Friday, September 07, 2012

Tear Down The Walls Of Separation

ANDRE VLTCHEK wites in "CounterPunch"

I have many Muslim friends. Among Muslims are people that I care for immensely. I am close to Muslim people who live in Indonesia, Gulf region, Sub-Continent, Africa, Malaysia and elsewhere. I had been a friend of Abdurrahman Wahid, former Indonesian progressive President and the leader of the largest Muslim organization in the world – NU (Nahdlatul Ulama). I regularly discuss Islam with Muslim clerics in Aceh and with Shia believers in Iran and India.

I have enormous respect for Muslim culture – for its great poetry, its scientific achievements of the past, medicine, the architecture and social structures, including their concepts for the first ‘social’ hospitals in the world.

But now, just one day before Eid-up-Fitr, I feel scared. Is it because suddenly I feel that the tall walls are separating us all and the doors that were otherwise wide opened to me are suddenly closing?

I worked in around 140 countries of the world, I lived on all continents that this planet has. I speak many languages. But more and more often I realize how difficult, almost impossible, is the true and honest dialogue between different cultures and different faiths.

Officially we are told the opposite. ‘Political correctness’ makes us say ‘right things’ about each other. We are all supposed to be one happy family now. We say we are having a dialogue even when we sit in the opposite corners. True, most of us do not swear at each other in public. We don’t insult others to the face. But do we really know each other? Do we understand each other? Do we go out of our ways to learn?

A Byelorussian filmmaker who is helping to coordinate my visit to former USSR recently wrote in her email:

“Ah how many bright and dear Muslim friends I have… but I don’t believe it’s possible to come any closer to each other than to some point with a religious person. No chance to reach real mutual understanding and intimacy. Whose emotional emptiness and limitedness is there to blame? Not sure, not sure…”
All this explains sadness that is burdening my heart. But it is not explaining the fear.

My fear is actually very rational. It is based on many years of observation and on analyzing what I managed to observe and record.

I am afraid that people of our planet are now walking towards the different corners. Not all of them, but the majority. The trust had been broken. Hurts, mental injuries are too deep. Western neo-colonialism has been too savage, too brutal, on all continents: in Africa, Oceania, Asia and until recently in Latin America. But some of the most terrible claws of imperialism had been pointed towards the Muslim world. There, the West usually used religion for its own gains, dividing Shia and Sunni Muslims, literally training and bribing religious cadres into fighting against Soviet Union or against progressive and non-aligned ideals in the countries like Indonesia before 1965.

It is almost as if much of political Islam had been kidnapped and corrupted by Western interests.

It has been long, debilitating and humiliating process, and for majority of the Muslims it was very difficult to fight back, to defend themselves. For decades since the end of the WWII, entire nations like Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Palestine and Somalia to name just a few, had been thrown to terrible meat grinders, they were forced to bleed in agony.

Almost every Muslim country, from Sudan, Libya to Mali, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain or Iraq had been manipulated or directly invaded or simply destroyed. The worst grade of dictators has been created, cultivated and then supported. The West was determined to rule over the Muslim lands, as it was determined to rule over the whole world.

In a way, Muslim countries never gained true independence after centuries of colonial rule. And if they did, they were beaten once again to even worse submission.

It is very hard to imagine that trust could bloom in such environment.

* * *

Emotions are one thing, but knowledge is quite another. Many Muslims may guard their feelings and their ‘territory’ when interacting with infidels (one could hardly blame them, given the ancient as well as recent history of the world), but it is the West, the ruling culture, that shows limitless spite towards the Islamic cultural universe, making Muslim even more defensive and protective of that little that has been left to them.

Even in the most remote and ‘uneducated’ parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, even on many far-away islands of Indonesian archipelago, people are well aware of at least some essentials, some basics on which the Western culture is constructed.

But how much the West knows about Islam – about its ideals, its code of justice, its culture and arts, its taboos and goals? Is Muslim universe that encompasses almost one quarter of the world’s population treated as equal partner by the Empire and its junior partners?

How many ‘educated’ people in the West even bothered to read Qur’an? We all know it is pathetically low percentage, although I don’t know anybody in the West who would not have some ‘theory’ or strong opinion (and mostly absolutely ignorant) on the subject!

* * *

The West developed powerful set of uncompromising stereotypes: there are two extremes on the scale of generally accepted measure of intellectualism: On one hand there is an image, a symbol, of totally deranged, submissive female with covered hair – a personification of oppression, stupidity and irrationality. A Muslim woman is submissive and pitiful and should be enlightened and ‘liberated’ at nearest appropriate opportunity.

At the other extreme is post-Existentialist intellectual, preferably from Paris, London or other Western metropolis. He (or she but most probably he) is without any doubt an atheist, wine drinking and determinately ‘liberal’ (whatever that means). His god is nothing less than ‘rational thinking’. He believes in nothing and sneers at God, but he also despises all revolutions, rebellions as well as Marxism and anything that smells of idealism. And he is fiercely individualistic.

Such prototype of intellectual was perfected and nurtured into the very symbol of the superiority of Western civilization. Of course he is at the right-side extreme on the imaginary scale. If a Muslim woman with her covered hair is somewhere near zero, he is scratching his back by the digits of number ten.

But is he so smart? Is he really bright? Is he kind; is he a humanist, a brave individual?

Is he challenging dogmas advanced by official Western propaganda? Is he brave enough to question his own right to’ superiority’? When he gets drunk and sings (and he gets drunk often); can we hear selection of world tunes or just his own jingles? When he struggles for something, is it for the world that is oppressed by his own culture or is he fighting mainly his own individualistic and egocentric goals?

What does our intellectual champion knows about the world outside his realm?

Most of my ‘intellectual’ friends in Paris or Madrid or even New York could hardly name one Muslim thinker, or one Middle Eastern poet.

Of course they are equally ignorant about all other parts of the world, except their own. While any Chinese or Japanese child can name at least some of the most outstanding composers and writers from Europe and United Sates, how many European adults, even with the advanced degrees can name one great Chinese or Japanese composer, Korean actor or Indonesian painter?

And what about the open-mindedness of our hero secular intellectual? What about the range of his choices? For most of Europeans and North American ‘thinkers’ it is almost unimaginable to question the superiority of [their own] multi-party political system (democracy is not measured by whether people really rule their countries, but by the number of political parties competing against each other). Also the “Free market” economic model that could be easily defined by the words ‘market fundamentalism’ allows no challenges – try to ridicule it and you will have corporate fatwa thrown on your head in no time – you will not be killed, just sidelined and possibly slowly starved to death.

And then, most of the Western intellectuals have one extreme, maybe the most extreme and fundamentalist believe on earth, which already murdered hundreds of millions of innocent men, women and children: it is belief that the West with its set of values and dogmas has some unquestionable mandate to rule over the world.

No comments: