The Fable of the Lion, the Butcher, and Three Kings

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How do you construct hell?

What do you do with a lion chained to an operating table?

A black and white photo of The Corniche
Black and white image of King Faisal I, with a "K" and spade symbol in the upper left and lower right corner.
Black and white image of King Abdulaziz, with a "K" and diamond symbol in the upper left and lower right corner.
Black and white image of King Abdullah I, with a "K" and heart symbol in the upper left and lower right corner.

A year and many lifetimes ago I met a man in Alexandria.

He was a doctor from Jordan, and offered to buy me a juice if I joined him on his walk along the corniche.

Lulled by the cacophony of Alexander's city, we sat on the edge of the Mediterranean and he told me of his land.

"If you ever go to Jordan, make sure you go to the north."

One year later I found myself fulfilling his prophecy, crammed into the back of a wobbly Jordanian tourist van careening along the windy hills of the countryside.

The north of Jordan is just as beautiful as he described.
entrancing even.
It betrays the stereotype of the eternal Arab desert, blooming with life at every turn.
The countryside gets greener every time I open my seasick eyes.

As you go north, the hills begin to whisper to you.
They harbor the afterlives of merchants from millennia past, making their way along the same mountain passes.
Making their way where?

They speak of a city as old as human civilization itself.
Packed full of markets and merchants,
courtyards and citadels,
symphonies and sweets,

Suddenly everything is green.
How far does it go?
How far can I go—


The butcher stabs the lion and tears through its abdomen.

Green turns to crimson as the once mighty lion lays separated in two, bleeding out on the table.

1916. The British and French governments meet in secret. They squabble in dimly lit war bunkers, but in the end, the robber barons stand united in their aim. They sign the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

Preying on the downfall of the decaying Turkish Empire, the two snakes constrict around the Levant,
dagger in one hand and ruler in the other.

Eve eats her apple, but not before she gives half to Adam.

Jordan gains its northern border.

I never made it to Damascus.

Eventually the war ends,
and the butcher shifts his gaze to the lion's hind limbs.

1918. Britain was dealt a hand of three kings.

Black and white photo from Damascus during the 1930s.
Black and white photo of people in Damascus during 1921.

The city of citadels and sweets became a fortress,
the last glimmer of hope for the bleeding lion's survival.

The king of spades sins.
He turns his head towards the people,
welcoming the future of an independent Arab state.
One worth living for.

dying for?

The French army descends on Damascus.

1920. Faisal of Hashem declares himself the king of an independent Syria, free to stand on its own two feet.

France chops the legs of the Arab State,
Cedar trunks fall in the weeping Syrian forests.

Faisal remains in the hands of the architects of destruction,
He plays the role they intend for him.

The British string up their puppet with a rifle to his temple,
and tells the world to behold the new King of Iraq.

The cleaver slashes.

Jordan is awarded an eastern border.
The house of spades is awarded its delayed justice: a death at the hands of its betrayed people.

The king of diamonds didn't always have his riches.
He learned the defenders of his conquered lands bleed red before he found out his own sands bleed black.

Abdulaziz of Saud made a deal with two devils to restore his clan's long lost spoils.

The first devil poorly camouflaged himself with false scripture and a self-proclaimed mandate from God.

The second devil knew he needed no disguise.

1924. The British meet the House of Saud at the butcher's table,

A framed picture of the House of Saud meeting with British officials in 1924.

Abdulaziz thirsts for the lion's succulent front limbs.

Disgruntled with their current pawns in Mecca, the British government offers the House of Saud a mansion of diamonds.

The next year, Abdulaziz takes the cleaver in his left hand.

When the blade meets the skin, he smiles.

He strikes the holy city with no remorse.

At the seat of God's kingdom, he crowns himself king,
king of the bloody playground he carved across Arabia.

Soon enough, blood turns to crude oil.

Jordan is dismembered from Arabia in a single blow.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan.

The butcher takes back his dagger and stares into the eyes of the massacred lion.

But John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?"

The butcher presses his knife against the lion's neck.
He says bismillah to his God in his language.

And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open—


1917. Everything is red. The butcher holds the lion's head, dripping its contents onto the fur of the carcass.
With the bloodthirsty words of Arthur Balfour,
The final cut had been made.

His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object. - Matthew 26:25, King James Version.

The Jordan River becomes an open wound along the lion's neck, where the mighty head once roared.

A child walking among the ruins in Manshiyeh.
Palestinian refugees leaving the Galilee in October–November 1948.

1917 becomes 1948.

Soldiers standing in front of a line of tanks.
Thirteen civilians facing towards a wall. Two soldiers with rifles are searching two of the civilians.

1948 becomes 1967.

Three women confronting two soldiers with rifles. One woman is holding a child in her arms.

1967 becomes 1987.

An IDF solider in a green uniform holding a rifle. The soldier is standing near a barricade with a burning wheel and other debris.

1987 becomes 2000.

A bomb exploding in a city.

2000 becomes 2023.

With Palestine sealed by its seemingly doomed fate,
Jordan's borders become complete.

The butcher sets down the cleaver and picks up the last king in his hand.

He stabs the playing card into the dismembered abdomen of his prey.

The King of Hearts, Abdullah of Hashem.

MiC Columnist Joseph Fisher can be reached at Senior Software Engineer Eric Lau can be reached at Data Journalist Emily Sun can be reached at

Image Credits

  1. The Corniche postcard — public domain
  2. The Sykes-Picot agreement map — public domain
  3. Damascus postcards — public domain
  4. King Faisal — public domain
  5. King Abdulaziz — public domain
  6. King Abdulaziz meeting with Sir Percy Cox — public domain
  7. Manshiyeh ruins — public domain
  8. Palestinian refugees — public domain
  9. Israeli tanks — Creative Commons
  10. Jordanian prisoners — AP Photo
  11. First Intifada — Robert Croma / Flickr (Creative Commons)
  12. Hebron — Creative Commons
  13. Explosion — AFP Photo
  14. King Abdullah — public domain

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