Friday, February 10, 2006

This too will pass

Thank you for all the comments and reactions to the previous post. An anonymous commenter has made an interesting point about the fundementalist version of Islam being pushed in some prisons and the radicalisation of angry young men. He says,

' The problem for Muslims as a whole is that the fundies are claiming to be better Muslims... All their actions are backed by quotations from the Koran. Of course, you can do this with any religous text - I recommend you read up what the leaders of Bhuddism is Japan got up to in the 30'..... Unless you have a very deep knowledge of the Koran, it is very hard to argue back with someone quoting verses at you. Interestingly, in Sudan, they tried getting genuine Imamms to talk to captured terrorists. Generaly it took him about half an hor to convince *them* that their view of Islam was wrong.....The Anon'

Hum. I studied Theology for a while, and I will always be grateful for the chance to be able to study texts in details, read different opinions, hear critical voices, have a deeper understanding of sources in context. Not only was it interesting and challenging, but it meant that when faced with implacable fundementalists you have some useful tools to counter, to engage and to analyse. And to fight back.

The problem with - and perhaps the initial lure of - fundementalist versions of any religion is that all the interpretation is done FOR you and only simple unquestioning acceptance is demanded. I suppose that can be a relief. Debate is 'unnecessary'. Disagreement is seen as 'sinful' or 'heretical'. (I keep thinking of Europe before the Reformation. Despite all the efforts of the Church and those in power to crush it, in the end people forced change. Why? Because being able to read the sacred texts in the vernacular, instead of a foreign language, having access to the wealth of scholarship surrounding those texts, having an understanding of history and context was in the end more fulfilling - spiritually and intellectually - than simply memorising by rote an interpretation of scripture which requires no intellectual engagement.)

Men and women are not blank wax tablets to be imprinted, they have minds and hearts and personalities, as well as souls. You can experience a blissful Submission to what is Holy without becoming a robot, parroting an uncritical, literal fundementalist interpretation that you have not even questioned.

Why so afraid of letting people think? What will happen when their hearts and minds engage? Why insist that they meekly accept what they are told? Who benefits from such submission? God, or Man?
Learning by rote without questioning infantalises people. It is dangerous to demand unquestioning acceptance of anything - and anyway, it doesn't work.
In time, the 'heretic' questions will be too hard to ignore: the reformation, the revolution will come. Humans cannot be endlessly ground down and told not to think/what to think by despots, whether the despots call themselves Popes or Priests or Kings or Presidents or Fundementalist faith leaders. History shows us, again and again, the crumbling of overly-authoritarian regimes and the collapse of every Ozymandias.

O'Brien tells Winston Smith in 1984 '' If you want a vision of the future, Winston, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever.'' So despots and the power-crazed have told their subjects for thousands of years. But what makes us human, what makes us 'Children of God' - if you believe in God - or what makes us noble and fully human if you do not - what gives us a future is our ability to transcend suffering, to draw together to resist evil.

There is always hope. Always, a light, however deep the darkness. I believe that people of whatever faith - or none - have the ultimate common sense to recognise when evil men preach ''freedom'' and mean slavery, when they preach ''holiness'' and mean hate, when they preach ''purity'' and mean separation- and to recognise that ultimately such men will fail.

Let us not be sidetracked here; we have much more in common than we have dividing us. There will always be those who tell us not to ask questions, of ourselves or each other. Who say they, and only they, speak the truth, the only truth. And there will always be those who follow such men. But to give over your critical faculties to another is to lose your humanity. To hollow out the heart, to make a willing vacuum of the soul, to absolve oneself of choices, of feelings, of the compassion that bites and tears and makes us real may seem easy but it is a slow and uneasy living death.

I wrote this once:

'Resentment and anger are the breeding ground for the pitiless narcissism that I believe lies at the heart of human evil, where you choose to deaden your empathy towards others and elevate your personal beliefs over any concern for the human consequences of your actions.'

Those who preach hate must rely on people's fear to make them follow them. Whether they talk of the 'Crusader West' or the 'Axis of Evil' - all they want is power. Power over other people to make them do their bidding: power, power, power. It is the all, it is the only end-game. Whatever the cost. However it ends. They become drunk with it. Perhaps laughing at them is a way to puncture their pomposity? Any leader who demands unswerving obedience and will not allow debate - or laughter - or questioning - is a tyrant. And all tyrants fall, in the end.

Not everyone wants to seize power. It can be easier to focus on your 'victimhood', on the injustices you feel you have suffered. It is tempting to blame all your misfortunes on an Other who oppresses you, who must be hated or feared. It is a powerful lure to say, for example, that Muslims are oppressing the West, or that the West is oppressing the Ummah. You can feel powerful by offending, powerful when you take offence. When you divide the world into 'goodies' and 'baddies', as a child does, when you present a set of rules that must be followed for your own safety, you might feel more comfortable, but you have missed out on all the nuances. You are locking yourself into a binary prison of your own making. You are telling yourself the simple reassuring stories of childhood. You might feel safer, but are you truly free?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Rachel,

Just a quick note to say that is not a muslim site by the vast majority of muslims standards, simply because of the fact that their founder claimed to be a prophet and one of the most basic islamic teachings is that there is no prophet after Muhammed(saw), he is known as "the seal of the prophets".

That's why people like the qadianis, nation of islam and the submittors are fringe off-shoot cults that take from islam but are not legitimate within islam.

And this is regardless of whether they preach peace or hate.. if they claim any man after Muhammed is a prophet, they are outside Islam.

There are many other sources for Islam on the internet, some authentic ones include sunnipath, islamicity and the usc-msa site.

February 10, 2006 10:32 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

P.S. Oh, and congratulations on the engagement. :)

February 10, 2006 10:33 pm  
Anonymous seth said...

hi rachel,

remember the book "1984" by george orwell..many of the things from the book have come seems that so many of us have become "winston" and bush/blair have become the "obriens".

again..congrats on the engagement...i gotta get some supplies..a whopper of a snowstorm/blizzard is on its way to ny

seth :)

February 10, 2006 10:45 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

Thanks, link changed!

February 11, 2006 1:41 am  

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