Saturday, May 20, 2017

Not a Parody: Trump, Tillerson and Ross do the Saudi Sword Dance

Donald Trump's first trip abroad yielded some astonishing pictures and videos today, among them, a video showing Trump and some of his cabinet members participating in (not just observing) a traditional "Ardha" (war) sword dance.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross are seen happily/grimly clutching swords while linking arms with the dancers. As far as one can tell, Trump doesn't link arms but spends a few seconds bouncing and jiving to the music with a goofy expression. You can't see it in the video but at one point he does hold a sword, pointing it downward.

Steve Bannon stands around, looking uncomfortable.

The outdoor pavilion appears to be filled almost exclusively with men, most of them robed. The regal Melania Trump and an unidentified (to me) American woman seem to be the only two females in the crowd. Both have their heads uncovered.

By the way, President George Bush participated in a sword dance in Saudi Arabia. So did Prince Charles. As everyone knows, Middle-Eastern Arabs are notoriously racist. Perhaps this is why President Obama was never invited to participate. Or maybe they just didn't respect him. But that didn't stop Obama from bowing.

An earlier video features Mr. and Mrs. Trump emerging from the plane and greeting the King and his entourage - with Trump not bowing and his wife wearing pants with uncovered hair.

There are three ways to look at all of this. One is of free and civilized people holding their heads high while extending the hand of friendship to (sorry to say it) semi-barbarous exotics (I'm talking about the Trumps not Tillerson and Ross, obviously). 

It sounds silly, but that plane entrance reminded me of the scene in C.S. Lewis's The Horse and His Boy, where the free kings and queens of Narnia, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy stride confidently up the main thoroughfare of Tashbaan, the capital city of the cruel, quasi-Muslim Calormenes.

Okay, that more than sounds silly. But still.

The second way to look at it is naive and awkward westerners pretending to be best buddies with primitives in order to score political points at home, aid an alliance, negotiate a favorable oil deal or whatever.

In Saudi Arabia, they do not only use swords for dancing.

The third way to look at it is that it's necessary realpolitik. We're all grownups here, right? And the Iranians will get the message.

Here is a short video of the dance, featuring Trump at the beginning and Tillerson/Ross at the end, as well as a video of the Trumps emerging from that plane.

For good measure I've also included a clip from Lawrence of Arabia - "So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people, greedy, barbarous and cruel..." That's half-right, of course, though I'm not sure the tribe vs. tribe thing was the main problem.


  1. The best satire on Lawrence of Arabia was done by SCTV in "How the Middle East Was Won"

    They expanded that quote a bit, and improved it:

    ""So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people, greedy, barbarous and cruel. You shall remain a foolish people, with foolish ways. A stupid and repugnant people. A people with big noses and bad sanitary habits. You shall remain a ridiculous people, a people..."

  2. I would say this is optics intended for the enemies of the Saudis. Quite effective in that context.

  3. As US heads of state, don't you just say no to stuff like this? It's odd to participate in the cultural idiosyncrasies of foreigners even if they really want you to.