Afarin lay back on the bed, an emptiness in her stomach and her nerves taught with worry. This was the underconfident, querulous Afarin, a far cry from her operational, professional persona. He had been busy when she phoned him, sounding almost distracted and annoyed she had called at that time, or so it seemed to her. He had been in a pub or restaurant, judging by the sounds of light-hearted conversation and laughter in the background.
“Sorry, Afarin, it’s a bit inconvenient at the moment. I’ll phone you back when I get home, a couple of hours.”
“Of course. I’m still at work. Speak later.”
He was with a woman. He didn’t like her any more, too sexually immature. He worked with two women. I bet they’re more adventurous than me.
She tried not to watch the clock and she was getting tired.
God, she was thinking and behaving like a schoolgirl. Well, that’s it. He’s not going to phone now. She started to cry and curled up in a ball.
Her phone rang and she fumbled to pick it up.
“Hello, how are you…?”
“I thought that you didn’t want to speak to me anymore.” She said breathlessly.
“Don’t be silly. We had a function at work, a three-line whip, so no getting out of it.”
“Well, what did you think I was doing? Giving Eva a good seeing to, across one of the desks?”
“I could hear laughter and the sounds of drinking. I just thought with you living in London and the women you work with…”
“You sounded out of breath. What were you up to?” he asked.
“Nothing, your phone call caught me by surprise.”
“You sure you weren’t enjoying a nice, ménage à moi?”
“No. I was thinking of you. What was your function in aid of?”
“It was a joint meeting, a visit by the Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary. Representatives from “The Box” had to entertain the lovely Jacqui Smith in Vauxhall Cross and we had the political colossus that is David Miliband to have a good old time. Apparently, his brother is even more of a Dweeb than he is. We had fine wines and nibbles and Alan Bartlett warned me not to find an excuse to slope off. That’s where I was when you phoned.”
She spent some time chatting to him about training in the Negev, but didn’t mention “The City”. He knew where she had been any way. Finally, she remembered why she had phoned in the first place…
“Jean-Claude, thank you so much for helping with, well actually doing all the work for me. I am so grateful and I don’t know what to say. You have been my…”
He could tell she was crying, “Afarin, it’s been my pleasure.”
She had no idea about his depth of feelings towards her. This was no guardian angel role, it had morphed into something else, something more powerful.
“Where do you stay when you’re working on the house, painting and the garden.”
“The White Hart down in the village. Cheap and cheerful.”
“Jean-Claude, I want you to stay at the house, while you get the stuff in to make it liveable. See how the hot water and central heating works. You shouldn’t have to pay to help me out.”
“Absolutely. Have you bought a bed?”
“Yes, king size and a three-quarter bed for the spare room. I need to finish assembling the three-quarter to sleep if you want me to.”
“I want you to sleep in the king size. I want it to smell of you when I come home.”
“When will that be?”
“Once we’ve finished the assimilation element of the course and the final exercise, say two months.”
“Well, that should be easy for you, you being an Arab,” he said playfully. As he predicted, she bit.
“How many more times? I have told you again, I am Persian and not an Arab!”
She heard him laughing and laughed as well, “Oh, Jean-Claude, I wish you were here with me.”
“It will soon pass. Alan and I have been talking when we go for walks at lunchtime. Have you any idea how fond of you he is? Not in the pervy, older man sense, but he hates putting you in harm’s way. That was the contract he entered into, to save you from insanity caused by the malevolence of the State. He went mad when he found out that you and I were…”
“I am an adult.”
“That’s what I told him, but I don’t think he approved of his protégé being despoiled by this horny-handed man of the soil.”
Now it was her opportunity to laugh at him, “Jean-Claude, if you’re a horny-handed man of the soil, I’m Audrey Hepburn.”
“I had the departmental highest score when we went on the pistol range to fire our 30 rounds with our handguns. Daniel Craig? They should have asked me to play the next James Bond. Much cheaper.”
Afarin decided she wouldn’t tell him about the thousands of rounds she had fired on the ranges here, “Well, you do have a licence to thrill.”
They chatted about what Afarin was going to do with the house and she shared her plans with him. She was getting tired and was already wearing her bed clothes. The air raid sirens went off during her phone call.
“What’s that?” Jean-Claude asked her.
“Rockets from Gaza. Never land here, they’re aiming for Tel Aviv.”
“Shouldn’t you head for the shelters?”
“My bed is in an alcove under the stair well. St Michael will keep me safe. I’d better be going. We’ve got the history of the Arabs tomorrow.”
“Good night, Jean-Claude. By the way, what is a ménage à moi?”
“Like a ménage à trois but just you are in it.”
“You mean like… Paddling the pink canoe?”
“Nicely put. It means exactly that. Good night, Afarin.”
“Good night, Jean-Claude and thank you for everything you’ve done for me.”
She hung up and stared into space. He was a wonderful man and she was beginning to love him. She was wondering how she would know and fell asleep.
The next morning, she walked brusquely to the mess hall, her fatigues and equipment were worn and faded. She realised that now she truly was a soldier and the recruits watched her every move. Her three little Arab women had moved on to pastures new, but there was a constant throughput. She munched reflectively on a pitta with date jam and hot, sweet tea. None of the others were around, which she didn’t mind, preferring to be lost in her thoughts. Jean-Claude featured highly in her morning musings.
After breakfast she walked towards the training buildings and was accosted by the range officer.
“No sloping off! Sixty rounds through your Glock, this time with a suppressor.”
On the range she loaded all six of her magazines and the range officer showed her how the silencer worked. She had expected a cylindrical tube that screwed into the muzzle of the pistol, but this was very chunky, the same dimensions and cross section of the body of the weapon.
With just one click, the Fischer Development suppressor fitted on the accessory rail of the Glock, as opposed to other models that require a threaded barrel. The silencer or suppressor surrounding this suppressor appeared to be cumbersome However, 350 grams (12.3 ounces) is the true weight, and this was deceiving. A few causes for concern were that Glock users familiar with the firearms build may call into question, how the barrel can move during recoil, as well as the actual effectiveness of suppression since the gun shot into an “open” suppressor, instead of being threaded into the barrel. A typical silencer is a metallic (usually stainless steel or titanium) cylinder containing internal sound baffles, with a hollow bore to allow the projectile (bullet) to exit normally. During firing, the round flies through the bore with little hindrance, but most of the expanding gas ejected behind it is retained through a longer and convoluted escape path created by the baffles, prolonging the release time. This slows down the gas and dissipates its kinetic energy into a larger surface area, reducing the blast intensity, thus lowering the loudness.
Afarin was showed how to fit the suppressor and was told to fire at the two man-size targets. Straight away it became apparent that despite the reduced sound, there was a fall off in power and the rounds suffered from dropping.
“No problem, just raise your point of aim, more for up to fifty metres, decreasing as you get closer to the target.”
She tried with a couple more magazines and soon learned to compensate.
“The balance feels wrong, muzzle-heavy.”
“You’ll need to do some exercises to strengthen your forearms. And from now on, the suppressor stays on the pistol, just take it off to clean the weapon.”
He handed her a holster that had the bottom cut away, “This is your new holster and I’ll get you one for the small of your back.
She replaced holsters and the Glock felt very long against her thigh.
“Why just me with the silencer?”
“Suppressor,” he corrected her, “We’re starting to train up Aisha this afternoon. You’ll be the squads’ silent assassins.”
As Afarin walked towards the training classrooms, she pondered oh her being the silent assassin. She was unhappy about killing someone in cold blood, but such was the world in which she operated. What the hell have you got me into, Alan?
By the time she got to the classroom, the others were there having their morning ritual of coffee and tahina cookies.
“Where’ve you been?” Dan asked with his mouth full.
“On the fifty-metre range, firing my new toy,” she showed them the Glock and the suppressor.
“You won’t be able to draw that in a hurry,” Aisha observed.
“Well, it’s your turn this afternoon, first thing after lunch.”
The directing staff came into the classroom with two people, male and female, in typical Arab dress. They were introduced as members of the Arab Studies faculty at Tel Aviv university. They started their presentation by asking each one of the course to tell them what then knew about Arabs. They expected more from Afarin because she was wearing her hijab loosely over her head and shoulders.
“I’m sorry but I’m not an Arab. I am Persian from the border mountains of Afghanistan, in the Pashtun tribal areas.”
The man kicked off: “The ancient North Arabian, texts give a clear picture of the Arabs’ emergence. The earliest are written in variants of epigraphic south Arabian musnad script, including the 8th century BCE Hasaean inscriptions of eastern Arabia, the 6th century BCE Lihyanite texts of south-eastern Saudi Arabia and the Thamudic texts found throughout the Arabian Peninsula and Sinai (not in reality connected with Thamud).”
And on and on he droned while the students were stifling yawns, Gad fell asleep, and Aisha had to give him a nudge.
“After the death of Muhammad in 632, Rashidun armies launched campaigns of conquest, establishing the Caliphate, or Islamic Empire, one of the largest empires in history The Hejaz was at the center of the Rashidun Caliphate, in particular whilst its capital was Medina from 632 to 656 ACE. It was larger and lasted longer than the previous Arab empire of Queen Mawia or the Aramean-Arab Palmyrene Empire. The Rashidun state was a completely new state and unlike the Arab kingdoms of its century such as the Himyarite, Lakhmids or Ghassanids.
“Any questions?” but there were none, “OK, let’s move on to Umayyad Caliphate (661–750 & 756–1031). In 661, the Rashidun Caliphate fell into the hands of the Umayyad dynasty and Damascus was established as the empire’s capital. The Umayyads were proud of their Arab identity and sponsored the poetry and culture of pre-Islamic Arabia. They established garrison towns at Ramla, Raqqa, Basra, Kufa, Mosul and Samarra, all of which developed into major cities.”
Oh God, please make this stop, Afarin thought, looking desperately out of the window.
“So now to the Ottoman Empire (1299–1922/1923). From 1517 to 1918, much of the Arab world was under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans defeated the Mamluk Sultanate in Cairo and ended the Abbasid Caliphate. Arabs did not feel the change of administration because the Ottomans modelled their rule after the previous Arab administration systems.
“In 1911, Arab intellectuals and politicians from throughout the Levant formed al-Fatat (“the Young Arab Society”), a small Arab nationalist club, in Paris. Its stated aim was “raising the level of the Arab nation to the level of modern nations.” In the first few years of its existence, al-Fatat called for greater autonomy within a unified Ottoman state rather than Arab independence from the empire. Al-Fatat hosted the Arab Congress of 1913 in Paris, the purpose of which was to discuss desired reforms with other dissenting individuals from the Arab world. However, as the Ottoman authorities cracked down on the organization’s activities and members, al-Fatat went underground and demanded the complete independence and unity of the Arab provinces.
“After World War I, when the Ottoman Empire was overthrown by the British Empire, former Ottoman colonies were divided up between the British and French as League of Nations mandates. That’s a quick gallop through the history of the Arabs. Does anyone have any questions?”
Afarin asked: “Why have you not mentioned the Ottoman’s systamatic opression, torture and genocide of the Armenians?”
“Because that’s not proven.” he blustered.
“No, but the photographs of starving children being cruelly offered food from the Turks, for them to take it away and the rows of Armenian girls raped and crucified has been proven, hasn’t it?”
Efrayim raised his hand, “I have one, sir. Have the Arabs achieved anything without resorting to conquest, suffering and slaughter?”
The lecturer looked taken aback, “Well there’s mathematics and the arts and unifying the tribes.”
“But they are not unified. Sunni or Shia, even now bombs are being exploded in the holy sites of Shia Muslims in Iraq.”
The lecturer shook his head, “That is a reaction to occupation by the Americans and the British.”
Afarin bristled and had to give him her understanding of Sunni/Shia relations, “After the Mongol sack of Baghdad in 1258, prejudice against Shias became more frequent, blaming Shias for every problem.
“In response to the growth of Shiism, the Ottoman Empire killed Shias in Anatolia. Hundreds of thousands of Shias were killed in the Ottoman Empire, including the Alevis in Turkey, the Alawis in Syria, and the Shi’a of Lebanon. Not to mention the genocide of the Armenian people after the Great War. I don’t think there were too many British about in the thirteenth century.
“It’s become convenient in the Muslim world to blame the Americans, British and Jews for every setback, slight and failure, when we should look more honestly, closer to home.”
“Tough crowd,” Zelig said to defuse the situation and save embarrassment. The problem was, the two lecturers were more used to a compliant crowd of students, rather than combatants who have had to fight Arabs.
“Any more questions before I hand over to my colleague?” he asked almost gratefully.
There were none, so he handed over to the woman.
“Good morning, I’d like to cover some misconceptions that non-Arabs have about Arab people. Firstly, all Arabs are Muslims, and all Muslims are Arab. Arabs are religiously diverse group with significant numbers of Arab Christians in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq. Arabs make up between 15-18% of the Muslim world.
“Some say that the Arab world is backwards and uncivilized. Actually, it represents a highly developed culture and civilization where modern cities mingle with ancient ones.
“The Arab world is one big desert. It is truly geographically complex and diverse.
“And there’s the stereotypes of Arab males: All are “oil-rich Sheiks”. As in the West, there are economically diverse segments of the population.
“That old favourite that the Arab world is ruled by mad dictators. There are various types of political systems in Arab world.
“They are all terrorists. Well, the overwhelming majority are law abiding citizens with families and a wide variety of occupations.
“Then there’s the stereotypes of Arab women:
“All are oppressed by men. Not true.
“All are veiled. According to Islam women are supposed to wear veils. In some countries, like Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, it is no imposed upon them and women are free to choose whether to wear veils. However, in other places, all women, even non-Muslims, wear veils out of fear of mistreatment by fanatics or those who pretend to be guardians of Islam.”
“Let’s look at women in Arab societies: Arab women are typically subordinate to men in their societies. The extent varies by country. The most restrictive conditions exist on the Arabian Peninsula, and the most relaxed conditions exist in the urban areas of Egypt, Syria and Lebanon
“You are advised in the Arab world to respect the privacy and protected role of women in Arab societies. Men stand when women enter a room.
“Respect the different living “areas” for men and women. Do not expect women to eat or socialize in the same room as men. Do not shake hands with an Arab woman unless she offers her hand first, or if you are a woman. Do not flirt, hit-on, touch, hug or talk in private with women. It could endanger their safety.
“Do not talk in public to professional Arab women unless it is business related. Do not try and engage a woman in conversation unless you have been formally introduced. Do not stare at women or maintain eye contact. Do not ask an Arab questions about his wife or other female members of his family.
“That pretty much covers behaviour in Arab areas and the population. Most of it is common sense, but are there any questions?”
There were none and Zelig spoke for the class, “On behalf of the course, I’d like to thank you for coming from Tel Aviv university and giving up your time to give us two important presentations. You are welcome to join us for a meal in the mess, which offers a halal menu, before your drive back to the university.”
They politely declined, citing the requirement to prepare for the evening’s lecture and the nine of them trudged to the mess.
“That’s two hours I’ll never get back,” Afarin said thoughtfully.
Dan turned round and addressed her: “Hey, Afarin. If I flirted and hugged you this afternoon, would you be in terrible danger?”
“No,” she said looking steadily at him, “But you would.”
After lunch they traipsed to the ranges again and gathered round two members of the Air Force’s forward air controllers. Sitting in front of them was a small electrical device on legs.
“Ladies and gentlemen. This is the AN/PEQ-1 also known as a Special Operations Forces Laser Acquisition Marker (SOFLAM or SOF-LAM) or the Ground Laser Target Designator (GLTD). It is a U.S. military laser designator designed for use by special operations forces, under more rugged field conditions. This afternoon you are going to learn how to use it.”
And they did and as they were at the live fire aspect of their training, they had a target to designate and an aircraft that fired dummy missiles without a warhead at it. They had a most enjoyable couple of hours, and each had a go, but Aisha was the most adept at using it.
“Well done that lady. We know who to ask if any designation of targets is needed. Well done all of you. Back to the mess hall for tea and medals…”
© Blown Periphery 2022