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Next year The Marrakesh One-Two by Richard Grenier turns 30 but with a video about Islam in the news, Muslim mobs murdering American ambassadors, and Islamic nations calling for international restrictions on freedom of speech, the time to look back is now.
“The Arab world depicted with murderous realism,” said a front-cover endorsement from U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, a Democrat who previously served (1975-1976) as United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
When Grenier was tapping out his novel, Ronald Reagan was still in his first term. The Ayatollah Khomeini prevailed in Iran, where only a few years earlier Iranian “students” invaded the U.S embassy and took 52 Americans hostage, holding them for 444 days. Col. Gaddafi ruled in Libya, a nerve center of terrorism that Reagan bombed in response to attacks on Americans in Europe.
In the Marrakesh story, wealthy Arab oil interests tap filmmaker Burt Nelson to make a movie about Mohammed and Islam the equivalent of Hollywood biblical epics such as Nelson’s Song of Jesus. Trouble is, Nelson says, “we’ve got to cut out Mohammed,” too holy to be shown or even speak, according to Arab advisors.
The model here is The Message (1977) by Moustapha Akkad, starring Anthony Quinn and subtitled The Story of Islam. Akkad, a Syrian who had worked with Sam Peckinpah, suggested the presence of Mohammed with a shadow. Orthodox Muslims denounced the film and the Nation of Islam took hostages.
Nelson plunges into the Koran for research. He finds reams of “Allah is merciful” along with instructions such as: “You are also forbidden to take in marriage married women, except captives whom you own as slaves.” Further, “men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other.” Also, “Those of you who divorce their wives by declaring them to be their mothers should know that they are not their mothers.” To which Nelson says, “Which was a good point to clear up. I mean, I was sure it had led to a lot of misunderstanding until Mohammed cleared it up.”
Nelson also researches biographies of Mohammed who, “struck me as kind of a gamey figure for a religious leader” and yet had “a very interesting life.” Nelson finds that “Mohammed is marrying a new girl every time you turn around,” and “if Mohammed wants something bad enough, you get the impression Allah is going to tell him it’s okay.”
Nelson brags that “I knew my onions on Islam.” He can identify characters such as Mariya, “an Egyptian slave of Mohammed’s and mother of his son Ibrahim.” He is familiar with Alisha bint Abi Bakr, “the beautiful six year old Mohammed married, but the wedding wasn’t celebrated until she was nine.”
CIA business and a coup attempt against the king of Morocco disrupt the movie production and send the filmmaker to a series of countries including Libya. Incidents there prompt Nelson to say, “They’re all faggots. I’m not going to argue about it.” (See chapter 9 of Marrakesh for full quote)
Nelson fails to get his movie in the can but The Marrakesh One-Two did get published by Houghton Mifflin. A major house did not hesitate to publish a comic novel about Islam because some ayatollah, Muslim student group, or politician might not like it. It was Grenier’s second novel after Yes and Back Again (1967). He was a critically acclaimed writer but not a mega-seller on name alone. So it seems the publisher simply liked the story and went with it.
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