Opinion | Columnists

From French fries to falafel: Meaningless jingoism

Most Americans are looking for the real deal. But, with politicians with far-from-impeccable credentials and suspect knowledge of the world, whether the people will get what they deserve is the big question

  • By Tariq A. Al Maeena, Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 20:00 October 6, 2012
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Luis Vazquez/©Gulf News

The American people keep getting shortchanged by their elected officials. These officials are not so pristine. A research of public records, civil court transcripts and criminal records reveal a host of violations that would send most American officials behind bars for a considerable period of time.

A short list of offences include — 29 members of Congress accused of spousal abuse, seven arrested for fraud, 19 accused of writing bad cheques, 117 have bankrupted at least two businesses, three arrested for assault, 71 cannot qualify for a credit card because of bad credit, 14 have been arrested on drug-related charges, eight have been arrested for shoplifting, 21 are current defendants in lawsuits and some 84 were stopped for drink driving in a year, but released after they claimed Congressional immunity.

Armed with such credentials, it is perhaps easier for the rest of the world to understand some of their political manoeuvres. In 2003, France fell out of favour of the ruling US Republican government under George W. Bush. They simply did not buy the “weapons of mass destruction” spin that Bush and Tony Blair were busily promoting on the world’s arenas and refused to support armed aggression and intervention against Iraq.

US lawmakers were affronted. How dare the French? Their immediate reaction was to ensure that congressional cafeterias no longer carried the name “French fries”; and “French toast” on their menus. Instead, they were to be renamed as “Freedom fries” and “Freedom toast”.

The champions spearheading this culinary name attack were two Republican Congressmen who proudly appeared in front of national media, espousing their patriotism. One of the Congressmen stated: “This action today is a small, but symbolic effort to show the strong displeasure many on Capitol Hill have with our so-called ally, France. Watching France’s self-serving politics of passive aggression in this effort has discouraged me more than I can say.”

Soon, other cafes and restaurants around the country joined the bandwagon and “Freedom Fries” appeared everywhere on the menu. French products and imports also began to get targeted in the frenzy of Franco phobia whipped up by US lawmakers. Whether it was cheese or beverage, it did not matter. There were also attempts to discourage American tourists, businesses and the government from participating in the 2003 Paris Air Show. If it was French, it was sure to be in someone’s cross hairs.

It was more than two years later when the realities behind the war on Iraq began to surface that these same politicians began to understand that the Iraqi invasion was based on a cleverly spun web of deceit by right-wing theocrats. There were no weapons of mass destruction, there was no Al Qaida in Iraq and Iraq had nothing to do with the World Trade Centre attack of September 11, 2001.

Now, a fast circulating item in the region concerns another US politician, a Republican Congresswoman named Michelle Bachmann. She was reported on one of the websites to have told a TV interviewer that Falafel and other “jihadi” food must be banned from school cafeterias across the US. She claimed that during a recent school visit, she was shocked to find such options available on the school menu.

When asked why, she is reported to have said: “Falafel is a gateway food. It starts with falafel, then the children move on to shawarma. After a while, they say, ‘Hey this tastes good. I wonder what else comes from Arabia?’ Before you know it, our children are listening to Muslim music, reading the Quran and plotting attacks against the homeland. We need to stop these terror cakes now, before they infiltrate any further.”

The news report continues on how she is worried about the fast pace of infiltration of Arabian foods in US schools. “I have a friend in Texas who has to home-school her children because her local public school forces students to eat hummus. It’s everywhere now. This is really scary stuff. We must ban falafel and other jihadi food in schools before it’s too late.”

Reactions by some readers to her story bordered on the incredulous. One commented: “She really didn’t say that, did she? I wonder if she has a problem with nachos, because, you know, that’s the gateway food to tacos, and from there, you join a Mexican drug cartel.”

Another added: “I agree with her-Heaven forbid, what if pierogis, boiled cabbage, corned beef, chop suey, gyros, capicola would be allowed in American schools? It could bring in a Polish, Russian/Irish, Jewish, Chinese, Greek/Arab and Italian mafia that could bring down America!”

Although the story on the falafel turned out to be a satirical perspective on the Congresswoman’s right-wing philosophies that have often bordered on the ridiculous, the reality is not so far-fetched. As one Minnesotan constituent stated: “Michele Bachmann is the gift that keeps on giving to the press outlandish claims of foreign threats. All these crazy conspiracy theories are distracting from the real issues. I’m looking for the real deal.”

The truth is, most Americans are indeed looking for the real deal. But with politicians with far-from-impeccable credentials and suspect knowledge of the world around them, will the people get what they deserve?

Tariq A. Al-Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

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