“A Detour in Space” by Emad El-Din Aysha.

Emad El-Din Aysha ‘tries’ to paint a rosy picture for a Muslim presence on Mars, in an effort to take the Arab-Israeli conflict off-world. As he reminds, ‘Just remember, Saladin wasn’t an Arab!’ Accompanying the text, Ayham Jabr’s works of art set the scene.

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“The Syrian district please,” he told the cabbie, in classic Arabic in an effort to disguise his accent.

“Which one?” The man replied in Lebanese.

“What do you mean?”

“There’s only one on the map. But there’s five, in actuality.”

“Five!”

The driver spelled out the names.

“But those are cities in…”

“Exactly.” He typed something on the taxi meter. Five figures emerged on the holographic screen. “Oh, did I mention that each one has its own rates. So, how much are you willing to spend?”

 

The controller was videoconferencing with the finance minister the Arab League had insisted be placed on the Arab Space and Aeronautics Agency (ASAA) Mars committee of the Pan-Arab Remote Sensing and Space Research Association (PRSA), which itself was under the auspices of the Arab League Committee for the Proper Utilisation of Outer Space for Beneficiary Purposes. (There were no initials for that one, and they still hadn’t quite figured out where the Mars committee fit into the equation). He couldn’t see the minister’s face, only the white kufiya on his head. He seemed to be staring down at something in front of him.

“We can’t keep throwing money at the problem. That’s not the real issue. The problem is us. We’re carrying our baggage with us. All our homegrown, Earth-bound problems,” the controller said.

“We hired you to solve our problems. Have you forgotten? Trusted you with our money,” the minister said hoarsely. Finally looking up to stare the controller in the eye, he had accountant’s spectacles on. The controller had had dealings with him before.

“And you’re getting every penny’s worth.” The controller had a crack team of accountants from Switzerland to back up his claims; after doing the figures himself, with his own handpicked astrophysics team. He had to pay them overtime to use the supercomputer.

We do all the thinking for them and this is the thanks we get. I wonder if Saladin felt this way when he had to go to the merchants to liberate Jerusalem, the controller kept to himself.

***

The controller still wasn’t happy. His top agent – or brainstorming advisor – had just returned from the red planet, disguised as a tourist, and told him what he’d seen with his own eyes. After such a long trip, it wasn’t what you wanted to hear. His boss preferred an oral report while his man of intrigue writing things down, by hand.

“One blasted neighborhood and they can’t even keep that together. We’ve only got one colony on Mars and the Israelis have got several.” The five ‘districts’ were named after rival cities that were still licking their wounds since the Syrian civil war.

“Yes, and all encircling the pan-Arab city like a noose,” his agent continued for him. “With kibbutzim between them turning the desert green.”

“How much did you pay in the end?”

“The rates depend on the itawaha [protection money] each ruling family charges.”

“This is hurub al-ridah [wars of apostasy] all over again. And the district wouldn’t even pay the PRSA zakat [alms] for their atmospheric processors and the hydroponics we loaned them.”

“What can I say, they believe in self-financing.” He decided not to tell him how much he had to pay on the border checkpoint between the Lebanese district and the Syrian one. The atmosphere was tense enough.

“Using strong-arm tactics,” the controller added.

“But they’re doing good in the diamond business. They’re digging up more mines as we spe…”

“Instead of growing crops. What about the Egyptian quarter?”

“Better. The farmers are doing great work with the Martian soil. It’s just like the Western desert, they say.” He paused.

“But?”

“They still can’t get the permits they need. And…”

“Yes.”

“They’re fighting over the land rights. The courts can’t handle all the inheritance claims.”

“Are all the buildings right next to each other, in violation of the UN humanitarian dwellings codes?”

The man nodded, begrudgingly. On the inside, he wanted to laugh.

The controller let out a long sigh. He was an Egyptian himself.

“Look at the bright side,” his agent consoled. “Malaysia’s got two colonies there, and they’re thriving. Iran’s got a city, a mega-city, outside of the Israeli iron belt. And Turkey’s making headway too.”

“Making headway against the Iranians, you mean.”

“In the end, at least ‘somebody’ is going to be well-placed up against the Israelis, when push comes to shove.”

“Just not us.” He looked at his watch. It monitored his heartbeat, brain electroencephalographic activity and stomach acidity levels, in addition to telling him the time and temperature. The only thing left was the quality of life for the day.

“Saladin was a Kurd,” his agent was fond of reminding him.

“Yes, and you’re a Palestinian,” the controller spat back at him. “Any suggestions?”

“Keep plowing the fields and hope you strike oil,” he said, not entirely off the top of his head.

“You mean before the Israelis.”

“That too!”

 

 

 


Dr. Emad El-Din Aysha is a British-born Palestinian of mixed Arabic heritage who attained his BA, MA and PhD at the University of Sheffield, starting out in economics and philosophy and moving onto international studies. He grew up in England, Egypt and Kuwait and speaks Arabic ‘almost’ as good as English. He is currently a part-time academic, freelance journalist, reviewer (cinema and literature) and translator in Cairo, Egypt, shuttling back and forth between three continents. He has two great loves in life, history and science fiction. One dealing with the past, the other the future, but ultimately one and the same thing – studying man through time. He is also trying his hand at Islamic poetry, albeit in English.

For a compendium, carefully selected, of his works please see:

independent.academia.edu/EmadAysha

 

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