Sunday, July 10, 2005

From Art to Life : politics for a change

From The Antigonish Review (no never heard of it) via Wood's Lot (tend to let the posts accumulate, then gorge on the pictures..)

Between Rock and Stone: a geopoetic alphabet

appealed to me, particularly limestone.

Politics in the light of 7/7

From Antigonish # 140 :

Jihadis R Us by David Rothberg.
Omar Sheikh was the westernised, educated Pakistan who killed Daniel Pearl. A personal story asking the question why more Arabs or Pakistanis don't turn into Omar Sheikhs, which mentions the 'Wahabbis financed many of the fundamentalist religious organisations in Pakistan in the '70s'.

Back to a post in Baghdadskies which linked to to an article in Spike Magazine : a review by Ben Granger of Al Quaeda by Jason Burke, covering similar ground - returning to one of my oft repeated themes in baghdadskies - the roots of disaffection and loss of hope based in the failure of Arab Nationalism exemplified by the life and works of Syeed Qutb.

The New Yorker from way back does Dr. Al Zawahiri and Qutb in interesting and illuminating detail.

Wikipedia covers both, giving details of Qutb's writing.

Although, as we are all reading in our newspapers, the bombings might be linked to someone such as Mustapha Setmariam Nasar {2} who is suggested to have been behind the Madrid bombings. {3} suggests otherwise. Now shown to homegrown bombers, but not who, if anyone, organised the attack from outside Britain.

It is vital to understand where this all really started - the failure of Arab nationalism and pan-Arabism. Though a more common view is it starts with the formation of the state of Israel in 1948. Thomas Friedman, New York Times 8 July 2005
If it's a muslim problem, It needs a muslim solution
argues acccording to M. Shahid Alam, Professor professor of economics at Northeastern University, in Did Thomas Friedman Flunk History? this is running through Norman Lewis' argument that the muslims have only themselves to blame.

the grievances which ave inflammed the Islammist and neo-fundamentalist Muslims could stem from

...the Crusades or the forced conversion of the Spanish Muslims and their eventual expulsion from Spain. That is not the history behind the "jihadist death cult." I could begin with the creation of a Jewish state in 1948 in lands inhabited by Palestinians; the 1956 invasion of Egypt by Britain, France and Israel; Israel's pre-emptive war of 1967 against three Arab states; the meticulously planned destruction of Palestinian society in the West Bank and Gaza since 1967; the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, stretching from 1982 to 2000; the massacre of 200,000 Bosnian Muslims in the 1990s; the devastation of Chechnya in 1996 and since 1999; the brutalities against Kashmiris since the 1990s; the deadly sanctions against Iraq from 1990 to 1993 which killed one and a half million Iraqis; the pogrom against Gujarati Muslims in 2002; the US invasion of Iraq in April 2003 which has already killed more than 200,000 Iraqis. Clearly, there is a lot that Mr. Friedman has to forget, to erase from his history books.

When I was a small boy in the Baghdad a few years before the 1958 revolution in Iraq, there was no talk of Islam in the wider world. The man who filled everyone's screen was Gamal Abdul Nasser. His inflammatory speeches (often against other Arabs - they slug it out trading insults) filled the airwaves in the mid to late 50s. In Baghdad university students were his devotees. My teenage Iraqi friend, Selim, who had, when our familes were neighbours, taken me to the cinema to see Jailhouse Rock and had invited us to his house for meals, came to our front door one shocking day just before or after July 14 1958 to rant about Nasser, with a large framed photograph tied to the front of his chest. I was 9. We had moved, about 6 months before, from the Mushtamal in Khaddadah to a new house in the Armenian disctrict in the same road as the U.S. Consulate. We has lost contact but he had found where we lived. I can still feel the goose-bumps of fear as well all stood on the verandah lstening to his Arab nationalist diatribe.

Now, with Arab nationalist dreams in the dustbin of history, Muslim youth turns to Islam for political recourse
- direction - and emotional and psychological succour, rather than to the cut and thrust of Middle East politics of the nationalist and socialist type that existed before. Now: the tedious agitprop heard so often on TV - hardly a detailed, informed, reasonable political debate - about America's impartiality over Israel-Palestine, Britain's culpability in helping with the invasion of Iraq and the west's past colonial crimes form the new under-current, the backdrop, to any debate however feeble its intellectual level. Few Muslims of any nationality are willing to admit or accept or even talk about the failures of their own governments since 'red pencilled' after the First World War, as Lewis and others suggest. Its obviously both the West's domination of and interference in the Middle East and the failure of most of the countries in the area to democratise. In the Cold War Egypt, Syria and Iraq were client states of the USSR, not the U.S. or Britain.

Inevitably, acts which with some justification can be judged simply criminal and probably insane have to be examined through the filter of the failed societies the perpetrators come from. Now we have to pay attention to Islam, Muslims in the West, the Arabs and their history and colonial past together with current difficulties and grievances in the Middle East a whole (the rise and fall of nationalism) and the origin of the fundamentalist Islamist "Jihad" against the West. We tend not to ram home to Muslims in debate the truth about countries such as Egypt, Syria and Iran. Perhaps this should be the tack.

Personally - in the sense that I lived in Arab countries as a child, in particular Iraq, where my father worked helping to train the Iraqi Air Force, though not that this fact makes me a middle east or islamic expert - I think we British ought, for our own protection, and in defence of liberal democracy, put pressure firmly on the Islamic community in Britain as if we were dealing with a political party not a religion. We should not let leader such as Sir Iqbal Sacranie repeat facile mantras - which are no more than a willful refusal to deal with the real issues - about how Islam is a religion of peace, the bombers were not muslims and that we are all in it together. Allowing Muslim leaders and muslim vox pop - through our misguided adherence to political correctness - to repeat endlessly that Islam is a religion of peace, while allowing a hint through the the form of words or the lack of words - in the spaces between the words - at our moral degeneracy and the superiority of Islam, is not the way to come to terms with this.

We have to defend our political system and common values and not be weighed down by guilt about how we treated others in our colonial past. True the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq with the deaths of many thousands of innocents has not helped the debate. The refusal of the Coalition to acknowledge or even record the number of innocent civilians who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, was a folly of bathic proportions. Fait accomplie - there is no going back from Iraq, no matter how many are killed there - does not mean we cannot atone for our governments acts by getting them to acknowledge their mistakes.

Muslims generally insist Islam means peace.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam have been religions of war in their times. Unamuno {2} reminds us:

Like monarchy, monotheism had a martial origin. "It is only on the march and in time of war," says Robertson Smith in The prophets of Israel, "that a nomad people feels any need of a central authority, so it came about that in the first beginnings of national organisation, centred in the santuray of the ark, Israel was thought mainly as the host of Jehovah. The very name of Israel is martial, and means 'God (El) fighteth, and Jehovah in the Old Testament is Iahwè Çebãôth - the Jehovah of the armies of Israel. It was on the battlefield that Jehovah's presence was most clearly recognised; but in primitive nations the leader in time of war is also the natural judge in time of peace.

The next paragraph in The tragic Sense of Life :

God, the only God, issued, therefore, from man's sense of divinity as a warlike, monarchical and social God. He revealed himself to the people as a whole, not to the individual. He was the God of a people and he jelously exacted that worship sholud be rendered to him alone. The transition from this moncultism to montheism was effected largely by the individual action, more philosophical perhaps than theological, of the prophets. It was, in fact, the individual activity of the prophets that individualised divinity. And above all by making the divinity ethical.

Unlike Unamuno, I don't believe God reveals himself to peoples as a whole, but to individuals who see solutions to human problems. Good and bad ideas spread equally through populations like molecules of gas expanding to fill the available space. Jesus's claim that he was the Son of God - an expression the meaning of which is open to interpretation - is the classic example of the personal. His solution was effective: the very personalisation of love, of turning the other cheek (as many times as required) and Good Samaritanism was what made his claim Love could conquer all so important in a time when an eye for an eye was the norm and led to escalations of violence and the attendant hatred and instability.

Though Islam was instigated by the prophet Mohammed through divine inspiration, it too was founded on the personal.
Muslims believe the Koran to be the direct Word of God delivered through Mohammed. This is a necessary fiction, in the same way that the mythology surrounding the Ten Commandments (and the rest) was fiction: no one is going to to accept a set of social rules that I offer up one morning on the Today Programme starting with 1. Always compost all your organic waste, down to the last tea leaf no matter what the circumstances, 2. Do not kill anything unless absolutely necessary to prevent a nasty bite on the back of your leg, unless I offer some sort of provenance or authority for them, such as that I am a your leadeer, am instructed to do so by God, am a priest or a theologian or a quantum mechanics physicist. Using such rules personally, such that I do not involve anyone else - except in that I am different from what I was before I adopted the rules, and am inextricably connected to other people - is not the same as making a set of rules up, then forcing or persuading everyone else to adopt them.

Most great ideas spead through personal involvement and committment. Many then are forced down everyone else's throats whether they believe them, want them, or not. Most religions are socio-political in orgin, though their orginators usually claim otherwise. Each of the great religions has a tendancy to forget its murky past.

A cursory reading of the Bible and its exegesies and the Koran, Sunnah and Hadith and subsequent commentaries, shows how all religions' Holy Books are very human documents: they show the gap between God and man. For example, it is well established and accepted the order of the verses of the Koran is something that has been imposed subsequently, just as the Bible was edited to become what it is today. So wherever the words actually came from, in the Koran they are now out of chonological order and in the Bible there are bits left out.

The words of the Koran and the Bible place the books in their times. For example the Torah injunctions about diet have a relation to necessity. Squeezing the blood out of meat is no longer strictly necessary. But kosher is still an integral part of being a Jew. Pork is now safe to eat therefore, rationally, prohitions on pork eating could have been quietly dropped from ereryday observance once this way established. The same applies to halal. The mystery is why such man-made rules which are so obviously of their time, persist through millenia, whereas many of the fundamental precepts such as the Trinity become modified according to circumstance. Actually, this is where the Muslim claims superiority over the Christian: muslims say Christianity has been overlain with theology and mysticism, whereas Islam has remained pure.

An example of how the Koran is of its time - the 7th century - is shown by keywording "unbeliever" in the Koran: the quotes clearly show this is a predominant concern about unbelievers was at the time the Koran was spoken by Mohammed and recorded by his followers. Christianity had its well-documentered share of suppressing heresy or other religions.

The bigger problem for Muslims
is retaining Sharia Law as it now stands when it was only really suitable for life in Arabia in the 7 century A.D. To take quotes either from the Koran, Sunnah or Hadith to use as a reason to live separately {1 } - even if only in your head and heart - from those you live amongst is a species of insanity and an argument, as was suggested by a muslim on Newsnight BBC2 on 13 July, who pleaded for more education in Islam for British muslims in Britain rather than in Madrasas and other Islamic educational establishments overseas. In other words he, a muslim, is saying many muslims are ignorant of their own religion. Of course, most Christians are pretty hazy about their too, so nothing new.

Unamuno continues in the next paragraph from the above quote:

Subsequently reason - that is, philosophy - took possession of this God who had arisen in human consciousness as a consequence of the sense of divinity in man, and tended to define him and convert him into an idea. For to define a thing is to idealise it, a process which necessitates the abstraction from it of its incommensurable or irrational element, its vital essence. Thus the God of feeling, the divinty felt as a unique person and consciousness external to us, although at the same time enveloping and sustaining us, was converted into the idea of God.

We in Britain - with its roots in Christianity if now secular - have no moral high ground, historically. But we do have values: they are not the values which are written about by journalists very often, in all the blather about what it is to British. What is happening? We are being put on the defensive, when there is no reason for this, allowing the agenda to be determined for us by the bench-mark of one religion of many, just because the Muslim world is in turmoil.

We are being forced, - we must feel it our duty to do so as "Sons of the Enlightment" - to learn Islam (which is not a bad thing) to be able to think and debate the problem of Islamic fundamentalism, understanding, as we do so, the distinction between Islamism and neo-fundamentalism. We should be concentrating our energies as well on arguing for the values, such as free speech, and freedom of worship, which we hold dear within a liberal democracy.

An article
in the New Statesman by Ziauddin Sardar, The struggle for Islam's soul, is worth reading by muslims and no-muslims.

Islam has a conformist tendancy: all religions are conformist by tendancy. Though, paradoxically, they are also inevitably schismatic: a primary argument of the non-believer that religions are human creations. The British as a people tend to non-conformism. We can and have for hundred of years let people from other cultures into our society, in large numbers, and coexisted with them, but there is often sticky problem of the Berlinian incommensurability of values which works across sociological entities as well as within them. it behoves all incomer to learn the roots of Britishness in order to be able to understand our attitude to a religion such as Islam.

If young British muslims are still going in their thousands to learn in Madrasas in Pakistan and doing military training in Afghanistan, and possibly in Iraq since 2003 as is claimed, then we ought to go straight to the parents of young British Muslims [ the talk in the media is now of how Muslims are doing this anyway] to say: "Look, you are living and working here quite happily, but if we find your children, who are British subjects, are preparing to wage war against Britain, your life too will be transformed in ways you did not want or expect. We know you will probably not be to blame for what your children think or do, but your are their parents and should be monitoring their activities. Don't send them to Pakistan unless they are accompanied by an adult. Check what your sons are doing in Britain. Ask yourself what you want out of living and working and bringing up your children here."

Because Islam is a politico-religion, we have to present British Muslims with a stark choice: "It is Islam or Britain: you must choose and say overtly which comes first in your priorities: state law or
Sharia law." In practice most mulsims in Britain are happy to observe both with national law primary. Though if they insist on "Islam first", because God comes first, quite naturally, then we non-muslims have to ask, "Can we trust you to be loyal to Britain?" For those to whom Sharia is paramount, Sharia is in effect law within law. If Muslims are not fully informed about their religion, it is easy for Islamists or neo-fundamentalist to persuade them that Sharia is the only law worth observing and statute law is a necessary inconvenience which they may refuse to accept in certain circumstances because it conflicts with Sharia. Most British Muslims do not think like this, but by taking their religion seriously they are in effect psychologically and emotionally cut off from non-muslims.

No sooner have we discussed someone else's religion, especially when do not observe one, we feel guilt. We believe in freedom of speech and the rule of law. But we ought to be plagued by our knowledge that the Islamic communities in the west shame us by their sense of community, self-disipline, hard work and good conduct. Can we be surprised they distain us, when we let the underclass do and say what they like where they like, with mass drunkeness in our city centres, very young children running riot in schools, burnt out-cars littering the countryside, and no-go areas in the vast urban council estates? This and the failures of history are the simple ideas Islamists use to turn young susceptible British born Muslims.

There are obvious benefits to being a member of the muslim community in Britain. But we might ask ourselves whether we have made a mistake in trying to understand and promulgate, through endless recyclings in the mainstream media of, for example, why a man like Bin Laden might think, in the 21 century, (if indeed he does) that the Madrid bombing were pay back for the destruction of the glories of Al Andalus, and what sort of effect his mad, misplaced, irrelevant, and pointlessly nihilistic ideology is having on the sons of respectable Muslims living in Britain. Our best thinkers might be better serve all by writing about the pros and cons of the two cultures.

Coming to mind are the young adventurers, thugs and psychopaths (many the idle sons of the nobility) who went on the successive waves of the Crusades, full of the notions of kicking the boot into someone or other, collecting booty and coming home heroes all in the name of God.

I put up a few references to the basics but they kept on linking to in explicably Microsoft, so took them down.

Try Wipedia on Koran and Sharia

Catholic Encyclopedia : Koran. Instructive and presumably objective.

How to confront a cult of terror

- Cult psychology may help explain why young men become suicide murderers

Muhammed, Islam, and terrorism

A warning from the past that the BBC does not want us to hear By Charles Moore
" ..muddle of language is not confined to the extremists, and therefore is not easy to isolate."

An Open Letter to moderate British Muslims
By Charlie, an Anglian clergyman 13 July 2005

Becoming a British Muslim by Zahrah Awaleh
A British born Somali published on 12 July 2005 but 'last paragraph was written as the news of the explosions started seeping into the London community center where Zahrah works'.

he two faces of Islam : Why all Muslims benefit from Terrorism
By David Wood {post London bombing}

Poll on Muslim attitudes in Middle East
Indicate that growing numbers of Muslims differentiate between what they consider the peaceful influence of Islamic values in politics and the use of religion to justify attacks.

This may have been taken from

Pew Centre data 14 July 2005 > 9 tables from specific questions

A supreme radio debate on OpenSource, July 19th, 2005 : Integration and Extremism: Muslims in Europe

Understood from this debate is the ease of slip-back to religious default mode easily effected by brain-washing by zealots. The answer must be to deeply instil the lived in culture within mainstream education and general social debate. This would not be through RE but through history, sociology, philosophy and civics courses and through new courses, morals and ethics based ones, designed to deal directly with cultural values and questions such as the distinction between civilisation and civilisations. But also within genuinely unbiased broadcast media.


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