Tuesday, February 28, 2006

On Centers and the missing Middle

Karl Lowith is an absolute joy. An incisive and rigorous intellect blissfully able to express itself in terse prose! He forces one to re-think. I’ll be presenting you with some of his analyses of Carl Schmitt in bits and pieces in the coming weeks. From a short essay, The Occasional Decisionism of Carl Schmitt:

"For Schmitt’s own concept of the singular essence of the political is characterized generally by the fact that it is first of all a polemical counter-concept to the romantic concept and in addition it is secularized concept derived from the theological one.

His opponent is the liberal state of the nineteenth century, whose apolitical character Schmitt understands within the context of a general tendency of the modern age toward the depoliticization of the state….Schmitt characterizes this tendency toward depoliticization as one toward neutralization as well.

Since the emancipation of the Third Estate and the formation of civil democracy and its refinement into industrial mass democracy, this neutralization of distinction which are measure-giving for politics, together with the postponement of decisions regarding these distinctions, has developed to the decisive point where it is now changing into its opposite: into a total politicization of all areas of life, even those which would appear to be the most neutral.

Thus there emerged in Marxist Russia a worker-state “which is more intensively civil[staatlich] than any state of the absolute monarchs ever was”; in Fascist Italy there emerged a corporate state which standardized not just national labor but the dopolavoro and all of spiritual life as well; and in National Socialist Germany there emerged a thoroughly organized state whose politicization extends, by means of racial laws and the like, into those areas of life which had previously been private.

But Schmitt sees the negative presupposition of this politicization in the “spiritual Nothing” that prevailed at the end of the age of neutralization…Schmitt does not believe that this new centralization of politics signifies that politics is now coming forth as the central domain and is becoming the “substance’ of the state, in place of those “spiritual spheres” in which the Europeans of the past four hundred years found “the center of their human experience [Dasein]”

Of course, [Schmitt believes that] in the course of the past four centuries the spiritual center of human existence has changed four times, from theology to metaphysics and from humanistic morality to economy and [that] the meanings of all specific concepts have shifted accordingly….But the political itself is by no means a special substantive domain, and hence it never has the prospect of being the central domain. Still Schmitt never says which specific substantive domain is foundational today, for our time.

….the central domain of life fundamentally can not be neutral; it does not become clear from which domain the total state of the twentieth century draws its spiritual power and reality….

Of course on one occasion, Schmitt distinguishes the “intellectual music of a political program” from the “irrationality” of political myth which, in the context of a “real war,” emerges out of “political activity.” But apart from the fact that it remains romantic and unclear what this “real,” true, and genuine war consists in, The Concept of the Political also provides no indication of the kind of new myth which could serve as the spiritual foundation of modern, political activity.

… Schmitt ascribes a special role to romanticism. For it is in romanticism that the problematic transition from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century takes place…. “In reality the romanticism of the nineteenth century signifies…nothing more than an intermediate, aesthetic stage between the moralism of the eighteenth and the economism of the nineteenth century, i.e., it was simply the transition by means of which all spiritual domains became aestheticized, indeed quite easily and successfully.

Carl Schmitt has an unmistakable affinity for this romanticism and its adroit political representative Adam Müller, the creator of the theory of the total state….

On Schmitt’s analysis, what is characteristic of the romantic in general is that for him anything can become the center of spiritual life, because his own existence has no middle. What is always central for the true romantic is simply his ego, which is clever and ironic but which is fundamentally unstable. “In the liberal, bourgeois world, the individuated, isolated, and emancipated individual becomes the final court of appeal, the absolute.”

But because it lacks a substantial world, this absoluteness of one’s own is an absolute Nothing. From this most extreme isolation and privatization of human existence, it is but a step to its very opposite, namely an extreme, public kind of commitment, for instance to the community of Catholic Church or to national politics, which itself then becomes a form of religious involvement.

But as long as the romantic is a romantic, the world becomes for him a mere occasion, a mere opportunity or occasio, in romantic terms a “vehicle,” “incentive[Inzitament],” and “elastic point,” for the productive activity of his ironic, scheming ego.

This romantic concept of occasio negates—as does Schmitt’s concept of decision!—“every commitment to a norm.”

Political romanticism is merely pseudopolitical, because it lacks moral seriousness and political energy….With this conception of romanticism Schmitt is now ultimately characterizing himself as well, since his own decisionism is an occasional [okkasionell] one."

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Crafty literati and other oddities

Every once in a while and in one of my more distracted moods, I use my web counter to have a look at the reading habits of my fellow denizens of this rotten planet we call home. Or is it just idle curiosity?

That and I am feeling exceedingly cold--both in the extremities and deep in my bones. Which is odd for me, really! For years, I have been feverish and hot. The body, it seems, is going through some fundamental changes again. And a bit of concentration would help right about now. But I have been obsessing about matters political way too much. And that’s bad.

Because I have been thinking I should call an exorcist or a jinn chaser, perhaps!

Not really of course. It just sounded good because of this politics of the sophisticates I force myself to stomach everyday. Even incorrigible masochists have limits, don’t we?

I mean, the ceaseless bugle blowing of the self appointed Mimirs of Novelty or Custodians of Ancient Traditions and then the dud of that inability to tolerate simple differences of opinion and life choices.

The best they can throw around is that charge of being an instrument of some kind. A foreign agent here, or the British stooge there or that Great Satan’s pawn. And the highly imaginative accolade, of course, the evil incarnate.

So, don’t have a taste for goose stepping behind the murderous Ahmadi Nejad & Gang and they aim to hang you high. Don’t care to settle for the predictably nauseating Jr. Jr. Show and, yes, you’re “objectively” evil.

The same old cacophony, different tunes!

So idle curiosity or not, it is always fascinating checking out some of what keeps other folks in different countries preoccupied.

Then imagine my sense of charmed amazement when I noticed the most popular sites in Cambodia today.

And if you’re curious, over eighteen and not easily offended:

I give you what passes for philosophy amongst those crafty Cambodian literati here and here

And for chemistry here and this for literature and language.

And while we are focused on the lighter sides of life-- or the more grave, take your pick--there is an Iranian somewhere in California boasting a wicked sense of humor that inevitably always makes me smile. A rare occurrence these days.

Two of his most recent shorts:

Danish brokeback
February 23, 2006

A prominent Iranian director said, "Forget movies about gay cowboys. I'm making a movie about gay Arab suicide bombers who find it difficult to blow themselves up in a bus full of naked Danish male dancers."

Ready to go
February 18, 2006

When America attacks Iran, as an Iranian-American, I would like to fight for the Iranian side, Monday through Wednesday and for the American side, Wednesday through Saturday. And I would like Sundays off to run errands, do laundry and catch up with some sleep -- if it's okay with both sides. In a case I'm taken as a prisoner of war by either side, I refuse to perform human pyramid tricks or commit suicide by downing hair removal creams. I also like to request from the Iranian side not to ask me to blow myself up, and the American side not to ask me to attach electrical wires to nipples of hooded prisoners. Other than that, I'm ready to go. Where do I sign up?

And the rest.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The sorcerer’s apprentice and shameless sycophants

I was hoping to share some of Lowith’s insights on Schmitt. Three factors have contributed to making for a slight detour. The most crucial was a comment left by a long-term reader Ali M in response to the last post.

And Mr. Limitedinc was also good enough to have drawn my attention a few days ago to an article, Jihad Unintended by Dimitri K. Simes , the president of The Nixon Center and publisher of The National Interest. I encourage you to read it carefully. The National Interest, of course, is the more serious version of the Weekly Standard.

Last but not least, our most renowned Choochoo man is at it again in his After Neoconservatism—having definitively seen the last stop of the-by-now infamous train of history on its predetermined sojourn which predictably ended up in Washington one too many times— trying to get us on board yet again for one last trip along the unknown tracks of some “Realistic Wilsonianism,” whatever that comes to mean.

Which all brought me back to re-reading Weber today:

"To take a stand, to be passionate--ira et studium--is the politician's element, and above all the element of the political leader. His conduct is subject to quite a different, indeed, exactly the opposite, principle of responsibility from that of the civil servant. The honor of the civil servant is vested in his ability to execute conscientiously the order of the superior authorities, exactly as if the order agreed with his own conviction. This holds even if the order appears wrong to him and if, despite the civil servant's remonstrances, the authority insists on the order. Without this moral discipline and self-denial, in the highest sense, the whole apparatus would fall to pieces. The honor of the political leader, of the leading statesman, however, lies precisely in an exclusive personal responsibility for what he does, a responsibility he cannot and must not reject or transfer. It is in the nature of officials of high moral standing to be poor politicians, and above all, in the political sense of the word, to be irresponsible politicians. In this sense, they are politicians of low moral standing, such as we unfortunately have had again and again in leading positions. This is what we have called Beamtenherrschaft [civil-service rule], and truly no spot soils the honor of our officialdom if we reveal what is politically wrong with the system from the standpoint of success. But let us return once more to the types of political figures….

Since the time of the constitutional state, and definitely since democracy has been established, the 'demagogue' has been the typical political leader in the Occident. The distasteful flavor of the word must not make us forget that not Cleon but Pericles was the first to bear the name of demagogue. In contrast to the offices of ancient democracy that were filled by lot, Pericles led the sovereign Ecclesia of the demos of Athens as a supreme strategist holding the only elective office or without holding any office at all. Modern demagoguery also makes use of oratory, even to a tremendous extent, if one considers the election speeches a modern candidate has to deliver. But the use of the printed word is more enduring. The political publicist, and above all the journalist, is nowadays the most important representative of the demagogic species….

One can say that three pre-eminent qualities are decisive for the politician: passion, a feeling of responsibility, and a sense of proportion.

This means passion in the sense of matter-of-factness, of passionate devotion to a 'cause,' to the god or demon who is its overlord. It is not passion in the sense of that inner bearing which my late friend, Georg Simmel, used to designate as 'sterile excitation,' and which was peculiar especially to a certain type of Russian intellectual (by no means all of them!). It is an excitation that plays so great a part with our intellectuals in this carnival we decorate with the proud name of 'revolution.' It is a 'romanticism of the intellectually interesting,' running into emptiness devoid of all feeling of objective responsibility.

To be sure, mere passion, however genuinely felt, is not enough. It does not make a politician, unless passion as devotion to a 'cause' also makes responsibility to this cause the guiding star of action. And for this, a sense of proportion is needed. This is the decisive psychological quality of the politician: his ability to let realities work upon him with inner concentration and calmness. Hence his distance to things and men. 'Lack of distance' per se is one of the deadly sins of every politician. It is one of those qualities the breeding of which will condemn the progeny of our intellectuals to political incapacity. For the problem is simply how can warm passion and a cool sense of proportion be forged together in one and the same soul? Politics is made with the head, not with other parts of the body or soul. And yet devotion to politics, if it is not to be frivolous intellectual play but rather genuinely human conduct, can be born and nourished from passion alone. However, that firm taming of the soul, which distinguishes the passionate politician and differentiates him from the 'sterilely excited' and mere political dilettante, is possible only through habituation to detachment in every sense of the word. The 'strength' of a political 'personality' means, in the first place, the possession of these qualities of passion, responsibility, and proportion.

Therefore, daily and hourly, the politician inwardly has to overcome a quite trivial and all-too-human enemy: a quite vulgar vanity, the deadly enemy of all matter of-fact devotion to a cause, and of all distance, in this case, of distance towards one's self.

Vanity is a very widespread quality and perhaps nobody is entirely free from it. In academic and scholarly circles, vanity is a sort of occupational disease, but precisely with the scholar, vanity--however disagreeably it may express itself--is relatively harmless; in the sense that as a rule it does not disturb scientific enterprise. With the politician the case is quite different. He works with the striving for power as an unavoidable means. Therefore, 'power instinct,' as is usually said, belongs indeed to his normal qualities. The sin against the lofty spirit of his vocation, however, begins where this striving for power ceases to be objective and becomes purely personal self-intoxication, instead of exclusively entering the service of 'the cause.' For ultimately there are only two kinds of deadly sins in the field of politics: lack of objectivity and--often but not always identical with it--irresponsibility. Vanity, the need personally to stand in the foreground as clearly as possible, strongly tempts the politician to commit one or both of these sins. This is more truly the case as the demagogue is compelled to count upon 'effect.' He therefore is constantly in danger of becoming an actor as well as taking lightly the responsibility for the outcome of his actions and of being concerned merely with the 'impression' he makes…

The mere 'power politician' may get strong effects, but actually his work leads nowhere and is senseless. (Among us, too, an ardently promoted cult seeks to glorify him.) In this, the critics of 'power politics' are absolutely right. From the sudden inner collapse of typical representatives of this mentality, we can see what inner weakness and impotence hides behind this boastful but entirely empty gesture."

Read Weber’s seminal lecture, Politics as Vocation. Whatever problems with/distance from Weber’s positions might characterize my own readings of him at the moment; he does express--far better than I ever could--my utter contempt for Fukuyama’s empty gesture.

And I urge you, Ali M, to take some of Weber’s more insightful musings more seriously irrespective of how you’ve chosen to define your politics at the moment.

And from Mr. Simes’ Jihad Unintended:

"Many realize that Al-Qaeda grew in part from the mujaheddin Washington armed and supported to drive out the Soviet Union after its 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. But few are aware of the full impact of U.S. decisions at key points both before and after the Soviet intervention-decisions taken by several successive U.S. administrations-that unintentionally breathed life into this Frankenstein monster.

ACCORDING TO former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, now one of the most acerbic critics of President Bush's handling of both Iraq and radical Islam, the Carter Administration authorized a covert CIA operation, notwithstanding an expectation that it would provoke a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In an interview in Le Nouvel Observateur in 1998, Brzezinski said that clandestine U.S. involvement in Afghanistan began months before the Soviet invasion; in fact, he added, he wrote a note to President Carter predicting that "this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention." As Brzezinski put it, "we didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would." And even in hindsight, Brzezinski thought "that secret operation was an excellent idea", because "it had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap" and exploited "the opportunity of giving the USSR its Vietnam War."

Of course, this is not what the Carter Administration told Congress or the American people at the time.

In view of Soviet expansionism elsewhere, the United States had little choice but to fight the invasion of Afghanistan once it occurred. But supporting resistance to a Soviet occupation is very different from intentionally "increasing the probability" of a Soviet invasion.

More recently, Brzezinski has acknowledged that one of his motives in entangling the Soviet Union in Afghanistan was promoting the liberation of Central Europe by diverting Soviet attention from responding more forcefully to Solidarity's challenge. Yet, desirable as this end might have been, one may question whether it justified using means that would provoke an almost decade-long war in Afghanistan that both devastated the country and jump-started a global Islamic jihad against America.

As the world's only superpower, the United States can have a profound influence-deliberately and inadvertently-on the international system and many of its component parts. Yet America is not unlike the Sorcerer's Apprentice in its ability to set in motion forces so momentous that it may lack the power to stop or divert them. Because there is no sorcerer to rescue us from the unintended results of our actions, we have a special responsibility to consider our policies very carefully."

Isn’t it odd, how those most prone to lecturing others about responsibility are themselves most callously intransigent in their unwilling to take their own responsibility for much of anything seriously. They can’t be blamed exclusively for this, though, as most of us are the ones who let them get away with it most of the times.

The omnipresent, cowardly charges of “anti-Americanism” and “moral equivalency,” remains the most overused and worn out prophylactics of choice for many.

And as long as it does no escaping from our many false hopes or our myriad foolish fears.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Karzai’s lament

The latest report from Amnesty International, Iran: New government fails to address dire human rights situation.

And I don’t know if any of you caught this blunt interview. The quintessential Afghan dignity touched me:

"We know (interference) is going on. We know that money is being brought into Afghanistan. It will not have the impact that they want it to have — not for Afghanistan and not for themselves — so they had better stop," Karzai said.

"If they don't stop, the consequences will be exactly what I said earlier. The consequences will be that this region will suffer with us, equally, as we suffer. In the past we suffered alone. This time everybody will suffer with us."

Any effort to divide Afghanistan ethnically or weaken it will create exactly the same things in the neighboring countries. All the countries in this neighborhood have the same ethnic groups that we have, so they should know that it is a different ball game this time," he said.

"We are bloody determined. It is not going to be Pakistan playing the Pashtun, non-Pashtun game in Afghanistan. It is not going to be Iran playing this or that game or any other country. We can play the same game with a lot more historical power, with a lot more power in our history than others can. They should know that very well."

"It won't work this time. Afghanistan has an ownership. I told you we will not be refugees again. We own this country. Afghanistan has a voice now," Karzai said.

"The past is gone. We were unaware: The Soviets came, invaded us and we went out of Afghanistan to defend our country. We defended our country and that was right, but we made a mistake by leaving our country. It was one of the biggest mistakes we made, leaving the country."

"The United States, Pakistan, Iran and everybody should know that this time Afghans will not become refugees. I would be one of those Afghans who would not become a refugee again," he said.

"It has to be very, very clear. That is why I am talking so clear. This is my conscience speaking, the conscience of an Afghan person."

Monday, February 20, 2006

Knaves, fools and reapers

I was thinking of doing something for the President’s Day. My friend N, though, recently got back to blogging with her distinct intervention in the cartoon controversy which got me thinking that perhaps it’s best for me to go back to a time closer to the “roots.”

Any entanglement with the past, I suppose, could be problematic given the blemishes and the wounds. We should avoid glorifying it. Although, I must admit, I find myself much enamored of various manifestations of more genuine tragic sensibilities at work. Whether in poetry or prose, the expressions I find perpetually refreshing and insightful.

So here is a young man of 28 tackling the exceeding difficult subjects of threats, passions, reverence and political religion with stunning poise and grace:

"At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?-- Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!--All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years….

…At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide…

We hope all dangers may be overcome; but to conclude that no danger may ever arise, would itself be extremely dangerous. There are now, and will hereafter be, many causes, dangerous in their tendency, which have not existed heretofore; and which are not too insignificant to merit attention. That our government should have been maintained in its original form from its establishment until now, is not much to be wondered at. It had many props to support it through that period, which now are decayed, and crumbled away. Through that period, it was felt by all, to be an undecided experiment; now, it is understood to be a successful one.--Then, all that sought celebrity and fame, and distinction, expected to find them in the success of that experiment. Their all was staked upon it:-- their destiny was inseparably linked with it. Their ambition aspired to display before an admiring world, a practical demonstration of the truth of a proposition, which had hitherto been considered, at best no better, than problematical; namely, the capability of a people to govern themselves. If they succeeded, they were to be immortalized; their names were to be transferred to counties and cities, and rivers and mountains; and to be revered and sung, and toasted through all time. If they failed, they were to be called knaves and fools, and fanatics for a fleeting hour; then to sink and be forgotten. They succeeded. The experiment is successful; and thousands have won their deathless names in making it so. But the game is caught; and I believe it is true, that with the catching, end the pleasures of the chase. This field of glory is harvested, and the crop is already appropriated

But new reapers will arise, and they, too, will seek a field. It is to deny, what the history of the world tells us is true, to suppose that men of ambition and talents will not continue to spring up amongst us. And, when they do, they will as naturally seek the gratification of their ruling passion, as others have so done before them. The question then, is, can that gratification be found in supporting and maintaining an edifice that has been erected by others? Most certainly it cannot. Many great and good men sufficiently qualified for any task they should undertake, may ever be found, whose ambition would inspire to nothing beyond a seat in Congress, a gubernatorial or a presidential chair; but such belong not to the family of the lion, or the tribe of the eagle. What! think you these places would satisfy an Alexander, a Caesar, or a Napoleon?--Never! Towering genius distains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored.--It sees no distinction in adding story to story, upon the monuments of fame, erected to the memory of others. It denies that it is glory enough to serve under any chief. It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious. It thirsts and burns for distinction; and, if possible, it will have it, whether at the expense of emancipating slaves, or enslaving freemen. Is it unreasonable then to expect, that some man possessed of the loftiest genius, coupled with ambition sufficient to push it to its utmost stretch, will at some time, spring up among us? And when such a one does, it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs."

Read carefully Abraham Lincoln’s Lyceum Address.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Haroun Yashayaei

I am going to have another go at the cartoon controversies soon, hopefully picking up, at some point, with elements that my friend P articulated and trying to further enunciate some of our differences. Today, I wanted to draw your attention in particular to an individual you should become familiar with.

Mr. Yashayaei is the Chairman of Iran’s Jewish Council. In a sharply worded letter, he has criticized Ahamadi Nejad’s vulgar denials of Holocaust as strongly as I have seen anywhere while expressing shock and fear. There is no full translation of his letter yet. The Farsi text for those who read the language.

Mr. Yashayaei’s thoughts on The past and future of Jewish private schools in Iran.

Some background on the controversies that surround him and the growing unease in/about the Iranian Jewish community.

The following excerpts (quickly translated) give us a sense for the revulsion and the tone given the obvious pressures the gentleman lives under:

“Mr. President:

Beyond a doubt, the Second World War caused the annihilation of 50 million people globally; what’s the significance whether six million or one million out of the fifty are Jewish? In your opinion, doesn’t the denial of the slaughter of the Jews get us closer to the slight of rights and bloods of 50 million human beings?

Mr. President

The Holocaust is not a myth and continues to remain a festering wound on Western Civilization. Be worried that the Neo Nazi advance guards in Europe today who set the houses of blacks on fire and raid the Muslim neighborhoods might be preparing snare just as horrifying as the Holocaust.

Mr. President

Organizing numerous Holocaust denial conferences and announcing pre-determined findings will have no fruits for the people of Iran, the Palestinians nor the Muslims globally. It will only serve to sooth the racists.”

One blogger’s moving reactions to Ahmadi Nejad’s shamelessness here and here and her loathing for the Islamic Republic.

In other news, an Oxford Research Group report, Iran: Consequences of a War.

The most recent French statement on Iran’s nuclear ambitions; Russian’s take and their conditions, as well as the report of some huge oil deal between China and Iran.

Iran’s demand for the British withdrawal from Basra!

And the recently released pictures of the obscenities in Abu Ghuraib.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The sacred and the profane

A (British) friend whose musings about his travels in Iran I have previously posted here has been good enough to send me the following. I thought I should share.


An attempt to unpick some knots that have become even more intransigent in the past decade or so.

Secularism vs. Monotheism.

It has become commonplace in universities nowadays to interrogate what is called ‘The Enlightenment Project’. How enlightened have we been, here in the West? At our best, we have merely exploited the weak. At our worst, we have subdued, oppressed, slaughtered, and eliminated. The depredations of our empires have left deep scars on myriad people across the globe. There is huge anger felt by billions of people toward the countries that treated them either as savages or children. We would arrive with a bible in one hand and a gun in the other. Britain’s wealth was created from the bodies of slaves, and the labour of serfs. Our major cities pay testament, wherever you look, to our imperial past. Liverpool and Bristol, London and Manchester, all our major cities grew from the constant infusions of slave, or exploited blood. Communism was an enlightenment project that ended in pogroms, walls, terror. National Socialism, some claim, was also an enlightenment project, and we know how that ended. Scientific racism was an enlightenment project, the splitting of the atom ditto.

So, what did the Enlightenment give us? Tools with which to conquer less enlightened peoples. We had the means, we willed the ends. And were our imperial adventures any worse than earlier imperialists? Probably not, give or take a generous gesture here or there. Whenever we read about earlier empires, Persia, or Greece, the Mongols, the Islamic Empire, we hear of either wholesale slaughter, or assimilation. That ruler was more benign, this less so. Empire building has been a constant in our history, and it is usually the nation that has the greatest and most effective arsenal of weapons that has prevailed. The desire for space and power seems to be hardwired into our beings.

When Galileo first de-centred the earth, he put the fear of god (sic) into the Vatican. It wasn’t until 1990 – yes – 1990, that the Vatican conceded that Galileo was correct when he claimed that the earth moved round the sun, not vice-versa. This knowledge unleashed a genie that can never be stuffed back into its bottle. We are a species that is, on the whole, curious. We want to know.

Is the idea of enlightenment, in itself, a bad thing? Is it wrong for us to want to know? No, of course it isn’t. Was the world a better place before Galileo used his telescope? No, of course it wasn’t. We work something out, we discover something, and then we find ways of employing it, usually to our own advantage. We often use this knowledge unwisely, and without forethought, but the knowledge itself has no inherent value system attached to it. Perhaps more crucially (if fitfully) when new knowledge supersedes an old model, we accept this, and work within the new parameters. This is the crux of the matter: enlightenment thinking is, at its best, empirical. It constantly challenges what is perceived as a given to see if it merits such loaded words as ‘truth’, or ‘fact’.

Of course, historically, what the Enlightenment ushered in was a questioning of the role of god in our universe. The Vatican perceived this instantly when Galileo made his startling claims, and they were horrified. Which is why they had to suppress his teachings. The last four hundred years have seen a gradual loosening of the ideological ties that bound us for so long to Christianity. It was only in the twentieth century that people comfortably, openly, and without fear of reprisal, started to question the basic tenets of the Christian faith. And those adherents to the faith would point at the horrific slaughter we perpetrated on each other as a consequence of this movement away from the faith. It’s simpler than that – we had the means to massacre in great numbers, and we used them. There were plenty of people who claimed to have god on their side. As they have always done. The presence or absence of god made not a jot of difference to the instigation or outcome of any of the wars fought over the last two hundred years.

I feel shame when I think of much of our history over the last centuries. Wherever I look across the globe, I lament our foolishness, short-sightedness, our relentless self-interest, our savagery. We have blood on our hands, and we are mightily guilty.

But, but, we can work for change. We have the intellectual tools with which to do that. We have the power and knowledge to combat poverty, to combat global warming, to work towards a just and equitable planet. Whether we actually do any of that is up to us, and judging by our world history, it’s unlikely. But the knowledge is there, even if the will is weak.

Now, let’s look at our monotheisms. If we were to begin with the radical premise that these are man-made texts, without divine inspiration, what do we have? Why has our planet moved from a plethora of polytheisms towards this insistence on a single god? What is the politics behind this? Before looking at these questions more carefully, it might be worth pointing out that there is still a major world religion that is olytheistic. Hinduism suggests a level of ultimate reality which is cosmic in nature (Brahman) which is reflected in each of us as an essence – the Atman, or soul. Enlightenment for a Hindu consists in realizing that Atman, and Brahman, are one and the same. We have god inside us. (On a more frivolous note, it is interesting how the polytheistic faiths have produced the most captivating stories.)

But to return to monotheism. What all three major world religions share is the notion of an all-powerful single godhead. He- and it is a he – sees all, hears all, knows all, is, was, and ever shall be. He is responsible for, and cognisant of, all that we are, both personally, and universally. In exchange for obedience to his law, we will be rewarded after death with paradise. If we do not obey his law, we will be punished for all eternity. He is, in essence, a stern, but loving father. The deal is – if we love him, he will love us back. Of course, he’s sad when we don’t love him, because he feels that we are missing out on all the good things he can give us – especially that wonderful afterlife – but his sadness can easily turn to anger if we persist in not recognizing his all-mighty power. Each of the three faiths feels favoured with his intervention in the petty affairs of men. He spoke to Moses, and told him that his tribe are the chosen people. He gave birth to Jesus, who now sits on his right side. And he sent the Angel Gabriel to the prophet Mohammed to fully, and finally, clarify his word.

Each faith claims to be in possession of the truth. This truth is eternal, immutable. Not a single word that has been passed down from god through either his prophets or his son (in Jesus’ case) is to be challenged. How can one challenge the truth?

Of course anyone who spends five minutes thinking about this knows that these so-called truths are nothing of the sort. If there is a god, is it likely that he would produce three versions of himself, and then watch as the adherents of these three versions spent the next millennia slaughtering each other in defence of their versions?

So why are these constructs there? What purpose do they serve? What made certain tribes at certain points in history want to create these monotheistic stories?

I think the simple answer to that is power. We have seen how much more effective totalitarianism is than democracy in bending the will of people to totalitarianism’s ends. Totalitarian leaders get things done. Be it empire building, war machines, education, water supply, you name it, totalitarians have done it, swiftly, sometimes brutally, and not always for all time, but they have done it. We seem to like our leaders ‘red in tooth and claw’. Even in the most advanced democracies, we still love our ‘strong’ leaders – the iron lady is an obvious example. Totalitarian leadership, be it religious or secular, gives people a sense of belonging, of identity, of purpose. It strengthens our sinews, renews the vigour in our killing arm, anchors us in certainty, binds us together in its seductive chains. Given the specific historical circumstances from which the three faiths emerged, is it any wonder they chose a totalitarian model to emulate.

With the added bonus that this was the truth, for all time.

And over the past thousand odd years we have seen the consequences of these totalitarian ideologies – the messianic certainty amongst certain Jews that they have returned to the chosen land, and that those not chosen are inferior. The certainties that created martyrs, prompted the crusades, led to the conquest of so many countries still wallowing in darkness, to inquisitions, burnings, fiendishly clever torture machines. The certainties that fuelled the first great Islamic empire, conquests that told the adherents of that faith that god was pleased with them. Atrocities committed in the name of god, excused in the name of god, justified in the name of god.

Now, without the three great gods, these atrocities, these conquests, these colonial adventures would probably still have happened. But god oiled the killing machine, wiped the blood off the swords of the righteous, allowed them to sleep at night, safe in the knowledge that they were doing god’s work. All the believer needed to do was submit to his will, and he would see them right.

Whose will? Well, the will of the powerful, the keepers of the book, the interpreters, the ones who were placed here on earth, in loco parentis, to see god’s will triumph. Because, if we continue to work from the self-evident premise that the three great gospels were in fact man-made, provisional takes on the most basic ontological questions, who benefits the most from perpetuating their so-called truths?

So, it is the very rotten core of these religions that we must try to expose. Look at the outcomes, and one can see that they have almost never been a force for good. How can they be, when their basic values are rooted in a lie?

Don’t get diverted by racist ideas, notions of inferior people. Argue about inferior ideologies, bad consequences. Acknowledge historical grievances, take responsibility for crimes committed, work not to repeat those crimes against less powerful people.

But don’t be silenced. These world faiths are a canker in the world. We may love certainty, consolation, fairy-tales, but we all need to grow up and put away these childish things. There is one dawning certainty that is now almost indisputable – if we continue to wreak havoc on our planet, our parochial faiths will be history soon, and a history that will be washed away in the tides that will engulf us, and the deserts that will yield no grain. And you can bet that there will still be humans huddled around a fire somewhere who will hold a non-existent god responsible for everything.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


I finally got my hands on what I’ve wanted for years. Some twenty odd pages of Karl Lowith on Carl Schmitt. But didn’t get past the first few pages! I’ll tell you about some of the highlights once I am done. I got distracted as usual and ended up having to go dig up a couple of passages. The first is Nietzsche’s and the second, longer one from Merleau Ponty.

Just thought I should share and see what any of you might think of the possibilities:

Mr. N.

There exist within us a power which permits the major features
of the mirror image to be perceived with greater intensity, and
again there is a power which emphasizes rhythmic similarity
beyond the actual inexactitude. This must be an artistic power,
because it is creative. Its chief creative means are omitting,
overlooking, and ignoring. It is therefore an anti-scientific
power, because it does not have the same degree of interest
in every thing that it perceives.

And Mr. MP

In regaining the “vertical” world or existence-the one which stands upright before my upright body—and within it the other persons who are in it, we learn about a dimension in which ideas also obtain their true solidity. They are the secret axes or (as Stendhal said) the “pilings” of our spoken words. Ideas are the centers of our gravitations, this very definite void which the vault of language is built around, and which has actual existence only in the weight and counterweight of stones. But are the visible things of the visible world constructed any differently? They are always behind what I see of them, as horizon, and what we call visibility is this very transcendence. No thing, no side of a thing, shows itself except by actively hiding the others, denouncing them in the act of concealing them. To see is a matter of principle to see farther than one sees, to reach a latent existence. The invisible is the outline and the depth of the visible. The visible does not admit of pure positivity any more than the invisible does. ….

In a sense, the highest point of philosophy is perhaps no more than rediscovering these truism: thought thinks, speech speaks, the glance glances. But each time between the two identical words there is a whole spread one straddles in order to think, speak, and see….But this philosophy which searches beneath science is not in turn “deeper” than passions, politics and life. …Philosophy does not hold the world supine at its feet. It is not a “higher point of view” from which one embraces all local perspectives. It seeks contact with brute being, and in any case informs itself in company of those who have never lost that contact!

Monday, February 13, 2006

the saintly day

Don’t forget to…! And what changes after this?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Poetry, photography

My friend Natalia, learned and always a gracious guide to Polish Culture, has another quatrain from Baba Taher in translation both Polish and English in addition to this older post. Baba Taher is one of our mystics now resting in Hamadan.

Natalia’s blog has many links that some of you might find interesting as well. I n particular for today, one to the celebrated Iranian photojournalist Kaveh Golestan. His collection of photography covering revolution, and war, and prostitution.

And while we are in the neighborhood, I should thank also another reader who was good enough recently to draw my attention to one of the greatest Hungarian poets of the century past, Attila József,

An E. Fischer translation of József’s poignant poem, the Dog.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The identity questions

Edited (version of private) correspondence
A reader asks practically:  Who are you…?  Whence the audacity to…? 
Your vitriol directed at…?
Fair enough questions. Nothing that complicated, though! And the “who” is no one anyone would know and certainly not “hermetic” or claiming authority on much of anything. The answer is quite a bit simpler than you think.

I have been doing for some years what some people do in museums. I pay attention. And when the vases begin to look alike, I go home and return the next day. At this point in my life I have many more questions than I have answers.

I have a brilliant, strong and loving mother who was not allowed to attend university even though she was a top ranker. And I love her. She has been bitter and sick for a long time. So I am sensitive to bitterness and sickness. I don’t like to badger my mother nor to see her badgered. So I dislike mean-spiritedness.

My family has never gotten over my father’s death. So I am sensitive to deaths. I don’t like it when people die. We all must die though. So I’ve settled for dislike of policies that inflict premature deaths on people.

I once caught my sister in front of the bathroom when she was visiting-- naked and shaking like some autumn leaf at four in the morning. I could smell fear as if fear smelled. It was raining and there were loud thunders. She was having a flashback to war years. People don’t get over traumas easily. I don’t like wars. I dislike people who habitually promote wars.

My passion from my childhood was literature. Later philosophy and languages. In those years, though, everyone was to be an engineer or a physician. Money was in. And later activism and changing the world. So I got badgered for my passions, humored and lectured. I lived through it. Struggled to find my way and voice. So, I don’t like it when people have no respect for other people’s passions. I try to encourage it in others. Remain respectful. And I persist in pursuing mine at whatever cost.

But there is that cost. So I meander doing whatever jobs that might come my way. I am not particular within those constrains posed by personal ethics and self-respect. Just as long as I ultimately get to do what I must. I meet many different people.

I can spot vibrant minds stuck in sandwich shops. That’s what I am good at. And it breaks my heart when so many people don’t make it while only a few actually do. I do what I can to help some of the better ones. And absorb whatever I get from other people’s lived experiences. But always, I remember my mother and her bitterness. So I try to avoid rubbing anyone’s face in anything.

I try to visit my mother every chance I get. But she gets on my nerves. As most of our mothers do. Some things never end. When we are together, we still fight the same fight we fought over breakfast on the first day of school on first grade. I don’t like eating breakfast. She thinks I should. It has been decades. It is endless. It will never end. So I trace breakfast arguments or variations thereof among other Iranians.

It is everywhere. And it remains mostly breakfast arguments. No rhyme or reason. You and I might fight until the end of time over the Shah, but in a way it is just as senseless now as my mother and I fighting about breakfast. But it will never end.

I see it in the traffic jams as well. Some one has looked at some one else “funny” [Chap-Chap literally askance] while sitting in a car. Then the other guy has gotten out and they are beating each other senseless. And there is a crowd. And a more miserable traffic than usual. It is all over the place. And in front of the bakery as well and the video shop and the butcher shop. And I mean Endless. So I try to avoid it. I don’t like perpetual, mean-spirited fights and violence.

I like languages. But there is that cost. So I move from city to city, work, and go to the places a language is taught cheaply. There are eclectic communities in the margins where you can live with like minded people. That’s how I meet a lot of different people. And travel with them to wherever life leads. So I’ve visited countries in different continents. I also have relatives in a lot of places.

I have ended up studying quite a few different languages. I am not good at any of them. But I am now able to find my way. I also have many different friends worthy of the name. I keep in touch with those I meet. I feel closer to some of them than I do my mother. I don’t like it when people demean my friends. So I don’t like caricatures that demonize any of them.

After a few different languages your memory dims with time. So you can’t memorize words off the dictionaries like in those early years. But you’ve learned to become sensitive to rules, roots and connections. You’ve learned to automatically discern the familiar in the seemingly alien. So you pay even more attention.

But time is limited. We all die. Some more quickly than others! So you learn to juggle. There is so much to read. How do you decide what to read and what to skip over?

You encounter Derrida, for instance. Fancy moves! But you’ve studied as well some of the languages he has studied. And you know some French. You know about elisions and liaisons. Your neighbors pun all the time as well. You can appreciate plays and free plays. There is backgammon everywhere. And the kids you like play ghayem mushak (hide and seek) all the time. But even that has rules however creatively interpreted. Most things ultimately have patterns. If you pay attention, there is always hope of figuring them out in due time.

But there is not much of a time left. And if you must play, you choose to play only in ways that might enable you to listen more attentively to the voices you would normally ignore all the time.

I don’t like seeing my mother’s bitterness because others didn’t want to listen to her voice. So I move right past Derrida to someone else whose hermeneutics might give me a better chance of being able to listen more effectively to others if I must finally bring myself to read some of our more hip contemporaries. Life is too short to ignore other voices just to play and pun.

So to make this short, I don’t have many answers these days. Just many questions that come with paying attention! And angry reactions when people try to pass off something familiar as alien.

And the people I am most mad about these days appear frequently on the blog as well. Those are the ones like Kristol, Gerecht and Ledeen and the mullahs who’ve now taken a page from them and a host of others I keep notes on. Or some of the more petrified and conceited ones, intransigently unwilling to listen, on a deluded mission to bring civilization to the uncivilized.

And with a lot of likes and dislikes that I am aware are subjective which I try to be as honest about as I possibly can given how we all naturally suffer from our blind spots.

And there is also one fundamental belief that I can neither prove nor disprove.

The melancholy, belligerence, bickering and the endless puns in our society are partially the echoes of the voices of our unhappy mothers passed down generation after generation.

Mothers whose lives tend to go nowhere. The dedicated, doting mothers who live vicariously through successful sons, and dutiful daughters/wives! And mothers who see even that come shattering down with each murdered son and abused daughter.

So the kings, presidents and mullahs will come and go. If there is to be any hope, it remains in listening and doing what we can to help ensure that the next generation of mothers ends up being less embittered.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Surreal theatre

Perhaps this is all there is. An ugly world inhabitant by ugly people satisfied with nothing short of ugliness!

And as the antics and the theatrics continue to spiral out of control, becoming more deadly by day, small protests in Iran turned violent in front of the Danish Embassy and that of Austria of all places! Oddly, those in a country whose reigning imbecility can’t even stand watching workers engage in activism as the perpetually covetous merchants continue to hoard and trade all the while lamenting ceaselessly the corruption in others.

Unbelievably human!

Like our esteemed members of the global community gathered in the EU so indignantly launching a protest at a trade boycott even as they prepare to impose a regime of sanctions of their own.

Am I missing something, or is it that our good neighbors are getting sillier everyday? Or is it somewhere carved in stone that all the decisions of the world have to be initiated in particular geographical boundaries?

Talk about obnoxiously entitled.

Not all the antipathy in the world for the murderous Mullahs and the fanatical Islamists could distract away from the odium of the assumptions

So war it is then. No escaping the logic, I am thinking. The problem, of course, for me, is that the particular trajectory we are on and, naturally, all the requisite rhetoric I find an existential threat—literally.

And it’s not merely about dying. We all die at some point or another and from something, always.

Look, we keep paying lip service to it but, for whatever reason, persist in our unwillingness to dot the i’s.

Whether any of us like it or not, the world is diverse. Perhaps we should have all stayed in that small village, neighborhood or the city we were born in. And not traveled at all. Nor ever to have bothered meeting anyone who looked different, believed in ideas other than our own or spoke a different language or the same language with a different accent. Nor to have bothered falling in love to marry any one of “them.”

But that isn’t our way. And by this I mean here quite a large segment of humanity’s.

So regardless of what you actually might think of diversity, there is diversity and my family is diverse. In Iran, for instance, their appearances range in a spectrum from a luscious darkness you’d normally encounter among some Caribbeans all the way to pale, freckled and auburn haired with unusually stunning “eastern” green eyes. And from many different ethnicities.

Another branch has been on its way out of Iran since mid fifties. There was recently a family reunion I couldn’t attend. But as I looked at the pictures and tallied the intermarriages and the number of second or third generation “hybrids”, that family now, whether you like it or not, represent some of the major Western European countries, and some Eastern ones and North Americans.

And some of the major religious faiths are present as well. And unbelievers. The circle of friends I care about is even wider and spreads across four of the continents.

So, which members of the family would you have me watch subsidize or get involved in the vilification and butchery of which other? Which slur or caricature would you have me support aimed at which group?

Suppose some of you--the ones untiringly peddling this notion of clash of cultures, religions and civilizations--get your way. Segregation, it is then, and religious passions and “us” and “them” and ethnic cleansings and loathing and perpetual battles and meanness!

How do you propose we draw the line then?

So you could imagine how obnoxious it sounds to me whenever I hear someone throw around this silly, silly notion of moral equivalency. It is pure miasma, both theoretically and practically. Our “neocons” and their counterparts in Iran are operating from an almost identical set of assumptions. And they promise an almost identical outcome to us.

Because if the powers that be were truly as omniscient and on top of things as they seem to think they are, then they couldn’t have missed what is hard to overlook about this group that is now in power in Iran. So why do they keep mum?

Why all the disinformation?

And if they had an ounce of decency left, they would cough up the truth and exhibit the audacity it takes to face the rest of us naked in public instead of feeding us all their usual nonsense about the militarism that threatens all of us.

And regardless of where you stand or whatever high minded empyrean self-definition some of you might want to entertain about yourselves as you peddle your miasma, this conflict promises to make it terribly difficult to sustain a way of life I’ve come to cherish most. And it is a tender way of life, mostly civil and open. Harmless in the grand scheme of things.

All things must end, though. And all ends are a new beginning.

But not without a fight!

Monday, February 06, 2006

This and That

I’d like a second go at this cartoon business soon. But some of the readers were good enough to post links I thought I should repost just in case you don’t read any of the comments. Here is one of our more vibrant minds in exile with her usual flare declaring war in defense of the Danish Cartoonists.

David was also good enough to offer the following by Hitchens.

This particular gentleman has never grabbed my attention. I don’t much care for Trotskyism, to be frank. Never found the approach interesting.

But all this got me back on that part-time search for the first occurrence of the phrase “Islamo-fascism” in the Iranian left’s post-revolutionary literature. Still no luck, though. Although I thought I should introduce some of you, while we are at it, to one of the more interesting leftist voices to have come out of Iran in recent past.

Sadly, Mansour Hekmat passed away a few years ago. But his partner, a women’s right activist, broadcaster and organizer continues energetically today. Azar Majadi’s short piece about this affair, Don’t be intimidated.

Hekmat’s piece on the State in Revolutionary Period might be of interest to some of you. And his take on MEK and the Black Scenario.

His mind is engaging and his prose and wits always incisive and entertaining. A couple of samples for those who read Farsi:

اينها تصور ميکنند متخصص و صاحب سرقفلى نوع جنگ و مبارزه مسلحانه شده اند. هرجا کسى اسم جنگ و اسلحه بياورد، يا اگر حتى اگزوز موتور سيکلتى صدا کند و يا کسى پاکت ميوه ى را بترکاند، اينها فکر ميکنند بايد فورا سبز شوند و در مدح جنگ و اسلحه يکبار ديگر داد سخن بدهند

ميفرمايند رهايى خلق بدون آتش و خون بدست نميايد خلق دليلى ندارد از جنگ داخلى بترسد، برعکس بايد "سختى ها و خونريزى هاى جنگ انقلابى را بجان خريد مردم ما چيزى جز زنجيرهاى بردگى شان ندارند که از دست بدهند

چنين ذهنياتى را فقط ميشود با افسوس بدرقه کرد. مطمئنم پيشرفت علم پزشکى دير يا زود درمانى براى اين مشکلات پيدا خواهد کرد. در اين فاصله فقط براى "مردم عادى" اى که با اين انقلابيون خلق محشورند آرزوى صبر جميل ميکنم

بنظر من حتى اگر هوش ارثى باشد، سفاهت ديگر قطعا اکتسابى است.. اگر کسى بين قيام کارگرى، با کشتارها و گورهاى جمعى و پاکسازى هاى قومى و قحطى و مرگ و کوچ و اپيدمى وبا فرق نميبيند، اگر کسى ميتواند رويش را به مردم بکند و بگويد براى رهايى بايد از اين مسير دوم عبور کنند، يا سفيه است و يا ريگى به کفش دارد

And the following:

ميان آنچه يک سناريوى سياه ناميده ايم با يک تلاطم انقلابى يک دنيا تفاوت هست. بحث سناريوى سياه صرفا بر سر وقوع درگيرى و کشمکش خونين نيست تصوير ارتشى که روى مردم شليک ميکند و مردمى که فرياد ميزنند "توپ تانک مسلسل ديگر اثر ندارد" تصويرى از يک سناريوى سياه نيست. اين تصويرى از يک انقلاب است. در انقلاب مردمى هم خون ريخته ميشود. اما مشخصه سناريوى سياه عنصر استيصال در جامعه است. ناتوانى جامعه در درک اينکه اين وضعيت چرا پيش آمده تا کى ادامه پيدا ميکند، چگونه ختم ميشود انقلاب صحنه کشمکش است . کشمکشى، گاه بسيار خونين، که از نظر خود توده مردم براى بهبود اوضاع اجتماعى ضرورى شده است. هيچ سير تحول تاريخى بى مشقت پيش نرفته است اما من سناريوى سياه را به وضعيتى اطلاق ميکنم که درآن صحبت نه بر سر تحول جامعه بلکه بر سر تخريب چهارچوب مدنى جامعه برخلاف ميل و اراده مردم و در متن عجز و استيصال عمومى است

Saturday, February 04, 2006

About those cartoons

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. James 3:1

Sometimes, there are no easy answers in life. And a cigar is more than a cigar. Consider the following story. It is essentially a simple, silly “joke” about backgammon that I’ve modified extensively for the purpose of this post.

Mo is walking around those higher planes with Mu.

“Where are you going Mo?”

“I have to meet Jess for a game of backgammon. He is due back shortly from his visit to Mag. Jess is having a ball with those lush-hair foot massages. We are going to play a nice game of backgammon to settle a dispute.”

“What dispute?”

“The handsome devil is cutting in on my turf. So feminine and fashionably androgynous his presence! Smash hit with the Houris. And I tell you Mu, there is a stunning virgin around these parts….Praise be Allah… unbelievably sexy. That’s what the game is all about.”

“Good Luck Mo.

“Thanks Mu!”

A few hours later Mu gets back and there is a heated game on. And terribly raucous. Score is four-four. It looks like there is no way Mo could beat Jess. Not even a double six would save him.

“Give it up Mo. Don’t be such a sore loser,” Jess taunts.

“I’ll throw the dice and you’ll see.”

“Voila, double 19,” shouts out Mo in excitement. “I win the virgin!”

“You SOB,” says Mu, “another miracle just in the nick of time—and all for a piece of cunt!”

“I am leaving,” says Jess disgusted.

“Where are you going?”

“To Mag’s place. I am going to finally do what I should have done eons ago.”

“Me, I am going to go do that virgin now. Nothing like the feel of bloody, tender young flesh on first encounter!”

“Where are you going Mu?”

I don’t know. To see Lot, perhaps, assuming he’ll open the door if those daughters of his are not at it again. If not, Abe then. Maybe he is finally done pimping Sarai.


I can’t be sure, although I suspect at least one person might laugh at one of the characters present and it wouldn’t be me, I assure you.

I am exercising my freedom of speech, aren’t I?

But am I within the bounds of propriety? Civility or decency? Are these considerations a factor whenever we decide to say, write or draw something? Should certain issues not be tackled after a bit of introspection, and thinking? Is the way a certain image presented also not a reflection of who we are and what we’ve become?

Nothing besides disasters of monumental proportion awaits us if this trajectory keeps up.

There are all kinds of different people in this world. You can basically get a sense for the broad outlines of the divides looking a bit more closely at the types of reactions we are witnessing.

Some are genuinely concerned with free speech and with good cause.

Quite a large segment is getting progressively angrier and about to get even more violent given the extent of the ongoing siege of the heartlands and the obvious pressures. And there is that group as well predictably peddling this as a matter of speech when they fully know what they aim to do is contribute to the frenzy of clash of religions and civilizations.

They are becoming even more unapologetic, and shameless about both the past and present.

Look at our past , though, as harbinger of what is to come. The Parthians and Romans managed to fight for centuries as did the Sassanians and Byzantines. Life, then, got even more unbearable for a lot of people with each religious turn within the empires.

And who finally won those wars, anyways?

Remember also that we are all, finally, minorities of one. There are certain boundaries best protected from our passing follies long-term.

And also consider this. Even under a most generous light, the simple accident of birth in a particular geographical boundary or within some culture will not absolve any of us of our responsibilities. Nothing would automatically justify a thoughtless claim to superiority.

It might also be constructive to remember that dwarfs and midgets incapable even of ruling themselves won’t successfully manage that reckless hustle of standing on the shoulders of such giants as Sir William Jones long-term.

The mere illusion of appropriating historical figures or names does not automatically grandeur make. Pretense is never the real thing.

We should all reflect more carefully before proceeding to fiddle daily with those proverbial gates of hell. These unleashed passions, I fear, will inevitably devour us all.

None will be left unscathed.

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. James 3:6

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The dread factor

It was hard getting a wink of sleep last night awaiting some news from my sister who’s due to give birth soon. So my mind kept on wandering, of all things, between the likely fate of a little girl and that murderous Usama and his future.

What should Usama do? What would I do if I were Usama?

It appears as if everyone is in some form of a nasty conflict with everyone else. There are multiple aggrieved parties either fighting directly or through proxies. On some fronts everything is out on the open. On others, things continue to simmer under with some bubbles occasionally surfacing for all to see.

And “preemption” has become a crucial factor in this seemingly endless bloody game.

Mr. Bush asserts that "the Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons.” To that end, he has succeeded in pulling off some form of a messy compromise the outcome of which remains dubious at best.

The Iranians’ very own fool, Mr. Ahmadi Nejad, accuses his counterpart of having his arms “smeared up to the elbow in the blood of other nations.” He vows to resist the ‘bully’ nation. And the Defense Minister promises “immediate and crushing response” to any “aggression against Iran’s nuclear facilities.”

It remains to be seen whether any of the actors would follow through on what they promise. All the parties, though, have also proven adept at prevarications, posturing and hot air. Will there be some form of a negotiated settlement or that “grand bargain?” Who can know for sure?

The one area, though, that the Iranian government is any good at historically is tormenting Iranian citizens.

So as they anxiously await the opportunity either to save their own skins by reaching some bargain that would naturally involve Iraq and Afghanistan or to deliver the promised crushing blow to all “fake superpowers,” they sharpened up their skills recently by practicing preemption on some defenseless bus workers and their families who were planning to participate in a strike:

On the day of the planned strike, security and intelligence agents identified and detained hundreds of union sympathizers when they showed up for work in the morning. According to Mirzaii, the security and intelligence forces beat and physically intimidated the workers in connection with the arrests.

So much for defending citizens against aggression, no? And my vexing questions again: what should Usama do? What would I do if I were Usama?

A few hundred more charred bodies or bloodied men, women and children in Iraq might serve some purpose as the Salafists continue to target foreign forces and their native allies, the Iraqi shi’as or some contractors; but then what? If the reconstruction is going nowhere and if everyday there continues to be a measure of mayhem, what would inflicting a few more casualties accomplish in the long run? A mere routine by now, don’t you think?

Some bombing campaign somewhere in Europe, perhaps?

A few hapless youngsters might end up getting beaten up in isolation late at night in its aftermath. Another Brazilian or some Mexican might bet shot in the subway. A few more firebombed mosques perhaps in the Netherlands! And more trash talk from our thuggish BozoPundit and the usual predictable prattle from the fisking giants on the net. But so what?

Another bomb taking a toll on Australians, on the other hand, would get some angry Aussies riled up just long enough to take a break from their beer mugs to beat up on some Arabs again. But life would return to “normal” shortly thereafter.

What would I do if I were Usama?

Given how things stand, I know where I would want to hit and when. One lucky shot at the champs would give me an entirely new ball game. And with all the recent developments, that would certainly qualify as the sort of preemption I would have in mind for sure.

Although, what I still can’t settle on is the not-so-simple matter of a desired magnitude. It would depend a lot on the sort of “preemption” I would have in mind, I suppose.

But I am not Usama. I remain another passionate native Iranian striving to look at the world with the dispassionate eye of a mercenary trying to avoid surprises.

Consequently, I worry a lot about what this particular cultural conservative has to say:

Wars, most wars at least, run not evenly but in fits and starts, settling down into sputtering Sitzkrieg for long intervals, then suddenly shooting out wildly in wholly unpredicted directions.

We may all choose to overlook Mr. William S Lind’s forebodings about The Next Act at our own peril.