Friday, 21 October 2011

Why do celebrating Arabs always fire guns in the air?

I know how prissy this will sound, but the Middle Eastern habit of letting off volleys of gunfire whenever something goes right for their side is beginning to get on my nerves. There you are, congratulating them on having got rid of some disgusting spec of human ordure like Gaddafi – and then they spoil it all by milling around, shouting and firing expensive ammunition pointlessly into the sky.

You hope against hope that what’s going to emerge from decades of state-sanctioned oppression, torture and murder is a nice, sensible, fully-functioning democracy, underpinned by property rights, the rule of law and OMOV, but what you’re looking at is an apparently disorderly mob of over-excited, testosterone-fuelled young men doing something really dumb and dangerous for no reason whatsoever. 

Is there a centuries-old tradition of it in their culture? Before guns, did they do something equally noisy to let off steam after a victory? Do they do it because of an atavistic human urge to slaughter a defeated enemy – but you can’t really do that with CNN and the BBC recording it all?

It could, I suppose, provide an opportunity for fighters who haven’t done much shooting in the lead-up to the victory to feel they’ve contributed in some way, no matter how meaningless that contribution might be.

Or is it learned behaviour from watching similar scenes on TV?

Wikipedia (and when are they ever wrong?) tells us that the practice isn’t just confined to the Middle East: they go in for it in the Balkans, some parts of Northern India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan as well. And in case you suspect that it’s a Muslim thing, it also happens in some bits of South America – Puerto Rico is cited – and even some parts of the United States (a Wisconsin sheriff is quoted, deploring the practice).

Hard to see what links all those places – except that people there are obviously more heavily armed than in, say, Chiswick (as opposed to Tower Hamlets or Hackney, obviously).

I had initially wondered if it was confined to places where religion forbids alcohol – but the non-Muslim parts of the Balkans practically float on a sea of plum brandy.

As the inclusion of Wisconsin in the list would suggest, sky-shooting isn’t confined to military victories – New Year and Eid are more often the excuse.

One odd fact is that you’re sixteen times more likely to die from being struck by a falling bullet than by one fired directly at you – you stand a 32% chance of croaking from a celebratory round. That’s because a descending bullet – although travelling more slowly - will almost invariably land on your bonce.

You’d have to be an even greater sourpuss than I am to begrudge the Libyans their joy at having rid themselves of one of the world’s most spectacularly horrible shits - but I wish they’d found some other way of marking the occasion.

Perhaps they might be persuaded that a polite round of applause would suffice, accompanied by a restrained "Jolly good!" or "Well done!" – plus, of course, some obligatory driving around in cars, honking horns. (I did enjoy the sight of Libyan flags attached to the ends of swishing windscreen wipers – nice touch.)

As for the spokesman for the  UN Commissioner for Human Rights describing the circumstances of Gaddafi’s death as “very disturbing” – he really has got to be joking.


  1. Part 1
    Vertical Volleys. Given the demographics involved this does not worry me half as much as those scenes where university students or military cadets throw their mortar boards or caps in the air en masse at graduation ceremonies. How do they ever find them again?

    After the fall of Baghdad in the current conflict a U.S. Marine spokesman said that they had repeatedly warned the population about this dangerous practice. From memory: " Undirected war-heads penetrate innocent fore-heads and leads to big bug-splatz". The Baghdadi air defences in both conflicts adopted the habit of firing their guns vertically and continuously in the belief that the shells exploded in the air at various altitudes. Unfortunately, about 25% of anti-aircarft ordnance fails to detonate and returns intact. Serious bug-splat. As always, muslim "fighters" conduct their operations from population centres so there is much blood-shed amongst women and children and the elderly.

  2. Part 2
    Also, after the last 100-years of European conflict where the wearing of helmets was deemed to be sensible current muslim "fighters" don't seem to have cottoned on to the idea.

    In David lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" [or "Florence of Arabia" as Noel Coward re-named it after he took a a shine to the young Peter O'Toole] there is a wonderfully chaotic scene where Prince Faisal tries to form a government and constitution in Damascus in 1918 where everybody is talking at full-volume and chanting meaningless slogans. This time it is not General Allenby sitting quietly on the side-lines, but some murderous fundamentalist group or some other strong-arm goon with a Geneva bank account and a dodgy taste in bath-room fittings.

    By the way, as it is estimated that the British tax-payer contributed approx £300M to the bombing campaign are we at least going to get back Abdel Basset al Meghrahi and WPC Yvonne Fletcher's murderer?

  3. The mortar board point is an interesting one - never thought of it before. And they've got sharp points!

    Also, the point about Muslim fighters not wearing protective headgear is interesting, too - never thought of that, either.

    I read an article recently which suggested that your average Arab's lack of concern for his own life is a result of your average Arab leader's total lack of concern for the lives of their oppressed subjects (unlike their extreme concern for their own, of course).

    Whatever we get in return for our £300m, it will not include gratitude, that's for sure. Or a stable democracy. And we probably won't see a penny of the money "British" (i.e. multinational) firms are supposed to make following Cameron's "fill yer boots, my son" urgings.

    Interesting to read that Gaddafi was apparently sodomised with a knife. I know he was a complete bastard - but what a disgusting thing to do!