The Last Crusader (2003-2016)

by Elias Blum


Alone, I crawled through bombed-out buildings
Thrashed and abandoned by  51st Scottish Division.
Iraq stinks o’ pish. Rangers! No Surrender. Saor Alba –
Scratched on walls where Saddam’s face had hung.

‘Mission Accomplished’, they pronounced, too soon
As we stumbled into the insatiable battle
Of Allah against us infidels,
Raging  beneath the crescent banner
Through this besmirched and bloody sand
From the Hijaz to Poitiers, Lepanto and Vienna’s gates,
Until the whole world is brought into foul submission.

But such fun we had, leaving ethics or consequence aside
Young officers with Arabic dictionaries, playing cards
And noshing our scran beneath the mosquito nets,
While dreaming of gentlemanly orientalism.
Oil smoke, and anger’s firey bubbles, rising
Like curls of hareem hair or grains of desert dust
Skirling through history’s pungent-scented pipes.
It obscured our view of slaves sold, children slain
And priests swept by relics of explosive rapture
Through burka-clad, ISIS-controlled streets
Beneath the trampling hooves of wandering Lamassi*

All is shattered.
Breaking news from another European city, now drenched in tears
And prime ministerial statements of ‘deep sympathy’ and ‘sincere regret’.
This free and chartered town, with its empty church and cobbled square
– whose names in French and Dutch are too difficult to pronounce –
Once sent its knights and burghers – Deus vult! – joyously East.
But now, east of the central station, a kilometer and a world away,
Lies the frontier of the Moroccan quarter, where jihad and reconquista meet
In a clash of civilisations, mostly peaceful, over blonde bier and baklava.


* The Lamassu is an Assyrian mythical creature, with the body of an ox or lion, wings, and a human head. It was adopted as the emblem of the British 10th Army in Iraq during the 1940s, and depicted on the medals of