At this writing, it looks like The Satanic Verses author Salman Rushie will survive last month’s attack by “New Jersey man” Hadi Matar. He was trying to collect millions of dollars from a 1989 fatwa issued by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, and which extended to publishers and even booksellers.
“I call on all valiant Muslims wherever they may be to kill them without delay,” the Ayatollah proclaimed, “so that no one will dare insult the sacred beliefs of Muslims henceforth.” Rushdie, has to wonder why no fatwa was forthcoming for The Marrakesh One-Two by Richard Grenier, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1983. In this tale, Hollywood producers aim to tap Arab petrodollars for a film about Mohammed,
“There were half a billion Moslems in the world, right?” says screenwriter Burt Nelson. “If we had our Bible epics why couldn’t they have their Koran epics? That’s why they needed me, author of The Song of Jesus, which raked in all those shekels.” So Burt gets busy reading the Quran.
“Reams of Allah is great, Allah is one, Allah is supreme,” Nelson finds. “And suddenly you run into, You are forbidden to take in marriage married women, except captives whom you own as slaves. And then more Allah is great and Allah is merciful, until you come to, Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other and because they spend their wealth upon them. Good women are obedient. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them.”
Nelson also comes across “good solid stuff” like: “Those of you who divorce their wives by declaring them to be their mothers should know they are not their mothers. Their mothers are those who gave birth to them. The words they utter are unjust and false but Allah is forgiving and merciful. 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 is a Christianity and Judaism man, so “Mohammed struck me as kind of a gamey figure for a religious leader, I mean for a man God spoke to personally.” He is “plagiarizing the Bible like mad “or it’s one hell of a coincidence,” but there’s more to it.
Mohammed “expels one tribe of Jews but they can take a little property. And then he expels another tribe of Jews, but they can’t take any property. And then he gets sore and figures they’ve really driven him too far, and when the last tribe of Jews surrenders he has the men slaughtered and the women and children taken as slaves. Allah is merciful, but not necessarily Mohammed, I guess.”
The prophet of Islam is “always praying to Allah for guidance and if Mohammed really wants something bad enough you get the impression Allah is going to tell him it’s okay. I mean, Allah can’t say no to him.” For example, “Aisha bint Abi Bakr was the beautiful six-year-old Mohammed married but the wedding wasn’t celebrated until she was nine. They gave her the good news when she was playing on her swing and let her bring along all her dolls and toys.”
On location in Morocco, Nelson notes, “I could hear the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer but I didn’t hear nobody pray, man. No, I didn’t. And it’s a pretty miserable call too, let me tell you. GWAWAWAWAWAWAWAWAK. FNUHUHUHUHUHUH – glottal stop.”
Nelson moonlights for the CIA and gets kidnapped by Moroccan revolutionaries. He escapes and the production moves to Libya.
“A good stable regime,” Nelson quips. “No coups d’etat since King Idris. No angry dissidents, underground malcontents, Montoneros, Tupamaros, Brigatte Rosse, protesters, riffraff like that. Law and order. Koranic law and order. Deep sleep at night. Deep dreams of peace and unpermissive societies where they don’t permit you to do frigging anything but the peace is beautiful, man, wow.”
Col. Kadaffi won’t spring for the movie, so the producers move on to Iran, where the Shiite regime turns down the project. That leaves Iraq, but en route to Baghdad the airliner gets hijacked, in a strange sort of way. In this part of the world, nothing is quite as it seems.
For Nelson, it was “finally the end of Mohammed Superstar, which I still think would have brought a lot of peace and understanding in the world.” Grenier’s great novel should help with the understanding part.
“The Arab world depicted with murderous realism,” reads the cover endorsement from Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the New York Democrat who regarded Grenier as a critic without peer for his work at Commentary, the New York Times, and The New Republic. See also Capturing the Culture: Film Art and Politics, from 1991.
The Marrakesh One-Two appeared just a few years after the Iranian hostage crisis but no Ayatollah put out a fatwa on Richard Grenier. The U.S. Naval Academy graduate passed away at 68 in January of 2002, so on September 11, 2001, he got to see the “murderous realism” close at hand.
The stabbing of fellow author Salman Rushdie would not surprise Richard Grenier. American officials believe a regime that calls for the murder of writers will negotiate a nuclear deal in good faith. In 2022, the Islamic world remains pretty much as Grenier described it nearly 40 years ago, perhaps more so.
As Burt Nelson said, “It just shows how little people know about things.”