I confess I don't think about the country formerly known as Upper Volta terribly often. In fact, I believe the last time I did was seven or so years ago, when I was having a drink with my favorite foreign minister, Australia's Alexander Downer, and, as one does, we got into an argument about Burkina Faso. Mr Downer had been explaining his reluctance to sign up for some UN body or other because he didn't want to spend all his time stuck on a pointless committee with "some busted-arse country like Burkina Faso". (I believe "busted-arse country" is the stage that comes after "failed state".)
Anyway, after three or four such references, I demanded to know whether the minister could even name Burkina Faso's present head of government. He acknowledged that, alas, he hadn't been paying as close attention to the affairs of Burkina Faso as he might, and, pulling out his BlackBerry, he went to the BBC website and read from their comprehensive and authoritative page on the nation, which began:
Burkina Faso is a poor country by West African standards.
"Crikey," said Minister Downer.
As it turns out, Burkina Faso is not a busted-arse country but a busted-penis country:
A man was killed by a mob Monday in Koudougou, a town in central Burkina Faso, after being accused of making another man's penis "disappear". It was not an isolated incident: there has been an increase in the number of these strange accusations being made in recent weeks.
The trouble started at a local restaurant:
The first man, a local mechanic, claimed that his penis had been "stolen" by the second man, who was not from the district. The first man called the police. But by then, a crowd had gathered around them. Incensed, the residents decided to lynch the man in the middle of the street.
Cyrille Zoma, a reporter for L'Observateur Paalga, says there have been a dozen penis disappearances in Koudougou this month:
It's always the same story: someone complains about being approached and touched by a stranger, someone not from the neighbourhood. Immediately, the alleged victims complain of lower stomach pains, tremors, and say they can't feel their genitals anymore. This only happens with men, and I have been told of it happening in several different parts of town.
The penis snatchers are usually foreigners - in Monday's lynching it was a Burundian. Meanwhile, Koudougou's deputy mayor, Gaston Kagambega, has called for calm:
The mayor has also set up a crisis cell at Koudougou's medical centre to meet with people who say they've been victims of "penis thieves".
This all rang a bell with me. And indeed, if you turn to page 139 of my bestselling book America Alone, personally autographed copies of which are exclusively available from the SteynOnline bookstore and help to support my pushback against climate mullah Michael E Mann ...where was I? Oh, yes. America Alone, page 139:
I hadn't really followed Sudanese current events closely since, oh, General Kitchener's victory at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898, but in 2003 a story from that benighted land happened to catch my eye. In the fall of that year mass hysteria apparently swept the capital city, Khartoum, after reports that foreigners were shaking hands with Sudanese men and causing their penises to disappear. One victim, a fabric merchant, told his story to the London Arabic newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi: a man from West Africa came into the shop and "shook the store owner's hand powerfully until the owner felt his penis melt into his body."
I know the feeling. The same thing happened to me after shaking hands with Senator Clinton. Anyway, as Al-Quds reported, "The store owner became hysterical, and was taken to the hospital." The country's chief criminal attorney general, Yasser Ahmad Muhammad, told the Sudanese daily Al-Rai Al-A'am that "the rumor broke out when one merchant went to another merchant to buy some Karkady [a Sudanese beverage]. Suddenly, the seller felt his penis shriveling." The invaluable Middle East Media Research Institute, in its exhaustive coverage, noted that the penises of Khartoum were vulnerable not merely to handshaking: "Another victim, who refused to give his name, said that while he was at the market, a man approached him, gave him a comb, and asked him to comb his hair. When he did so, within seconds, he said, he felt a strange sensation and discovered that he had lost his penis."
Tales of the vanishing penises ran rampant through the city. Sudan's attorney general, Salah Abu Zayed, declared that all complaints about missing dangly bits would be brought before a special investigative committee, though doctors had determined that the first plaintiff was "perfectly healthy." The health minister, Ahmad Bilal Othman, said that the epidemic was "scientifically groundless," and that it was "sorcery, magic, or an emotional problem."
Whatever it is, it's the perfect tale of Islamic victimhood: the foreigners have made us impotent! It doesn't matter that the foreigners didn't do anything except shake hands. It doesn't matter whether you are, in fact, impotent. You feel impotent, just as (so we're told constantly) millions of Muslims from Algerian Islamists to the Bali bombers on the other side of the world feel "humiliated" by the Palestinian situation. Whether there is a rational basis for their sense of humiliation or impotence is irrelevant.
But here's the telling detail: the vanishing-penis hysteria was spread by cell phones and text messaging.
Think about that: you can own a cell phone, yet still believe that shaking hands with an infidel will cause you to lose your penis. That's a state-of-the-art primitive.
Aside from its doubts in its collective manhood, Sudan is no laughing matter. Two million people were slaughtered there in the nineties. That's one-third of the victims of the Holocaust--and the world barely noticed. So much for "never again." The Christian minority is vanishing a lot faster than that fabric merchant's privates. Among the, er, non-Christian majority, Osama certainly found the country fertile ground for his ideology: Sudanese mujahideen have been captured as far afield as Algeria, Bosnia, Chechnya, and Afghanistan. Sudan is an economic basket case with a 27 percent literacy rate that nevertheless has managed to find enough spare cash to export revolutionary Islam to many other countries. And they've got half a billion dollars' wort h of top Chinese weaponry imported via Iran.
What else might Sudan get from Tehran in the years ahead? In April 2006, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, announced that his government was ready to share its nuclear technology with other interested parties. "Iran's nuclear capability is one example of various scientific capabilities in the country," said the ayatollah. "The Islamic Republic of Iran is prepared to transfer the experience, knowledge, and technology of its scientists."
He made this offer at a meeting with the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir.
A handshake-fearing guy with a cell phone is one thing; what happens when the handshake-fearers have cell phones and a suitcase nuke? It's at the meeting of apparently indestructible ancient ignorance and cheap, widely available modern technology that the dark imponderables of the future lie.
I don't claim to get everything right, but when it comes to the big issues of our time - like the epidemic of vanishing penises - I'm way ahead. Don't forget, the above comes from America Alone. Personally autographed copies thereof, for you or your loved one, are exclusively available from the Steyn store and help to fund my end of the upcoming Mann vs Steyn trial of the century. It's also the only FDA-approved treatment for Burkina Faso penis syndrome.