the jinn in the machine

February 4th, 2009

Several months ago Saudi Prince Turki bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud warned that an uprising will soon begin within Saudi Arabia:

Saudi Prince Turki bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud has warned the country’s royal family to step down and flee before a military coup or a popular uprising overthrows the kingdom.

In a letter published by Wagze news agency on Tuesday, the Cairo-based prince warned Saudi Arabia’s ruling family of a fate similar to that of Iraq’s executed dictator Saddam Hussein and the ousted Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, calling on them to escape before people “cut off our heads in streets.”

He finally warned against a military coup against the ruling family, saying “no one will attack us from outside but our armed forces will attack us.”

As Saudi Arabia’s own Day of Rage approaches it’s looking like he was right.  And there’s only one place to look to figure out where the impetus for an uprising came from, the same place the most popular and lucrative form of gambling the world over was born…

It’s not what you have.  It’s not what he has.  It’s not what he thinks you have.  It’s what he thinks you think he has that matters.

Whenever they’re discussing the Iranian threat, military strategists and geopolitical commentators alike are fond of bringing up the fact that it was the Persians who invented chess.

This is meant as something of an analytical catch-all, with all the world a chessboard we are being reminded that Iranians invented the original and timeless game of bold maneuvers, clever feints, and strategic traps.  And yet, when you really examine the metaphor, chess really doesn’t fit global interactions all that well.

Everything is in plain view during a chess match: anyone stumbling into a trap was simply too stupid or inexperienced to see what was right in front of them all along.  All you have to do to know the strength of your opponent is count the pieces left in play and notice where they lay on the board.  Which brings up the fact that unlike conflicts on the world stage, a chess match can only occur between two opponents at a time.

And things take awhile to develop during a chess match, at most you can only loose one piece a turn – there aren’t incredibly risky gambles that can be made which decisively swing the balance of power among numerous opponents in one turn.

That’s not how international affairs really play out.  The fact that Iranians invented chess some thousands of years ago really shouldn’t worry us all that much.

It’s notable, but not all that telling.  And it certainly shouldn’t worry us as much as another game the ancient Persians invented.

No one’s sure about the details or the exact timeline, but at some point in their imperial past the ancient Persians somehow found the time – around their regular habits of conquering neighboring civilizations, setting the foundations for modern religion, institutionalizing banking, and  making vast technological jumps in engineering and science – to invent the game we now call poker.

They called it as-nas back then, or “the ace.”  Card games in some form or another likely came into existence in unison with writing, but it was the Persians who created the four suits we still have today and the multi-player game with rounds of successive betting all made based on limited information as some of your opponents cards would be facedown.

Texas may have been a few thousand years off, but given the engrossing simplicity of the game, it’s not too much of a stretch to assume that an early variant of Texas Hold ‘Em existed – which may very well have been called Tehran Hold ‘Em.

So what’s poker have to do with the last decade’s happenings in the Middle East?

Ali Baba had his forty thieves, for Abdul Aziz it was forty servants trying to please.

Unlike the rest of the nations in the Middle East, which almost to a ‘stan were literally drawn into existence within their present borders by the exploitative pens of Empire following the end of World War I, Saudi Arabia’s modern state can be traced back to Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud’s daring nighttime raid over one-hundred years ago.

For generations Aziz’s family, the Saudis, had been consolidating their rule of the Arabian Peninsula under the combined gaze of their vast family fortune and the strict all-encompassing social code espoused by Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab, founder of the Wahhabi sect of Islam.

However Aziz’s father encountered some competition, and had control over the Arabian sands wrested from his grasp by the al-Rashid family, who booted him out of the capital and off to exile in Kuwait.  Too old to do anything about the situation, it was up to his son Aziz to return the family to their place at the seat of power in Riyadh.

And so in 1902, twenty-one year-old Abdul Aziz and the forty or-so men with him staged a daring nighttime commando raid on the city of Riyadh: shimmying up a palm tree growing next to the city walls to gain access to it, camel-tying1 several of the city’s inhabitants as they made their way roof-to-roof towards the central square, and then waiting for the Rashidi Governor to make his appearance after morning prayers.

As he appeared in the square, Aziz and his men charged towards him – rifles and daggers drawn,  all wailing the traditional Arab battle cry interspersed with shouts of allahu-akbar! This dusty howling dawntime charge of men caught the Rashidi forces completely off-guard, and in the fighting that ensued the Governor was slain and a stunned garrison surrendered to what was actually a vastly outnumbered force of just about forty men.

The elders in Riyadh and across the rest of the Peninsula, accustomed to the rate at which raw-power often makes it a necessity to switch allegiances in tribal societies, quickly returned to stand at the side of the Saudi family.  The modern state of Saudi Arabia was born, and there hasn’t yet been cause for them to loose their grip on power.

Until now.

Our present geo-political, –strategic, and –financial situation runs on a set of gears that is precisely calibrated, oftentimes hidden, and growing somewhat rusty even though they’re really quite new.  Our geo-financial system is not only the least understood, it’s also the one that America has the least control over and which is the most likely to malfunction.

Very few Americans realize that the Federal Reserve isn’t a part of the United States Government at all, but is actually a conglomerate of private banks.  Or that our dollars are based on a fiat system, and not actually tied to gold or any other commodity – although it used to be.

Or that no one, no one at all, is exactly sure why the dollar fluctuates as it does against foreign currencies.  You’ll hear plenty of theories about why, but that’s all they are – theories.

Category: Uncategorized One comment »

One Response to “the jinn in the machine”

  1. gareth thomas

    All very interesting and I was going along nicely until you mentioned the Chinese Yen…. its the Japanese Yen and the Chinese Renminbi or Yuan.

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