Saturday, May 21, 2016

On Cultural Belonging

Whatever it is that the picture to the left seeks to convey it would leave all people in the world clueless and puzzled, save in one country. Among people who grew up there, four out of five would react to the suggested scene with loud, even convulsive laughter.  Why ? 

It is not easy to explain one's attachment to the place to which one was born, and why a child's picture of the world etched in one's soul  for life cannot be torn from that one place one calls home. It is in everyone of us, regardless where we come from. We instinctively deal with the kaleidoscope of the world at large through a prism that was given to us and to which we belong.  We don't know why. It is just the way we humans are and no amount of good-intentioned or hateful preaching will change this.

I saw the picture during my visit to my native Czech Republic in June of last year. I laughed my head off at the ingenious cleverness of its author. But there was distress in that laughter. You will note that the characters to the left are leaving the scene in a hurry.  The village woman runs away from the characters entering from the right in a panic. That much can be read from the picture by anyone, anywhere in the world.  But I will not be able to reproduce that which ignites the neurons in my brain in a way that causes me to go ape momentarily and send spasms to places around my diaphragm. 

I can explain how the collage has been constructed, and I already did that. I can show you the original plate and you will find it to the right of the text here. I can tell you all that you need to know about the original illustrator and I am going to do that. I can also tell you about the fleeing figures in the collage chosen to replace of the cast in the original. All of that I can do and you probably will get an inkling of what was going on in the mischievous mind of the person who modified the picture. But it will not be enough to create the "cultural shock" that your brain will produce if you are a Czech by birth and grew up in the land and if you as a child (and an adult after) learned how to imagine the world painted by the artist.

The artist's name is Josef Lada and he was famous enough in the world to have had an asteroid named after him. Lada was a naivist painter and prolific illustrator of books for children even though he became best known as the illustrator of Jaroslav Hašek's Good Soldier Švejk.


Dear Farzana

This is an open letter sent to Farzana Hassan at Easter, taking issue with her apologizing for Islamic terror to Christians:

Dear Farzana Hassan,

               I was touched by your Easter/Passover offer of apology for violent jihadism (Ottawa Sun 25/3) though I think it is a rhetorical exercise which does not does not match the value of the regular contributions of yourself, and the likes of Salim Mansur, Tarek Fatah, Raheel Raza, and others. Actually, I believe it is counter-productive to your (and their) posture, for which I am personally grateful, as your perspective gives hope, that maybe, just maybe, we can stay “civilized” without rivers of blood in the streets. Because, I have this terrible hunch, that this is where we are headed.    

So let me say this: You do not represent the larger Muslim religious community by dint of the fact that you are a believer. You cannot possibly have an intelligent reply to a Toronto imam with islamist connections all over the world, who says that. It is as though a German emigré in 1938 Paris wanted to apologize to Jews on behalf of Germans for Kristallnacht unleashed by the Nazis. The sad fact is that the majority of Muslims today are as much led by their Islamist elites (with the same goals, but different methods of a) trying to achieve them, and b) disguising them) as Germans were led wholesale by Hitler in the thirties.  The problem with you speaking “for the Muslim community at large” is that inevitably some clever islamist propagandist (say ‘Reza Aslan’), will come around and say that the fact Raheel Raza does not wear hijab and that you feel ashamed for what ISIS does in the Levant, is a proof positive that women under Islam are free to do as they please.  You know Ben Affleck’s moral indignation about “stereotyping” Islam and Muslims.  You are simply a proof to him that the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists, but in fact, peace-loving and friendly folk, so much so, that some misguided sisters are even willing to apologize for the homicidal psychos who misread their Koran, and think that when it says “go and cut the heads of the kuffar” that it means one should buy an airplane ticket to Istanbul and then cross by bus to Syria, to do God’s will there by cutting the heads of the kuffar.

You see, I may shock you by saying this, but islamism is only a secondary problem here. The real problem speaks through as the Ben Afflecks, les Belge who lower the threat level forty-eight hours after a jihadi massacre in their capital, and our idiot minister for immigration who sets the limit of refugees to be admitted into Canada in 2016 proportionally to that of Germany’s last year’s million of them, where they overran the social service capacities almost everywhere. John McCallum says we need 300,000 of them this year because our labour force ages.  But we still have over 7% unemployment, and it is 13% among youths. How does mass immigration (at this moment !) help that problem ? What is it that forces that sort of drooling idiocy ?  I am sure it is not pressure from political Islam. 

No, the West’s problems are deeply internal and its response to political islamism, is but a symptom of an underlying disease which openly invites external catalysts for the destruction of its institutions and values.  It is very interesting to observe how this disease manifests itself. It never ceases to amaze me  how certain points of view – and in my mind those that should be ‘common-sense’ among us - do not make it through the mass media outlets, and if they do, they are immediately “owned” by the elitist pseudo-liberal shibboleths.  Or, how the supposed ‘cures’ of the disease are always dumb and not doable. For example, Trump’s vowing to stop immigration of “Muslims,… until we figure out what is going on ?”  But Donald, how can anybody aspire to be the president of the United States and not have figured out what is going on in the Middle East, ahead of his inauguration ? Pray, tell !  Why is it not obvious to the Donald that this is a stupid idea, and that he should have advocated instead “minimal immigration from the Middle East”, until the civilized world cleans the place up and restores a measure of civility there?  Why is it not obvious to Ted Cruz, that “surveillance of Muslims” is an overkill ? He could have simply said that mosques and political organizations  should be monitored for islamist propaganda, and jihadi advocates thrown out of the country. No ? Why would that not be ‘radical’ and ‘anti-establishment’ enough ?  Perhaps, someone should be asking why some American citizens need to organize themselves in an organization which wants to have “relations” with America based on their religion ?  Isn’t the name “Council on American-Islamic Relations” (CAIR)  a self-described misapprehension how a country like the United States operates ?  You are a bloody American citizen: who the hell gives a damn about what you worship, as long as you behave like an American ?  Duh!

But, as I said, the problem runs much deeper than islamism.   Actually, islamism can only thrive with a severely self-damaged democracy, which agrees to replace the idea of citizenry with equal access to the institutions of governance, by “identity politics” which claim that this is impossible and disadvantages by design their particular group, that is discrimniated against and seeks to create special relations with the state to reverse the perceived historical molestations. Under communism, this practice of differential treatment of individuals based on belonging to a certain social group was known as ‘nomenklatura’.  Needless to say, this system, creates a sense of injustice and oppression in groups that do not rank high or are openly despised and excoriated as the “problem”. In time, nomenklatura, destroys people’s loyalty to the social order, and  causes deep disdain for it. This, in the nutshell, is the secret of Donald Trump’s popularity. 

The problem however runs even deeper than that. The global economy has changed everything.  The one unpreceived effect is the decline of the value-add accelerators of the GDP, vis-à-vis services and above all resources. The US dominated the world economically between the world wars and three decades after because of its unmatched industrial base, highly skilled and well-paid labour, and cheap energy and raw materials. This situation has changed drastically in the last thirty years. Manufacturing has moved out of the US, because of labour costs, and raw materials – oil especially – became relatively expensive, or at any rate, allowed the “resource based” economies, and “low-cost labour” economies to surge ahead and dramatically change the relationships among the major players. The US has become net importer of both manufactured goods and energy. Again, much of the growth of the political clout of Islam is due to the financial clout that the Saudis and Gulf states. They simply have no tradition of a productive industrial economy, (and the social development that goes with it ) or view of manufacturing as the creator of wealth. They are socially backward, but extremely rich, and with the US economy in the boondocks (never mind the Dow Jones Potemkin village) , much of what we observe in the US and Europe as a culturally suicidal policy vis-à-vis the world of Islam, is actually the function of the financial clout of the Sunni Xanadu states, buying political influence in Washington (and through Washington in Brussels). There is no two ways about it.  That the two parties in the US so much resemble each other in foreign policy, may not need explanation other than the king and emirs pay both of them.  Finally, the inequalities in wealth in the US have become simply too great, and resemble more and more the inequality of feudal societies.  This again foists a sense of injustice, distrust and disgust especially among the young, who it seems mostly abandoned the classical dream of American Way of Life. (Note that CAIR is very active in the Social Justice movements, and advertizes Islam as a system with social egalitarian roots – which it hasn’t been since the death of the Prophet.)
So allow me to be skeptical. I am appreciative of your gesture, but it is not from you that one should seek a sense of contrition.  As a matter of fact, I don’t believe that sense helps at all in resolving our problems.  It is not the islamist terrorists that should preoccupy us most. It is my lawyer friend who believes that the problem is a direct consequence of imperialist aggression of the West in the Middle East. When I asked her if she read the 1990 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, she had no idea what I was talking about. I told her I was talking about us as a culture which can babble about human rights from dawn to dusk but no longer has any idea what that is, a culture which no longer stands for anything, and a culture which has no idea what is going in the world around it.  Someone should apologize for that but I have no idea who that should be.