Boko Haram’s Decline Will Reveal Nigeria’s Bigger Problems

A good news story, seemingly rare these days, came in Sunday’s announcement that Boko Haram — a jihadist group currently menacing Nigeria’s north — released 82 of the 276 schoolgirls they had previously abducted from the town of Chibok.

While it is too early to speculate about what this means for the group’s long-term political future, there should be no doubt that this deal was negotiated with the Nigerian Government in a position of strength.

Even as Boko Haram continues amassing fighters — recruiting over 2,000 children in 2016 alone — and spreading fear through its online propaganda campaign, since late last year structural weaknesses within the group have begun to show.

Following a leadership spill between Abubakar Shekau, the successor to the group’s spiritual founder Ustaz Mohammad Yussef, and the group’s spokesman Abu Musab Al-Barnawi, factional in-fighting between the two camps has led to deadly skirmishes on a number of occasions.

A reinvigorated campaign by the Nigerian military corresponding with the 2015 election of hardline former general Muhammadu Buhari has also enjoyed progress against Boko Haram.

So far at least, the changes implemented by Buhari and his newly-appointed commanders seem to have had a positive effect on the battlespace.

Shifting the location of the operational headquarters from Abuja to Maiduguri (the locus of the problem), overhauling military procurement by cracking down on budgetary mismanagement and adjusting the Army’s tactical focus to saturation patrolling throughout Borno state are among the positive measures which saw the number of Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria decrease from 270 in 2015 to just 36 in 2016.

On the whole it seems, especially with Sunday’s news of the Chibok schoolgirls’ release, improvements on the ground in northern Nigeria appear to be increasingly and incrementally tangible — at least, when compared with the worsening situation in Mali.

Concurrently however, the UK Foreign Office, in updating its in-country travel advisory, reported the receipt of new information that Boko Haram was “actively planning to kidnap Western foreign workers along the Kumshe-Banki axis” near the Nigeria-Cameroon border.

Of course, the kidnapping of foreign aid workers and oil workers by jihadists is not a new phenomenon in West Africa. Neither is the emergence of a specific threat is not suggestive of the historical absence of the same threat.

If it’s true though, that Boko Haram is now searching for an explicitly Western kidnapping target to boost its global profile, then it would indicate that a crucial psychological tool and bargaining chip has been lost in the release of the Chibok schoolgirls.

Furthermore, if Boko Haram’s increasingly splintering membership is shifting the emphasis away from large-scale military operations towards low-level kidnappings then the group’s relative strategic position is perhaps in even worse shape than previously thought.

Just as the 2014 kidnapping and beheading of the French mountaineer Herve Gourdel by a group of Islamic State sympathisers in Algeria revealed the work of a peripheral subgroup vying for relevance, a transition away from mass abductions of entire girls’ schools in favour of bundling stray Westerners into people-mover vans would seem to show Boko Haram as a militant group in decline.

If we go by the number of attacks alone, Boko Haram’s “power” — that is, its ability to project military force over territory that it controls — does seem to be decreasing.

That said, if the last decade and a half spent “fighting terrorism” has shown us anything, it is that eliminating the threat posed by jihadist groups is a task which transcends success on the battlefield.

An individual kidnapping, while a comparatively miniscule event, can still have a profound psychological impact on a target population.

This is even more pronounced when the individuals being targeted are foreign aid workers whose reconstruction work, per the counterinsurgency theorist David Kilcullen, is crucial for “hardwiring” militants out of the local environment.

As such, while Mr Buhari is right to be proud of the fact that Boko Haram is no longer capable of “articulated conventional attacks on centres of communication and populations”, his attendant claim (articulated as early as December 2015) that Boko Haram is “technically defeated” continues to be, at best, a little optimistic.

As the International Crisis Group summarised of the situation in May last year: “Boko Haram is seemingly on a back foot … [but] it is unlikely to be eliminated in a decisive battle.”

Naturally, excessively focussing on one’s military successes also allows Mr Buhari to divert attention away from deeper structural problems in Nigeria which underlie the jihadist crisis.

Corruption in particular remains a persistent driver of local instability.

According to one study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, if the misappropriation of funds by key influencers is left unchecked by 2030 it could cost the Nigerian economy up to 37 per cent of the national GDP.

The Nigerian public’s trust in its own institutions, especially the police force, is also at an all-time low.

It’s not all depressing though. Culturally, at least, Mr Buhari does not have a difficult adversary to contend with in Boko Haram.

On a grand historical timescale, it is difficult to imagine that a group as bizarre as Boko Haram — which at one point introduced a tax “for breathing” on some residents in a suburb of Maiduguri — could actually impose what they wish to see imposed on the Nigerian people.

Certainly, the rise of anti-Boko vigilante groups since the Chibok kidnappings would seem to indicate that on some fundamental level the group’s use of child suicide bombers and its propensity for sexual slavery simply does not resonate with the locals.

Likewise, if Nigeria’s generals are to be believed and the territory now controlled by Boko Haram is confined to a few jungled pockets of the Sambisi Forest, then that, at the very least, is a sign of progress.

And yet, as much as the world would like to see Mr Buhari’s mission accomplished, positive trends do not a “technical defeat” make.

As Stephen Chan from SOAS-University of London glibly put it: “Something is rotten in Nigeria — and something peculiarly Nigerian at that.”

The rot, if the metaphor carries, continues to fester, unabated. And until that rot is excised, whole-bodily from the Nigerian system, it is likely that the extremist problem will persist.

MOABs win battles but they don’t win wars

Friday saw global audiences awaking to news the US military had dropped a GBU-43/B MOAB — the largest non-nuclear weapon in its arsenal — on a jihadist defensive position in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province.

The event marked the use of the weapon on the battlefield for the first time in history.

Nicknamed the Mother of All Bombs for its 11-tonne blast yield, the employment of the $16 million MOAB comes at a time of increasing violence in Nangarhar — in particular, the rise of a local affiliate of ISIS called Wilayah Khorasan, often referred to as ISIS-K.

Named for the historical region of Khorasan which features prominently in jihadist eschatology, ISIS-K’s recent activities in the Achin, Nazian, Dih Bala and Kot districts can be traced back to a steady flow of Pakistani Taliban (TTP) militants across the border into Nangarhar between 2010 and 2014.

Following a largely successful counterinsurgency offensive by the Pakistani military in early 2010, TTP fighters from the Orakzai Agency began moving across the Durand Line (the Afghan-Pakistan border) in large numbers.

An orange GBU-43 bomb in a large warehouse.

The US dropped a GBU-43B on a tunnel system housing IS fighters in a hillside on the western banks of the Mamand river just outside Achin district’s Asadkhal

While their initial presence in Nangarhar saw them arriving as ‘guests’ in the villages of their fellow Pashtuns, in early October 2014, six of these leaders declared the area to be an exclave province of ISIS’s self-declared caliphate, breaking with the TTP and giving bay’ah (pledge of allegiance) to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

By mid-2015, after a violent campaign against community rivals, including skirmishes against local Afghan Taliban elements, the newly formed ISIS-K began to grow exponentially.

Achin District in particular, as one of the largest opium poppy districts in Eastern Afghanistan, provided a logical base of operations for ISIS-K activities near the Durand Line – affording the militants a sluice of commercial and strategic opportunities for further expansion in Nangarhar.

Thursday’s strike comes in the middle of an Afghan government-led operation to clear ISIS-K from Achin, and despite CENTCOM’s description of the MOAB as “the right munition” for the obstacles which Afghan security forces were facing (as if the bomb’s use was unexceptional) there should be little doubt the strike shows a new preference for large displays of force in US-partner-led operations in Afghanistan.

At the same time, while there was initial speculation the MOAB-drop was Donald Trump’s way of “sending a message” to Syria and North Korea, what this event shows, perhaps more than anything else, is the President’s willingness to delegate decision-making to commanders on the ground, including the relaxation of top-down control of airpower.

While some might be concerned about a situation where military commanders have “total authorisation” to do as they please on operations, the knowledge that America’s generals are implementing “the commander’s intent” as opposed to, say, “the executive orders of the commander-in-chief” should come as a relief to many.

Indeed, with highly regarded military doyens like HR McMaster and James Mattis now crafting the US’s national security policy, one can see in Washington not so much the emergence of a ‘deep state’ but rather a ‘shallow state’ — an America where public servants now function as tugboats guiding the President’s very leaky ship through the shallows and away from a potential shipwreck.

That said, even if the US military is able to insulate defence policy from Mr Trump’s temperament, there is little indication the current offensive against ISIS-K in Afghanistan will be able to improve the local security environment in any substantive way.

Althought, at least at first glance, it seems there were no civilian casualties in the MOAB strike, some local reports have suggested civilian infrastructure up to four kilometres away may have been damaged by the MOAB.

Certainly, it should go without saying America’s use of airpower can sometimes be counterproductive and when one considers the last time the US made headlines in this part of Nangarhar was after the bombing of a wedding party which killed 47 civilians, it is not difficult to imagine how a large air strike can be used as a recruiting tool by insurgents.

More broadly, wresting the border areas of Afghanistan from the hands of insurgents may simply not be possible.

In many respects, ISIS-K is just the latest insurgent group to make use of the “friction of distance” offered by the remoteness of these areas — a symptom of the rocky and inhospitable terrain of Nangarhar as much as anything else.

Once a Mujahedin stronghold during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, in recent years the townships in the foothills of Nangarhar’s Spin Ghar mountains have also been ports of call for insurgents affiliated with the networks of Taliban leaders Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

One thing these districts have never seen, however, is long-term control from a centralised government.

Home to Shinwari Pashtuns, a people who regard nation-states and the cities they spawn as habitats of “gund” (a Pashto term which describes inequality, disorder and the end of filial tribal bonds), the permanent incorporation of Nangarhar into any state seems to be, at the very least, historically unlikely.

Furthermore, that the ISIS-K tunnel complex might also have been a commandeered tunnel mine once used by locals to extract soapstone, should tell policymakers everything they need to know about insurgencies generally — they can only thrive in places where an accommodating environment — both infrastructural and cultural — for mounting a resistance already exists.

By now, one thing should be clear to everyone. Even if ISIS-K — America’s latest adversary in Nangarhar — is defeated, it seems unlikely Kabul, with or without the help of the US, will be able to permanently tame the borderlands of Nangarhar.

As coalition forces have surely learned after 16 years in Afghanistan — fighting in the Spin Ghar mountains is always uphill.

Mosul

With sandaled feet upon the sand,

He calls his land “bayn al-nahrayn“:

“The land between two rivers”.

~

Overhead, the Sun sneers,

Though east, he swears, there lies a river

Of green banks and gentle flow

Where there! a fish shimmers, a boar lurks,

Shoulder-deep in cupric-coloured water.

~

And north, a dam, a mighty span,

Of earthly fill with core of clay.

Half-submerged in failing karst,

Betwixt two banks and shoulder-deep

In cupric-coloured water.

~

Heavy weighs the lake behind and for’ard lies the city,

And he swears to me they’ll take it soon.

Flinching in the glare of sneering Sun,

I see the city and see he’s right:

~

Smoke in the distance.

Hyper-local cacophanies of empyreal fury.

For weeks, he swears, it’s lingered there

The smoke, that terrible noise.

~

Thus, with sandaled feet, he walks on

– weeping –

His son’s blood curdling in the sand.

There’ll be no rain to wash away,

This gory blemish amongst this nothing.

~

Meanwhile the sneering Sun over this empty scape,

Beats out the heat of day,

And yonder in those city limits, the tracks of rolling tanks,

Have marked the road

Like tyre marks in clay.

~

They’ll take it soon,

Now that the bridge is theirs.

They’ve crossed the river with momentum west.

They’ll win this fight.

~

Yet.

~

Can the bridges there be fixed?

Like the dam – half-sunk, by weight.

The hate-filled calm in-situ waits,

The bridge suspended

Above the cupric-coloured water.

~

As for the dam,

The walls are there,

Only as long as they can hold.

If they do not, then all is lost,

Hark the post-diluvian ode.

~

And still.

~

Those tanks will cross those banks,

Seizing what they have staked.

And like the surly tide, half-ebbed but sure to flow

When it rolls, it takes, all washed away

By cupric-coloured water.

A Chat with an Obamacrat

Early last month I had an interesting chat with Dr Andrew Exum, a senior Obama administration official at the Pentagon. A fellow lover of the Arabic language, Exum holds a PhD from King’s College London and is a former US Army Ranger. Once upon a time, he was also a terrific blogger – running the handle Abu Muqawama (Arabic: “father of the resistance”) over at the Centre for New American Security.

Recently unpersoned from his role as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy by the Trump White House, Exum is now a contributing editor at The Atlantic with plenty to say about the early days of this, the incoming administration.

Our chat centred around topics related to the habits, intentions and morale of the American “mukhabarat” (as the Lebanese-Iraqi comedian Karl Sharro jokingly referred to the US security apparatus) in the midst of Trump’s rise to the Presidency. Beyond this, we also covered themes as diverse as rugby versus NFL; the art of the garage benchpress; and the likelihood (real or imagined) of an authoritarian regime emerging in the United States. I caught him in the middle of a workout so some of the more extraneous parts of this conversation have been cut for brevity.

It should be noted that this post does not signify the launch of a new podcast. The connection quality and audio is, at times, less than perfect and very little editing went into the final product beyond tacking on the enchanting sounds of Naseer Shamma’s oud at the beginning and end of the track. For your enjoyment only.

Practical Tips for Skimming the Qur’an: Or, How to Study Islam without Rigour

In a world where media outlets are now plucking Middle East experts from the ranks of heavyset non-Arabic-speaking private military contractors (who have never interracted with people from “these cultures” unless they were heavily armed and travelling in up-armoured convoys), a few colleagues of mine over at the Australian National University have started a great new project called “Re-Anth”. Envisioned as a clearinghouse for popular, prescient scholarship in the social sciences, the general objective of Re-Anth is simple – to reintroduce anthropological thinking into the wider social and political discourse. As such, this will hopefully be the first of many contributions I can make to their new blog.

The first topic I’ve been asked to write about is the concept of “praxis”  one of those great buzzwords you will only ever come across in postgraduate anthropology seminars or in vaguely-meaningful but mostly arcane discussions of Hegel’s contributions to philosophy.

Praxis, in the context which anthropologists use it, refers to the process by which immaterial concepts and ideas (Aristotle’s theoria) are realised by action – the bridge between what Hannah Arendt saw as the two defining categories of human thought and behaviour – “vida contemplativa” (the contemplative life) and “vida activa” (the active life).

While the term itself suffers from a terminal case of jargonitis (in part because praxis is an import word from ancient Greek and in part because praxis is also the German for “practice” which has a separate meaning in English-language anthropology), the spirit of the praxis concept is as follows: there exists a process which connects the things people think about with the things people do and that mapping this contemplation-action algorithm is key to understanding how a member of a particular cultural group is likely to think and behave under a given set of conditions.

There is a huge body of theoretical muck out there to wade through in one’s search for a definition of praxis (from experience, this can actually lead to a reduced understanding of the concept) but since praxis, like anthropology itself, is practically-oriented (or indeed, praxically-oriented) a good way to grapple with the concept can be found by thinking about a religion like Islam not only as a “practice” (that is, something someone does) but also as a “process” (the contemplative and active steps which lead to the doing). By reflecting on the process by which religious texts like the Qur’an (a body of work that contains various theoria) are interpreted and then incorporated into the daily lives of individuals, for example, one can observe the praxis concept in the field.

As a student of Islamic societies, the process by which the Quran is brought into the material world is the textbook example of the praxical process and similarly, if one looks at a political project like “Marxism” – which Antonio Gramsci referred to as “the philosophy of praxis” in his Prison Notebooks  one can observe an analogous process (indeed, a revolutionary strategy) by which a utopian ideal is interpreted and then progressively introduced into society by the Marxist. Both the Marxist revolutionary process and Quranic exegesis-enactment (as a hermeneutic process) therefore, are examples of praxiin the wild”.

With praxis thus defined and with the title of this post suggesting that there is something lacking in how “Islam” is characterized in public discourse, it is now incumbent upon us to consider how the praxis concept might improve the way we think about Islam, re-injecting some intellectual rigor into the discussion.

As I’ve discussed previously, the “true meaning” of any text (especially a religious text) is ultimately interpretive. This should be self-evident to anyone who studied “the novel” in high school – especially if one’s English teacher was intent on extruding bizarre, hidden meanings from the most innocuous of sentences. Certainly, the fact that deciphering a text is an interpretive process (praxis) should be self-evident to anyone who is familiar with the way in which the law is interpreted by the courts. As Barack Obama said of the US Constitution in his final address as President: “it’s really just a piece of parchment.  It has no power on its own.  We, the people, give it power – with our participation, and the choices we make.”

The “participation and choices” which Obama speaks of is, in this instance, a description of constitutional praxis – the process by which the law is interpreted, reflected upon, incorporated and then lived by “We the People”.

To Islamic scholars, the praxis concept is encapsulated by a process called ijtihad – the mental and physical effort which connects the Muslim vida contemplativa with the vida activa (to revisit Arendt). Ijtihad therefore, is the process (thus the praxis) through which interpretations of Islamic jurisprudence are constructed. It follows then, that because jurisprudential interpretation is ultimately subjective, sharia (the legal aspect of Islam) cannot be thought of as comprising a single codex and, much like constitutional opinion amongst American jurists, cannot be understood as a monolithic bloc that regulates Muslim behaviour in any single way.

For this reason – that is, because the ijtihad process produces many different interpretations of both sharia and Islam itself, it is uniquely artless to paint a literal “broad church” with such a broad brush stroke. Likewise and for the very same reason, it is equally artless for one to imply that ISIS’ worldview has “nothing to do with Islam” (this is often described as an “apologist” statement by those who themselves detest the label “Islamophobic”).

Having said that, I suspect that there are very few serious scholars of Islam who would claim that Islamist extremism has “nothing to do with Islam”. As both Shadi Hamid and Reza Aslan have argued – it’s not that ISIS’ ideology is “not Islamic” per se (because the very nebulous nature of religious praxis means that if one says it is Islamic then it is Islamic) but rather that using ISIS as a case study to inform a generalization about what it means to be a Muslim is inaccurate and unfair to Muslim minorities in the West.  As such, despite the shrill cries ringing out from the far-reaches of the internet that terrorist-sympathising “snowflake SJW apologists” are amassing in their “safe spaces” to measure just how little of nothing terrorism has to do with Islam, I’m yet to come across any serious peer-reviewed research that would a claim like “ISIS’ foot-soldiers are Muslims”. The critique, therefore, is probably a straw-man argument.

In many ways then, the greatest intellectual failure of “the anti-Islam school” (that is, the school formerly known as “Islamophobic” Prince logo.svg), lies not in its interpretation of Islamic text per se but rather in its refusal to include a discussion of praxis into how Islam is actually lived – that is, the inability to see Islam not merely as a set of practices but also as a process by which the practitioner interprets text and engages with the sacred.

Certainly, it is possible that one could conclude that the Qur’an is intrinsically violent or misogynistic if one selectively read (as ISIS does) verses like 9:5 or 4:34 to the exclusion of contradicting verses like 109:6 and 30:21 (even though, as the anti-Islam school will tell you, later-occurring verses are supposed to abrogate earlier verses). Yes, if you read the Qur’an like that you might find “Islam [monolithic]” guilty of many crimes.

But of course, in order to find Islam guilty of these crimes, one would also have to refute the role of praxis in producing human behaviour – discounting, for example, the possibility that Islam is a living breathing religion (defined by heterodoxy) or that Muslims are followers of a constantly-evolving faith, a community possessing of a diverse collection of doxa that oscillate from “asymptote to asymptote”. So yes, if one used such a myopic approach – that is, if one employed a textualist, literalist, atomistic, and wholly un-holistic approach to religion as an entire field of study, ignoring the fact that interpretation matters or dismissing the empirically-tested finding that diversity of religious opinion exists even in small-scale societies – you might conclude that Islam is, must be, has to be “bad”, “evil”, “antithetical to Western democracy”… as Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie seems to have concluded.

Naturally, if you use this approach, you’ll probably not find much intellectual backing for your work outside the various (group)think-tanks run by Daniel Pipes or Robert Spencer (or, indeed, Richard Spencer). But then, “left-wing SJWs on university campuses”, right?

Ultimately, the bottom line is this: giving credence to the praxis concept is absolutely critical to the study of Islam [not monolithic]. Moreover, if one actually goes out on the streets and talks to Muslims about how they interpret the Qur’an and how that interpretation influences their behaviour (note: this requires interacting with a sample size that is larger than the cellblock of Camp X-Ray or the mullet-wearing Lebanese teenagers hanging out in hotted-up cars down the road), one would probably conclude that diversity of opinion in a religious congregation which comprises more than a fifth of the world’s population might well be infinite; that praxis is really the only thing that counts when crafting generalisations about “Muslims”; and that ultimately, the Qur’an (regardless of whether or not it is the word of God) is simply a collection of words recorded on a sheaf of palm-fronds. To borrow again from Obama, the Qur’an exists but it is up to Muslims through their “participation and choices” to interpret it and live it.

It might seem bizarre that a religion which regulates its phases of worship according to incremental changes in the lunar cycle could have so much diversity of thought. Here though, it’s worth noting that, according to hadith, the notion of ikhtilaf (Arabic: إختلاف) meaning “difference” or “diversity” was seen as a blessing by Muhammad. Indeed, according to a comprehensive study of the subject by Musawaikhtilaf  al-fuqaha (“diversity of opinion amongst jurists”) not only existed as far back as the Abbasid Caliphate but was also respected as a necessary part of realising a truer, greater Islam.

A non-Muslim interested in thinking more about praxis might consider his own practices, and the contemplation-action algorithm that led him there. If, for example, one ascribes to the Christian faith and goes to church every Sunday, consider the following passage in Matthew 6:4-6:6.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Would one say then, that conducting the Sunday ritual at church is “un-Christian”? The answer, of course, is “no”. The only thing that matters here, beyond your self-identification as a “Christian”, is the praxis which underpins the religious choices you have made. In the end, the process of selecting the Sunday ritual and participating in the ritual itself, is the only bit that matters.

Nora

Short story and photos by C August Elliott

The sun was setting over the stony hills and the goats were bleating an accompaniment to the changing of the light. The day was almost through and from where she sat in the notch of an acacia tree she could see beyond the hilltops, right to the jagged horizon. Bathed in the glow of day’s end, the distant chain of mountains was alive with colors of orange and rose-pink – colors that made her feel warm and happy and thankful.

In the foreground, a pair of shallow wadis split the open ground, the parallel cataracts like the deep ruts tracked out by a convoy of pickup trucks after heavy rain. Today though, the valley was dry. Tendrils of dust slithered across the rocky ground and the trees that dotted the hill-scape were withered and desiccated. For as long as the little girl had known this place she had never seen either of those wadis in flood.

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In the dusty plains beneath and behind her, the villagers of Yakla – the tiny hamlet in which she had spent much of the last four years – were readying themselves for the evening routine.

The muezzin of Yakla’s tiny mosque was calling the faithful to salat al-maghrib – the prayer that is prayed in those crucial moments when the sun has dipped below the horizon, before the last red thread has disappeared from the sky.

Ash-hadu an-la ilaha ila Allah,” came the muezzin’s just-as-bleating accompaniment over the loudspeaker. “I witness that there is no God but God”.

Then, after he had acknowledged the Prophet Mohammed as the last and greatest prophet of God, the muezzin’s voice grew louder. “Hayya ala as-salah!” he was shouting. “Hie ye to prayer!” “Hayya ala al-falah!” “Hie ye to success!”

The little girl knew of course, that she must go back down to Yakla when the muezzin began calling the ummah to prayer. And she did not resent that. There was much to do and to look forward to in the evening before her bedtime. It was always her favorite time of the day – the only time of day, really, when her mother was not bossing her about.

Still, when she was up here, sitting in her favorite tree, with the mountains in the distance and a cool breeze blowing gently across her face, tussling the locks of her dark black hair and mingling with the warm breath in her throat, she sometimes felt that she would like to stay up here forever, that everything she could possibly want and need from Him could be found up here if only she had the courage to linger a little and look for it and once she had found it, just reach out and take it.

Sometimes she was jealous of the boys whose fathers were goatherds. Some of those boys – some of them as young as she was – would spend the whole day up here with nothing to worry about except for the animals and the open air. And sometimes they could be up here for days. They would leave Yakla with little more than a small faggot of firewood and a goatskin full of water and they wouldn’t come back until the firewood was all gone. Yes, she was jealous of the young goatherds when she thought about it. There were no chores to do up here.

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From her tree perch she trained her eyes away from the mountains and towards Yakla. Down in the walled compound where she slept, she could see her mother Maryam looking around for her in the yard. No doubt she would be wondering where her daughter had gone – calling out her name, beside herself perhaps. The little girl would have to make up some excuse for her absence.

She wouldn’t lie of course (lying was forbidden by God), but if she came back with dates from the grove perhaps there was a chance that the boon would please her mother – enough, at least, for her not to ask any more questions. As long as she was diligently attending to chores of some kind, the woman couldn’t hardly complain.

With the muezzin’s call to prayer complete and the hills now silent but for the wind, the little girl dropped to the ground and gathered up her things. Then, with the jagged horizon darkening behind her, she moved quickly down the rocky ridgeline. She passed a trio of goats without a herdsman and gave one of them a little pat on the back. Then, flitting down through the moraine to the bottom of the hill, she found herself on flat ground again and she ran quickly to the date grove with her basket held firm in the crook of her elbow. It took her minutes to gather what the lazier girls might gather in an hour and then, once she had finished, she hitched up the hems of her long frock and moved through the dust to the outskirts of town.

Reaching the wall of the first building she looked to her left and paused for a second. A hundred meters away a man was standing just beyond the edge of the settlement.

Fahad.

Fahad was tall and eighteen-years-old, and with his dark-skin, kind eyes and birdlike face he was both handsome and severe-looking at the same time. Fahad was on guard duty tonight – as he often was in the early evening – and so he would not be going to the mosque with the others to pray. Instead, he had placed his Kalashnikov on the ground beside him and he was rolling out his prayer mat on the rocky ground. After the mat was rolled out in the direction of the qibla, Fahad would reach for the little bottle of water on the stone wall next to him. Then Fahad would conduct his ablutions. And after that, she knew, he would pray. By himself.

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“Every mujahid his own imam,” as her uncle Abdulraouf might say.

Fahad had caught her sneaking up to her favourite hilltop perch on many occasions before and he had come to know her well for it. Often, he would quietly chide her for these indiscretions but he had never stopped her before. The little girl thought that perhaps Fahad secretly wished to marry her because he always treated her with a particular gentleness that belied a secret approval for her free spirit. She liked Fahad.

Irrespective of all that, Fahad hadn’t seen her and so she slipped by, unnoticed. Verily, by the time she reached the door of her mother’s house, she had done so without being seen by anyone at all.

Her mother was waiting in the sitting room when she entered and even though Maryam looked like she was about to explode when she first laid eyes on her daughter, once she saw the basket of dates in her child’s arms she relaxed a little, bridling her wrath. A chiding for being late would suffice.

Yallah Nawar!” she said to her daughter. “It is time to pray.”

Nawar, preferred to be called Nora, and her mother knew this and would sometimes oblige her if she was in a good mood. When Maryam was playing the role of disciplinarian however, her child’s birth name was her child’s only name and since Nora had come back to the house later than expected, she didn’t have much choice in the matter. She was Nawar for now.

By the time she had finished praying with her mother the house was still empty and so with little fanfare Maryam ushered her into the kitchen so that she might help her with dinner.

“Your uncle and his guest will be home very soon,” said Maryam.

Nora nodded and carried on preparing the food.

Abdulraouf Al-Dhahab – Nora’s mother’s brother – had called ahead to say that he would be home in an hour with a colleague and as was always the case when Abdulraouf called ahead, it was Maryam’s intention to have everything ready by the time the men arrived. Abdulraouf was the most respected man in Yakla so it was incumbent on Maryam to preserve this reputation with her cooking.

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To outsiders, Abdulraouf, and his brothers Ilah, Sultan and Ahmad were the last of the menfolk of the Al-Dhahab clan – the pre-eminent clan in the Rada’a district.

Five years earlier, after Nora’s father was killed by the Americans, she and her mother had moved to Yakla to live with Maryam’s brothers. Nora was three at the time so she remembered very little of it but by her mother’s account it was a very tense period.

When Ali, the eldest of the Al-Dhahab sons was killed in 2011, his next of kin – Tariq and his half-brother Hizam – had fallen out.

Nora and her mother were already living with Tariq and the rest of Tariq’s full brothers soon moved in as well. In time, Tariq’s home in Yakla became the base of operations for the coming feud. Hizam, meanwhile, had taken over Rada’a, the district capital.

Tensions between the two groups escalated and eventually skirmishes broke out. Soon enough, those skirmishes escalated into a protracted conflict. By the time the fighting was over Tariq, Hizam and all of Hizam’s supporters were dead and Tariq’s surviving brothers were left to pick up the pieces.

Thus, with the worst of the violence now in the past, Qaid, Tariq’s younger brother quietly took over and for a time, things settled down. But the calm would not last. Shortly after Nora turned four, Qaid was killed by the Americans. Nabil, the next oldest, took over. Then he too was killed by the Americans.

There were four of Tariq’s brothers left now and it was Abdulraouf’s turn. At first, he was a reluctant leader but with some coaxing from Ilah, Ahmad and Sultan – his younger brothers – he agreed.

In assuming the chieftancy, he assumed also the leadership for the Organization in Al-Bayda province and under Sheikh Abdulraouf Al-Dhahab, operations continued as normal. The money flowed in. The Americans’ spies were shot. Things quietened down in Rada’a and things heated up in the cities.

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Nora was very young when her uncle came to power but she had observed Abdulraouf’s rise both in the district and within the Organization with genuine curiosity over the years. She had a keen pair of eyes and a keen pair of ears as well. She watched closely the comings and goings in the house, taking note of the new faces. In time she knew all the key players – who they were, what they did and occasionally what they were planning to do. Sometimes she would even eavesdrop on her uncles’ conversations in the sitting room.

“She is a clever girl,” Abdulraouf would often say of Nora to her mother – “like her father,” he would add.

Certainly, since moving to Yakla, the little girl had learned a great deal about her uncle and the Organization he ran. For the last three years, it seemed, Nora’s uncle had asserted control over the Organization in Al-Bayda province with a natural acumen. A born politician by all appearances, Abdulraouf was very good at exerting influence over subordinates but also very good at knowing where and when to delegate responsibility. Making good use of his younger brother Ilah’s own diplomatic talents for example, Nora’s uncle would send him as an emissary to neighboring districts, building relationships with other clans throughout Al-Bayda and, in so doing, expanding his clan’s influence and prestige within the Organisation.

On the whole, compared to someone like Hizam, Abdulraouf was known as a harsh but not wholly unreasonable man – unflinching but not unfair. It was this quality, Nora supposed, that had contributed more than anything else to Abdulraouf’s firm grasp on the leadership for the last few years.

Elsewhere, Abdulraouf had proven himself to be a master of minutiae. While Rada’a was the clan’s official seat of power, the village of Yakla (just a few parasangs to Rada’a’s north) was where Abdulraouf slept – surrounded, as always, by his family. So, when Ilah brought the chiefs of neighbouring clans to meet with Abdulraouf, they would be brought to Yakla for elaborate bestowings of fine food, gifts and encomium before the sheikh’s own family. A personal but wholly political touch.

Yesterday, Abdulraouf and his brothers had gone to Shabwa for a special occasion – to wed three daughters of the Awaliq tribe – and today, with the festivities over, they were bringing home a guest who had attended the reception.

“I do not know much about this guest,” said Nora’s mother as they finished the preparations. The dinner this evening would be a delectable platter of lamb mandi cooked in ghee and served over rice with lahoh flatbread for dipping and a large pan of honey-drizzled sabayah with dates for dessert. “But I do know that he is Saudi,” Maryam added. An afterthought perhaps – though it registered with Nora.

It took Nora and her mother another half an hour to finish the dinner and lay all the accoutrement out in the sitting room. Then, presently, when the door opened, they were ready in their burqa to hide their nakedness from the foreign guest.

Nora’s uncles Ahmad and Sultan were the first to enter the room, and like Fahad, they had a rather aquiline appearance – stern and hawkish expressions; slender in their tribal robes; sharply-dressed with the blade-hilts of their jambiyya tucked into their belt-sashes.

Twin-like, Ahmad and Sultan smiled at Nora, ignored Maryam, then walked past both of them to take their places in the sitting room.

Next came Ilah and behind him Abdulraouf and his guest. They were side-by-side when they came through the door. Entering, Abdulraouf stopped and with a nod towards Maryam, introduced “Sheikh Seif Al-Nims Al-Joufi, a member of the Organization in Saudi Arabia” and passed into the sitting room.

The women were alone in the foyer now and once they saw that the men were seated, Nora and her mother moved into the kitchen. As she had done many times before, Nora piled the lamb, rice and bread onto a giant platter, and then, with her mother, carried it out into the sitting room. They lingered for a moment while the men served themselves and then, with a “tsssk!” from Ahmed, they returned to the kitchen to eat their portions.

As she ate her supper, Nora mused about her uncles and their Saudi guest. As always, she was happy when her uncles came home from business trips. Her mother, she supposed, was happy to see them as well. At the very least, she seemed relieved to see them. Abdulraouf and his brothers were not tyrants like the fathers and brothers of some of her friends. Nora had nothing to fear from the menfolk of her house.

That said, affairs in sheikh‘s household were not always as rosy as Nora’s cheeks. Nora knew, for example, that Abdulraouf would hit her mother from time to time because she would often see the aftermath on her face the following morning. As much as anything else, those bruises were the emblems of her mother’s sadness.

To their Nora though, they were always very kind – “bint Anwar” (“the daughter of Anwar”), they would call her. It was not uncommon for Nora to receive little gifts in the form of dolls and other playthings from time to time. Sometimes, when she went to visit her grandfather in Sana’a, Abdulraouf would ask her about her visit to the big city and ask after “Abu Anwar” and ask cheerfully after the kinds of things she would say to the old man about her uncles’ activities.

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Of course, her grandfather was her absolute favourite out of all of her menfolk relatives. He was also the only man she knew who did not work directly with her uncles in the Organization. Still, she liked all of her uncles well enough.

Once they had served dessert, they returned again to the kitchen and then, a little later, they heard the men laughing and getting up to leave. Then, in time, Ilah exited with Al-Joufi to show him to the guesthouse, and now with all the plates and dishes put away, Nora and her mother removed their head-coverings from their brows and went to sit in the sitting room with Maryam’s brothers.

When they entered, Abdulraouf was sat at the centre of the room with a short-wave radio – antenna fully extended – tuned in to the broadcast from Al-Jazeera. With Ilah and their guest absent now, Ahmad and Sultan lay sprawled about the room, relaxing on the long low divans lining the walls.

“There is a new President in America,” said Abdulraouf, listening to the last of the broadcast over the radio.

“Yes,” nodded Ahmad. “President Trumb, I believe they call him.”

Abdulraouf nodded in kind and, turning off the radio now, he added. “Yes President Trumb. That is his name. Sheikh Al-Joufi has told me that he has it on good word that this man has begun executing Muslims in America.”

Nauzubillah!” Maryam placed a hand over her mouth. “Why such horror?!”

“I hear that he is yehud,” said Abdulraouf, using the word for “Jew”. “He wants to give Palestine to the Jewish State and then give all of that land to his daughter who is a Jewess as well. And then he will kill all of the Muslims in America.”

Nauzubillah.” Maryam again. “I seek refuge in God”.

Nazubillah,” nodded Abdulraouf.

“I think this man Trumb is worse than the last President,” added Ahmad.

“Yes,” said Abdulraouf. “Because the last American President was murtadd from Kenya,” he explained, using the word for “apostate”. “And his father’s father was a Muslim. So the murtadd knew that he could not kill the Muslims without first killing his own family.”

“And yet the murtadd has still killed many Muslims,” added Sultan as an afterthought.

“Yes.” Abdulraouf again. “He has killed many, many of our brothers.”

“We shall defeat the Crusaders yet.” Ahmad. “And we shall kill them all as they have killed our sons and brothers and fathers. We will kill all of the Americans – by Allah I swear it… and Trumb and the murtadd – they shall be the last to die.”

Abdulraouf nodded again. “Insha…” . “If it is the will of….”

His voice was cut short by a low droning buzz coming from outside the house. In the sky and in the distance.

Unfamiliar with this new sound, Nora looked to her elders for clarification. Even as she shifted her gaze from face to face however, she could glean nothing. Nothing, except for the obvious – that the calm expressions of men at home with the family had been replaced with anxious looks. Worried looks. Looks that were fearful even.

Silence now. Silence except for the buzz.

“What is that?!” Abdulraouf said in a quiet voice, but he said it in a tone that indicated he knew already what it was.

Ahmad reached for an assault rifle in the corner of the room and was up and out the side door, jogging into the compound yard. Ilah was out there and so was their Saudi guest.

The buzzing noise had become louder now and everyone knew – including Nora – that the buzzing was from an engine because it sounded like the bwerrr of a motorcycle without a muffler.

Al-zinana,” said Abdulraouf at once. “Drone.”

Without warning, a shockwave blasted through the room and everyone was thrown off their feet. The boom of a very close-by explosion and dust falling from the ceiling.There was a moment of silence while everyone collected themselves. Nora’s ears were ringing.

Ahmad had returned inside now, stumbling, and he had with him a report that the guesthouse which had been obliterated and it looked as if Sheikh Al-Joufi and their brother was dead as well and though he couldn’t be quite sure that they were both dead it seemed highly unlikely that anybody could have survived such devastation.

Yallah!” Abdulraouf was shouting at his sister now. “Bring me the arbijy!”

At her brother’s bidding, Maryam ran across the room, turned a corner, disappeared for a moment and then came back with a long tubular weapon. Nora knew from listening in to her uncles’ conversations that this was the weapon called an “arbijy” and she knew also that it fired explosives.

“Where are the rockets?!” shouted Abdulraouf. He looked angry as he ripped the rocket launcher from his sister’s grasp.

Again Maryam disappeared and in an instant she was back, fumbling with a trio of silver-tipped rockets as if they were juggler’s clubs.

“Go!” Abdulraouf shouted to her now, pointing at another assault rifle lying at the far corner of the room. “Find Arwa and fight!”

Arwa was Maryam’s friend. A Saudi who had married one of Abdulraouf’s fighters. Arwa and Maryam had both learned how to use weapons.

“Gooooo!” Abdulraouf was shouting now, lashings of spittle catching in his moustache.

Ahmad instructed Nora to remain inside the house, and then he was gone and everyone was gone now and there was gunfire now as well, and more gunfire, and the sound of missiles and the chatter of a machine gun and then there was the rumble of helicopter rotors somewhere in the distance accompanied by the bwerrr of a louder, more powerful machine gun coming from somewhere off in the sky and then there was the sound of a rocket and another rocket then more gunfire and all of a sudden there was a loud bang and the grind and splutter of a failing engine and then another fizz of a rocket and another bang – a bang building into an explosion – and then a crash as a helicopter or an aircraft or indeed a V-22 Osprey (though Nora did not know it) landed hard in the middle of Yakla.

More gunfire. Grenades. Screaming. Gunfire.

Then Nora’s mother had re-entered the house and she had a Kalashnikov tucked up against her shoulder and Abdulraouf was coming back through the door as well with his rocket launcher all out of rockets and Fahad – the birdlike youth – was right behind his leader. And now Abdoulraouf had discarded the empty rocket launcher and he had run into the adjacent room and he was already back with a Kalashnikov and now they were ready for a stand-off inside the room and the only thing said by anyone now was “Ummi!” or “Mama!” from the little girl and her eyes were filled with tears because she didn’t understand what was happening.

Then, without warning there was a bright flash and a bang and Nora was blind and there were explosions all throughout the room and then something sharp slammed into her throat and all of a sudden she was lying on her back on a divan and she turned her head to the side and saw that Abdulraouf’s stomach was open with his innards pouring onto the floor and her mother was crumpled in a sad little pile in the corner of the room like a bundle of disheveled laundry. And Fahad – there was no more Fahad.

And now there were two strange men in the room – clad in camouflage and wearing body armour and helmets and carrying fearsome looking sand-colour-painted assault rifles. Both of them had a presence in the room which was dominating and even though Nora knew that these men were men they could just as well have been some strange race of cyborgs for the quad-tubular goggles dangling in front of their eyes.

“Clear!” one of them shouted in a language Nora did not understand.

“Fuck! Those two are women!” Shouted the other one.

“Check for vests!” shouted another.

Nora watched as the first man lifted the strange quad-tubular goggles off his eyes and reached down to frisk her mother’s corpse. “Clear,” he stated, emphatically, after a few brisk movements. The strange man moved to Nora now, and looking at her tiny form – the form of a little girl with blood seeping from her neck – she could see that there was remorse in his eyes and he gave her a quick pat before he said “clear” again and then he stepped away with an ashen look, flitting his head from Nora to her mother and then back to Nora and then back to her mother as if he was trying to make sense of it all.

Silence for a moment. Then. “Fuck!” shouted the second man. “Owens is down!”

It seemed that a third man had come through the door during the battle and he had taken a bullet just like Nora had taken a bullet and the bullet had gone straight into his neck in a very similar location to where the bullet had entered Nora’s own neck.

And from where she lay on the divan, spluttering, with a torrent of warm, dark blood springing from the bullet hole, Nora could see the man they were calling Owens and she could see too that he could see her as well. And he was looking at her. He was looking at her and she could see his eyes. Owens’ eyes.

This man has gentle eyes, she thought. Gentler eyes even than her grandfather. She quite liked Owens. Owens hadn’t shot her after all. Had he?

With eight years of life behind her now, Nawar Al-Awlaqi was old enough to know that none of these men had come here to kill her. Why would any man, least of all a man with eyes like Owens’ eyes – come all this way from wherever he had come from – America she supposed – just to kill her? Why would anyone come all this way for her – the little girl from Yakla?

She knew of course that none of these men had chosen to come here. She was old enough to know that much. Their coming here was somebody else’s decision.

And yet… and yet here they were. And here she was. And she knew that she was dying because it hurt too much to mean anything else. And the two strange men were speaking to each other now in that same language – the one she didn’t understand – and they were speaking into their radios now and they were moving now but she didn’t understand what they were doing or what was happening or where they were going except that one of them had put Owens’ body on top of his shoulders and the other one had his gun up as he stepped out the door.

There was a lot going on but she didn’t understand much of it. Really, all she understood was that she was lying in a pool of warmth on a divan and that her neck hurt very much. Too much. And it was hard for her to breathe. That much, she understood. The rest though… the rest she just couldn’t understand.

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Nora Al-Awlaqi

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Chief Petty Officer William Owens

Down and Out in Squamish & Whistler

A version of this article was published in the Winter/Spring 2017 edition of Mountain Life.

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Illustration: Dave Barnes

Dirtbag (noun): English portmanteau of “dirt” from the Old Norse “drit” meaning “excrement”; and “bag” from the Ancient Greek “bastagma” meaning “load” – lit. therefore: “load of excrement”.

  1. A bag or sack with dirt in it.
  2. An unkempt or slovenly person; an undesirable.

~~~

Beggars do not work, it is said; but, then, what is work? A navvy works by swinging a pick. An accountant works by adding up figures. A beggar works by standing out of doors in all weathers and getting varicose veins, chronic bronchitis, etc. It is a trade like any other; quite useless, of course–but, then, many reputable trades are quite useless…” – George Orwell

~~~

We spent the first year and a half of our life in the Sea to Sky corridor sleeping in the back of a rusty red work van with the words “Ville de Montréal” tacked on the side. We’d driven the van from Québec across the continental US (where gas was cheaper), arriving finally in Squamish – the outdoor capital of Canada.

Of course, I say “sleeping” in the back of the van because all of our living was being done outside of it – climbing, hiking and skiing. Anyway, on day three in town, after we’d made some mandatory repairs to our ailing vehicle, my girlfriend Eleanor tallied up the finances and discovered that we had eighty-three dollars between us. Eleanor had lined up a cash job at a dog kennel so we figured – with a splash of cautious optimism – that the receipt of a paycheque was feasible within two weeks. This left us, if we divided eighty-three by fourteen, with a per diem of five loons and ninety-two cents. A share-sized pepperoni pizza from Little Caesar’s cost $5.85 which left seven cents a day for whatever our hearts desired.

The point is we were poor. Which didn’t matter because we were happy. Although, to be fair, if we were a little less poor it’s not unreasonable to think that we might have been a little more happy.

In the meantime, we parked out front of the Walmart to access wifi and since we also frequently stayed there for the night, we listed that lot as our address when we switched over to British Columbia driver’s licenses. It was also a good place for the essentials – ramen, oatmeal and energy bars – because even when you live under the breadline you still have to line up for your bread.

We were, in the colourful parlance of the outdoors, a couple of “dirtbags” – living a life divided almost exclusively between Walmart, work, and the walls of the Stawamus Chief – the great totem-like stone around which the climber configures his existence.

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The “dirtbag” of course, is less a species of outdoorsman and more a genus of outdoorsman – an umbrella term which describes a variety of different types of people who prioritise experience over possessions and adventure over stability. For example, during the summer, the dirtbag scene in the parking lot of the Stawamus Chief can be subdivided into three different social strata.

At the top of the dirtbag pyramid (and the closest this world gets to an aristocracy) are the Sprinter van dirtbags. Often, a Sprintocrat hails from outside the Sea to Sky Corridor, piloting vehicles with license plates from such far-flung places as California or Colorado. In the sense then that Sprinter dirtbags are usually holidaymakers or professional athletes (and often both) they tend to “eat cake”, so to speak, while the lower-tier dirtbags (les paysans) must use wit and cunning in their search for daily bread.

One tier down, the dirtbag middle class constitutes the only working class amongst the dirtbags. Typically, they are “local” in the sense that Squamish, Whistler or Pemberton are the listed towns of residence on their driver’s licenses. In the eyes of many well-settled, land-owning locals however, the inherent kinesis of the dirtbag sleeping quarters means that the middle class dirtbag can only ever be considered “drifters” or “freeloaders” – terms that both come with a history of social and political baggage.

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It’s a misnomer of course, as middle class dirtbags generally occupy all the lowest-paying positions in the modern industrial economy. Operating lifts, selling tickets, pouring drinks, manning checkouts and ferrying cartons of hamburger meat up and down scenic gondolas, the middle class dirtbag is the oxygen-transporting haemoglobin of the Sea to Sky service economy without which there would be no French fries and nobody to hate on.

To make matters worse, a working class dirtbag is also derided as a “granola” by the lower dirtbags stratums for his or her ability to financially access the more bourgeois of the cereal options. So, much like middle classes the world over, the granola dirtbag gets all the loathing that comes with privilege without actually being privileged.

The final class of dirtbag (the dirtbag in its purest form) is the species a naturalist might refer to as “homo dirtbag dirtbagius” but whom others might refer to as “the lowest of the low”. These are dirtbags in their natural state, lifers who typically reside beneath tarps and tents and if a car is even owned at all, it is rarely greater in size than a Honda Civic. Although usually male, they come from many different backgrounds – young, old, Ontarian, Quebecois, often Australian.

This lowest form of dirtbag, it must be said, does not work, but then as Orwell once quipped “what, indeed, is work?” The Sprintocrats work by uploading filtered images to the Instagram accounts of outdoor clothing companies, the granolas work by serving beers to hedge-fund managers with goggle tans and the true dirtbag woks by bin-diving for the curd gristle on a discarded plate of poutine or by hoovering up the remnants of a half-eaten sandwich in a day-lodge cafeteria – to keep away the bears of course.

Insofar as these bin-diving, pow-shredding, rock-scampering dirtbags are usually cognitively-functioning members of society, most are, at the very least, physically competent to commence work. This means that social mobility across the three dirtbag strata is fairly easy. The lowest dirtbag can become a granola simply by getting a job and the granola can become a member of the Sprinter-owning class, provided that he is happy to shoulder a lifetime of debt for an overpriced vehicle.

Thriftiness defines the dirtbag and so does mobility. He knows that twenty dollars of gas will get him from Squamish to Whistler and back in his beat-up gas-guzzler. But he also knows that he must factor in the very real possibility that his van might never restart when he makes for a tactical exit in the wintry pre-dawn from his illegal bivouac in the Lot 4 parking lot. Fringe-dwelling aside, he is a good enough fellow – grateful even of his mountain life.

Indeed, for the dirtbag, the mobility afforded by life in a car is better than paying somebody else’s mortgage. It gives one freedom of movement. Squamish in the summer, winter at Roger’s Pass and perhaps a trip to Indian Creek or Bella Coola in the shoulder seasons if he can skimp to together the gas money.

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Certainly, there isn’t much incentive for the dirtbag to sedentarise in today’s housing market. With a detached single bedroom likely to cost the dirtbag one thousand two hundred dollars per month, renting a place in Squamish or Whistler, share house or not, may as well involve speculating in Texan cattle ranches. So, for many, the time spent dreaming about living in a home is better spent cross-checking the calorie content of a can of tuna.

With the reasons for dirt-bagging being wholly rational then, the only question that remains is “why is the dirtbag hated?” Well, no one really hates the dirtbag. “Hate” is a word best saved for that moment when the Vancouverites cruise into Creekside at 7’oclock in the morning on Opening Day and find not a single spot available. The parking lot is full of dirtbags. They’ve taken on the Goretex-clad pelage of the dirtbag in winter form – the “ski-bum”… and they’ve slept there overnight.

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A working class dirtbag, on patrol