Civilizational Attitudes

  I recommend readers research postcolonial studies – and especially the book Orientalism – after reading this. I also apologize for the abhorrently academic tone of this article; I’ve lately been reading too much of the Arab ezine Jadaliyya.

The more I think about it the more I realize that the hardest thing I find to talk about with others in genuine, constructive conversation is Islam and South Asian culture. In a broader context, theistic religions in general, Islamic civilization, and my cultural background are intensely difficult to discuss and talk about with someone from the outside. I suspect most people that have some sort of biculturalness with two different worlds have similar sentiment. I try to put my tongue on the reason frequently, but I always fail. This article will hopefully be a more successful attempt.

I like to think that I’m quite articulate with my thoughts when it comes to writing. I can organize and strategically argue most ideas that I agree with, and although others may still disagree I can take solace in the belief that I’m right. But perhaps the ability to articulate comes with a presumption that the other side will see some truth in the argument if they’re thinking clearly, and that I wouldn’t have to explain and justify prefaces.

After all, I can’t remember the last time I engaged in a lengthy conversation with someone from an entirely different civilizational attitude. There is such a thing, but most people would deny it. I would like to give a lengthy rebut to those people, but such an argument is one of the terribly difficult things to argue. To engage in such a discussion about why there are civilizational attitudes with someone who only has one would require a conversation with virtually no preconceptions, little shared ground, and few relatable experiences. The idea of civilizational attitudes is a viewpoint that takes a book just to explain, much less argue to someone who doesn’t share the idea.

Having successfully failed to justify the idea of civilizational attitudes, allow me now to explain what that has to do with my own predicament. Being an American Muslim, I am Western – which comes with its cultures, values, and modes of thinking – but I also have a very authentic relationship and identity with Islam as a whole –its cultures, values, and modes of thinking. Most people and friends of mine that experience this two world phenomenon are often stuck in situations where their civilizations collide and they are left at ultimatums. I personally don’t get this often as both a South Asian Muslim and an American, but I think the element of this article is just as intense if not deeper.

When talking about Islam with non-Muslims and even some Muslims, I’m at a loss with words. How am I to justify an idea or a concept efficiently when it was evolved from 1400 years of thought that the other has no familiarity with? Too, how am I to explain something when the other has biases that didn’t emerge just in their lifetime, but have been going on perpetually for centuries if not millennia? The word “jihad” or “Sharia” or “Allah Akbar” strikes terror in the eyes and ears and minds of many Westerners in ways I could never understand, and to even come to some sort of explanation that not just clears away misconceptions and preconceptions but actually expresses the idea in an internal light demands putting away one’s entire body of cultures, values, and modes of thinking just to understand.

It is not easy, and arguably impossible. When I try to articulate, I get caught up in the idea that the other will not understand I cease to even try to make an explanation comprehensible. And then when I try to make an explanation comprehensible, I fail miserably since, well, the explanation requires a book if not more. It requires ripping apart not just all the misconceptions and preconceptions, but one’s entire Western body of cultures, values, and modes of thinking.

Likewise, people get weirded out when I talk about “the West” and ideas that are unique to it – basically half of what postcolonial studies is about. Most Westerners are foreign to even thinking about the West from the outside. People find it hard enough to understand the idea of intrusion, hegemony, imperialism, and the like. When I discuss those words, I’m not talking about the distancing idea of the American empire, but about our everyday expression of ideas. It really is true, for me and for many of those who have this bicivilizational experience, that a friend’s idea can be hegemonic in its outcome and intent. To say, for example, – good heartedly and well intentioned – that “I want to liberate women” or “I demand religious freedom” in countries and cultures distant from one’s own can very well be a telling sign of imperialistic attitudes that are only understood when looked at from the outside.

Words fail me even then to say what is so hegemonic about exterior liberation or foreign pressure to internally change. That such expressions are oppressive in their nature is about as difficult to explain as the topic at hand, religion.

When I try in any fashion of any sort to explain my own religious beliefs or practices and why I choose them, it becomes nearly impossible for the other to see them in any empathetic light unless the other is also deeply and devoutly theistic. Then, the body of cultures, values, and modes of thinking are already shared and no immense justification is necessary. But for all the other times, the ways of thinking are so alien to the other it becomes almost pointless to try and explain.

Try I must, however, and occasionally try I do. While it usually ends in what I would describe as a disaster, some sort of mutual understanding of the “otherness” arises, which isn’t all that bad since it is an understanding at some degree. Still yet, however, there is often an unacknowledgement of the idea that humans are at very fundamental levels different. That acknowledgement unfortunately requires having differences at fundamental levels, which is something only a few of us share. Which leads back to the very beginning of the problem – expressing the idea of fundamental civilizational differences requires having them. Like many things, the problem is tragically circular.

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Contextualizing Protest in Ukraine

Reuters Photographer Hurt

Reuters photographer Gleb Garanich, injured by riot police.

A lot of the coverage lately on Euromaiden (that’s what the movement is being called these days) has given the wrong impression on protests in Ukraine, I think. The emotional and political clashes in the country seem not to be people vs government really, but people vs people. It represents fundamental differences between people not divided by ethnicity but ideology. A friend of mine – a Russian citizen – described Ukraine as being at “the crossing between first and third world”. But that economic reality isn’t at stake here directly. What is at stake is much more grave. And that fight has been going on for over a decade.

In 2004 the issues in Ukraine came obvious to the world during the Orange Revolution. This “revolution” was a response to the election of  Viktor Yanukovych to the presidency by a bare 3%. The opposition leader, Viktor Yushchenko, declared the election rigged and called for boycotts until the supreme court ruled for a re-count. The revote found Yuschenko president by a whopping 11%, rather than the bogus results from the government. He became president of Ukraine up until 2010 – when obliterated in an election – as he lost favor for dissolving Parliament twice and failing to improve the economy as much as the public demanded. In fact, Viktor Yanukovych won this election, making the man who was was essentially overthrown elected back to power. And here we are with President Viktor Yanukovych today (think of him as Viktor Ya-NEW-ko-vych, to differentiate from Viktor Yuschenko).

What’s important here is not their economic policies but their political ones. To Yuschenko, Ukraine is a “European democratic country”. Yanukovych is pro-Russia…in fact, he’s more ethnically Russian than Ukrainian. The nation is divided on this matter: to join Russia or to join Europe. Ukraine has long ties with Russia, dating back to the cultural origins of modern Russia in the ninth century under the kingdom of Kievan Rus’. Ukraine has strong oil and gas ties to Russia, and the memory of the united USSR runs deep. But is that a good memory? After all, Joseph Stalin caused millions of death (allegedly!) with his failed agricultural policies during a famine in Ukraine. But Ukraine was indeed part of a world superpower.

And yet, four of Ukraine’s five border nations chose Europe. Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania joined the European Union, and many hope Ukraine will follow. Europe is the path to secular democracy, to the first world economy, to liberal values (a note to my imperialist readers: not everyone wants that). Putin and invariably Russia have been nasty to Ukraine, and that doesn’t help. So what’s best? Where is the choice? Is it Russia, with cultural and historic ties, or Europe, with stability and a “future”?

That’s the question for the protests today. Ukraine is at a crossroads of its history right now. This is not a question of just what alliance it should have, but what civilization it wants to become a part of. Is  Ukraine a Russian entity, in the past and forevermore? Or will it abandon that past for Europe? Is Ukraine Russian, or is it European? Those questions are at stake – and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

And for that reason, much of the protesting is regionalized. Just look at who voted for Yanukovich in 2004:

Notice how Yanukovych did best in the eastern provinces near Russia. Ukraine remains at its crossroads, and it seems the country wants to go two ways. President Yanukovych has chosen the East, but much of the government and many of the people have chosen the West. The protests aren’t necessarily anti-government thus, but anti-Russian. Euromaiden started out in response to Yanukovich rejecting an EU trade agreement in favor of a Russian one. Those who want Europe are protesting, as the map below shows. Keep in mind what happened in 2004, above, and see how it played out in 2010 and now in 2014:

The past 10 years haven’t changed much, then. The crossroads have not been crossed. While all the countries around Ukraine have placed their bets, Ukraine remains ambivalent. What is the future? Only time will tell – but whatever the choice becomes, it’ll be serious. This is not about one government or the other, one ideology or another. It is about  destiny and civilization. And by the ballot or the bullet, Ukraine will have to choose: Russia, or Europe, Russia or Europe.

That’s the historical context, folks. A friend brought Ukraine to my interest, and it’s captivated me since. Perhaps I’ll write more on what’s happening now later. But you can see it for yourself.  Things are getting more and more violent.

http://www.businessinsider.com/ukraine-protests-what-you-need-to-know-2013-12

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orange_Revolution

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viktor_Yushchenko

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viktor_Yanukovych

“Blurred Lines,” Objectification And Why I Can’t Listen To The Radio Anymore

I don’t mind the occasional cussing or something like that, but what I do not like is Lil Wayne explaining how he would like to be pleased. Its music from Lil Wayne or Miley Cyrus or some other similar artist that is ruining expression through music and robbing the youngest generations of their innocence.

Nero Lucifero

Thought Catalog

A couple years ago, I was driving in the car with my then 15-year old stepdaughter. We were listening to the radio, windows down, singing along to the music. “My Chick Bad” by Ludacris came on next and we started singing along. I quickly found my voice fading away until I was silent. My grip on the steering wheel tightened and I squirmed. Hearing “Now your girl might be sick but my girl sicker, she rides that dick and she handles her liquor” coming out of the mouth of this 15-year old girl made my stomach turn. I turned the radio off.

“Hey!” she said. “What are you doing? That was a good song!”

“I just can’t.” I said. “I just can’t listen to that with you. It’s…inappropriate.”

And right then, I became uncool. And old fart, worthy of teenaged eye rolls.

I love music. All of it. Before I…

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“Chaos can’t su…

“Chaos can’t sustain itself. It never could” — Jon Stewart

Stewart’s on the 9/11 Tragedy (Quote is from here)

More on Jon Stewart

More on the September 11th Tragedy

Jon Stewart on 9/11

This is a clip from his show just 9 days after the September 11th attacks.

More on Jon Stewart

More on the September 11th Tragedy

The Independent: “Lady Gaga’s burqa is good for Muslim women”

myriamfrancoiscerrah

Is Gaga’s recent choice to wear various “Islamic” items of clothing, a shameless exploitation of orientalist fetishes to promote herself as a pseudo-edgy ‘artiste’? Indeed it is. And yet, I find myself strangely satisfied at the uproar caused by her neon pink burqa, because it challenges the discursive monopoly on the meaning of Muslim women’s clothing. Muslim women’s clothing, apparently, can be oppressive or it can be nothing at all.

In 2009, Lady Gaga held a press conference to which she turned up wearing a bizarre full face covering. Unfazed by her typically outrageous fashion choices, the journalists proceeded to quiz her on her music, none storming out in protest that it was “impossible to read her facial features” or concerned about the “true identity” of who sat before them – no, not one even complained that it was “hampering communication”. Why? Because she’s Lady Gaga and not a Muslim…

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I Am A Muslim Girl And This World Is Not For Me !

Food, People, Love And Stufff...!!

preyar-muslim-girl

 

Dedicated to all Muslim Girls and women of the world…..

I am a Muslim Girl and this world is not for me

When I go out wander In places

I get annoyed of boys who chases

They follow me , touch poke and run

Leaving me behind, making my fun

They can’t feel my pain, treat us like toys

Because I am a girl and they are boys

And when I cover myself up with veils

These are the white people who make me fail

By striking against the covering of women

They cause me bane that can’t be undone

I am a Muslim girl and this world is not for me

I become a victim of bad comments, riot and rape

Because I don’t find any kind of escape

I am not allowed to follow my religion

To cover myself in this men-dominant region

I am a Muslim…

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Crisis of Islam

Bernard Lewis is an interesting Middle Eastern scholar who I will surely talk about more when I get into Orientalism. This book, Crisis of Islam, is about the utter chaos the Islamic World has experienced in the last century. The book explores the history of the Islamic World and the modern context it is now. The book discusses the various edge groups and their opponents in the modern world – from the Salafis to the hidden secularist liberals. This is an extraordinary read that is well worth, insightful, easy to understand, and scholarly.

Professor Lewis is quick to explain that Islam is not inherently linked to terrorism. He goes through the historical roots of terrorism and the history of violence in the Islamic World, and thoroughly demonstrates the lack of relationship between the two. Terrorism has “no antecedents in Islamic history, and no justification in terms of Islamic theology, law, or tradition.” Nevertheless, the terrorist of the Muslim World justify themselves through their religion in an incredulous way. Dealing with the Middle East has thus become so difficult – that the fanatics believe wholeheartedly that they are correct, and that killing them is only good for them.

The crisis of the Islamic World and the rise of extremism can be attributed much to the decline in Islamic thinking, which occurred a little before colonialism  and after the fall of the Mongols as a reaction to the Renaissance (the public perception suddenly became that the roots of Islamic decline are because of too much thinking and too little dogma, and this led to only more decline). This was not helped by colonialism centuries later, which destroyed the academic institutions (theological, philosophical, and scientific) forever. In modern times, oil has both been crucial and destructive to the Arab world in particular. Lewis has a famous quote where he flips the common American quote: “No representation without taxation”. The oil rich gulf states have traditionally had almost no taxes on its citizens- the wealth of the nation was generated entirely by oil resources. Their was no need for a parliamentary system to develop a taxation system, and thus the monarchies established themselves permanently, and are only replaced if ever by ruthless tyrants.

His book after explaining what I have said so far in much more details concludes with a solution. The purpose of the text was not really to provide a solution, so it doesn’t focus too much on it, but his conclusion is that the only solution to the Middle East is non-secular democracy (secular preferably, but that is asking for too much too quick). America is a necessary component for reviving the Middle East (Lewis was a big advocate of the Iraq war…before it happened). I won’t comment on what I think about his conclusions, but I am content to say that his identifying of Middle Eastern and Islamic problems was excellent, and his analysis of their roots essential.

I Know why the Terrorists Terrorize (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1

In the wake of 9/11, we found ourselves asking what could inspire people to commit such a tragedy. We were asking ourselves, why do they hate us? I have begun so far explaining the roots of our religious challenges in the modern west that have lead to the contempt of the west. This is in no way justifying their behavior, don’t get me wrong, this is merely explaining it. Only with understanding the ideology can we combat it. Only ideology can defeat ideology.

But let us continue identifying problems before solutions. The crisis of modern religion in the west so plagued by secularist dogma is a primary factor in the surge of terrorism. The series of questions I asked myself two paragraphs earlier are precisely at the core of the terrorist issue. You may ask how terrorism can be so intertwined with those questions, but it is less the questions themselves but the lack of answers to those questions. There is a specific discipline of study designed to answer those questions. A discipline so utterly rejected and denied of legitimacy: theology.

It is ridiculous to assume the theological field of study is not a legitimate one. And yet this is how the public perceptions are steadily moving towards. It does not take a genius to realize this. In our day and age, the public attitude only thinks about philosophy in general. The books we read, the classes in school, the people we hear about are in the field of philosophy. The Church ministers of our day misinterpret scripture on an almost weekly basis, someway or the other. In the Muslim World, extremists (this does not imply terrorists) refuse to even consider the theological approach to Islamic study, leading to much of the confusion and disaster when it comes to institutions in power such as the Muslim Brotherhood.Many simple questions I have about the Bible are not even addressed on Google today, as if the theologians of our day don’t even have access to the internet (think about John 17:4 – carefully). Most of our intellectual public can explain to you what existentialism is, but don’t have a clue about biblical predestination. This is a sad truth, and this truth is why terrorists terrorize.

To be a doctor is to have one of the most widely respected professions of our day. Doctors have a responsibility for taking our bodies. By analogy, theologians are responsible for taking care of our souls. Ironically, people of western religions would see the soul as infinitely more important than the body, as it is everlasting, and yet we refuse to give even a moment’s thought to the importance of the field. The here and now are equally important to theologians. How we deal with the societies we live in based upon our religious values is decided by them: the very moral structure of society lies in the hands of the theologians, and to lose them is to lose the insight they can provide. A teacher of the Islamic university Al-Azhar states that a theologian requires two disciplines: theology and sociology. The understanding of religion is intertwined with the understanding of society, so that one can apply their faith within the context of their living. Without theologians both are lost.

Because of this loss of insight, we live in a sort of religious anarchy today. Religion is practically free for all, and we interpret things whatever and whichever way we want to. We do foolish things like quoting “Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” without even understanding the meaning of the phrase (no, it has nothing to do with secularism). To most secular minds, the theologian has no relevance, but I don’t think even an atheist should see it that way. When the learned of a faith suddenly lose relevance to that faith, the people with the loudest voice and the most testosterone take the faith into their own control: thus the terrorists. When the voices of the scholars that repeatedly and constantly preach against extremism are suddenly silenced, the bloodshed continues on. This is the phenomenon in the Muslim World, where the theological tradition was nearly destroyed after colonialism. Just as I can feel philosophy to be pointless, the destroying of such an institution would only cause more problems then I’d seek to solve.

The lack of religious understanding in our modern world can be attributed to the loss of theology. The numerous questions we ask, or don’t ask for that matter, are what terrorists answer themselves without the tools to look into other methods. This is in broad terms of course, as the majority of terrorists would be gangsters if they lived in America, or cartel members if they lived in Brazil. But the foundations and roots of radical ideology come from this lack of resources, this lack of understanding. The chaos that erupts from no learned opinion is disastrous. Imagine if half of all US bills on civil law in America suddenly disappeared. Our court system would go haywire, and our justice would become unjust. The loopholes would tenfold, and the system would be abused to the point of no return. This is what has happened, to an extent, to the religious traditions of the world. The secularist dogma has destroyed it seemingly irrevocably, and the gaps were filled by maniacs. Put simply, the maniacs then do whatever they want. That is why the terrorists terrorize.

TO BE CONTINUED.

I Know why the Terrorists Terrorize (Part 1)

This was originally going to be a poem modeled after I Know why the Caged Bird Sings. But I couldn’t get passed the first line, and I wouldn’t want to kill a good idea to a time when few will see it. So instead I will talk about what I know.

Yesterday I talked about what the “mainstream” really is. On one side we have the extreme right: Westboro. Al Qaeda. Bodu Bala Sena. But we have another, less violent, forgotten, extreme: Jesus Seminar Philosophers, the NOI, the secularists. In the spectrum of religion, the outward and inward ones, we have a massive middle ground that is lost. Some of them take on secular liberal worldviews. Some of them take on nationalist terrorist worldviews. Most of them a mix of the two. A stupid, incoherent mix that doesn’t make sense. This is the view of everyone I know. Honestly, everyone I know has a stupid, incoherent world view so mashed between a dividing line they think exists between reason and faith: “I don’t take it too far!” “I am modern!” To them, I say: on the contrary.

We are told today in the Modern West, reason and faith collide! Religion shall not publicized! Just be good, be moral, be happy! We are bombarded with secularist dogma: religion should be practiced lightly. Stop believing in hell. Ancient texts are no longer relevant. To them, I say: on the contrary.

The other day I was discussing religion to a far-right friend, and I asked him: should America be a Christian Nation? He said no. That would mean other religions would be oppressed. I talked to another liberal friend. He said no. Church and state should not mix. He probably doesn’t even know what that means. I asked another, about the applicability of the Old Testament. Old Jewish guys from back then were crazy, apparently. This is coming from Jesus loving Americans. As if Jesus would respond that way.  To them, all of them, I say: on the contrary.

I am not saying the church and state should be one. I am not saying we should revive Biblical criminal justice. But we must ask ourselves why we refuse to even consider things because we are told not to. We must ask ourselves the relevancy of religion in the public sphere, earnestly, honestly. We must ask ourselves what church and state really are and what they mean, and how they build on each other, and how they compete against one another. We must ask ourselves how ancient texts play a role in the modern world, or how they should play a role, or if they should play a role. To claim the instantaneous answers most of  is to say the very things we all spout from what we are indoctrinated to believe. We are told from day 1 in the west that they have no relevance, that religion should be private, that secularism is the way to go.

I ask you to question this, to go beyond our childish preconceptions and really question what should and should not be done about these issues. You may arrive at the same conclusions – but the journey of thinking must be taken.My questions must be toiled, by all of us, lest we fall into the trap of backwardness in following secularist dogma and refusing progress because we are told that is what is best. Should we not question, or should we take answers prematurely, we hit an extreme view on the spectrum without realizing even why. This is what the terrorists do, and that is why the terrorists terrorize.

TO BE CONTINUED.