for instance, the beginning of your piece on Al-Mawlid Al-Nabawi. You write " ... has given herself and I the endless gift." Here you have committed an elementary mistake, as everywhere else, because of a combination of your ignorance and pretentiousness. That the phrase should run: "...has given herself and me." I'll tell you why. The verb "give" in English governs the Dative Case; the name of this grammatical feature comes from Latin, a language that you evidently don't know, but that does not matter. You pretend to some knowledge of German, in which this case is a common feature. In German you would write "Sie gab mir ein Buch" Not: "Sie gab ich ein Buch." Same in English, Professor: "She gave me a book" Not: "She gave I a book!" You see the idea of the dative? There is a hidden preposition: it is almost like saying she gave [to] me. There is a horde of similar mistakes in your writing, but they would all have been forgiven if the substance of what you write had any merit in it, or if you at least did not spread those artificial feathers of yours so arrogantly in every direction, posing as a connoisseur of art, of music, of patriotism that lives side by side with cosmopolitan Jewish sophistication (green tea and beagles), of good English grammar, of psychology (Freud and Freudian slips) etc etc.... But I hope the Freudian Phallus and El-Kikhia's potent Pen have cured some of your arrogance, son of a mermaid.

Despite all the remedies, corrections, and reservations made above, I remain convinced, as a Libyan zoologist concerned about our national heritage and about our national resources,–– I remain convinced that Featherless Parrot is the last representative of an endangered species, and that we must do our utmost to preserve, as a warning and admonition to mankind, this rare symbol of human folly and vulgarity.

Libyan Zoologist

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