Wednesday, February 21, 2007

On truth..

Ibn Rushd, the great Arabic philosopher who lived in the Andalus around the 12th century compiled many books of which one called Hayy ibn Yathqan has caught my attention and is on my reading list. It is the story of a young boy abandoned on an island who in his battle for survival and through reason begins to comprehend his life, the laws of the universe and experiences deeply mystical experiences. The central idea behind it is that it may be possible for somebody through reason to grasp deeply mystical and profound knowledge previously only available through Prophets. I guess reading a lot about the philosophical and deeply learned background of somebody such as the Imam Ruhollah Khomeini for my dissertation had taken me through all sorts of Wikipedia articles and googling, as well as the slower (but more rewarding process) of going through the library.

Khomeini himself was heavily involved in the 'irfan school of thought, based on Neo-Platonic philosophy as well as works by al Farabi such as al Madina al Fadila and the semi-mystical works of Ibn Arabi. Surprisingly for many people, the closest form of government (constitutionally at least) to Plato's ideal rule by Philosopher-Kings has been attempted in Iran. In turn, the Islamic thought that had been developed in the religious centres of Qum in Iran and Najaf in Iraq provided the ideological background and dynamism behind the clerics who founded Hezbullah. The central idea behind much of their thought is beyond the scope of what I'm planning to write tonight. Suffice it to say, I find that there has been a continuity of Islamic thought which has been largely unbroken, and unbe-known to many in the West, many of the "dilemmas" which face Islamic, or as modernists dub them "traditional" societies, have been discussed and gone through critically. The role of the Islamic culture in society and as a society has been thoroughly examined. Not only that, but Western secularism, ideology and discourse has also been carefully studied, critiqued and sized to proportion. So for example an all-encompassing ideology such as Liberalism, widely claimed by some to be the most ideal vehicle in our times for at least reaching "Truth" or providing a civilised life, is described for what it is. A relatively recent and far from perfect "experiment" to some up and only part of, a more detailed analysis. The capitalist system of development is not the only ideology under the microscope and that other great threat to the civilised world Communism, was also criticised for reducing man to a material economic unit of production (not too different from capitalism but with less exploitation perhaps) leaving other areas of human life severely lacking and unprovided for. Anyhow, my main point from all this is to contrast this with the relatively sparse and frankly quite pitiful analysis and engagement of the said Islamic thought in the West.

I suppose the fact that most of these texts are in Arabic or Farsee (whether from Sunni or Shia sources) may play a small part, but that is no excuse for scholars in the West who historically have famously studied Hebrew, Greek and Latin in order to absorb ancient texts and study them. The little I do find on the dusty shelves of my libraries are real gems, yet nobody seems to be aware of them in the wider media circus that is the debate about the Islamic "fifth column" in Europe or the United States. Youtube is rife with clips by demogogues and polemicists from Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer and organisations such as along with redeemed "good"Arabs or ex-Muslims who are now "civilized and one of us" such as Wafa Sultan and Brigitte Gabriel, or recently Ayaan Hirsi. It's interesting how their arguments all sound the same and verge on the outright rabid as they condemn the entire Islamic religion and world-system to some kind of butchering incoherent mass of fanatics hell-bent on conquering the world and raping the gaping mouths of the virtuous West. I have to say that self criticism is the most important tool a virtous person can have and I constantly try that, but the arguments and criticisms they present are so rabidly uninformed and one sided; there is essentially only one answer they are interested in from whoever engages with them. As soon as you try to engage with their points...too late, you're sucked in!

The problem is that many people, including myself, just don't identify with what these people are arguing about and quite simply the issues and arguments presented are all moot points. It's like somebody arguing with you that the colour Blue is better than the colour Green (which you're wearing) when you've never really thought about that and frankly you couldn't care less. Unfortunately with events such as September 11, many people seem to think that Muslims need to explain themselves or to specifically condemn what happened. Then they have to explain their religion as a "religion of peace" by arguing about the points these demagogues bring up constantly. All of a sudden, Islam is in need of reform or the Arab world is in need of an Islamic enlightenment. This just leaves the person trying to answer all these accusations dazed and confused and not sure where to start. What the Arab world and the Islamic world should do in this modern day whipping up of frenzy for a war (akin to the Crusades - damn, I was trying not to use that word!) is to just know themselves and their history better. I've done that myself and found that even when dealing with pretty hardcore anti-Arab/Islamic mentalities (most recently with somebody of the Maronite persuasion from Lebanon) the put down effect is amazing. This is easy once you know exactly what your talking about because you have done real research on the subjects. The fact is that none of those who repeat parrot fashion what they read from popular current affairs books (cafe politics) actually realise what the debate or even what the current conflict is about. Islamic conceptions of "justice" a concept more important in my opinion than democracy or the laissez-faire ethics of some societies in the West, is discounted completely and never engaged with effectively by most; if they did, the questions asked and the subsequent dialogue would take us to a completely different level, something which Western governments and even certain Western religious institutions, would be most uncomfortable with. Far from being a good Muslim myself, I still refuse to allow ignorance and stupidtity to go (verbally!) unpunished if uttered in my presence.

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