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:: Friday, 10 January 2003 ::

Moderate Islam, eh?

For sure it is doable. But by who?

Interesting post from Jason Soon. If I understand Jason correctly he takes the position that moderation, reform and development of Islamic theory and practice is not going to come from Lebanese and Egyptian (and presumably neighbouring) adherents, but more from Indonesians and other Southeast Asian nations (Malaysia I guess. Any others? Whatever.)

Why would he take that view? Dunno. I know why I would. Because culture matters. And the cultures of Lebanon and Egypt and surrounding countries making up the Middle East and North Africa are complex and made up of great cooking, warm family ties, seriously weird and often great great music, fabulous flowers and garden life, beautiful design, spirituality, horseriding, you get the picture, right? It is a big picture filled with stuff. And they each happen to include three major flaws: vanity, self-pity, temper.

What do I mean?

Vanity: a sense of self-worth. An ego. Pride. Not a bad thing. Gotta have some. But the more pride and vanity you have, the less and less it takes for something to offend you, to insult you.

Self-pity: a belief that, when the chips are down, you are a victim of some injustice. Some unfairness. Some action outside of your control. Add this to the vanity and you see the problem.

Temper: a habit of overreacting, heatedly, loudly, maybe even violently and almost always clumsily. Add this to the vanity and the self-pity, and, well, what is there to say?

Every culture has these flaws to varying degrees.

The English culture is vain about its cleverness and intellect, its history, resourcefulness, achievements, bravery and goodness. But they are too vain when it comes to 'foreigners' and the 'colonies'. When it comes to Oz, for example, many Poms whinge, as if it is lousy to live here. Zif. Whinging is a kind of self-pity, but a pretty weak kind. The English whinge, but they are so vain it never goes further. Whinge about Oz. Still come to live here though. Quite comfortable with that hypocrisy. Why? Vanity. But there is not a lot of temper. Tell an Englishman his history is shit and he is poor because he is an idiot and he will either happily agree with you or ignore you. Temper? Stiff upper lip and all that. Of course there is temper, at a personal level. Natch. But for sure there is also steely big picture temper a la Churchill. Temper funnelled carefully into precise and decisive action. For the best. But what else? Nothing coming to mind here.

So big on vanity, low on self-pity, very low on temper.

Italian culture, truly the greatest on earth, has the vanity thing down, way more than the English. We got the self-pity too, mostly in the South looking up at the North and wrongheadedly deciding that the South is worse off because the North is somehow stealing something or whatever. And all Italians wonder why we cannot win at tennis and golf the way the Spaniards do. And we got temper too. Hot headedness is definitely there. Tell an Italian his history is shit....actually, do not do that. Some Italians will accept that they are poor because they are idiots. Many will elect to blame someone else. And in blaming they will get angry. The temper is there. It is usually personal. Explosive. Quick picture, rather than big picture. Stroppy declarations about how Italian Art exhibitions are perfect and threats to withdraw said exhibition if apologies are not forthcoming from critics (you remember that kerfuffle) - that is evidence of Italian big picture temper. Embarrassing, but harmless.

Big on vanity, medium on self-pity, low to medium on temper.

Oz. Perfect. And low on vanity. Low on self-pity. Low on temper.

Nations of the Middle East and North Africa have these flaws in spades. Big on vanity. Big on self-pity. Gob-smacking on temper.

Why do I say this?

Let us take Egypt. Vain, vain, vain, and who would not be, with an ancient history like that. If the Romans were impressed at the time, the Egyptians can feel rightly proud of that past. Big on self-pity. They get $2 billion worth of aid from the US every year. Tourism for ever, bringing respect from travellers world-wide. They got plenty of able-bodied people doing stuff all day long. They got natural some resources, too, I presume. But they still have got poverty, still have got corruption, and somehow, the Stars & Stripes and effigies of Bush and Sharon get burned. Huh? And temper. Well, burning stuff for a start. Hot headed, like the Italians, but with the supercharged vanity and self-pity, the temper gets expressed in violence. Flag burning every other day, for goodness' sake. Oppression. And then a bit more violence.

To go back a ways, for example, what were the Egyptians thinking in 1967, eh? See, that is crazy temper. Angry at US and angry at Israel. Ergo war. Crazy temper.

Too many countries made up the Arab side of the Arab-Israeli war. Too many. And each of those countries is still burning flags. But now they are all doing more, you know? More in more places.

To quote from a famous poem of the time called "Footnotes the Book of Setback" (written by a Syrian, Nizar Qabbani):

"Stirred by Oriental bombast,
By boastful swaggering that never killed a fly
By the fiddle and the drum
We went to war.
And Lost."


It is all there. In the poem. The whole thing is a spectacular evidence. But even in just this stanza, can you see it? Vanity, self-pity. And war, well that = temper.

Culture matters.

Nations of Southeast Asia. Medium on vanity, low on self-pity, low to medium on temper.

If the balance is right, then cultures can always get ahead. Can develop. Because time is not taken up with blame, or despair or any of those other utterly unhelpful feelings that do nothing to increase GDP or life span, which is what it is all about. And religious theory and practice can develop too.

Including Islamic religious theory and practice.

But it ain't gonna happen in the cultures with high vanity, high self-pity, high temper. That balance is just no good.

Not to say you cannot meet a top bloke from any of the countries I have just maligned. Of course you can. But chances are, he will know a lot about Immoderate Islam or Unmoderate Islam. Ugh. I am not sure which word is right.

Anyway, why am I even thinking about this stuff, eh? Because at the moment I am reading Tariq Ali's The Clash of Fundamentalisms.

He wrote it to counter Western media, apparently. To paint a clearer picture of Islam and Islamic culture. If he is supposed to be making me think better of Islamic culture in the Middle East and North Africa he is doing a lousy job. The book is vanity, self-pity and temper start to end.

:: WB 10:40 pm [link+] ::

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