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Libyan Writer Ghoma

Friday, 2 December, 2005

WELTSCHMERZ: Soliloquy Along the Axis from Memory to Imagination!

By: Ghoma

        In reading some of the political writings that appear here and there on Libyan websites one is struck by the staleness of the themes, the brittleness of the analysis, and the pervasive sense of ease, if not naivete, with which difficult issues were approached and dealt with. Some of these secretions -were more screeches- and could be exemplars of how far utter simplicity and black-and-white moral absolutes can be hopped on to hover above the terrestrial globe into the ethereal stratosphere of the imagination where only the likes of Paracelsus's creatures can sport their assumed innocence! While from some others one comes out of the trance these writing induce in the reader with the impression the writers were pushing the fuel pedal with their feet while their eyes were fixed on the rear- view mirror! This way of thinking and writing is so pervasive, across the board, that the affiliations are of little help to peal some of the mysterious afflictions which kept a whole group of people under the sway of such an archaic mode of seeking in the invisible hallucinations the substitution to the real and visible world. Whether they're the old brand Islamists or the new brands, the remnants of reactionary monarchists, or even the newest fad of oppositionists ( the ones sans idees fixe, who probably think of themselves as post-, beyond-, and/or without-ideology and made out of hodged-podged old fatigued groups bankrupted both in pecuniary and otherwise capital), in their old or new garbs, all share the same fixations, if not obsessions, with repetitive hackneyed old messages. Though these messages give the impression of sweeping wide portions of the horizon in realty they cover very small portion no bigger than the one their ancestors had been gazing at since time immemorial. These messages may have been packaged differently, and may even carry different etiquettes, but in substance they're the same: from "Islam is the solution" to the "return to the constitution," and everything in between!

       If we start with the fact the world as we live it is a construction of human minds and muscles. Then thoughts and ideas should matter! Just look around and see what's going on. Most of the events tormenting the world these days are in essence caused by clashes among different ideas and worldviews! However much the cacophony generated by the hubbub of the different bells and whistles are making it even harder to separate the grain from the husks, there's only one way to fight the dimness descending on the world these days. That's to remember what the wise have said about this world. Their sayings and aphorisms are worth rescuing from realm of the forgotten! For example, not many these days would remember what Buddha and everyone, with few working synapses, before and since him kept saying: "with our thoughts we make the world." Notice the "we", i.e., us, not God's thoughts -unless religion be considered part of human thoughts- in that case it must be subjected to human whims and their ever changing reasoning and needs. Given that the writers wouldn't accept the humanization of religion, that's subjecting religion to human reasoning, then the question is: Why then the humanization of the attributes of God-love, anger, revenge, reward, etc.? Why a system deemed above-human reasoning if not logic, religion, is given such eminence to be the dominant theme of tons of writing. If it's beyond the pale of comprehension then the least of it would suffice the lukewarm and will keep the zealots busy for a long time to come ? (For those still captive to the notion that religion is a system of thought, the only consolation for them is while, yes! it may well be some sort of lucubration but nonetheless in today's world it's akin to a fossilized system of reasoning. We may admire it, try to understand it, and reconstruct the conditions under which such systems came to existence, but keep it at some distance). Instead of a genuine hermeneutics to come to terms with the system and decipher its contents, alas! much of the tapping on the keyboards was wasted on preaching to the choir. As a matter of fact, the messages -writings- usually bounce between a straight sermonizings, to a some sort of skewed exegesis, and when it's neither one, religion still sneaks its nose through the frame(s) of reference or the quotations that spice such cogitations! One can only say Religion has won big. It not only dominates the "culture" -if there's such a creature in societies made up of homo-religicus denizens!- but also permeates every nook and cranny of the universe surrounding them -for not saying every breath and whiff- of otherwise seemingly normal human beings with a coda of titles to their names! Not to be unfair. Secularists, though are an endangered species, fare no better. If there's still any of them left, they're fast re-learning what they've forgotten -if they've ever abandoned that mode of talking and thinking piously, i.e., the glib talk of hosannas, entreaties, and supplications; the prayers and blessings which, de rigueur, usually follow the mention of every Apostle and his aunts and cousins; the extensive use of the buzzwords, God willing, with God's help, etc.; and worse they seem to have started believing, or only partaking, in the logic twisting of exchanging the ideal for the real and lumping the whole thing in few prayerful salvos in case the Almighty may listen and come to answer those supplications. These folks seem to harken back to the times when riding the metaphysical train made one prone to a promised smooth journey where there're no ups and downs, or hills and valleys, but only miraculous floating until things just fell where they were expected to be. Part of what a religious culture would drive into the minds of those who fall either under its direct sway or just being pulled along in its wake, by way of insinuation -perhaps at the subliminal level- are vivid images akin to a mythological world of fairytales. God eventually will listen just keep calling on Him; the despot, sooner or later, will heed the call and remove or reform himself; and the virtuous republic -pardon me kingdom!- shall prosper under the law and order!

       One may object to the lumping of the nimble with the blind and lame, so to speak, in the same category. True! But what else would do justice and gives some accurate picture, though may not be completely fair descriptions? Even those who used to call themselves progressives - perhaps still thinking of themselves that way!- are falling head over heels under the spill of the times. It's becoming more and more difficult by the day to tell who is who, or to distinguish the sheep from the goats, or the vixens from the hens! All the stripes merging into a unified color, which is basically so blurred, it comes down to no color at all, reminiscent of that other model held sometimes in utter contempt, other times in hate-love relationship, by most of these folks, the American paragon -though they'll never admit the verisimilitude!

       It's not a matter of being stickler with the writers, who at least saw the need or the duty to let their views be known? Ain't the world, as Shakespeare long ago thought, a stage and politics is its play? So why cannot the writers-cum-actors assume the mantle of politicians coursing on the stumps of the campaign trail -these days mostly in Washington, DC or London! Slogans or no, the important is the countenance, the mug! Perhaps it's only to hone and hew the messages and to sharpen the tools in some sort of virtual resemblance to a real campaign? Aren't elections the ultimate goal for some of these? The questions is: What's the strategy and where are the priorities? If the house is a mere hovel and falling apart, ain't more pertinent, if not useful, to think of ways not only of how to re-build it again but most importantly of what design and shape will be, before all this prattling about the furniture and decorations?

       When ideological religiosity is the only game in town and fundamentalists are the holders of the banner of resistance, then not only there's something deeply wrong but s--- has hit the fan and it's time to face reality and ponder the darker days ahead! Though this happening, there's very little debate on the paradoxical enigma of our time: religion vs. state; or the structural incompatibility between religion and the modern state. Islam is a wholisitic system built on a totalitarian principles which regulate every detail of life. While the modern state is built on the balancing action of the binomial individual/collectivity, thus, it's limited in scope if not in action. How to reconcile the irreconcilable is skipped through as usual by the sleigh of a hand by the theocracy's proponents, in the hope that by the time the crisis is in full swoop, the state will have been under the control of religion and therefore beyond the pale and beyond this debate.

       But even without going that far to poke into the compatibility business what about such mundane concerns as pertaining to which brand of Islam we're invited to live under is still left to speculations. Is it the practical Islam -that's of everyday- or the theoretical Islam of the texts? Is it the historical Islam or the imaginary or reconstructed Islam? And who is going to interpret it, the so-called elites or the commons? Does Islam lend itself to deconstruction and reconstruction? And are there any reconstructionists out there? Or somehow we're only bequeathed genetically with strict constructionists only? And where we put and how we deal with individual freedoms? Freedom from coercion, freedom from intimidation, and freedom of thought, freedom from religion? Will we be able to tolerate old and new Ibn-Tufails, the old or new Ibn-Rushdies, and the likes of today's Rushdies, Mahfuzes, Fodas, Taslima Nasrins (of Bangladesh), Hakeems (of Libya), etc. among us?

       Our times are challenged and challenging. From population explosion, to environmental distress, to technological and scientific dominance... A development run amok, with its ever growing conspicuous consumption, is clouding our visions to look for a more sustainable system of development. Though it may not solve our problems, getting back to simpler times may give us a better view of what is missing. Since most of us citizens of or came from a world still straggling the seams between the Age of Faith (Middle Ages) and the Modern Age, it may be pertinent to digress to reflect on that transition by those who had already made the crossing. If there was a time when humans and gods lived side by side and even frolicked together, here on earth, it was the Classical Age. Deities were a galore! They worked for their paychecks. There were truly working class or functional gods. Each had his/her own area of concern and expertise. They were no different than humans! Anthropmorphsized, the gods endowed their blessings, not on whoever asked for them, but only on whomever met the requirements for their favors and inflicted their rages on whoever pissed them off. They were prone to cruelty only when provoked. For the most part they left humans alone to their fates -actually Fate was a goddess too! One thing though had never occurred to such deities was to intervene in human affairs without being invited or to pass judgments on their actions, not to say to monopolize the truth or to steer history into preconceived paths. While always present they kept their distances and left human affairs to the ebb and flow of whoever held the strings directing them. Gods intervened only when they were called upon! The Renaissance revolution, a true interruption in human history, was to re-discover that lost tradition in the mists of time and put it back to use once again, to redress what went wrong in human affairs when were hijacked by the one God idea and above all by His shadows and agents on earth. That's to liberate once again the truth from the concerns of God and put it back to where it belongs, among humans. Thus secular humanism was born. The idea that man is the center of the universe and thus everything, including what're called truths must be related to his/her logic, scale, and way(s) of seeing and reasoning. Suddenly the world had become a jumble of sense-data! The notion of consensus's seeking was also born. How to determine the truth and how to find ways to get what people want and to regulate it in such a way as to meet not only their approval but also their needs. Another important notion was born, that of self-awareness, of the "free will," if you wish. Questions such as these: Who am I? Why am I here? And am I going to live? And what kind of life I want? have been disturbing the sleep of most mortals since then.

       In short, society's energy and attention are of limited magnitude and durations. A reasonable society will find some balance between its obligations of the here and now and its dreams for the then and beyond. As long as society's frames of reference and its horizons are geared mainly toward the supernatural and the beyond, its earthly workings will suffer as a consequence of dealing only with what it can see on its far-off radar screens! Rationalizing those frames and views means bringing it -society- down to earth to see what's around it and what's under its feet. This requires that social processes - from the way society looks to itself to how it leads its business and meets its obligations- become geared more to what's in here and now and thus pays less attention to there and beyond, that's be more keenly focused with its attention on the individual's needs and aspirations. For history has shown the more a society is tolerant and caring, the more its citizens are productive and enterprising. A conducive social environment more apt to, eventually, unleash the latent creative energies of its citizens. The goal is to increase the spaces within which people could move freely and therefore, relaxing the social norms, which would augment the self-confidence and self-esteem of its individual members. With the removal of obstacles, mental and social barriers to initiative, individuals (and social institutions) will be able to play their roles of creative participation -not to forget Schumacher's creative destruction too!

       The problem with such writings -really politicking- is that the core or the foundation, is not as clear as their writers think it was. And when the foundational ideas are blurred or controversial then the whole message loses its clarity and thus the intended effect. Take, for example, the slogan "Islam is the solution," first of all, which Islam we're talking about, since it seems there're as many Islams as there're Muslims. Are we talking about the Islam of Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, Arab-stans or a rarefied, purified, and cleansed version of a long lost some seventh-century Beduin tribes of Arabia's rendering? How a spiritual God-centered abstract message be interpreted and translated into a working institutions in 21st century globalized world? And how to guarantee that the caliph wouldn't be another king like the rest of them?

       It's shocking to realize not only how many people in that forsaken region still prone on the idea that you can have a democracy under some sort of theosophic rule but more saddening how many of the so-called "well-educated" activists turned oppositionists are still under the spell and sway -or just illusions- of traditional culture! It never dawns on such people that there's a fundamental disjoint between God's version of truth and human understanding of it. While God's truth, according to some people who pretend to understand Him, is absolute and fixed; human versions instead, according to Joe six-packs and Jane six-kids, are relative and changing. And thus becomes a hurdle if not a real problem to democracy to reconcile fixed notions of what's right and wrong with a constant flow of human history and its changing attitudes and moral values.

       One assumes that some of those "democrats" are willing to legislate morals! In that case the enforcement of those codes as the religious edicts will fall under the state's heavy hands? Are we willing to let the state treat people as minors and shepherd them to where it knows not? Are heaven and hell also part of the Big Brother's ever expanding domain? If not, what to do about the inevitable clashes between the unresolved heavenly mandated issues with ethical and sciences's challenges? Issues that encompass a wide range of human values and activities.

       There's no scarcity of themes where the religiously inclined folks can dedicate their lives to and spend their energies on. There are aplenty within and out of the ideological-religious trap! Instead of politicizing religion, which leads to all sorts of radicalizing tendencies, the politics of religion would do both religion and society a lot of good if religion approaches politics as any other concerned institution: by staying out of the corrupting influences of power, i.e., maintaining its independence, and lobbying for its interests. Relying on the archival store of knowledge and assuming the role of anchor to society, religion can play its advisory role from a distance, so to speak, which consists mainly of being a beacon to the lost and a deterrent against excessiveness for the rest! It would be more useful and fruitful for the Belief System and its believers to spend some time and channel their energies on the most pressing ideas confronting our times. Ideas of gender equality, death penalty, to medical ethics and the teaching of science -for example, Evolution vs. Creationism. What are the ethical standards and moral grounds on which such weighty issues be approached and untangled: For instance, Is it democratic to treat women as "unequal", minors, or mere junior partners? What about cloning, stem cell research, genetic manipulation, abortion, assisted suicide, body donation and organ transplantation, ...? What are Islam's stands on usurpation of power, corruption, nepotism, etc? And why Islam and Muslims seem to be still preoccupied with such puny and mundane matters of personal behaviors, not to mention the silly fairytaling fantasies about paradise -when no one has yet come back to tell whether it existed or not- with such detailed descriptions, as some dunce of a doctor! has done lately? If such fantasy-lands are not escapism, then what must be called; perhaps, only wallowing in the dregs and dredges of another time and another place?

       As to the constitutionalists suffice to say it with the Bible: Oh, forgive them for they know not what they're doing! As to the constitution. Well, while the problem is not as widely speculative as religion nonetheless it's no less insidious. Why all the hoopla about some heterogenous collections of a set of bylaws long gone and forgotten -thrown into the trash bin of history? And would not be compelling to first prove of their legitimacy, not to say worthiness, before mounting a campaign to resurrect them?

       A culture is governed above all by its horizons and by the paradigms and the parameters therein lie. Individuals and even institutions are no less bound by those horizons than by the gears that run its mechanisms. Even those who're against the status quo fall short of thinking out of the box! None of our oppositionists went farther than down with the dictatorship. Whether left or right they're still paying lip-service to the nightmare that's caused the whole mess: The culture! The disease gnawing at the body politic in Libya and indeed the whole Arab-stans is deeper than the wart(s) one sees on the surface of the skin. It's the ideas of polity and citizenship. The mutual respect of each as well as of the social contract by all. The wrinkles traditional culture still has with such seemingly simple yet utterly complex ideas have never been ironed over in our neck of the woods. The sick and stagnant culture of bygone times is still ruling supreme over the willing, as well as the unwilling. The result a population out of history, though many of them may be only stoned, others certainly are duped, and by hook or crook, the whole is kept drowsy.

       The dilemmas facing the area and its culture are real, beyond dispute, and therefore should be approached beyond the limitations of ideological lenses, by all the political spectrum. Only when these problems have been acknowledged by most of the participants can a diagnosis be done and a possible solution be looked for. As a start it's time to shout loud (with those of the Enlightenment, and early 20th century movements, such as Futurists, Constructionists, Expressionists, Dadaists , etc,...): down with the past, down with history, down with the totems, down with everything; welcome to a new dawn, a new age, and a new horizon and new page!


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