July 08, 2024

Source: Bigstock

In light of all the celebrations of the 80th anniversary of D-Day last month, I finally got around to digging out the old service record of my grandfather, who served across Africa and the Middle East as a Military Policeman in the British Royal Air Force (RAF) during WWII.

As a child, I greatly enjoyed listening to his old war stories, whether true or not. Amongst my favorites were his claim to have investigated a poltergeist that threw showers of stones at some villagers’ mud huts; his account of the local chieftain who boasted his people knew of an infallible cure for cancer growing amongst all the plants in the nearby jungle, a secret he would never reveal to the hated colonialist White Man; the day he shot a black mamba (a poisonous snake, not one of the natives); and the afternoon he held a car door open for a visiting Winston Churchill. I also loved his account of how, out in Rhodesia, his assigned black servant boy once ran away in abject panic when he saw him take his false teeth out from his diseased gums and place them in a glass of water—having never seen false teeth before, the kid thought this feat purest witchcraft.

The story of his I was most initially taken with, however, was when he suddenly announced one day that, whilst stationed in Egypt, he had successfully solved a murder. A local “wog,” as he called them (an old British acronym allegedly standing for “Western Oriental Gentleman,” i.e., here an Arab) had been found dead with a knife in his back one morning, and my granddad had insightfully apprehended the miscreant responsible.

“Maybe some of those scary stories being pushed on Reddit these days aren’t quite as made-up as they at first seemed to be, after all?”

When I heard, I must admit I was impressed. “How did you find his killer?” I asked. “Easy,” replied Grandfather Sherlock. “I just arrested the nearest nigger.” Given that, every time a black person appeared on his television set, he used to make a gun shape with his fingers and shout the word “BOOM!” whilst pretending to reenact the Martin Luther King and Malcolm X assassinations with a different cranial target, I still can’t work out whether or not he was joking here.

Aladdin Sane?
Looking back on some of my granddad’s old war stories as an adult, I must admit some of them do sound a little unlikely (he also once claimed to have been subjected to an abortive Citizen’s Arrest during the Suez Crisis by a random passerby who mistook him for Colonel Nasser inexplicably out enjoying a walk on the sooty industrialized streets of North West England: He did actually bear a passing resemblance to the Egyptian dictator when suntanned during the summer…apart from his distinctly non-Egyptian bright blue eyes). Yet, if invented some of these war yarns were, at least this former Desert Rat did not go so far as to claim he had somehow managed to bring a genie back home with him from his former sojourns to the Muslim world.

Today, however, matters are rather different: Surprisingly, there is now something of an ongoing fad for returning U.S. troops claiming to have brought such malevolent entities back home with them from Uncle Sam’s own recent wars across the Middle East as unwanted supernatural souvenirs. Here, for example, is one particular recent jarhead war story that sounds even more definitely made-up than some of my granddad’s may once have been. Primarily because it is.

It was submitted to the widely used online message-board service Reddit’s “nosleep” thread in 2017, this being a popular subsection where users swap fake scary stories. The main rule of “nosleep” is that posters have to at least pretend their tales about ghosts, demons, zombies, vampires, and monsters are real, even though they are pretty obviously not. Accordingly, most posters frame their yarns as direct first-person narratives, as one redditor named “zamakhtar” did with his own spooky story, “A Djinn[i] Followed Me Home From the Gulf War.”

A djinni (plural djinn) is the original Arabic term for a genie, a form of alleged spiritual entity in which all good Muslims (I believe there are some) are doctrinally required to accept the existence of.

According to the Koran, at the moment of Creation, Allah made three main classes of intelligent creatures upon Earth—humans from clay, angels from light, and djinn from so-called “smokeless fire.” Westerners might consider them some unholy cross between ghosts, demons, and poltergeists. They are widely believed in across the contemporary Middle East, and, as such, local tales of djinn did spread amongst Western soldiers deployed over recent decades in Iraq and elsewhere, a trope made good use of in the story.

A Gulf in Credibility
According to the unnamed imaginary narrator, his main job during the First Gulf War against Saddam Hussein was to drive into the Iraqi desert and retrieve the remains of Saddam’s frequent failed Scud missiles. However, one such Scud landed in a desert area that was “forbidden” to outsiders, on the grounds it was a wasteland designed by Allah to imprison the most evil djinn safely away from all human contact. This being a horror story, the foolish narrator went there anyway.

In this version of the legend, the only way djinn can escape their desert jail is to latch onto a visiting human vessel—a kind of mobile magic lamp like those seen in the Arabian Nights. Yet this human vessel merely becomes their next new prison, which they can only flee at the moment of their new owner’s death, hence the narrator claiming that, back home in America, every morning he wakes up to hear the hideous djinni now parasitically hitchhiking upon his person repeating the words “Today you will die. Today you will die. Today you will die,” over and over. Whereupon, confesses the narrator, “I spend each day trying not to die.”

This feat, however, proves quite difficult:

The djinn[i] itself cannot kill me. It can only affect me. Sometimes when I’m driving, it will conjure this fog into my head and body that makes everything so heavy that I want nothing more than to sleep. I’ve been in three car crashes in the last twenty-six years, and spent weeks in the hospital as a result. But I’m still alive.

Sadly, many other real-life military veterans who have brought their own djinn back home with them from recent Western conflicts in the Middle East have been distinctly less fortunate.

Magic Bullets
Unlike the narrator of the above complete and total fiction, Javier Ortiz is a genuine combat veteran of the war against the Islamic State in Syria, where he served as a Marine in an artillery unit, the Alpha Battery. When he returned to America following IS’ defeat, he too brought a local djinni back with him…sort of.

According to a lengthy account of his haunting published not on Reddit but in the (arguably) more reliable New York Times, the spirit appeared in the shape of a dead young girl, “pale and covered in chalky dust, as if hit by an explosion,” whose eyes stared at Ortiz “with a glare as dark and heavy as oil.”

Ortiz was not alone. Other artillerymen colleagues who returned from the Syrian and Iraqi battlefields also saw things, felt uncanny presences in their bedrooms, or else suffered nightmares, panic attacks, and fits of deep, suicidal depression. Unlike the soldier in the fictional Reddit story, quite a few did actually kill themselves. One began hearing voices and seeing hidden messages in street signs, before snapping, entering a stranger’s home and killing a man he had never even met before (maybe he thought he was Colonel Nasser?).

Javier Ortiz himself became convinced his Islamist enemies had placed a supernatural curse upon him, so he burned the gear from his old tour of duty on a beach one day—but it did no good. One night in 2020, he endured visions of evil spirits “trying to pull him into another dimension,” so he sought refuge in (legally purchased) medicinal marijuana. Confessing this purely one-off lapse to his commanding officer later, Ortiz was dismissed dishonorably as a drug user, rather unjustly cutting him off from various support payments usually made to disabled veterans.

Coming Out of Their Shells?
These soldiers certainly returned from the Middle East haunted by something—but was it just some kind of unmanageable guilt, caused perhaps by knowledge the rounds they fired from their howitzers would inevitably have killed innocent local civilians as well as local terrorists? Was the epidemic of military djinni hauntings simply another form of PTSD? The NYT felt otherwise.

To spare U.S. soldiers’ lives, a top-brass decision was made to fight the war mostly from afar, by pounding IS positions into dust via aerial and artillery bombardment. As such, artillerymen loosed record numbers of shells at the Islamist enemy. During 1991’s Operation Desert Storm against Saddam Hussein, crews fired an average of seventy rounds during the whole campaign; in Syria, each individual gun in Alpha Battery fired at least 1,100 rounds in the first two months of fighting alone.

Official military medical advice is that this is harmless for those doing the firing, but this may turn out to be wildly overoptimistic. Vibrations from shellfire ripple through the entire body of those firing them—including their brains. Researchers spoken to by the NYT suggested the cumulative effect of exposure to such powerful blasts may cause microscopic scarring in brain tissue that ultimately “could cause neural connections to fail.”

It is not just artillery explosions: Repeated exposure to RPG launches, mortars, or heavy machine-gun fire may also cause genuine negative physiological changes in the brain—possibly of a kind that might induce hallucinations. Would this be enough to explain the recent military epidemic of djinni sightings?

Evil Genie US
The idea of the fictional “nosleep” djinni urging its victim to kill himself so it can escape at last from his possessed brain has distinct echoes in the real-life experience of another ex-artilleryman interviewed by the NYT, Alex Sabol, who returned home from combat suffering “terrifying mood swings.” According to the newspaper in question:

Last year, he started punching himself. In the fall, he found himself in tears in his kitchen, in a push-up position hovering over a butcher knife, unsure why he had an overwhelming urge to plunge it into his heart.

Maybe some of those scary stories being pushed on Reddit these days aren’t quite as made-up as they at first seemed to be, after all?

Instead of punishing ex-servicemen, as rather disgracefully happened with Javier Ortiz being dishonorably discharged for “drug-abuse” [sic] when he was clearly suffering from some kind of severe combat-related mental health issues, should any truly moral society not be trying to look after them instead?

In general, I hate The New York Times more than I hate Shaytan, Iblis, and all the devils of their hot Islamic Hell, but, in this specific highly limited instance, the NYT has done society a big favor by exposing such scandals to the light of public scrutiny (albeit, a cynic might argue, perhaps only in the unspoken hope of undermining the U.S. military as being wholly uncaring toward their war-ruined charges in the wider public eye?).

Let’s hope, now that the whole affair is out in the open, this is one genie that doesn’t end up being put quietly back inside its bottle.


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