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Libyan Writer Ghoma

Sunday, 12 June, 2005

History And Religion

By: Ghoma

       History and religion are an inheritance from times gone by. Can we disown them? Not really. Can we change them? Well, that's where the controversy resides. They can be re-read and re-interpreted. Time and again the Arab history had shown that re-reading the same story and re-writing the same narratives by and in themselves wouldn't make that much difference unless the activities of rereading and rewriting were accompanied by -some say required- a new way(s) to look at them. The way(s) may consist of, new method, discovered facts, change of frames of reference, or all combined. This fresh reading and interpretation would determine the identity of the group and may shed some lights on what and who they want to be. Given the undeniable fact that humans, in most cases, had no choice of where or who they were born in or to, they were left only with the ability, if not the duty, to correct what they held to be Nature's accident, that's, by choosing how to deal with the inherited baggage from the past, both in its history and belief(s) system(s).

       Some may ask why disturb such a dune of sand and stir such a can of worms when nobody can predict the outcome. When this past becomes a chain that holds its keepers to in a standstill position the only way to go forward is by coming to terms with it, either repudiating it or better burying it. That will depend, again, to get back to the idea of consciousness and its burdens, and on whether a particular generation chooses to get hold of what not yet owns since history, tradition, value and belief, etc. could be appropriated only when they're deliberately sifted through and critically adapted and adopted! In the case of Libya, the countless generations that went by, in the absence of any creditable and tangible signs of consciousness, one can reasonably surmise, had lived only as a continuation of life in the biological chain, since there's no visible trace of their existence - with the exception, of course, of us, the present generation(s)- which would make the burden on this and the coming generations even heavier, if they chose to do otherwise. All we're left with, our inheritance, consists basically of bric-a-bracs and tattered relics of no other value except of nostalgic remembrance and sentimental reminiscence. The sad fact is, nothing from the past would demonstrate the existence of an "intelligent life" in the land we call home! No great art, or memorable architecture, no poetic outpourings, nor philosophical ponderings or religious contemplations! For many of those succeeding generations life, if what they went through could be counted as life, was at the primal and vegetative states of mere subsistence levels. And, paraphrasing Socrates, unexamined life is not only unworthy to live, it's no life at all!

       Some people, when they write about history, were in the habit of stuffing it and embellishing it, beyond the usual giving of benefit of reasonable doubt; and than believing what one writes, is inventing what couldn't have been or had occurred -ignoring Ibn Khaldun's warnings to use reason to decide which of the stories and anecdotes would have happened and which was purely balderdash. Thus, history comes as recordings of events and actions of heroes in extraordinary times circumstances. Torn between hagiographic profusions, lost glories, and reactivistic impulses. Anyone, who, read the opposition's writings about the colonial and the kingdom's periods, was made to belief that the "ferocious resistence" shook the land beneath the invaders and made life for them miserable- if not, impossible- and, that Libyans were the forgotten heroes of ours and all times. They usually skip what didn't square with such logic; for instance, ignoring to mention that half or more of the country, belonged to the "popolazione pacificata" [ pacified population] and a good part of those worked for the colonizer. As for the resistence(s), a hodge-podge of guerillas who lacked both the material as well as intellectual tools to fight a well-organized invader. They, no different from the rest of the population, were caught in the long slumbering interval between the Crusaders and 20th century colonialism. They confused the zealotry of the first with the cunning and ferocity of the second! Whatever resistence there was -disorganized, amateurish, and lacking a sense of national identity- it was over by 1931. For more than a decade the country was effectively "la quarta sponda" [the fourth shore] complementing the other three shores delimiting the Italian peninsula's boot. Only accidental history had worked to Libya's favor. Without the loss of the Axes powers to the Allied powers and without the ideological incongruities of the winners and their competitive greed, the country would have had a different destiny.

       However one looks to the colonial period's events, one should think twice before accepting the outcome as achieved results and agreed upon compromise. Nothing was achieved and much less was agreed upon. Whatever crumps had been thrown our way and we took them; all was given, nothing to brag about and nothing to celebrate for! The British and their Allies, plain and nasty, maneuverings in the decade before the nominal independence, were responsible for the still born and dead on arrival post-colonial state. The result: These powers not only delivered the country to a sufi and a bunch of his tribal cohorts but had instituted in the process, to both theirs as well as that of their local lackeys, the legitimacy they needed. This sanction's stamping came, as usual, through a sleigh of the hand represented by the so-called constitution, which, suffered from the start from those dubious tactics and plain phony representations and referendums. If some are still in doubt let them consult some history books, on the way how the various committees and assemblies leading to the so-called "Constitutive Assembly" were chosen and run, and on how Idris was imposed on the unwilling majority as a payback for services rendered to the British crown.

       And the kingdom! Well, was it really the paradise lost? Was it really a "kingdom" (an advanced concept and a demanding model for a group of tribes to comprehend and even less to realize?) or, rather was more of a chieftain with a flag -which, by the way was designed by the same power that had installed him as a "prince" -than a constitutional monarchy? Or, just in the imagination and fantasies of some people -a fossilized, atrophied and calcified bunch- inflicted with a common phenomenon among Libyan exiles, hallucination! This, of course, usually had lead to the state where illusions replaced reality. When this condition is coupled with other unavoidable fact, that's, the new generation's historical amnesia, the result is momentous. For, such opportunistic groups or individuals are bent on exploiting these circumstances to sell what they've, their wares, that's, their insidious designs for the future. Oh Gush! What the ignorance of those who were not there can lead to? And, when the talk gets juicy and turns to: Democracy, Constitution, the rule of law, the fairness and justice, complete with the Bill of Rights and even the 1st Amendment then the unaware and the ignorant get hypnotized. [Not by chance, knowledge is considered power!] These writers must belong to one or the other of the two groups: Conniving bunch or the younger generations, while the first has its own agendas, the second have not lived in either one of the two periods and have confused the hearsay and gossip with the sweet hypnosis of wishful thinking. In either case they've not done a great job of looking to the beast in the eye and asking the right questions.

       There's a group of people, living in the la-la-land of self-delusion, are pushing hard for the return to the so-called " Kingdom's Constitution." The right term to call that piece of hot-air is king's constitution. The constitution they're so fond of, as a Latin American caudillo once described its similar, was only a piece of paper. A king's carte blanche of absolutism, in other times and a different place, wouldn't have the value of the paper on which it was written. Giving it the name of constitution is a misuse of the term. It's a concession to one guy, the king, of a country to do whatever he likes with it! By whom was done this concession? That's the big question. The whole document was written in function and as a testimony to this fact. No self-respecting "Social Contract" would miss to pay tribute first and then takes as a foundation both the People and the Individual. People from whom sovereignty descended and to whom all power belonged. The Individual, to whom all rights belonged and on whom all duties descended, as the most important agents and the minimum unit upon which the social edifice was erased. The mention in article 33 of "The family is the basis of society..." Confounded a contractual unit with an independent and autonomous agent and didn't compensate for the lacunae!

       To give some example to what was said so far, here are some of most important stipulations of what's called Constitution: Article 40, chapter IV, says: "Sovereignty shall be to God..." in article 44, chapter V, "...sovereignty shall be vested by the nation in trust with the king..." and in article 59, "The king shall be inviolable. He shall be exempt from all responsibility." Article 62, "The king sanctions and promulgates the laws." Article 69, "The king shall declare war and conclude peace." Article 75, "Currency shall be issued in the name of the king." Article 94, "The senate shall consist of 24 members appointed by the king." Article 97, "The President of the senate shall be appointed by the king." Article 139, " The President of the senate shall preside whenever the two chambers meet together in congress..." Article 197, " No proposal may be made to review the provision relating to the monarchical form of government, order of succession to the throne...." With all of that, they did away article 1, chapter I, from the first day, which says: " Libya is a free independent sovereign state. Neither its sovereignty nor any part of its territory may be relinquished." What ceding military bases to foreign powers did to sovereignty and what conceding of pieces of national territories to others was called?

       If the young and/or those who want to pursue the truth wherever it leads wanted to know the why and whereabouts of the past, they must subject the received baggage to the same rigorous hatchet as some are doing in subjecting the other side of the binomial responsible for the lacked consciousness, or which is worse, the spawning and propagation of a false-consciousness, that's, Religion. The debate took the wrong turn from the beginning. Instead of being about the role of religion in the public square it got entangled in the quagmire of religion itself, the foundation and validity of its tenets and practices, and all the other complicated metaphysical questions. That's why it is turning into a squabble between self-proclaimed believers with some individuals, whom, the first group, has called, allegedly nonbelievers. Both parts were using the same fountain but apparently getting at different waters. As Shakespeare said in, The Merchant of Venice: "The Devil can cite the Scripture for his purpose." Thus the bickering and dithering about some of the practices of the early Muslims, including the Prophet and his closest Companions wouldn't deter the believers nor quash the seekers' persistent questionings. If anything, the exchange is, perhaps, an indication of a rebellion against a long suppressed discombobulation and at the same time a symptom of an awakening of a relative, to the area and the culture, of a new kind of awareness. Modern consciousness had insisted from the beginning on the idea that the road to the appropriation of the world and life, is possible only through locating one's place in it and thus establishing a foothold in the-here-and-now. Such "soul searching," so to speak, usually reached by revising the received "wisdom" and the well-nigh mythical history that went with it, not to forget the conventional sources as well as the essences of the moral codes and values by which life is regulated and conducted. In the normal scheme of things this revision must be always going on. It is never about acceptance or rejection, in toto, rather it's about coming to terms with the present.

       Rarely the activity of revision takes drastic measures. There's always a chain that links the succeeding generations to each other and thus guarantees some sort of continuity. But, when, what's usually referred to, as history is so remote from us - just as if it could have been of another people on another plane- then the contemporary is the only point of departure. And because the present is so brutal and so formless then the chain must be interrupted and a sharp-turn along the bending and twisting road, so to speak, as that of our history and religion, must be taken too. In other societies, these kinds of momentous eruptions were called revolutions. The advent of the various religions had been a revolution. Renaissance and Reformation were revolutions in their own right. As well as the more specific revolutions of the type of Industrial, Scientific, etc. revolutions and the various political revolutions that took place through time and place.

       The question: Are we, as Libyans and as Arabs, live in usual, regular, and normal run-of-the-mill times or in an extraordinary and exceptional set of circumstances? The answer, needs no brainer, and is definitely the latter. We live in an exceptional times and with a set of exceptional circumstances. In addition to being, backward, poor, and ignorant; we're also divided between colonized, occupied, defeated, and coopted. While there maybe some consensus on the present, there's no definite and absolute agreement on how to get out of it. Some of us still maintain that only God and, His worshiping can see to it; others, in accordance to the saying, "God helps those who help themselves," are pushing for a complete turn of the page and a new start. The puzzle is which one is right and which one is wrong.

       Of course in such a situation there's no magic proof to apply to anyone side and measure his/her claims. The rights and wrongs are not absolutes. There's a wide margin for conjecture and speculations. Only time will tell right from wrong . However, others' experience can be of help. What other nations and states went through to get where they're now, can tell a great deal. Their experiences could be used to temper and mitigate the agonies that will surely result from the trial and error approach.

       You cannot turn a page and read or better write a new page if you got stuck, like a broken recod, on the same page. You've to, somehow, get disengaged from the habit of seeing yourself as a universe on its own, complete and closed on itself; and, to start looking to what's happening around you. This, of course, wouldn't happen without some shaking and even shocking events and swings that will sort out the essential from the trifles and separate the grain from the chaff. Such events are caused or will lead to disenchantment and alienation with whatever has relegated the area to the bottom of the pit. Among them the culture in general, the understanding of religion in particular, and the estrangement from the world around us. For, we live in a cocoon of our own making, thinking that's the whole universe when it's only a snippet of its shadow -no different from the archetypal story of the Plato's Cave!

       Disenchantment and alienation, two a simple but loaded words, almost by themselves describe the modern human condition. Disenchantment with the world as it was constituted at the beginning of the modern era, and as Max Weber thought, was essential to the creation of the same modern world we live in. The thought was based on the observation that humans had already decided to reject the past and the flotsam and jetsam that came with it, as a wholesale. Among these, the notions of the world as a transitory bridge -to where!- life as a test -to what? - and humans as cogs in a cosmic machine beyond any sense of grasping the who, what, or, why they're here! Alienation, as a consequence of disenchantment, deals less with the world but more with the context in which one find the self. It's bent, rather, on the self, as a byproduct of a mass industrial and consumer society.

       Some societies, mainly in Western Europe, were the causes, and bore the effects of such traumatic conditions. Others, later on, took the negative fallout of these events as a way to reinvent themselves, so to speak, as Japan in the 19th century, China, Korea, and India are doing now. Still others, like in our midst, refused to deal with them and withdrew into a more, I hate to say familiar, less threatening territory, their past -mind you, the imagined and idealized one! This stubbornness, in part, rested in the paradigm under which they operate: There's nothing wrong with the shoe, the problem resides in the foot. Which means leave the shoe as it's, change the foot! It's a lopsided and twisted logic, but a logic nevertheless!


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