Al-Huda

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the Message Continues ... 8/103

 

 

 

Newsletter for March 2010

 

Article 1 - Article 2 - Article 3 - Article 4 - Article 5 - Article 6 - Article 7 - Article 8 - Article 9 - Article 10 - Article 11 - Article 12

 

 

" To understand the anger in the Muslim world, one must understand the Crusades, the centuries of antagonistic detente, cold war and sometimes hot war, as well as the many betrayals by the colonialists, the broken treaties and promises, burnt libraries and massacres. Indeed, I could also enumerate terrors inflicted by Muslims of the past, but as a Western convert to Islam, a multi-generational American whose father, grandfathers and great grandfathers have worn the uniforms of this country and fought its wars, who has studied the history and traditions of both sides, I can honestly say, I did not convert to Islam for nothing. If I side at all, I side with truth not tribe. " --Hamza Yusuf


Seeing with Muslim Eyes
HAMZA YUSUF
( excerpt from The Empire and the Crescent,
Global Implications For a New American Century)

How many a dispute could have been deflated into a single paragraph if the disputants had dared to define their terms. --- Aristotle.

 

THE MYSTIC POET, Rumi, tells of three foreigners traveling down a road together. They come across a drachma on the road, and picking it up together, each declares what he wishes to do with it. The first says he will buy `inab, which is Arabic for grapes; the second, a Persian, says, "No! We must buy angur;' Farsi for grapes. The third, a Roman, exclaims it must be vitis? Latin for grapes. They begin to fight, and  soon a journey distinguished by camaraderie descends into a fisticuff of animosity. Rumi remarks that all they needed was a translator to explain that they all really wanted the same thing.

A tragedy of the human condition is that at the root of much of our suffering is a simple human desire: the desire for men and women to live in human dignity, treated with respect. When people are not treated with respect, they often become angry. This anger is either expressed or repressed. When repressed, it often manifests as sorrow and grief. In order to explore why so many people in the modern world are angry, let us first define some terms.

If understood properly, many of the words we use to describe states and qualities would, in their actual definitions, explain how human states come about. Anger is an old English word that originally meant "sorrow;' but this doesn't tell us much if we don't define sorrow. Webster tells us it is "mental anguish [anger's root lies hidden in that word, anguish, as well] caused by injury, loss or despair." What does all this mean?

Mental anguish is a state of mind, an overwhelming experience of pain that is not of the body, although it is certainly experienced in the body, and affects profoundly the state of the body. It results from injury, a word derived from two Latin words in juria meaning "unjust or wrongful." Injury is a wrong that was not deserved. One can see how a person who bumps his head on a tree branch he did not see, experiences it as an injury, a wrong that was undeserved.

King Lear remarks that he was a man "more sinned against than sinning." The irony of his remark is lost on him, as it is on most people who injure others and are in turn injured by those they initially wronged; in Lear's case, they were his daughters. Loss occurs when something we believe is ours is no longer accessible. It could be by death or by destruction, as in the loss of property, or it could be by something less tangible, such as a loss of respect.

Finally, in the definition of anger appears despair. How do we define despair? It is perhaps the easiest to define and yet the hardest. It comes from two Latin words meaning simply "without hope." Sperare in Latin is glossed "to hope." The Spanish have a wonderful expression, "espere me," meaning "hold on"; but etymologically, it is closer to "have hope in me:' We despair of people when we no longer believe them, when they tell us to give them some more time, yet we feel we have given them enough already and that this is just another ploy to keep us hopeful of help that we know is not forthcoming.

In our attempt at understanding the anger of the Muslim world, we have to try to understand the history of the Muslim world's relationship with the West, something most people have neither the time nor the inclination to do. David Fromkin wrote a compelling and cogent book:


The Peace to End All Peace. When it first came out, I read all five hundred and some odd small print pages, trying to understand a world I had become intimately familiar with, but deeply perplexed by, the Arab world. After September of 2001, like many other books on the Middle East, it has resurfaced in a new edition. The author painstakingly documents how the configuration in the Middle East was designed to ensure that peace would never be achieved a rather depressing account
of another chapter in the "Great Game" : There is a sad but enduring myth, bantered about by supercilious journalists attempting to edify the rest of us, that "the Arab/Israeli conflict is an ancient one." If less than a century is ancient, then I suppose they have a case. For journalists, less than twenty four hours is often ancient, which is part of the problem.

To understand the anger in the Muslim world, one must understand the Crusades, the centuries of antagonistic detente, cold war and sometimes hot war, as well as the many betrayals by the colonialists, the broken treaties and promises, burnt libraries and massacres. Indeed, I could also enumerate terrors inflicted by Muslims of the past, but as a Western convert to Islam, a multi-generational American whose father, grandfathers and great grandfathers have worn the uniforms of this country and fought its wars, who has studied the history and traditions of both sides, I can honestly say, I did not convert to Islam for nothing. If I side at all, I side with truth not tribe.

Muslims, like many Native Americans, feel that "white men speak with forked tongues." Understanding the anger in the Muslim world requires that one attempt to understand the pain, the injury, the loss and the despair that has arisen from so much treachery, so many lies and so meager an attempt at ever acknowledging these wrongs. It requires an attempt to understand the past, the roots of what is now a moribund and desperate culture that views suicide as a glorious, albeit tragic, testimony to the spark of resistance that still lies in the almost extinguished embers of hope.

To understand anger, one must understand mental anguish, some thing Western people should be very adept at, given the fourth quarter returns of pharmaceuticals that produce anti-depressants and anxiolytic drugs. Anxiolytic? what a strange but interesting word: literally "anxiety loosing" : Anxiety is a fear of some perceived future difficulty. The Arabs have a beautiful word for it: "hamm." You can hear the worry in it if you say it, much like our "hum" ; which can mean "to express hesitation or doubt." The Prophet Muhammad said, "Anxiety is half of aging." We grow old faster by fearing the future. Mental anguish is often precipitated by the past, by an injury or by loss or despair, but it is in reality a fear of the future. Anguish is clinging to the past, relishing the injury, living the loss over and over and despairing of a different future. We in the West know a lot about mental anguish, but we fail to sympathize with the anguish of others in the South and in the East. Their anguish, unlike ours, is often exogenous: it relates to the very real conditions that literally surround them and leave them in despair, without hope of a better future. They no longer believe the politicians who promise that things will be different this time around; they don't believe that America will allow a democratically elected government do what is good for their country if it means the United States may lose some less than vital interests.

The anger in the West, like the East's anger, is deeply repressed and rooted invariably in sorrow. Sometimes it comes out in road rage. Road rage is usually precipitated by some slight on the road, some tragic attempt at getting somewhere too fast without care for others on the road. It is bad manners, plain and simple, but the response is almost always out of proportion. Temper, like temperature, is something we need to adjust to constantly, but most of us are not very adept at it, and we are becoming less so by the minute.

September 11th was in some ways a type of road or air rage. The first recorded case of road rage is in Sophocles' play, Oedipus Rex. Oedipus kills his father who slighted him on the road. What neither of them knew was that they were father and son. Oedipus' rage was a result of abandonment. He was sent by his father to die, but the father's servant took pity on him and abandoned him to the elements. This abandonment is at the root of Oedipus' sorrow, which shows up as rage later in his life. We need to understand this to comprehend the result of America using Osama bin Laden to do a job for which America was not willing to kill her sons. She decided to get others to fight her war, as did T. E. Lawrence. Known as Lawrence of Arabia, he tells us that the only reason he used the Arabs to destroy the Ottoman Empire was because he did not want young English boys to die. The Ottoman Empire was seen as the evil empire of its day as far as the Europeans were concerned, and so Lawrence used the brave but treacherous Arabs against their fellow Muslims. Similarly, America, in what was called Operation Mosquito, decided to use the Afghans to bring down the Russian Empire. Zbigniew Brzezinski (who served as the National Security Advisor to President Carter from 1977 to 1981) boasts of luring the Russians into Afghanistan. Into the web of intrigue they came only to be consumed by the spider's game. Osama worked as an operative being used by Pakistani, Saudi and American intelligence. He funneled money into the "noble" war effort. The godless Russians were clearly infidels even to the Americans because they did not believe in Western markets, and that is akin to saying "there is no God" in the West. After many years of struggle and a loss of one and a half million Afghanis, to add insult to injury, we in the West walked away and washed our hands of it. The "fathers" who produced Osama abandoned their son to the elements of Afghanistan after training him, because the hunt was over and the game bagged.

Is the Muslim world angry? Yes, it is indeed. Its people feel mental anguish from injury, loss and despair, not of God, but of a godless world that has long forgotten the strings of betrayal, the webs of deceit, the chains of broken promises. The West would do well to understand why we have so much mental anguish here. I believe it is a deep seated fear of a future conflict between the oppressed and those who either oppress them with impunity or who sit by and watch the process. We all know in our heart of hearts something is deeply wrong with the world we all share and inhabit: the injuries our lifestyles in the West cause to so many others, the loss to others caused by our Western consumption levels and the despair our deaf ears cause to the multitudinous people around the world whose cries we ignore. We cannot just sit back and watch our world disintegrate before our eyes, a beautiful, abundant and divine theater of grace in which so many suffer so needlessly because of the actions of so few. To the Muslims, I can only warn them: "the one who fights monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster."

 

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