Foreign Policy Blogs

A Few Meaningless Reflections on The Middle East, Prompted By, Of All Things, A Lunar Eclipse

So there is going to be a total eclipse of the moon tonight, which is pretty cool, even if you are not into astronomy.    Light bending around the earth coats the moon in an dark red glow; we bathe it with our shadow- just one of the bizarre tricks the universe can play on us.

 I bring this up because the last time I saw one- May 4th, 2004– I was living in Yemen.  I was pretty excited by it then, too, because I guess I am a nerd when it comes to those things.   Greg Johnsen and I, along with our friend Sam, grabbed a few non-alcoholic beers (we were in Yemen, after all), and went into the backyard to watch it. 

It started slow, of course, and we sat with the ancient rhythms of the galaxy.  But then something not-as-ancient, but weirdly anachronistic started.  The call to prayer began to go off, from one direction and then another, crashing all around us, cutting into the stillness of the night, amplified across the reddening moon. 

There had been another call to prayer added for the night.  None of us were really sure why, exactly, and when we asked the next day never received a clear answer.   There were vague jokes about people being scared, and some answers about worshiping the wonders of creation, but nothing concrete.

And I guess it doesn't matter.  It was a wierd bending of time that might only happen in the Middle East.  Sitting there, looking at the deadening and mysterious moon, hearing the ancient call to prayer, sounding the same as it had throughout dusty and tumultuous centuries, one could feel time stop: regress.   It bent into itself.  We could feel ourselves in the 7th century, looking up at a terrifying sky, with only the comfort of gorgeous Arabic repeating the simple words: there is no god but god.   Modern science couldn't- can't?- penetrate that tautological elegance.    There is a consistency there- as beautiful and terrifying and implacable as a shadow moving through the murky cosmos.   



Brian O'Neill

Brian O'Neill is a freelance writer currently based out of Chicago. He has lived in Egypt and in Yemen, and worked as a writer and editor for the Yemen Observer publishing company. He currently is an analyst with the Jamestown Foundation.