Unlearned Lessons in Bigotry


From Chapter 28

Mutton took leave, eventually, because he had to. Nobody would have understood had he chosen to stay behind. But service on the front line in the war on terror had produced in him a craving for misery and pain, an agony not unlike the long, weeping remorse that led to his divorce and his desire to sniff the feet of Vanna Lavinia. He couldn’t bear the thought of an ordinary day, of falling asleep without his crackling radio, of an hour at the office without crawling beneath his desk while sirens screamed overhead. He wanted to be there the minute the consulate re-opened. He looked up at the Kingdom Hospital and shook his fist in defiance: face-to-face with his destiny, Mutton shouted aloud for salvation by RPG. But salvation never came; instead Mutton booked a ticket to Vegas.

During his ascent out of the Kingdom he saw how dark the country was: a breathtaking darkness just shy of infinite. The bright cluster of city lights ended abruptly, surrounded by a desert of black into which he had no hope of seeing. For all the wealth it generated, the Kingdom remained a vast, unanswered space. In this empty quarter the perpetrators of 9/11 had been swaddled and raised, trained to believe, trained not to think. Nothing could enlighten this place. The generations of hearts and minds that stewed under the scorching sun of this desert shared no communion with civilization. They belonged to themselves. They belonged to a version of Islam incompatible with today. They belonged to the 7th century.

Twenty-four hours later Mutton sailed above the great American Homeland. He saw a similar blackness: a swath of America that was wasteland, emptiness producing ignorance, excess producing an unchecked will to consume and destroy. A desert. The two worlds, polar opposites, had come to the same end. Religious zealotry. Bigoted xenophobia. Ignorance. Bloodlust. Had Mutton’s flight arrived in New York, approaching the cavities on its skyline, he might have felt only rage against the Kingdom. But he connected in Detroit and as he took the final descent through the abundant desert darkness toward the unholy light of Vegas, Mutton was driven toward understanding and recognition of the human frailty of both nations.