School of Mock

Way back when Salman Rushie got his fatwa from the Ayatollah Khomeini for The Satanic Verses,* I wondered immediately: How come Richard Grenier (RIP) didn’t get a fatwa for the much more blasphemous novel, The Marrakesh One-Two?

If you’ve never read this 1983 work of comic genius, go order it second-hand. The novel’s protagonist, Burt Nelson, is a filmmaker attempting to make a feature film of the life of Mohammed (though actually the whole thing is a cover for a CIA operation, naturally). And one obvious problem is that he can’t show Mohammed in the film, so how to you make a film about him? Nelson worked up a filming scheme which would be shot from the visual point of view of Mohammed, entirely with reaction shots from the people Mohammed speaks to. But he learns he dare not risk even depicting Mohammed’s shadow on the ground. Much of the comedy turns on problems with the script in each of the Arab countries where Nelson wants to shoot scenes. And the novel works as a potted critique of Islam and takedown of its Prophet that is much more devastating than Rushdie.

And so the opening of chapter 2:

I’ll level with you. This was going to be a shitty movie. But there was a market for it. There were half a billion Moslems in the world, right? If we had our Bible epics, why couldn’t they have their Koran epics? Money talks. Oil talks. But the Koran is an inferior literary work, you will say. All hysterical and repetitious. No story line. And some fanatic is going to assassinate us if we show the Prophet. . . .

Or this splendid bit of dialogue with one of his Arab collaborators in chapter 5:

“I honestly think Muhammed was very left-wing for his time,” he declared earnestly. “I really do. The Koran is filled with very left-wing stuff.”

“Like if a slave woman commits adultery,” I said, “she only gets half the punishment of a free woman who commits adultery.”

“Right. Which was very advanced for its time.”

“What’s half of death?”

Or the description in chapter 6 of shooting the Mecca scene:

Suddenly, over the ridge line of the hill, we saw the wrapped heads of Bedouins in full desert costume. It was that Heart in Mouth moment. Then their shoulders appeared, the heads of camels, horses. There were dozens. Hundreds. Then the whole hill was swarming with Arabs in desert dress, a thousand of them. It was Mohammed’s army returning to Mecca in triumph. When they got to Mecca they would be acclaimed by the multitude. The prodigal Prophet returned. Let there be singing and clashing of cymbals. In historic fact Mohammed’s first return to Mecca was surrounded with all the joy of a tour of the Ku Klux Klan with flaming crosses through the Negro districts of a southern town in the old days, with the petrified darkies all hiding indoors, fearing for their lives. The tensions in Mecca only let up bit by bit. But we needed an upbeat ending to the movie, bringing out the Horatio Alger aspect of Mohammed, which was legitimate I think, and so I played up the triumphant, clashing-of-cymbals side of Mohammed’s homecoming. I mean the Meccans didn’t actually welcome Mohammed back with clashing cymbals, but they could have welcomed him back with clashing cymbals if they’d only had enough foresight to realize what a big success he was going to be in the years to come and how famous he was going to make his old home town. It also gave us a big final scene for the picture.

Read it and mock away.

* I always thought that Rushdie should have followed up The Satanic Verses with Buddha, You Fat Fuck, just for grins.

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