By Anjuli Kolb

An article in yesterday's New York Times explored the Obama administration’s “top secret ‘nominations’ process to designate terrorists for kill or capture.” The president remarked that the youth of the nominated has moved us into a “whole different phase.” In 2007, Judge Peter Beaumont called 17 year-old Samina Malik, also known as the “Lyrical Terrorist,” a “complete enigma.” And in a 1987 review of Naipaul’s Enigma of Arrival, Salman Rushdie suggests that the answer to the riddle is the one thing that must never appear in the riddle itself.


“The mug shots and brief biographies resembled a high school yearbook layout. Several were Americans. Two were teenagers, including a girl who looked even younger than her 17 years… ‘How old are these people?’ [President Obama] asked, according to two officials present. ‘If they are starting to use children,’ he said of Al Qaeda, ‘we are moving into a whole different phase.’”

—Jo Becker and Scott Shane, “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” The New York Times, 29 May, 2012.


“We are told of a dream of an exploding head, of ill health, of family tragedy. There may be more to it. I think it was Borges who said that in a riddle to which the answer is knife, the only word that cannot be employed is knife. There is one word I can find nowhere in the text of The Enigma of Arrival. That word is 'love,' and a life without love, or one in which love has been buried so deep that it can't come out, is very much what this book is about and what makes it so very, very sad.”

—Salman Rushdie, “A Sad Pastoral,” in The Guardian, reviewing V.S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival, 1987.


Following the verdict, Judge Peter Beaumont QC, the Recorder of London, told Malik: ‘You have been in many respects a complete enigma to me.’ She had posted her poems on websites under the screen name the Lyrical Terrorist, prosecutors said…The court also heard she had written on the back of a WH Smith till receipt: ‘The desire within me increases every day to go for martyrdom.’ Malik said she had only called herself the Lyrical Terrorist ‘because it sounded cool.’”

—BBC News, “Lyrical Terrorist Found Guilty,” 8 November, 2007. 

Let Me Recite What History Teaches (LMRWHT) is a weekly column that flashes the gaslight, candlelight, torch, or starlight of the past on something that is happening now. The citational constellations work to recover what might be best about the “wide-eyed presentation of mere facts.” They are offered with astonishment and largely without comment. The title is taken from the last line of Stein’s poem “If I Told Him (A Completed Portrait of Picasso)."

image: Giorgio de Chirico, The Enigma of Arrival and the Afternoon, 1912, via