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'Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves': An Allusion to Abbasid Organised Crime

NCJ Number
Global Crime Volume: 9 Issue: 1-2 Dated: February-May 2008 Pages: 8-19
Wisam Mansour
Date Published
February 2008
12 pages
This article argues that "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves," one of the later narratives of "The Arabian Nights," is an allegory on organized crime and corruption among public officials during that period in Baghdad and other areas under the nominal jurisdiction of the Caliph Abu Mansur (1117-1135).
In this period of the Caliphate history, some powerful elements in Abu Mansur's and his successors' kingdoms apparently provided virtually complete legal cover for organized criminal activities such as looting, smuggling, and assassination, allowing ringleaders to operate unchecked. Corruption of the police force and governors occurred not only in Baghdad, but also in Basra, Mosul, Kufa, Damascus, and Khurasan. Organized crime in Baghdad and the Provinces of the Caliphate stemmed from radical changes in the social, political, and cultural values and structures of the society. A critical reading of "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" shows that the story is about criminals and hardened killers, from the thieves themselves to the "heroes" Ali Baba and Marghana. The ruthlessness exhibited by the men and women in the narrative reflects the features of Baghdadi society during the Abbasid reign. Ali Baba's final triumph in the story is not a triumph of good over evil, but rather a pessimistic view of the replacement of one evil with another. "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" is thus an opening into the underworld and lawlessness of the twelfth-century Abbasid Caliphate, and it suggests that modern organized crime is merely the latest example of age-old human behavior driven by greed and the willingness to do anything for power. 1 figure and 41 notes