Saturday, July 28, 2007

In the Grip of an Insane Obsession


Maryam Sakeenah

Modernist movements like the one for gay and lesbian rights or for the banning of capital punishment reflect the culmination of modern humanist psychology in the West. All of these and the like are based on the belief that abnormal or criminal behaviour is rooted in deep-seated causes based on human experiences and hence can be understood sympathetically. This removes all basis for punishment or condemnation of anti-social behaviour.
Islam differs_ not in the understanding of human behaviour, but in the dealing with aberrations and the conclusions to be drawn. Based upon a dynamic belief in the Hereafter where the Maker Who understands will forgive and punish, it leaves the final judgement to the absolute, unfailing Divine court. However, Islam is not an other-worldly philosophy. It is about Right Here and Right Now; about creating an egalitarian, just social order upholding the Rule of law. As a social imperative, for the public good and asserting the supremacy of the law, Islam believes in the censure and punishment for a crime that sneaks out of its dark hole to corrupt the society.
The Western view of sympathetic psychological understanding has, to their own claim, made the West a tolerant, all-inclusive, free and open society. These are the secular values it prides itself in and stands for. However, on a deeper scrutiny, one begins to see Western society’s inability to universalize or indiscriminately apply these same values. It miserably failed to include the black-skinned races in the human family it recognised. The Indians, slaves, ‘niggers’ have suffered this exclusion. Over time, the West has grown out of its bias of skin and race to a great extent. But the deep-rooted inability to extend its upheld values to humanity as a whole, remains. The exclusion now has become belief-based. Whoever believes differently or has a Way different from the Western Way is second-rate, ‘naturalized’.
Islam provides a viable, veritable alternative system of life radically different from the secular system in more than one way. For one, Islam’s values, as history too would testify, have always been universally egalitarian in their application. It has had no issues with binding together into one family the slave and the master, the Arab and the Persian, the white and the black, the rich and the poor and even the Muslim and the non-Muslim in principle at least. This because Islam seeks its essence from the belief in the One Supreme Creator, the Sovereign over all, before Whom all stand equal. Secularism fails to do so as the Sublime Creator is absent from the picture who Fathers all creation, American or non-American. Secularism, based as it is on temporal values, cannot pretend to the universality of absolute values. It makes man-made ideology the supreme fountainhead of values and identity, and hence non-subscribers to the ideology cannot but be disowned, outdistanced, treated with suspicion.
The paranoia gripping the West about the ‘terrorism’ myth becomes understandable here. Without the intention to condone any acts of terror, it is important to reach into the causes from which the phenomenon stems. When the tree bears bad fruit, look to the roots. No great wisdom or sympathy is required in thinking thus. After all, why would a lad in the prime of his life blow himself and others up? The psyche is created out of the injustice, the hurt, the repression that maddens. Stripped of self-worth, he is ready to throw away his worthless life to achieve deliverance in dying; to state his defiance by refusing to live a life of muted misery. As Arundhati Roy puts it, “A terrorist is a victim who refuses to be a victim.”
In an episode of the ‘Witness’ series on Al Jazeera, the survivor in a bombing raid in Palestine that destroyed eighteen members of a single family was interviewed. The dead included a three month old baby, several minors, mothers and grandparents. As he wept uncontrollably over the corpses, he wailed out loud in the camera: “They say they are sorry. Sorry for eighteen people I loved, sorry for the babies and the children… what sorry? What does it mean? They want me to forget it all. These people I knew, I swear I will never forget them, never never forget how they died. And I will live to avenge their deaths. Forget them? No way!”
In his article ‘The West Has Bloodied Hands’, Eric Margolis writes, “What an irony it is to see U.S forces behaving with punitive ferocity_ bombing rebellious cities, arresting thousands, terrorizing innocent civilians, torturing captives and sending in tanks to crush resistance…our hands are very far from being clean.”
What is worrying, however, is the West’s refusal to look within, to soul search_what with all the modern psychology emphasizing the causes than effects, the working of the mind than the resultant obnoxious behaviour. The criminal, the animal, the homosexual… all have their share of sympathy. Why then is the ‘terrorist’ kept put, excluded, not understood?
The answer is in they myth of ‘the other’ which is perhaps part and parcel of the secular system and the ‘isms’ that stem from it. It is only in a system which has its fountainhead in the Divine, which makes it a part of faith to believe in the ‘human family’ where all are the humble creatures of a single Creator. Having dispensed with God bag and baggage, at least as far as the socio-political sphere is concerned, the vacuum is hard to fill as there is no perfect substitute in Secularism. Its utilitarian essence dictates that human values are to be used as long as they contribute to the greater public good. Morality is relative, not universal. Americans must be good citizens for each other to make America great, not because goodness is worthwhile for a higher, selfless end. So when good is not immediately and visibly useful, it is expedient to not be good.
Secularism and utilitarianism has an ‘elastic limit.’ They cannot but leave out space for the ‘other’_ the non-utility, the unfamiliar, the ‘Ishmaelite’, the un Western. The bearded and turbaned deserves no sympathy or understanding whatsoever because he does not live and love the Western Way. He is ‘the other’, whom Secularism has outlawed and cast aside. ‘The terrorists hate us’, says Bush, ‘for our way of life.’ The U.S hates the ‘terrorist’ for his rejection of a fickle, hypocritical, utilitarian, discriminative and unfair system that the West has adopted. The ‘terrorists’ are hated because they can see through into the bare bones of the system.
At this point, all psychological sympathy and understanding of anomalous behaviour breaks down. ‘The other’ is alienated as undeserving of the values meant for the adherents and loyalists of the West’s Ways. The elastic limit is reached. Secularism cannot pretend to universality.
That is why, so many times over, we get to hear of how many a handful were killed by suicide bombers, Al Qaeda or Taliban, but hardly ever do we get to hear of the hundreds of thousands of impoverished Muslim refugees killed by remote-controlled Western technology. That is also why, at home, we heard of the stick-wielding black veiled ladies chasing a couple of policemen and not the girl students beaten up and disgraced by the latter which had provoked the reaction; we heard of ‘black veils’ standing guard in the ‘heart of Islamabad’ and not about the eight mosques demolished and the sepulchral hush it was carried out in. We heard of black veiled vigilantes raiding a brothel house and taking hostage the head pimp ‘Aunty Shamim’ , and not the filth the same had spewed out since years and the complaints from the locals that had fallen on deaf ears.
It is a diabolical, ridiculously one-eyed view confining human rights to those who think and behave like a particular, select secular brand. M.A Niazi satirizes with characteristic wit: “They are violating the fundamental rights of all brothel owners, brothel professionals and brothel consumers in Islamabad. We must defend to the last drop of our blood, against vigilantes and burqa clad bamboo wielders, the fundamental rights of access to brothels, alcoholic beverages and filthy pictures. This is an Islamic Republic after all.”
It rattles one’s brain to see those who make such a big deal of their commitment to human rights, failing to see human beings in three dimensions; failing to see the elusive ‘terrorist’ as in actuality a victim refusing victimization; failing to see, (if this victim is bearded or veiled), beyond the labels that classify them as ‘the other’ which their narrow psyche cannot include.
An irony. Amal Shakeb writes, “I have met women who observe full purdah. Some of them are imparting and acquiring religious education and during my acquaintance with them, behind their veils I have seen the most kind faces and softest voices ever. All they preach is goodness and wisdom. That is where I found the beauty of Islam lies.”
‘Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.’ We cannot bear that beauty, so ugly have we become. We take the one-eyed view, the lopsided perspective. This is the onslaught of the Anti-Christ, the One-Eyed. This is the Insanity in whose relentless Grip we are held. This is the distorted vision, the twisted view; the thick-skinned self-centredness, the mass stupidity, the stone-hard insensitivity, the loathsome self-obsession and the inability to step in another’s shoes, especially when the other looks or believes differently.
A retired U.S diplomat who served his government for a couple of decades in North African and Middle Eastern countries now educates Americans about the larger, broader, fairer world-view. He said, “If we could only put on the glasses of an average refugee in Iraq or in Palestine and look at the world, a lot of what is going on which we don’t understand will begin to make sense.” The retired diplomat had the privilege of firsthand, direct experience.
The greatest paradox of the age, perhaps, is how in this ‘global village’, it has become so utterly impossible to understand the ‘other’; to set aside for a while our zombie-glasses and look beyond the suffocating trappings of skin and name.

“And mankind is but one nation. But they disagree.” (The Quran)