Todd Hartley: I’m With Stupid |

Todd Hartley: I’m With Stupid

Todd Hartley
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

Here at I’m With Stupid, one of our favorite recurring themes, other than trying to write the longest, oddest run-on sentences we can, is poking gentle fun at people who think they see religious images in every-day stuff.

Obviously, we’ve covered Mary appearing in ceiling tiles and window smudges, and we devoted a great many column inches to a moth that bore a stunning resemblance to Jesus, but we’ve also reported on toasters that sear Christ’s likeness onto slices of bread; a Buddhist kid whose followers swear he’s divine despite the fact that he once erupted out of a weeks-long meditation to smack some young punks around when they hassled him; and a flower in the shape of an elephant’s head that a Hindu man in Queens believes is the living incarnation of the god Ganesh, the favored deity of Kwik-E-Mart proprietor Apu Nahasapeemapetilon from “The Simpsons.”

Given all that, it came as a bit of a surprise to learn that we’d somehow completely missed the greatest religious-image story of them all. It seems there is – and has been for a year – a baby named Ali in the village of Krasnooktyabrsk, Russia, on whose skin whole verses of the Koran will appear for a few days and then vanish.

His parents revealed this “miracle,” as they termed it, to the world last year when Ali was still a newborn, and word quickly spread throughout the region, by which I mean the impoverished, mostly Muslim North Caucasus region of southern Russia. Soon Ali was all over the Internet, and pilgrims were flocking to the tiny village to see the baby boy.

For the last few weeks, however, little Ali has been hidden away by his parents and grandparents, who have “vowed never to show Ali to a journalist again.”

Who was the journalist who went and ruined things for everyone else in the first place, you ask? Was it perky Katie Couric with her probing questions about newspapers, or possibly irritating sports-guy Jim Gray, who has managed to piss off every athlete he’s ever interviewed? No. It was neither of those, nor was it anyone else whose name you might associate with the word “journalist,” although there’s a chance you might actually recognize her name.

It was Anna Chapman! Anna Chapman? You remember her, don’t you? She was that hot Russian spy girl from last summer. Recently she’s been hosting a Moscow-based TV show called “Secrets of the World,” which is how she ended up doing a show on Ali.

Apparently, Chapman’s profile of the boy, which suggested the writing might be a hoax, was so offensive to his family that they’ve decided to remove Ali from the public eye for the foreseeable future. The whole situation has turned so bizarre that it’s starting to feel like a submarine novel or an ’80’s action movie. OK, fine, it doesn’t really feel at all like either of those things, but the name of Ali’s hometown, Krasnooktyabrsk, translates as Red October Village, and there’s a neighboring town called Red Dawn Village. I couldn’t think of any other way to bring up those two awesome facts, so just go with it.

No, other than the presence of the former spy, there seems to be little in the way of espionage involved with this case, which is not to say that people aren’t lying and acting a little odd, particularly Ali’s grandmother, Zulikhata Yakubova.

The old woman claimed in an interview that she “cannot even read or write,” and yet, she was the one who revealed that the first words to appear on Ali were, “I am a slave of God.” How did she know that if she can’t read, and why did she get so upset when it was noted that the writing on Ali’s skin sometimes has spelling errors? Could it be she’s just not very good at reading and writing?

Hoax or not, if you believe local officials, the legend of little Ali has already helped the war-torn area. As part of the government’s plan to counter a growing fundamentalist Islamic insurgency, state-supported media aggressively tout anything having to do with traditional Sufi Islam mysticism, including scripture on a kid’s skin. At the very least, it’s been beneficial for Ali’s family, as an intrigued billionaire is building them a new house, and the government has already given them a new car.

But enough about Ali. Let my barely literate mom tell you about the amazing writings that have appeared on my son’s arm recently.

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