Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Pater familias

I had been ruminating - even worrying - about fatherhood already much before this Sunday's miraculous event: beyond words these things are, as tightly folded buds, in Larkin's apt words, we arrive here. Tiny and helpless, full of promise and daring recklessly leaping into the cold, random world. A miraculous event indeed that only enforced my earlier thoughts: surely the only way of being a meaningful father, capable of love and protection, is to be a meaningful person. The same goes for all our human roles, being a man or a woman, a citizen, a member of a civilization. The essence is inner, it is not found in any outward characteristics, in any boastful embellishments. Having a true security about oneself but at the same acknowledging also the precariousness of all human life, the brutal limits of all personal power and aims. Acknowledging the terrible defencelessness we then have here and daring still to feel, to risk love. Surely, surely the bravest thing in this world is to love: such fierce hostages to fortune we do give - should we be so lucky.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The myriad ways of Islam

I have lately been reading descriptions of modern Islam written from within the faith itself - admittedly from the more liberal end of the spectrum. The latest has been Ziauddin Sardar's most fascinating and enlightening Desperately Seeking Paradise. What strikes me most in these descriptions is the polyphonic multitude of different interpretations of Islam, a polyphony of individual voices.

When you then turn towards the Western, especially US media, what you get is an undifferentiated, ridiculously simplified monolith. Highly placed officials can't even tell the difference between Sunni and Shia, or place al-Qaida correctly within the Islamic tradition. Such criminal ignorance is guiding and leading this absurd "Global War on Terror" which in practice often translates as a somewhat random war against somewhat randomly chosen varieties of political Islam.

What the various elites offer to the electorate instead of any deep understanding are silly platitudes, slogans, whether politically correct or incorrect: "Islam is a religion of peace", "No, it's a religion of war!" etc. etc. ad infinitum et nauseam. Of course, any great religion is a huge spectrum of interpretations, from the most eloquently mystical, open and tolerant to the most pitifully literalist, primitive and aggressive. So with Islam.

This is not to say that some forms of these current fundamentalist interpretations (much in evidence for example in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan) wouldn't be a threat to Western enlightenment and liberal democracy (and the same can be said also of much of George W. Bush's fundamentalist Christian base), but that Islam in itself cannot be that threat: there is no one Islam. Perhaps one day the majestic potential for liberation and openness that is contained in those universal visions will be released.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Against painkillers

Namely the triple curse of our modern age: cheap sentiment, fundamentalist religion and reflexive cynicism. All three serve a common purpose of distancing ourselves from the scary reaches of our infinite, passing, ephemeral experience. All avoid living with loss, avoid giving hostages to fortune, to time. They offer easy escapes from our human predicament. But to turn away from experience is to avoid living, of being in the world - a cruel, random place surely, where all of us, quickly passing in any case, offer our loved ones, ourselves to a daily barbaric lottery of life and death, yes, but without that offering how could we perceive this sharp, harsh, amazing beauty of existence, the breathtaking vistas that open before our eyes, the ice cold, purifying shock of water as we plunge into every day? Without that sense of living without any false comforts, without any safe conducts, how can we live truly - and if we don't truly live, how could we live ethically, esthetically?