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It’s midday, millions of miles above Baghdad. I’m sitting with Allah in a heavenly commissary. His tuna melt is untouched. He looks like he hasn’t slept in weeks. Maybe it’s been years.
“We’re out of virgins,” he says, bemused, his eyes glazing and drifting off into the distance. “This Iraq thing has completely cleaned us out.”
As he speaks, bearded men sporting sooty faces and wearing singed or still-smoldering djellabahs stream past with trays, nodding respectfully at our booth before taking their seats at one of the many long cafeteria tables. A river of wine flows just outside the window, but it is enclosed by tall security fences. “There have been a lot of drownings,” Allah says regretfully.
He looks back at the recently martyred arrivals. “I’ve got absolutely no pussy for these guys. What am I going to do?” the Almighty asks, almost pleadingly. His candor is so affecting that I have to look away.
According to the most conservative estimates, more than 1,100 suicide bombers have gone sky-high in Iraq during the five years since the US invasion. But experts agree the true figure could easily be twice that. All the carnage has put an unprecedented strain on the system set up to reward Muslim martyrs.
“72 virgins,” he ponders bitterly, “This is Muhammad’s fault, you know. I told him 1,000 years ago that misprint was going to cost us. ‘Leave it in,’ he says. ‘The young guys’ll eat it up,’ he says. Now look at us.” He’s silent for a moment, but as I try to cheer him, he fumes again: “The Buddha doesn’t have these problems! Do I look like Iceberg Slim?!” He pounds his fist, violently spattering the contents of his sandwich and causing a devastating earthquake in Indonesia.
In fact, to hear Allah tell it, the program was never intended to provide a full complement of six dozen women to every fanatic with a death wish. He insists the promise of erotic emoluments was intended to serve as symbolic motivation: to encourage devotion and increase religious ardor. Actual pandering was rare.
“If some guy, say, blew up a bus full of Israeli schoolchildren—then, sure, we’d throw him a bone. Or if somebody did something to piss off Jimmy Carter, he might get a little taste.”
Muhammad, for his part, acknowledges there is a crisis. He nibbles absently at his cotton candy as we ride the glittering Ferris wheel that looms over his sprawling estate. (Michael Jackson convinced him to build it after the Prophet ran into him vacationing in Dubai. “I think I’m bringing this daffy chick back to my hotel room…I lift the veil and it’s the King of Pop!”)
While Muhammad admits the virgin recruiting gimmick was a mistake in hindsight, he claims it was never a problem until recently. But he adds that the trouble predates Iraq, that it actually began with September 11th, and promises made by Osama bin Laden to al Qaeda without Muhammad’s or Allah’s knowledge or consent.
“I’m sitting at my desk, watching Lauer—scratch golfer, by the way—on the ‘Today’ show and I see this plane hitting the World Trade Center. I don’t get so much as a phone call from [bin Laden or Ayman al Zawahiri]. Next thing I know, my intercom buzzes and my secretary tells me there are five human kebabs in the lobby. And each one is demanding a harem.”
“I buzz them in—Atta waddles in with his pants down and starts hitting on my draperies, asking them if they’re ‘into a threesome.’ Talk about dying to get your dick wet.”
In the old days, he says, most martyrs were happy to be set up on a blind date. “But these new guys…” He groans, shaking his head. “Everything is by the book.”
It’s sunny out and there is a hospitable breeze. Allah, Muhammad and I are at Allah’s ranch, which hovers over Crawford, Texas. He bought the place in 2002 on a “tip from a friend.” It helps him keep tabs on the man he frequently refers to as his favorite American president.
“Come with me,” he says. “I want to show you something.” He walks me to a massive pen stocked with thousands of squat figures in burqas. Tufts of thick white hair poke through many of the veils. Allah clucks his tongue and as one of the creatures approaches the gate, he reaches over and raises the hem to reveal the vacant, gnawing visage of a goat. The animal baas perfunctorily.
I give Allah an incredulous look.
“It’s something we’ve got the lawyers working on right now,” he says smiling, clearly pleased with himself. “These guys want to be sticklers? Well, two can play that game. We’ve retained John Yoo, and he’s assured us, nowhere does it say we’re explicitly obligated to procure strictly human virgins.”
Before I can question him about the ethical implications, our conversation is interrupted by a disturbance down on Earth. A plasma television screen appears out of nowhere. On a Baghdad street, a subcompact car is speeding toward a security checkpoint. Military Police shout at the driver to stop, but their warnings go unheeded. They open fire, spraying the vehicle with bullets. The car veers from the road and slams into an abandoned storefront, several hundred feet shy of its intended target. A few seconds pass before it erupts in a column of fire and dense black smoke.
“Shit,” Allah says.
“I don’t think that counts,” Muhammad remarks authoritatively. “He didn’t kill anything. No pigeons, nothing.”
“No, no. You’re right,” agrees the Almighty. “I’m sure we’re cool.” A second later, though, he slaps a bunched-up robe into Muhammad’s hands. “Put this on,” he commands.
Muhammad eyes the garment dubiously, and grimaces up at Allah. “But—” is all he manages before the Almighty cuts him off.
“Just in case,” Allah says, winking at me.
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