Is “Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona” referring to an emasculation of (elite) American society?

In Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona the three American men, and especially the seemingly insufferable Doug, are drawn in stark contrast to the two or three Spaniards. Woody Allen often writes his movies too and has apparently written this one, so the lengthy monologues that might be emerging from a character and seem to be spoken by a Johannson or Hall here might just as easily have been spoken by Allen himself in an appearance in one of his previous movies.

But not in case of the WASP-men.  What  is Doug  made to talk about throughout?  Domestic nesting behaviour, shopping, how to please parents and society: all conventionally, stereotypically, feminine,  not masculine, subjects of conversation.  His fellow male WASPs are no better.  The most that comes out by way of masculinity is talk of a little sports or a little gadgetry.  That’s it.  On balance, the WASP-men in Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona are made to come across as effete hedonistic characters – though ones holding elite expensive jobs.

Contrast that with Juan Antonio and his father who can talk about or enact nothing but creative deeds whether painting in case of the son or poetry in case of the father or making love to women in case of both.

Of course this is fantasy and there is dramatic license being taken here because creative artists possessing the kind of masculine integrity these two men portray tend in reality to be hungry and impecunious and angry and unkempt, not living in marvelous clean mansions that attract the Marie-Elenas of the world to their beds.  If they had inherited wealth they might have tended to squander it rather than find artistic genius and good taste, not merely in one generation but over two.

Furthermore, the integrity is all a bit far-fetched – Antonio is uncouth enough to propose to Vicky she jeopardize her engagement by making love in a threesome as a last fling in a bachelor-party before getting married, yet the same character later proclaims he is not someone to come between husband and wife (having already been with the wife).  The threesome he instantly proposes to Vicky and Cristina, who are strangers to him, is entirely vacuous in comparison to the threesome he ends up being in with Cristina and Marie-Elena; in the former, he is almost a cheap tour-guide who wants to get paid in kind for an interesting day of tourism, something Vicky naturally resists.  Besides, his paintings do look unexceptional, which allows an alternative interpretation that perhaps father and son are merely two rich lonely wasteful men imagining themselves to be leading the artistic life.

The four American women also come off as pallid in comparison to the central dominating character of Marie-Elena – a point made most bluntly when Cristina fetches the aspirin for Antonio only to find Marie-Elena administering him a neck-massage instead.  Cristina has at most a talent at photography, Marie-Elena is a genius at whatever she touches.

Even the silent Spaniard kissing Judy is portrayed doing more by way of masculinity than any of the WASP-men.  Doug with his laptop and his well-gymed body in shorts epitomizes Ivy League undergraduate success while remaining clueless about  human nature or the outside  world.  He is a modern American Karenin, and the theme we are left with of Vicky being besotted with her dashing Spaniard even while starting the dullest and most tedious married life with Doug, would, as it were, become Anna Karenina except she has yet to dutifully bear Doug and his family a child.

In fact it is the absence of such a child that makes the movie possible – if Vicky had instead visited Barcelona after she and Doug were married and had a child or two with them, would she have spared a second glance at the dashing Spaniard, no matter how boring and tedious Doug turned out to be? The great lacuna in Woody Allen’s great oeuvre thus far may be his inability to depict anything but adult conversations – has he ever managed to describe families with children seriously?

FR Leavis once suggested that DH Lawrence may have failed to grasp Anna Karenina, perhaps the greatest novel ever written,  for supposing Anna and Vronsky could survive on love alone.  Woody Allen may have failed similarly in his much smaller-scale characterization of the Antonio-Vicky-Doug triangle.  Does he have the patience to read Leavis’s masterly essay,  I wonder, besides the novel itself?  A Woody Allen production of Anna Karenina – now wouldn’t that be something else?

Subroto Roy,

Kolkata, India

Advertisements

D.H. Lawrence’s “Phoenix”

Phoenix was a volume published in 1936 edited and with an introduction by Edward D. McDonald containing the posthumous papers of D. H. Lawrence, including the bulk (possibly all) of his known non-fictional writings. Lawrence was born on 11 September 1885 in Victoria Street, Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, and died on 2 March 1930 in Villa Robermund, Vence, Alpes Maritimes. He was perhaps the greatest novelist, writer and literary critic of the 20th Century, and his genius is manifest in Phoenix.

I bought my copy of the book, a first American edition, in Washington DC, in the summer of 1992. It has been a source of depthless pleasure and wisdom ever since. It does not appear to be available in print nor is it even known by those who pretend to be authors, novelists, writers and literary critics today.

How I came to Lawrence’s work is briefly as follows. When I was about 23 or 24, in 1978 or 1979, I was in a conversation at a restaurant opposite Kings College, Cambridge (the Copper Kettle?) with a friend at the time, John Lyon, later of the University of Bristol. I was a Research Student in Economics under Frank Hahn, John was a Research Student in English under Q D Leavis. Both of us were members of Corpus Christi College, and lived at Lekhampton. There would have been others present at the conversation, probably Robert D. Fluharty, lawyer of West Virginia, but I cannot recall who they may have been. John was arguing or perhaps mentioned that he had come from the Leavis home where it was mentioned that Anna Karenina was the greatest novel that had been written. I recall thinking this to be an inane point of conversation, and it would be years before I realised that I had thought this because I had been still at the time someone who thought excessively highly of modern economics.

John may have been referring to FR Leavis’s masterly essay on Anna Karenina, which too I came to read decades later. The name of FR Leavis was faintly familiar, and I think I once saw him at Heffer’s bookstore shortly before his death. Leavis’s name and work then appeared again in the work of the philosopher Renford Bambrough, whose influence on my own work has been described elsewhere here.

A decade later, in 1988-89 in Honolulu, I read War and Peace for the first time, and some years later read Anna Karenina too. In Washington and New York City in 1992-1996, and also in Pasadena and Honolulu in 1989-1991, I collected the work of the Leavises and also Lawrence, all of which has been a source of much pleasure since. In all that, Phoenix has been paramount.

Subroto Roy

July 15 2007

On Lawrence

On Lawrence

by Subroto Roy

In London’s Guardian (September 1 2007) and Kolkata’s Telegraph (September 2 2007), Amit Chaudhuri has recently published something about his views on DH Lawrence. Chaudhuri did a DPhil at Oxford on Lawrence and has published a book on Lawrence’s poetry, which prima facie is enough reason for his views to be studied. His recent writing is part of an attempted comparison of Lawrence with VS Naipaul, though there is enough in what he says to distil out only his views on Lawrence from the mixture.

Lawrence, Chaudhuri says, is to be credited with having “almost single-handed” invented the notion of the “novelist-traveller’. In the Guardian article he adds: “Travel, I heard Geoff Dyer say not long ago, had profound formal implications for Lawrence’s handling of the novel.”

Now to say Lawrence was a “novelist-traveller” is a very odd remark indeed, and may reflect unfamiliarity with Lawrence’s life. Quite to the contrary: Lawrence’s novels had profound formal implications for his travel!

Lawrence did travel a lot with his wife – to the Continent, through the Suez Canal, to Ceylon, to Australia, to New Mexico and Mexico, to New York, San Francisco etc. But he set about travelling not because he wanted to write novels in these places which is what comes to mind from the double-barrelled term “novelist-traveller”. Initially, he was offered a teaching job in Germany which he turned down; then he had pursued a German woman who was already married to an Englishman, and that necessitated travels to the Continent; then there arose his tremendous opposition towards and great melancholy during the First World War. The Rainbow had been suppressed by a vicious police-action in 1915 — throughout his time in Cornwall he was desperate to leave England for Florida, and fantasised in letters to Lady Ottoline Morrell of creating an ideal community there. It did not happen though the Lawrences had apparently bought tickets and even set a sailing date for New York.

None of his major novels has a theme that is of anything but England. Women in Love comes to a climax in the snows of the Tyrole but its main characters are all English. Aaron’s Rod was begun to be written in London, then happened to be continued in Florence, finished in Sicily and published in New York when the Lawrences were in Ceylon on their way to Australia. Lady Chatterley’s Lover was written in Italy but is entirely English. His only novel with a foreign/non-European theme was The Plumed Serpent, not his best. Lawrence was quintessentially an English novelist, and FR Leavis placed him in the “Great Tradition” of English Literature with Austen, George Eliot, Dickens, James, Conrad.

So yes, of course Lawrence was a traveller, and he was a novelist and writer of genius – but he was not a “novelist-traveller”. He was hardly even the first novelist who happened to travel either — Tolstoy, Twain, James, Conrad. (Of Hemingway it could be said he was a “novelist-traveller” but then Hemingway, or Naipaul, are not near the league of these others.)

Then Chaudhuri says: “The apogee of Lawrence’s visual sensibility is contained in Sons and Lovers, after which he promised himself and his friends to abandon the visual and the imagistic.” However one tries to understand this observation, it seems to be simply false. What did Lawrence actually say about Sons and Lovers after it was published? He said in a letter to Edward Garnett on 30 December 1913: “I shan’t write in the same manner as Sons and Lovers again, I think – in that hard, violent style full of sensations and presentation…” On 10 January 1914 he wrote the same to AD McLeod: “I shall not write quite so violently as Sons and Lovers any more”. There is nothing here promising “himself and his friends to abandon the visual and the imagistic”, whatever that might mean! Indeed no such view can be held by anyone who has read e.g. Women in Love. EM Forster noted, in his 1927 Clark Lectures published as Aspects of the Novel, the first official academic recognition of Lawrence’s literary genius and one during his lifetime:

“The prophet is irradiating nature from within, so that every colour has a glow and every form a distinctness which could not otherwise be obtained. Take a scene that always stays in the memory: that scene in Women in Love where one of the characters throws stones into the water at night to shatter the image of the moon. Why he throws, what the scene symbolizes is unimportant. But the writer could not get such a moon and water otherwise; he reaches them by his special path which stamps them as more wonderful than any we can imagine. It is the prophet back where he started from, back where the rest of us are waiting by the edge of the pool, but with a power of re-creation and evocation we shall never possess.”

Finally about Lawrence’s reaction to the Etruscans we are offered this: “history and antiquity occur most powerfully in a ‘now’, in a moment in the present that opens out suddenly on to the past, in a way that brings together all the knowledge the writer possesses as reader and student of history, as well as the dislocation he’s experiencing at that moment as traveller” (Chaudhuri). Poppycock! it has to be said. Lawrence was plainly and simply fascinated by the Etruscans — as many people of his time were, in view of the first definite archaeological studies about those first millennium BC people becoming published then.

On 5 October 1921, he wrote to Catherine Carswell: “Also, will you tell me what then was the secret of the Etruscans, which you saw written so plainly in the place you went to? Please don’t forget to tell me, as they really do rather puzzle me, the Etruscans….” By the end of his life in 1930, in “Making Love to Music” published posthumously in Phoenix, he has resolved his own puzzlement and found their secret at least to his own satisfaction: “The thought occurred to me suddenly when I was looking at the remains of paintings on the walls of Etruscan tombs at Tarquinia. There the painted women dance, in their transparent linen with heavier coloured borders, opposite the naked-limbed men, in a splendour and an abandon which is not all abandoned. There is a great beauty in them, as of life which has not finished. The dance is Greek, if you like, but not finished off like the Greek dancing. The beauty is not so pure, if you will, as the Greek beauty; but also it is more ample, not so narrowed. And there is not the slightest element of abstraction, of inhumanity, which underlies all Greek expression, the tragic will. The Etruscans, at least before the Romans smashed them, do not seem to have been tangled up with tragedy, as the Greeks were from the first. There seems to have been a peculiar large carelessness about them, very human and non-moral. As far as one can judge, they never said: certain acts are immoral because we say so! They seem to have had a strong feeling for taking life sincerely as a pleasant thing. Even death was a gay and lively affair…. They are just dancing a dance with the elixir of life….”

Dancing with the elixir of life, taking life sincerely as a pleasant thing, was what Lawrence himself was all about.

Works of DH Lawrence

It seems incredible that DH Lawrence from about 1910 until his death in 1930 produced this immense body of creative work and perhaps more I am unaware of:

Novels:

St Mawr

Aaron’s Rod

Kangaroo

The White Peacock

Sons and Lovers

The Trespasser

The Lost Girl

Women in Love

The Rainbow

The Plumed Serpent

The Virgin and the Gypsy

(with ML Skinner) The Boy in the Bush

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Short Stories:

The Prussian Officer

England, my England

The Captain’s Doll

Twilight in Italy

The Woman Who Rode Away

Poetry

Bay

Look! We have come through!

Amores

Birds, Beasts and Flowers

Tortoises

Love Poems and Others

New Poems

Pansies

Collected Poems

Plays

Touch and Go

The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd

David

Belles Lettres etc

Studies in Classic American Literature

Movements in European History

Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious

Fantasia of the Unconscious

Sea and Sardinia

Mornings in Mexico

Translations of Giovanni Verga: Lttle Novels of Sicily

Phoenix: Posthumous Papers edited and with an introduction by Edward D. McDonald

The Letters of DH Lawrence, edited and with an introduction by Aldous Huxley

(Secondary Literature: DH Lawrence: Novelist by FR Leavis)

Of related interest here: “DH Lawrence’s ‘Phoenix'”; “On Lawrence”.

Science, Religion, Art & the Necessity of Freedom (2004)

Science, Religion, Art & the Necessity of Freedom: Reason’s Response to Islamism

by
Subroto Roy, PhD (Cantab.), BScEcon (London)

(A public lecture delivered as the Wincott Visiting Professor of Economics at the University of Buckingham on August 24 2004, based on a keynote address to the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, Manila, November 16 2001.)

I am most grateful to the University of Buckingham for allowing me to refresh and carry forward my research these last several months. For some 25 years I have been learning of and reflecting upon the work of two great modern British philosophers, John Wisdom (1904-1993) and Renford Bambrough (1926-1999). In the 1980s in America, I came to apply their thinking in Philosophy of Economics (Routledge 1989), a book which got me into a lot of trouble there. Returning to Britain in 2004, I am dismayed to find their work almost forgotten or unknown today, even at the Ancient University that had been their home. “Orientalists” from the West once used to comprehend and highlight the achievements of the East for the peoples of the East who were unaware of them; I am happy to return the favour by becoming an “Occidentalist” in highlighting a little of the work of two of Britain’s finest sons of which she has become unaware. Wisdom and Bambrough played a kind of modern-day Plato and Aristotle to the Socrates played by Wittgenstein (1889-1951); the knowledge they achieved in their lives and have left behind for us to use and apply to our own problems make them, in terms of Eastern philosophy, rather like the “Boddhisatvas” of Mahayana Buddhism. I do not expect anyone to share such an extravagant view, and will be more than satisfied if I am able to suggest that we can have a grasp of the nature and scope of human reasoning thanks to their work which may help resolve the most intractable and seemingly irreconcilable of all current international problems, namely the grave cultural conflicts made apparent since September 11 2001.

2. The September 11 attacks aimed to cripple one of the world’s largest and most important countries in a new kind of act of war. The perpetrators apparently saw themselves — subjectively in their own minds — acting in the name of one of the world’s largest and most important religions. Since the attacks, the world has become an unusually bewildering place, as if notions of freedom, tolerance and the rule of law have been proven a lie overnight, as if virtues like patience, common reasoning and good humour have all become irrelevant, deserving to be flushed away in face of a resurgence of ancient savageries. The attackers and their friends taunt the West saying their love of death is greater and more powerful than the West’s love of life; the taunts and the counter-taunts of their powerful adversaries have had the effect of spraying panic, mutual fear, hatred or destruction across the surface of everyday life everywhere, so we now have bizarre scenes of people taking off their shoes and clothes and putting them on again while travelling, and of the British public being advised on how to cope with nerve gas attacks when they might have much rather been watching “reality TV” instead. An Age of Unreason appears upon us.

The very simple proposition I put forward here is this: there are, indeed there cannot be, any conflicts that are necessarily irresoluble. To put it differently, the logical scope of common reasoning is indefinite and limitless. There is no question to which there is not a right answer. If I was asked to answer in one sentence what has been the combined contribution to human thought of Wittgenstein, Wisdom and Bambrough, indeed of modern British philosophy as a whole, I would say it has been the proof that there are no unanswerable questions, that there is no question to which there is not a right answer.
By “common reasoning” I shall mean merely to refer to the structure of any conversation well-enough described by F. R. Leavis’s operators in literary criticism:

“This is so, isn’t it?,

Yes, but….”.

My “yes” to your “This is so, isn’t it?” indicates agreement with what you have said while my “but…” tells you I believe there may be something more to the matter, some further logical relation to be found, some further fact to be investigated or experiment carried out, some further reflection necessary and possible upon already known and agreed upon facts. It amounts to a new “This is so, isn’t it?” to which you may respond with your own, “Yes, but…”; and our argument would continue. Another set of operators is:

“You might as well say…”;

“Exactly so”;

“But this is different…”

This was how Wisdom encapsulated the “case-by-case” method of argument that he pioneered and practised. It requires intimate description of particular cases and marking of similarities and differences between them, yielding a powerful indefinitely productive method of objective reasoning, distinct from and logically prior to the usual methods of deduction and induction that exhaust the range of positivism. We are able to see how common reasoning may proceed in practice in subtle fields like law, psychology, politics, ethics, aesthetics and theology, just as objectively as it does in natural science and mathematics. Wittgenstein had spoken of our “craving for generality” and our “contemptuous attitude towards the particular case”. Wisdom formalised the epistemological priority of particular over general saying: “Examples are the final food of thought. Principles and laws may serve us well. They can help us to bring to bear on what is now in question what is not now in question. They help us to connect one thing with another and another and another. But at the bar of reason, always the final appeal is to cases.” And “Argument must be heard”.

In all conflicts – whether within a given science, between different sciences, between sciences and religion, within a given religion, between different religions, between sciences and arts, within the arts, between religion and the arts, between quarrelling nations, quarrelling neighbours or quarrelling spouses, whether in real relationships of actual life or hypothetical relationships of literature and drama – an approach of this kind tells us there is something further that may be said, some improvement that can be carried out, some further scope for investigation or experiment allowing discovery of new facts, some further reflection necessary or possible upon known facts. There are no conflicts that are necessarily irresoluble. Where the suicide-bombers and their powerful adversaries invite us to share their hasty and erroneous assumption that religious, political or economic cultures are becoming irreconcilable and doomed to be fights unto death, we may give to them instead John Wisdom’s “Argument must be heard.”

Parties to this or any conflict may in fact fail to find in themselves enough patience, tolerance, good humour, courage to take an argument where it leads, or they may fail to find enough of these qualities in adequate time, as Quesnay and the Physiocrats failed to find solutions in adequate time and were swept away by the French Revolution. But the failures of our practical human powers and capabilities do not signal that the logical boundaries of the scope of reason have been reached or even approached or come to be sighted.

3. The current conflict is said to be rooted in differences between religious cultures. We may however wish to first address whether any religious belief or practice can survive the devastating onslaught of natural science, the common modern adversary of all religions. What constitutes a living organism? What is the difference between plants and animals? What is the structure of a benzene ring or carbon atom or subatomic particle? What is light? Sound? Gravity? What can be said about black holes or white dwarfs? When did life begin here and when is it likely to end? Are we alone in being the only form of self-conscious life? Such questions about the world and Universe and our place in it have been asked and answered in their own way by all peoples of the world, from primitive tribes in hidden forests to sophisticated rocket scientists in hidden laboratories. Our best common understanding of them constitutes the state of scientific knowledge at a given time. Once we have accounted for all that modern science has to say, can any reasonable explanation or justification remain to be given of any religious belief or practice from any time or place?

Bambrough constructed this example. Suppose we are walking on the shore of a stormy sea along with Homer, the ancient Greek poet, who has been restored to us thanks to a time machine. We are walking along when Homer looks at the rough sea and says, “Poseidon is angry today”. We look at the waves loudly hitting the rocks and nod in agreement saying, “Yes, Poseidon is angry today”. We may be using the same words as Homer but Homer’s understanding of and expectations about the words “Poseidon is angry today” and our understanding of and expectations about the same words would be utterly different, a difference moreover we are able to understand but he may not. To us with our modern meteorology and oceanography, and the results of the television cameras of Jacques Cousteau and David Attenborough, we know for a fact there is no god-like supernatural being called Poseidon living within the ocean whose moods affect the waves. But to Homer, Poseidon not only exists in the ocean but also leaves footprints and descendants on the land, when Poseidon is angry the sea is vicious, when Poseidon is calm the seas are peaceful. We use the words “Poseidon is angry today” as an accurate description of the mood of an angry sea; Homer uses the same words to mean there was a god-like supernatural being inside the ocean whose anger was being reflected in the anger of the waves.

My second story is from 7th century AD located here in Buckingham, from a spot a few hundred yards behind the Economics Department of the University where there is St Rumbwald’s Well. In 650 AD — just a short while after The Recital of the Prophet of Islam (570-632AD) had been written down as The Q’uran, and just a little while before the Chinese pilgrim I-Ching (635-713AD) would be travelling through India recording his observations about Buddhism – here 12 miles from Buckingham was born the babe known as Rumwold or Rumbwald. England was hardly Christian at the time and the first Archbishop of Canterbury had been recently sent by the Pope to convert the Anglo-Saxons. Rumbwald’s father was a pagan prince of Northumbria; his mother the Christian daughter of the King of Mercia. St Rumbwald of Buckingham or Brackley is today the patron saint of fishermen at Folkestone, and he has been historically revered at monasteries in Mercia, Wessex and distant Sweden. Churches have been dedicated to him in Kent,Essex, Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire, Dorset and North Yorkshire. Pilgrims have washed themselves at St Rumwald’s Well over centuries and it is said Buckingham’s inns originated in catering to them. What is the legend of St Rumbwald? It is that on the day he was born he declared three times in a loud voice the words “I am a Christian, I am a Christian, I am a Christian”. After he had been baptised, he, on the second day of his life, was able to preach a sermon on the Trinity and the need for virtuous living, and foretold his imminent death, saying where he wished to be buried. On the third day of his life he died and was buried accordingly.

When we hear this story today, we might smile, wishing newborn babes we have known waking up in the middle of the night might be more coherent too. Professor John Clarke has shown Catholic hagiography over the centuries has also registered deep doubts about the Rumbwald story. We might be tempted to say the whole thing is complete nonsense. If a modern person took it at face value, we would look on it sympathetically. We know for a fact it is impossible, untrue, there has to be some error.

At the bar of reason, all religions lose to science where they try to compete on science’s home grounds, which are the natural or physical world. If a religious belief requires that a material object can be in two places at the same time, that something can be made out of nothing, that the Sun and planets go around the Earth to make Night and Day, that the Earth is flat and the sky is a ceiling which may be made to fall down upon it by Heavenly Wrath, that the rains will be on time if you offer a prayer or a sacrifice, it is destined to be falsified by experience. Natural science has done a lot of its work in the last few centuries; all the major religions pre-date this expansion so their physical premises may have remained those of the science understood in their time. In all questions where religions try to take on scientific understanding head on, they do and must lose, and numerous factual claims made by all religions will disappear in the fierce and unforgiving heat of the crucible of scientific reasoning and evidence.Yet even a slight alteration of the St Rumbwald story can make it plausible to modern ears. Just the other day Radio 4 had a programme on child prodigies who were able to speak words and begin to master language at age of one or two. It is not impossible a child prodigy of the 7th Century AD in his first or second year of life spoke the words “I’m a Christian”, or that as a toddler with a devout Christian mother, he said something or other about the Holy Trinity or about virtue or that he wished to be buried in such and such place even if he had had no real understanding of what he was talking about. If such a prodigious infant of royal blood then died from illness, we can imagine the grief of those around him, and how word about him might spread through a countryside in an era 1200 years before the discovery of electricity and invention of telecommunications, and for that information to become garbled enough to form the basis of the legend of St Rumbwald through the centuries.

The Rumbwald story is a typical religious story that has its parallels in other times and places including our own. It is impossible for it to have been factually true in the way it has come down to us, but it is completely possible for us with our better knowledge of facts and science today to reasonably explain its power over the beliefs of many generations of people. And if we are able to reasonably explain why people of a given time and place may have believed or practised what they did, we have not reason to be disdainful or scornful of them. The mere fact such religious stories, beliefs, experiences and practices of human beings over several thousand years across the globe have been expressed in widely different and far from well-translated or well-understood languages – Egyptian, Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Hawaiian, Samoan, Apache, Kwa Zulu, Hausa, Swahili – let aside English, Arabic, Yiddish or a thousand others, provides more than ample explanation of how miscomprehension and misapprehension can arise and continue, of how a vast amount of mutual contempt and scorn between peoples of different cultures is able to be irrationally sustained. The scope for the reasonable “demythologisation” of all these stories in all these languages from all these religions, in the way we have sought to “demythologise” the Rumbwald story here obviously remains immense and indefinite.

Next consider religious practice in the modern world, and the universal act of praying. (Economists have not seemed to look much at this before though a lot of mankind’s energy and resources are rationally spent towards it every day across the world.) Some weeks ago, on the 60th Anniversary of D-Day, Lady Soames, the daughter of Churchill, recalled the incredible fear and tension and uncertainty felt during the buildup to the invasion of Normandy; she said that when she finally heard the roar of the aeroplanes as they started across the English Channel: “I fell to my knees and prayed as I’d never prayed before or since” (BBC 1 June 6 2004, 8.40 am). A policeman’s wife in Costa Rica in Central America is shown making the sign of the cross upon her husband before he goes to work in the morning into a crime-ridden area from which he might not return safely at the end of the day. Footballers and boxers and opening batsmen around the world say a prayer before entering the field of contest. So do stockbrokers, foreign exchange dealers, businessmen, job-candidates and students taking examinations, and of course hospital-patients entering operating theatres. Before a penalty shootout between England and Portugal or Holland and Sweden, many thousands of logically contradictory prayers went up.

All this praying is done without a second thought about the ultimate ontological character of the destination of such prayers, or even whether such a destination happens or happens not to exist at all. The universal ubiquitous act of praying might be a rational human response to fear, uncertainty, hopelessness, and despair, as also to unexpected joy or excessive happiness.

Blake said: “Excess of joy, weeps, Excess of sorrow, laughs”. When there is excess of sorrow or excess of joy, praying may contribute mental resources like courage, tranquillity and equanimity and so tend to restore emotional equilibrium in face of sudden trauma or excitement. A provisional conclusion we may then register is that religious beliefs and practices of people around the world are open to be reasonably comprehended and explained in these sorts of straightforward ways, and at the same time there is a good sense in which progress in religious understanding is possible and necessary to be made following growth and improvement of our factual understanding of the world and Universe in which we live.

We still speak of the Sun “rising in the East” and “setting in the West” despite knowing since Copernicus and Galileo and the testimony of Yuri Gagarin, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong that the Sun has in fact never done any such thing. Our understanding of the same words has changed fundamentally. Tycho Brahe thought the Sun went around Earth; his disciple Kepler the opposite; when Tycho Brahe looked East at dawn he understood something different from (and inferior to) what Kepler understood when Kepler looked East at dawn. It is similar to Homer and us with respect to whether Poseidon’s moods affect the waves of the sea. Examples of traditional religious belief and understanding may get modified by our scientific knowledge and understanding such that the same words may mean something quite different as a result and have a new significance for our consciousness.

Indeed it extends well beyond natural science to our understanding of literature, art and psychology as well. With the knowledge we have gained of ourselves — of our conscious waking minds as well as of our unconscious dreaming minds — after we have read and tried to grasp Blake, Goethe, Dostoevsky or Freud, we may quite well realise and comprehend how the thoughts and feelings residing in the constitutions of actual beings, including ourselves, are more than enough to describe and explain good and evil, and without having to refer to any beings outside ourselves residing elsewhere other than Earth. It is like the kind of progress we make in our personal religious beliefs from what we had first learned in childhood. We do not expect a person after he or she has experienced the ups and downs of adult life to keep to exactly the same religious beliefs and practises he or she had as a child at mother’s knee, and we do not expect mankind to have the same religious beliefs today as it did in its early history.

Bambrough concluded: “There is no incompatibility between a refurbished demythologised Homeric polytheism, a refurbished demythologised Christianity, and a refurbished demythologised Islam…. The Creation and the Resurrection, the Ascension and the Virgin Birth…may be very differently conceived without being differently expressed….we can still learn from the plays and poems of the ancient Greeks, although we reject the basis of the mythological structure through which they express their insight and their understanding. The myths continue to teach us something because they are attached to, and grounded in, an experience that we share. It would therefore be astonishing if the Christian religion, whether when considered as a united and comprehensive body of doctrine it is true or false, did not contain much knowledge and truth, much understanding and insight, that remain valuable and accessible even to those who reject its doctrinal foundations. In and through Christianity the thinkers and writers and painters and moralists of two thousand years have struggled to make sense of life and the world and men…. What is more, the life that they wrestled with is our life; the world they have portrayed is the world that we live in; the men that they were striving to understand are ourselves.”

Bambrough was addressing Church of England clergy forty years ago but in his reference to a refurbished demythologised Islam he might as well have been addressing Muslim clergy today — indeed his findings are quite general and apply to other theists as well as to atheists, and provide an objective basis for the justification of tolerance.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam each starts with a “religious singularity”, a single alleged moment in the history of human beings when a transcendental encounter is believed to have occurred: the Exodus of God’s Chosen People led by Moses; the Birth, Life, Death and Resurrection of God’s Only Son, Jesus Christ; the Revelation of God’s Book to His Messenger, Muhammad, Peace Be Unto Him, the Seal of the Prophets. Each speaks of a transcendental Creator, of just rewards and punishments awaiting us in a transcendental eternal life after mortal earthly death.

A different fork in the road says, however, that the wind blowing in the trees may be merely the wind blowing in the trees, nothing more; it is the path taken by Buddhism and Jainism, which deny the existence of any Creator who is to be owed our belief or reverence. It is also the path taken by Sigmund Freud the ultra-scientific rationalist of modern times: “It seems not to be true that there is a power in the universe, which watches over the well-being of every individual with parental care and brings all his concerns to a happy ending…. it is by no means the rule that virtue is rewarded and wickedness punished, but it happens often enough that the violent, the crafty and the unprincipled seize the desirable goods of the earth, while the pious go empty away. Dark, unfeeling and unloving powers determine human destiny; the system of rewards and punishments, which, according to religion, governs the world, seems to have no existence.”

We then seem to have a choice between a Universe Created or Uncreated, Something and Nothing, One and Zero, God and No God. Pascal said we have to bet on the Something not on the Nothing, bet on the One not on the Zero, bet on God being there rather than not being there. Pascal’s reasoning was clear and forms the basis of “decision theory” today: if you bet on God’s existence and God does not exist, you lose nothing; if you bet on God’s lack of existence and God exists, you’ve had it. The philosophies of my own country, India, speak of Zero and One, Nothing or Something, and almost leave it at that. Perhaps we know, or perhaps we do not says the Rg Veda’s Hymn of Creation.. Does our self-knowledge end with our mortal death or perhaps begin with it? Or perhaps just as there is an infinite continuum of numbers between 0 and 1, there is also an infinite continuum of steps on a staircase between a belief in Nothing and a belief in Something, between the atheism of Freud and the Buddhists and the theism of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Generalising Bambrough’s findings, it would be surprising if we did not find each and every religion, whether theistic or atheistic, to contain some knowledge and truth, some understanding and insight, that remains valuable and accessible even to those who may otherwise reject the doctrinal foundations of any or all of them. In and through the religions, the thinkers, writers, painters, poets, sculptors and artists of thousands of years have struggled to make sense of our life and the world that we live in; the men and women they were striving to understand are ourselves.

4. Just after the September 11 attacks, I said in the Philippines that the perpetrators of the attacks would have been surprised to know of the respect with which the religious experience of the Prophet of Islam had been treated by the 19th Century British historian Thomas Carlyle: “The great Mystery of Existence… glared in upon (Mohammad), with its terrors, with its splendours; no hearsays could hide that unspeakable fact, ‘Here am I!’. Such sincerity… has in very truth something of divine. The word of such a man is a Voice direct from Nature’s own Heart. Men do and must listen to that as nothing else; all else is wind in comparison.” Carlyle told stories of Mohammad once not abiding by his own severe faith when he wept for an early disciple saying “You see a friend weeping over his friend”; and of how, when the young beautiful Ayesha tried to make him compare her favourably to his deceased wife and first disciple the widow Khadija, he had denied her: “She believed in me when none else would believe. In the whole world I had but one friend and she was that!” Carlyle’s choice of stories suggested the simple humanity and humility of Mohammad’s life and example, even an intersection between Islamic belief and modern science (”a Voice direct from Nature’s own Heart”). Carlyle quoted Goethe: “If this be Islam, do we not all live in Islam?”, suggesting there might be something of universal import in the message well beyond specifically Muslim ontological beliefs.

In general, the words and deeds of a spiritual leader of mankind like that of secular or scientific leaders like Darwin, Einstein, Aristotle, Adam Smith or Karl Marx, may be laid claim to by all of us whether we are explicit adherents, disciples or admirers or not. No private property rights attach upon their legacies, rather these remain open to be discussed freely and reasonably by everyone. Just as war is too important to be left to the generals, politics is too important to be left to the politicians, economics is definitely too important to be left to the economists; even science may be too important to be left to the scientists — certainly also, the religions are far too important to be left to the religious.

Yet Mr Osama Bin Laden and his friends, followers and potential followers, indeed any believing Muslims, are unlikely to be impressed with any amount of “external” praise heaped on Islam by a Carlyle or a Goethe, let aside by a President Bush or Prime Minister Blair. They may be wary of outsiders who bring so much praise of Islam, and will tell them instead “If you like Islam as much as you say you do, why not convert? It’s so easy. You have merely to say ‘God is One and Mohammad is the Seal of the Prophets’ – that’s all, you are Muslim, God is Great”.

Indeed Mr Bin Laden and friends are unlikely to be impressed with any kind of economic or carrot-and-stick policy of counter-terrorism, where incentives and disincentives are created by Western authorities like the US 9/11 Commission or the Blair Cabinet telling them: “If you are ‘moderate’ in your thoughts, words and deed you will earn this, this and this as rewards from the Government, but if you are ‘extremist’ in your thoughts, words and deeds then you shall receive that, that and that as penalties from the Government. These are your carrots and here is the stick.” It is Skinnerian behavioural psychology gone overboard. The incentives mean nothing, and the disincentives, well, they would merely have to be more careful not to end up in the modern Gulags.

We could turn from carrot-and-stick to a more sophisticated mode of negative rhetoric instead. If a doctrine C, declares itself to be resting upon prior doctrines B and A, then C’s reliability and soundness comes to depend on the reliability and soundness of B and A. If Islam declares itself to depend on references to a historical Moses or a historical Jesus, and if the last word has not been spoken by Jews, Christians, sceptics or others about the historical Moses or the historical Jesus, then the last word cannot have been spoken about something on which Islam declares itself to depend.

We can be more forceful too. Suicide-bombers combine the most sordid common crimes of theft and murder with the rare act of suicide as political protest. Suicide as political protest is a dignified and noble and awesome thing – many may remember the awful dignity in the sight of the Buddhist monks and nuns of South Vietnam immolating themselves in 1963 in protest against religious persecution by Diem’s Catholic regime, which led to the start of the American war in Vietnam. Six years and half a world away, Jan Palach, on January 19 1969, immolated himself in Wenceslas Square protesting the apathy of his countrymen to the Soviet invasion that had ended the Prague Spring. Socrates himself was forced to commit suicide for political reasons, abiding by his own injunction that it would be better to suffer wrong oneself than to come to wrong others — suicide as political protest is not something invented recently. And certainly not by Bin Laden and friends, whose greed makes their intentions and actions merely ghastly lacking all dignity: they are not satisfied like the Buddhist monks or like Jan Palach with political protest of their own suicides by self-immolation; they must add the sordid cruelty that goes with the very ordinary crimes of theft and mass murder as well.

Yet this kind of negative rhetorical attack too may not cut much ice with Mr Bin Laden and his friends. Just as they will dismiss our praise for Islam as being a suspicious trick, they will dismiss our criticism as the expected animus of an enemy.

To convict Mr Bin Laden of unreason, of contradicting himself, of holding contrary propositions x and ~x simultaneously and so talking meaninglessly and incoherently, we will have to bring out our heaviest artillery, namely, The Holy Q’uran itself, the Recital of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him). We may have to show explicitly how Mr Bin Laden’s own words contradict what is in The Q’uran. He and his followers would then be guilty of maintaining x and its contrary ~x at the same time, of violating the most basic law of logical reasoning, the law of excluded middle, of contradicting themselves, and therefore of speaking meaninglessly, incoherently, nonsensically regardless of their language, culture, nationality or religion. The Q’uran is a grand document and anyone reading it must be prepared to either considering believing it or having powerful enough reasons not to do so. “The great Mystery of Existence”, Carlyle said, “glared in upon (Mohammad), with its terrors, with its splendours; no hearsays could hide that unspeakable fact, ‘Here am I!’. Such sincerity… has in very truth something of divine. The word of such a man is a Voice direct from Nature’s own Heart. Men do and must listen to that as nothing else; all else is wind in comparison.”

Certainly, as in many other religions, the believers and unbelievers are distinguished numerous times in the Prophet’s Recital; believers are promised a Paradise of wine and many luxuries, while unbelievers are promised hell-fire and many other deprivations. But who are these unbelievers? They are the immediate local adversaries of the Prophet, the pagans of Mecca, the hanifs, the local tribes and sceptics arrayed against the Prophet. It is crystal clear that these are the people being named as unbelievers in The Q’uran, and there is absolutely no explicit or implicit mention or reference in it to peoples of other places or other times. There is no mention whatsoever of Anglo-Saxons or Celts, Vikings, Goths, or Gauls, of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Confucians or Shintos, no mention of Aztecs, Incas, or Eskimos. There is no mention of any peoples of any other places or of any later times. Certainly there is no mention of the people of modern America or Israel or Palestine or Britain or India. Yet Mr Bin Laden evidently sent an email to the head of the Taliban on October 3 2001, in which he referred to “defending Islam and in standing up to the symbols of infidelity of this time” (Atlantic Monthly, Sep. 2004). We are then able to say to him or any of his friends: “Tell us, Sir, when you declare a war between believers and unbelievers in the name of Islam, whom do you mean to refer to as “unbelievers”? Do you mean to refer to every person in history who has not been a Muslim, even those who may have been ignorant of Islam and its Prophet? Or do you mean to refer to the opponents and enemies the Prophet actually happened to encounter in his struggles during his mission as a proselytiser, i.e., the Arabic idolaters of Mecca, the hanifs and Qureshis, this local Jewish tribe or that local Christian or pagan tribe against whom the early Muslim believers had to battle strenuously and heroically in order to survive? If it is these local enemies of the Prophet and his early disciples whom you mean to refer to as “unbelievers” destined for Hell’s fires, there is textual evidence in The Recital to support you. But if you mean by “unbelievers” an arbitrary assortment of people across all space and all time, you are challenged to show the verses that give you this authority because there are none. Certainly you may have military or political reasons for wishing to engage in conflict with A or B or C — because you feel affronted or violated by their actions — but these would be normal secular reasons open to normal discourse and resolution including the normal laws of war as known by all nations and all peoples. There may be normal moral arguments to be made by radical Muslims against the US Government or against the Israeli Government or the British or Indian or some other Government — but there are no generalised justifications possible from within The Q’uran itself against these modern political entities. We should expose Mr Bin Laden and his friends’ lack of reason in both maintaining that Prophet Muhammad is the Seal of the Prophets, and also maintaining that they can extrapolate from The Q’uran something that is not in The Q’uran. The Q’uran speaks of no unbelievers or enemies of the Prophet or the early Muslims who are not their local enemies in that time and place.

Pritchard, the distinguished Oxford philosopher, once wrote an article called “Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?” We today may have to ask a similar question “Does Islamist Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?”

5. If all this so far has seemed too clinical and aseptic in approaching the mystical matters of the spirit, I hasten to add finally that a decisive counterattack upon natural science may be made by both religion and art together. Our small planet is a satellite of an unexceptional star in an unexceptional galaxy yet we are still the centre of the Universe in that it is only here, as far as any of us knows, that such things as reason, intelligence and consciousness have come to exist. (Finding water or even primitive life elsewhere will not change this.) We alone have had an ability to understand ourselves and be conscious of our own existence — the great galaxies, black holes and white dwarfs are all very impressive but none of them can do the same. What responsibility arises for us (or devolves upon us) because of this? That is the perfectly good question asked by art and religion on which science remains silent. Life has existed for x million years and will be extinguished in y million more years, but we do not know why it arose at all, or what responsibility falls on those beings, ourselves, who have the consciousness to ask this. Religion and art cannot battle and win on science’s home ground but they can and do win where science has nothing left to say.

That is what DH Lawrence meant when he said the novel was a greater invention than Galileo’s telescope. Other artists would say the same. Art expresses life, and human cultures can be fresh and vigorous or decadent and redolent of death. The culture that evaluates its own art and encourages new shoots of creativity will be one with a vibrant life; the culture that cannot will be vulnerable to a merger or takeover. There is and has been only one human species, no matter how infinitely variegated its specimens across space and time. All have a capacity to reason as well as a capacity to feel a range of emotions in their experience of the world, something we share to an extent with other forms of life as well. And every human society, in trying to ascertain what is good for itself, finds need to reason together about how its members may be best able to survive, grow, reproduce and flourish, and this vitally demands freedom of inquiry and expression of different points of view. The lone voice in dissent needs to be heard or at least not suppressed just in case it is the right voice counselling against a course that might lead to catastrophe for all. To reason together implies a true or right answer exists to be found, and so the enterprise of truth seeking requires freedom as a logical necessity. It takes guts to be a lone dissenter, and all societies have typically praised and encouraged the virtues of courage and integrity, and poured shame on cowardice, treachery or sycophancy. Similarly, since society is a going concern, justice and fairplay in the working of its institutions is praised and sought after while corruption, fraud or other venality is condemned and punished. Leavis spoke of the need for an educated public if there was not to be a collapse of standards in the arts, since it was only individual candour that could expose shallow but dominant coteries.

Freedom is logically necessary to keep all potential avenues to the truth open, and freedom of belief and experience and the tolerance of dissent, becomes most obvious in religion, where the stupendous task facing everyone is to unravel to the extent we can the “Mystery of Existence”. The scope of the ontological questions is so vast it is only wise to allow the widest search for answers to take place, across all possible sources of faith, wherever the possibility of an insight into any of these subtle truths may arise, and this may explain too why a few always try to experience all the great religions in their own lifetimes. A flourishing culture advances in its science, its artistic creativity and its spiritual or philosophical consciousness. It would be self-confident enough to thrive in a world of global transmissions of ideas, practices, institutions and artefacts. Even if it was small in economic size or power relative to others, it would not be fearful of its own capacity to absorb what is valuable or to reject what is worthless from the rest of the world. To absorb what is valuable from outside is to supercede what may be less valuable at home; to reject what is worthless from outside is to appreciate what may be worthwhile at home. Both require faculties of critical and self-critical judgement, and the flourishing society will be one that possesses these qualities and exercises them with confidence. Words are also deeds, and deeds may also be language.

The crimes of September 11 2001 were ones of perverse terroristic political protest, akin on a global scale to the adolescent youth in angry frustration who kills his schoolmates and his teachers with an automatic weapon. But they were not something inexplicable or sui generis, but rather signalled a collapse of the old cosmopolitan conversation with Islam, and at the same time expressed an incoherent cry of stifled people trying to return to an austere faith of the desert. Information we have about one another and ourselves has increased exponentially in recent years yet our mutual comprehension of one another and ourselves may have grossly deteriorated in quality. Reversing such atrophy in our self-knowledge and mutual comprehension requires, in my opinion, the encouragement of all societies of all sizes to flourish in their scientific knowledge, their religious and philosophical consciousness and self-discovery, and their artistic expressiveness under conditions of freedom. Ultra-modern societies like some in North America or Europe may then perhaps become more reflective during their pursuit of material advancement and prosperity, while ancient societies like those of Asia and elsewhere may perhaps become less fearful of their capacity to engage in the transition between tradition and modernity, indeed, may even affect the direction or speed of change in a positive manner. To use a metaphor of Otto Neurath, we are as if sailors on a ship, who, even while sailing on the water, have to change the old planks of the ship with new planks one by one. In due course of time, all the planks get changed one at a time, but at no time has there not been a ship existing in the process — at no time need we have lost our history or our identity.

The Case For and Against *The Satanic Verses*: Evaluating Diatribe and Dialectic as Art

The Case For and Against *The Satanic Verses*: Evaluating Diatribe and Dialectic as Art

by Subroto Roy

June 2001, Kolkata, India. First published at www..com on December 23 2002. First appearance in print in The Statesman Festival Volume, October 2006. (Note, April 2007: this article is an example of how the Internet age has transformed meanings: before the Internet, to be published and to be printed referred to practically simultaneous events; but this article was published on the Internet almost four years before it came to be republished in print.)

 

 

Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses is a manifold document; in reading it more than a dozen years after publication, what is brought to mind is the relation between art and criticism described by Lawrence and advertised by Leavis: ”We judge a work of art by its effect on our sincere and vital emotion, and nothing else. All the critical twiddle-twaddle about style and form, all this pseudo-scientific classifying and analysing of books in an imitation-botanical fashion, is mere impertinence and mostly dull jargon. A critic must be able to feel the impact of a work of art in all its complexity and its force. To do so, he must be a man of force and complexity himself, which few critics are. A man with a paltry, impudent nature will never write anything but paltry, impudent criticism. And a man who is emotionally educated is rare as a phoenix…”

The sincere and vital emotions most obviously provoked by Rushdie’s book are nausea, anger and irritation.It appears at first sight an abusive, incoherent masquerade of a novel with little artistic value, a mere moneymaking vehicle for a preening, self-seeking author and his publisher.The decisions of the Republics of India and Pakistan to ban it for being gratuitously offensive to the religious sentiments of millions of people, or the finding against it of blasphemy by the Islamic authorities of Iran seem understandable.

Yet such an initial response may be followed by another very different set of sincere and vital emotions. Upon reflection and a second reading, it is possible to feel exhilaration, delight, even the calm of a Shia Muslim spiritual experience from the book. These may be accompanied by a conviction that Rushdie has produced a significant work of art even if he himself remains unaware of its nature. This kind of unusual and dichotomous critical experience needs to be explained. College professors around the world have been writing theoretical essays portraying Rushdie as a “magic realist” or some such oxymoron. The truth may be more prosaic: The Satanic Verses is nothing if it is not a second, perhaps definitive, autobiographical experiment in which Rushdie has attempted to reconcile himself with his own experiences, a task in which he has achieved at best partial success. It is as if he has tried to comprehend his own life as an English-speaking Indo-Pakistani Muslim in the Western world, and in that process the words of The Satanic Verses just came tumbling out.And there is little even a bitter enemy can say about one’s search for self-knowledge, especially on matters of religious belief.

The cover says The Satanic Verses is a novel; what may be called its superficial plot amounts to something a giggling adolescent might have written for an undergraduate essay. Here is its outline:

Once there were two young Muslim boys of Bombay, Najmuddin and Chamchawalla. N. is born poor and raised in the slums; from delivering tiffins he becomes a small-time and then a major screen idol of Hindi cinema, a kind of Muslim NTR/Bachan mixture. In his profligacy he has an affair with R. who later murders her young children and commits suicide because of her unrequited love for him; N. travels in an aeroplane to England which is blown up midair by Sikh hijackers at 30,000 ft; he falls unharmed to the ground, is found on the English coast by an old woman whose lover he becomes until her death; then he returns to a lovely Jewish girlfriend who seems to have no reason to want to be with him, he returns to India, murders the Jewish girlfriend and kills himself, all along being tormented by a notion he may have invited divine wrath for having wilfully eaten pork. In parallel, the other young Muslim boy, C. grows up in a privileged Bombay neighbourhood, is sexually molested by a dhoti-clad street-vendor, has peculiar and perverse parents and servants, is sent to a public school and University in England, ends up in London advertising, is on the same aeroplane which explodes in the sky, also falls unharmed to the ground and is found by the same old woman, but is taken in by British police and immigration authorities, and, most oddly, finds himself transmogrified gradually into a goat like being and then Satan himself, is forced by British police to eat his own goat-pellets, escapes to find refuge among a generous Bangladeshi family in London’s immigrant ghettos, is re-transformed into a human being again after his hatred becomes focussed on a single individual, his fellow Mumbaikari, Najmuddin. C attempts to avenge himself on N. for no particular reason except jealousy, yet N. saves his life and there is supposed to be a moral of good and evil there. C. also at some point acquires a splendid English wife who divorces him — again a woman whom we see no reason to want to be with a jerk like him (though we are not told he might have wanted her for the British passport). C. finally returns to Bombay, is reconciled with his dying father, meets up with an old girlfriend, and the book ends with these two being together.

This is not “magic realism”, it is palpably poor writing. If the superficial plot suffices to make The Satanic Verses a novel, then your or my singing in the shower suffices for us to be in grand opera.

Seen as an autobiographical experiment, however, the superficial plot begins, ever so slightly, to make sense as Rushdie appears himself as both Muslim boys whose lives are traced from Bombay to London and back. He is Najmuddin to the extent he torments himself throughout for having willfully violated Muslim practice

“his mouth full of unclean meat ”(p. 31);

in his relationship with at least one of Najmuddin’s three women, the Jewish girlfriend Allie; and perhaps more generally in his having

”managed to bury his greatest talent so deep that it might easily have been lost forever, his talent, that is, for loving genuinely, deeply and without holding back, the rare and delicate gift which he had never been able to employ” (p.26)

Rushdie is Chamchawalla more obviously in having grown up in a privileged Bombay neighbourhood, been sent to school and university in England, gotten married to and divorced from an English woman named Pamela. Both Najmuddin and Chamchawalla are left with their fathers after their mothers’ early deaths, and Rushdie is original and most authentic in describing these father-son relationships where he appears to draw deeply on his own emotional life. There is a short delightful scene of him teaching his own son to ride a bicycle. Then he makes rare records of the terrible conflicts possible between fathers and adult sons:

(N.) “would understand how much the older man had resented him, and how important it was for the father to defeat the son and regain, thereby, his usurped primacy in the affections of his dead wife”. (p. 19)

(C.) “wrote his father a letter full of cruelty and anger, whose violence was of the type that exists only between fathers and sons, and which differs from that between daughters and mothers in that there lurks behind it the possibility of actual, jaw-breaking fisticuffs. “(p.47)

The son returns to India to be tenderly reconciled with the emaciated dying old man from whom he has been estranged:

”Abba, I came back because I didn’t want there to be trouble between us anymore.

That doesn’t matter any more. It’s forgotten, whatever it was.”

Whatever it was. Death makes family feuds seem petty and inconsequential in retrospect. The old man is just happy to see the boy, his own life, once again. The son unexpectedly finds in himself love, devotion and respect for the old man whom he had long feared and despised:

”First one falls in love with one’s father all over again, and then one learns to look up to him, too…. He is teaching me how to die… He does not avert his eyes, but looks death right in the face…” (pp. 543 et. seq, italics original)

A child sees his parents initially as God-like beings said Sigmund Freud; an aspect of maturity arrives when the child begins to see them no longer as deities but as humans, warts and all. When Rushdie has applied himself to his own inner life and relationships with his father and his son, he delves into a vast pool of expressiveness, and, ever so briefly, discovers and establishes his artistry. His poignant reconciliation with a dying father is a small treasure.

Another episode worth notice in the superficial plot of The Satanic Verses has to do with the growth to maturity of the character of the young Bangladeshi-British adolescent, Mishal Sufyan, and her marriage to the white-fathered, Pakistani(?)-mothered Hanif Johnson. Their love signals fresh hope and new life in Britain’s grim immigrant neighbourhoods filled with fear and hatred. The race riots in England in 2001 could have been taken from a chapter of The Satanic Verses.Rushdie has been a self-conscious observer here as nice boys from RugbySchool don’t normally go slumming even if they are wogs themselves, yet even so the Indian preppie from Rugby or Harvard must still reconcile the continuous threads which bind him to the people cleaning the lavatories at Heathrow or pumping gas or running motels in America.

In parallel with this superficial plot, The Satanic Verses contains a theological dialectic mostly on the origins, beliefs and practices of Islam, the faith in which Rushdie was born and raised. This is practically independent of the superficial plot, or at best the two have been clumsily pasted together. The link is once more Rushdie himself. While he appears as the main protagonists Najmuddin and Chamchawalla in the superficial plot, he makes a triple appearance in the theological treatise, at three different levels of Muslim doubt or faith.

At the greatest level of scepticism, Rushdie appears as the infidel poet and satirist Baal who gives his life to the cause of an absolute artistic and intellectual freedom, mocking Prophet Muhammad and The Quran, saying he recognizes no authority except his artistic Muse:

”A poet’s work (is to) name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world and stop it from going to sleep. “(p. 100)

Under the sword of his Muslim captors, Baal ends with “I’ve finished. Do what you want”; he is beheaded but dies a spiritually free unbroken man. Rushdie may have relied on Islamic legend here though his fellow Anglo-Pakistani, the social anthropologist Akbar Ahmed, has apologetically said that as a matter of historical fact: “The conquest of Makkah cost less than 30 lives…. The charge of those critics who accuse the Prophet of the (death) of a poet who wrote satirical verse… will not hold. An over-zealous Muslim infuriated by his verses set out to silence the poet.”

At a lesser level of scepticism or a greater level of Muslim belief, Rushdie appears in the theological dialectic as a fictional Salman Farsi, supposed to be the “calmest” (p. 107), and “most highly educated” (p. 377) of the Prophet’s intimate disciples. This character becomes in course of time a drunken apostate after starting to doubt the authenticity of The Quran as Divine Revelation, as well as the transcription of the Hadith. As a safety measure perhaps, Rushdie put in

”Where there is no belief, there is no blasphemy” (p. 393).

But in real life the authorities of contemporary Iran were not amused or impressed by legal niceties as to whether young Salman sitting in England had renounced Islam or his Pakistani passport for a British one. In 1989 they roundly pronounced The Satanic Verses to be blasphemous to Islam and sentenced Rushdie to death in absentia, causing as we know a significant recent incident of international law.

Ironically, Rushdie`s experience since might have been scripted by himself:

”Your blasphemy, Salman, can’t be forgiven.”

In response, Salman Farsi is

”unable to muster the smallest scrap of dignity, he blubbers whimpers pleads beats his breast abases himself” (p. 387)

and escapes death only by promising to denounce Baal, the idolatrous satirist. In real life Rushdie blubbered, whimpered, pleaded and abased himself to win a reprieve without avail. If the Iranian authorities have since reduced their hatred of him, it seems because they became bored and found him less consequential as time went by, not because of anything he said or did in repentance. In June 2001, Ayatollah Khatami, then President of Iran, said the blasphemy case was “closed”, and that Iran had always seen Rushdie`s book as part of a modern Western assault on Islam.

Yet one must be grateful the Iranian death sentence did not get carried out because there is evidence to reasonably conclude that, all things considered, Rushdie may well be innocent of blasphemous intent. Though he may be guilty of several literary crimes and misdemeanours, he may have been wrongly placed on Iran’s death row for a dozen years. The evidence suggests that what The Satanic Verses has attempted to be is a genuine Muslim dialectic between faith and doubt — albeit one not expressed in Arabic, Farsi or Urdu to attract serious Islamic scholars, but one done in English in the manner of a Hollywood screenplay designed to attract as much hard currency as possible for Rushdie and his publisher. Commercial English comedy as hermeneutics you might say: Monty Python meets Prophet Muhammad.

That Rushdie has lacked blasphemous intent is evident from his third appearance in the theological treatise, this time as the secular Indian Muslim, Mirza Saeed Akhtar, who loves and lusts after both his sick wife, Mishal, and her new friend, the epileptic orphan woman Ayesha.The two women are dogmatic Shia Muslims, who insist on leading a vast, pious pilgrimage from central India into the Arabian Sea in the belief their faith will miraculously make the waters part and allow them to walk to Mecca.

Rushdie does not identify them as Shia Muslims but the story is based on actual events in 1981-1983 in the Naseem Fatima “HawkesBay” case in Pakistan.

According to the sociologist Akbar Ahmed,Naseem Fatima, “a shy, pleasant looking girl with an innocent expression on her face, who had a history of fits,” after a series of miraculous religious experiences which were scorned by Sunni Muslims but were not inconsistent with Shia doctrine, led 38 people into the Arabian Sea at Karachi believing the waters would part and they would be transported miraculously to Shia holy sites in Karbala in Iraq.

“(The women and children locked) in five of the six trunks died. One of the trunks was shattered by the waves and its passengers survived. Those on foot also survived; they were thrown back onto the beach by the waves… The survivors were in high spirits — there was neither regret nor remorse among them. Only a divine calm, a deep ecstasy. The Karachi police in a display of bureaucratic zeal arrested the survivors. They were charged with attempting to leave the country without visas…. Rich Shias, impressed by the devotion of the survivors, paid for their journey by air for a week to and from Karbala. In Iraq, influential Shias, equally impressed, presented them with gifts, including rare copies of the Holy Quran.”

In The Satanic Verses, Rushdie has altered and transformed these facts into a rich allegorical dialectic between rationalism and scepticism on the one hand, and dogmatic faith and ecstatic religious experience on the other. The husband Mirza Saeed, representing Rushdie himself, condemns what he says is the foolishness of the faith-filled women, begs them, pleads with them to change their minds, and finally when they cannot be stopped, follows behind them in his Mercedes, collecting stragglers, hypocrites and apostates on the way. The intellectual and spiritual tension between the rationalist and believer is built up excellently. The reader is finally certain that Ayesha and the other pilgrims walk to their earthly deaths in the Arabian Sea, but is left uncertain whether the miracle may have in fact occurred even so, whether they have in fact walked into Paradise itself on the strength of their faith. It is a splendid, exhilarating and unexpected spiritual experience emerging from the book. Moreover, the Rushdie-character, though he survives the pilgrimage, tempers his scepticism by the end of his life, and eventually dies in fusion with the ghost of his love, the believer Ayesha, and, we are led to think, is finally absorbed with her into the Paradise described in The Quran.

Thus in the attempted theological treatise that is contained within The Satanic Verses,

Rushdie appears

(i) as Baal the disbelieving, mocking, satirist who gives his life for artistic freedom;

(ii) as Salman Farsi the Muslim believer who turns to apostasy; and

(iii) as Mirza Saeed Akhtar, the rationalist and sceptic who turns eventually towards Muslim faith and belief.

In making this triple appearance, Rushdie has tried to construct a genuine Muslim dialectic between scepticism and dogmatism; if the sceptical parts have outraged Muslim believers, some of his descriptions of Muslim belief and practice might do no less than add new sympathisers or converts to Islam among the heathen and infidels. It is a creative achievement for a modern English-speaking Muslim, perhaps unintentionally, to try to turn the tide of hostile opinion that exists against Islam in the English-speaking world, through a sympathetic rendering of aspects of Islam. E.g., a practice like halal, which seems cruel or at least pointless to the non-Muslim, is given new meaning by Rushdie, and made into a point of existential philosophy:

”(The Prophet)… required animals to be killed slowly, by bleeding, so that by experiencing their deaths to the full they might arrive at an understanding of the meaning of their lives, for it is only at the moment of death that living creatures understand that life has been real, and not a sort of dream. “(p. 376).

It is only at the moment of death that life may make its fullest sense. Such would be to look back at life from the point of death; T. S. Eliot in Burnt Norton seemed to speak of looking forward at life all the way to the point of death:

“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

…Except for the point, the still point,

There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

Leavis drew attention to the religious meaning assigned to these lines by the criticD. W. Harding:

“For the man convinced of spiritual values, life is a coherent pattern in which the ending has its due place, and, because it is part of a pattern, itself leads into the beginning.”

The Satanic Verses is preoccupied with the possibility of such patterns of birth, death and rebirth, conflict and its resolution, tension and its relaxation. “To be born again … first you have to die” (p. 1) Rushdie was raised a Muslim exposed to the university of critical thought and dialogue; as such he owed himself a responsibility to examine Islam to determine whether he would render it his individual allegiance, not by fiat or blind faith but by the canons of reasonableness. In The Satanic Verses he has traversed a range of logical possibilities between disbelief, doubt and faith in Islam. On the strength of the Mirza Saeed Akhtar character in the book, he may have been truthful in declaring himself a genuine believing Muslim who was innocent of the charges of blasphemy against him. He needs to be absolved of the charges, and his conviction by the Iranians set aside, as in effect has been done by Iran’s President Ayatollah Khatami in June 2001. Here ends the case for The Satanic Verses.

The case against Rushdie however must continue.

He has produced a few ounces of artistic and philosophical gold but these are contained in mountains of muck, which remain to be disposed of.Rushdie shows himself emotionally alive and expressive as a son to his father and a father to his son, as well as a keen social observer of Britain and a thoughtful and philosophical Muslim believer;but at the same time he also reveals himself immature, dishonest and cowardly as a writer.These aspects are summarily revealed in Rushdie’s desire to be gratuitously abusive or offensive towards a wide range of chosen targets, from the memory of Prophet Muhammad to the innocuous Chinese.For example, for no discernible reason except to show that little Salman can say bad words and get away with it,a Mallory-like ghost on Mt.Everest is made to converse about“Goddamn Chinese” and “Little yellow buggers”.Then an implausible Sikh woman terrorist (named after the Delhi journalist Tavleen Singh though reminiscent more of Leila Khaled, the pioneer Palestinian hijacker) leads Khalistanis to hijack an Air India jumbo (numbered 420) and explode it mid-air.

In June 1985 an Air India jumbo did explode mid-air killing all 329 lives on board, and it took painstaking work by the Canadian police to arrest and prosecute (unsuccessfully) the major suspects who were Canadian Sikhs. The victims’ families whose tragedies are trivialised in The Satanic Verses join the list of people Rushdie has wished to pointlessly upset by his personal fantasy of two survivors falling unharmed from that aircraft. Then, Rushdie’s Khalistanis go about yelling

”those mother-f…..g Americans and sister-f…..g British”,

when in fact Khalistan seemed plausible mostly to North American and British Sikhs in Vancouver or California who (unlike perhaps Rushdie himself at the time he authored the book), tend not to be abusive of America or Britain in that kind of way. The cursing merely shows how our purportedly great British writer keeps despoiling the possibility of his own artistry.

Hindus and India come in for special abuse in Rushdie’s worldview. India is that rather amusing and grotesque country

”of hundreds of millions of believers…. in which, to this day, the human population outnumbers the divine by less than three to one,”

where a Muslim NTR/Bachan cinema star can become “the most acceptable, instantly recognisable, face of the Supreme” (p. 17). A Hindu character

”coming as she did from a polytheistic tradition”

is considered

”plainly… incapable” (p. 334)

of comprehending the scriptures of the Semitic faiths. Rushdie reveals himself incompetent here in his purported role of theologian, as he has failed to see that the secular outlook of Hinduism and its heterodox descendants like Buddhism does not imply belief in more than one god. Rushdie is not alone in this prejudice for the most venerable Oxford English Dictionary itself announces “Hinduism is the polytheistic religion of the Hindus”.

In fact, Indian traditions always have freely allowed questioning whether there is any God at all, let alone whether there is one God or many gods. I.e., there always has been space freely available within orthodox Hinduism and its heterodox offshoots for all manner of religious scepticism, including nihilism and pyrrhonism. This is highly problematic for a believing member of any of the Semitic faiths like Rushdie, or the author of the entry on Hinduism in the Oxford English Dictionary.Thus even Pope John Paul VI said Buddhism is not a religion in his sense of what a religion must be, namely, a doctrine entailing belief in God.

The Hindu, or at least the philosophical Hindu, is very troublesome to all others because he is somehow able to accommodate all of them within his own folds. “You want to worship the sun, the seas, the mountains, rivers, trees, snakes or stones as God Immanent?; that’s fine with me,” he says to the animist. “You think there is no God as such?; that’s cool”, he says to the Buddhist. “You’re telling me Jesus of Nazareth was God’s incarnated Son?; okay that’s great, I like that,” he says to the Christian. “You’re telling me the Holy Quran was revealed by Al-Lah to Prophet Muhammad near Makkah?; I’ll accept that,” he says to the Muslim. And so on. The Hindu’s all-inclusive catholicity can drive other believers up the wall, especially those closest to him like Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs who may most urgently want to differentiate themselves from Hindu practice.

Rushdie momentarily accepts the Hindu view when Najmuddin

”is often filled with resentment by the non-appearance, in his persecuting visions, of the One who is supposed to have the answers, He never turns up, the one who kept away when I was dying, when I needed needed (sic) him. The one it’s all about, Allah Ishvar God. Absent as ever while we writhe and suffer in his name” (p. 113)

Here Rushdie momentarily acknowledges his secular Indian childhood as well as his Christian schooling about Christ on the Cross.But mostly he has taken the easy path of branding the Hindu a rather silly polytheistic idolater or animist.There is a reminder of the destruction of religious idols by the new Muslims in pre-Islamic Mecca (Jahilia).Then there is a long development of the wickedness of the character of the chief idolater, the female Hind.The real Hind was a foe turned convert of Prophet Muhammad; Rushdie’s Hind converts, is forgiven by Prophet Muhammad, then secretly continues as an idolatrous witch who plots and causes the Prophet’s demise.Her name “Hind” is the Urdu/Persian name for India and the root of “Hindu”, so it is possible Rushdie’s years as a Pakistani have led him to absorb some of the views prevalent in that country about Hindus and Hindustan being implacable foes of Islam.

Then, Rushdie makes pornographic allusions to Ganesh and Hanuman, and a pointed reference to ”these Shiv Sena bastards in control” of contemporary Bombay. A Brahmin and an “Untouchable” (there can be no Harijans or Dalits in Rushdie’s British world) seem to convert to Islam only to retract, while pious Muslim pilgrims are attacked by the wicked VHP and RSS in scenes Rushdie might have lifted from Attenborough`s Gandhi. No mention here of East Pakistan, Yahya Khan, Tikka Khan or Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto — just “Bungleditch” for Bangladesh. In Rushdie`s view, the ominous forces of Hindu nationalism (the folks who gave him a visa to finally visit India in 2000) are to be kept at bay only by arm-in-arm socialism. It all amounts to a rather stale politically correct ideology fashionable in the 1970s, which crashed with the Berlin Wall one year after The Satanic Verses was published. Rushdie, a one-time child citizen of India, knows in his middle age next to nothing about modern Indian society or its political economy, yet apparently longs to prove his correct Limousine Socialism credentials to his Western publishers and clientele. He keeps putting his thumb in the pan.

He also has been cowardly. Living in Britain, he did not set out to write a modern diatribe against all religious traditions he had encountered which might have amounted to a nihilism or pyrrhonism worth examining. Jews and Christians are conspicuous by their absence from his target-list, allowing him to duck away from the savage criticism he would have received from within the Judeao-Christian countries where he has led his adult life. The Satanic Verses has been received with considerable applause there, and earned him a lot of money.The few characters identified as Jews in the book (Mimi, Cohen, his wife, and daughter) are all normal and sympathetically drawn (Cohen is even made a Holocaust survivor who survived Nazi “monsters” but now commits suicide).There is one identified Christian, who, consistent with Rushdie’s ideology of Limousine Socialism, is made a comical American creationist who bites off his own tongue in fear during the hijacking.

The Satanic Verses was banned in India and Pakistan after its publication; but had Rushdie attacked Jewish or mainstream Christian beliefs and characters with the same kind of parody he hurls at Muslim and Hindu beliefs and practices, he likely would not have been published at all in the West, drying up his dollar-income.

It was simply too risky for Salman Rushdie to be as offensive towards Jews and Christians in Britain or America as he has been to Muslims and Hindus in India or Pakistan. Much easier and more lucrative to write “Monty Python meets Prophet Muhammad” or some Peter-Sellers pidgin Indian English dialogue or dig up some dowry-deaths from reading the Indian newspapers. Goes down well with the people who matter. Fits in with their own post-Imperial pretensions about the state of the wogs today. Even better that the Chief Wog himself is saying so. That has been the principal point made by the Iranian authorities against Rushdie, as for example when Ayatollah Khattami said in June 2001 in “closing” the blasphemy case, that Iran always took The Satanic Verses to be a part of the Western assault on Islam.

Indeed Rushdie’s single worst and most pointless example of offensiveness has to do with his distortion of the memory of Prophet Muhammad himself.

Muhammad (572-632 AD) was without doubt one of the greatest men of history, as may be measured by his vast impact on human civilization. His greatness was marked by a magnificent humility; at his death, it was famously said: “If you are worshippers of Muhammad, know that he is dead. If you are worshippers of God, know that God is living and does not die”; indicating the total self-effacement of the man to his mission. Arabic is the language of Islam, but even in Rushdie’s chosen language of English there has been a vast literature over the centuries on Prophet Muhammad’s life and example. One of the best known is Carlyle’s fully sympathetic 1842 account , which made the message of the Prophet’s religious experience one of universal import well beyond Muslim ontological beliefs:

“The great Mystery of Existence… glared in upon (Muhammad), with its terrors, with its splendours; no hearsays could hide that unspeakable fact , “Here am I!”. Such sincerity… has in very truth something of divine. The word of such a man is a Voice direct from Nature’s own Heart. Men do and must listen to that as nothing else; all else is wind in comparison.”

Carlyle quoted Goethe: “If this be Islam, do we not all live in Islam?” And Carlyle told the stories of how Muhammad could not abide by his own severe faith when he wept over the dead body of an early disciple: “You see a friend weeping over his friend”; and of how the young beautiful Ayesha once tried to get Muhammad to compare her favourably to his deceased wife and first disciple the widow Khadija, and how Muhammad had denied her:

”She believed in me when none else would believe. In the whole world I had but one friend and she was that!”

In face of such an enormous wealth of rich legendary material to select from to write about Prophet Muhammad, what does Salman Rushdie, purportedly a major British-educated 20th Century Muslim novelist, choose to do? He invents a pointless sequence of pornographic allusions and events to do with how a Mecca whorehouse increases its business! It makes highly offensive reading, not just to Muslim believers but to decency and the truth of Muhammad’s life; rather like the person who associated Christ on the Cross with a urinal and claimed artistic freedom for himself, outraging Christian opinion in the United States of America a few years ago. Why do it, one may ask? Where is the art in it? Where could the art in it possibly be? Why should it not be seen as merely base and revolting?

In putting together then, the case for and against The Satanic Verses, it may be seen how Rushdie’s artistry might have made him a great writer and also how his vast incorrigible faults have kept him permanently from becoming one. To draw a contrast, in The Brothers Karamasov one hundred years ago, Dostoevsky wrote perhaps the definitive internal critique of Christianity, of how Jesus Christ had made true Christian practice impossibly difficult, of how Christianity demanded too much of mankind, more than man’s nature could possibly achieve. Lawrence said of it:

“As always in Dostoevsky, the amazing perspicacity is mixed with ugly perversity. Nothing is pure. His wild love for Jesus is mixed with perverse and poisonous hate of Jesus: his moral hostility to the devil is mixed with secret worship of the devil. Dostoevsky is always perverse, always impure, always an evil thinker and a marvellous seer.”

Rushdie would have liked a similar comparison in respect of Prophet Muhammad and Islam; but he does not deserve it because he lacks the honesty possessed by the great writers while he possesses a greed and cupidity they disowned. As a novel, The Satanic Verses is about as far from The Brothers Karamasov as the music of David Bowie or Boy George or Madonna is from the music of Tchaikovsky or Beethoven.Superficially, it paints nauseous grotesque absurd accounts of incoherent events, mostly with cartoons and caricatures where real people should have been, forcing the reader to take a most unpleasant journey largely because Rushdie`s deliberately cultivated notoriety pleads for his book to be read. The nausea comes to be suspended for a page here, a handful of pages there, when Rushdie demonstrates that a splendid artistry does exist within him even if he finds it impossibly difficult to muster enough discipline to maintain it.That other Indian writers have been imitating his style in the last few decades often without his substance may merely go to show how far critical editorial standards have collapsed in the book-publishing industry.

It is only when The Satanic Verses is seen as a tortured self-exploration by Rushdie to reconcile his Western life with his Islamic upbringing that it begins to become sensible and comprehensible.Madonna or Boy George’s music is not that of Beethoven and everyone has forgotten it already while no one forgets Beethoven, but it is still a kind of music. Similarly, no one forgets Anna Karenina or Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor and everyone will forget Salman Rushdie, but even so his work still needs to be tested for the presence of significant art.That there is some art in it,perhaps hitherto undiscovered, has been the purpose of this essay to reveal.

References

Akbar Ahmed, Discovering Islam; Pakistan Society

Thomas Carlysle, Heroes and Hero Worship

D. H. Lawrence, Phoenix

F. R. Leavis, The Living Principle; Valuation in Criticism (G. Singh ed.)

Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses

SUBROTO ROY’s works include Philosophy of Economics: On the Scope of Reason in Economic Inquiry (Routledge, London & New York, International Library of Philosophy, 1989, 1991).

A General Theory of Globalization & Modern Terrorism (2001)

A General Theory of Globalization & Modern Terrorism with Special Reference to September 11

Subroto Roy

This was a keynote address to the Council of Asian Liberals & Democrats meeting on November 16 2001, Manila, Philippines, and was published in Singapore in 2002, Alan Smith, James Gomez & Uwe Johannen (Eds.) September 11 & Political Freedom: Asian Perspectives. It was republished in the West on January 26 2004 on the University of Buckingham website, when the author was Wincott Visiting Professor of Economics there. It came to be followed a few months later by a public lecture at the University, titled “Science, Religion, Art and the Necessity of Freedom: Reason’s Response to Islamism” which has also been published here.

1. Globalization Through a Wide-Angle Lens
2. Suicide, Terrorism & Political Protest
3. Science, Religion, Art, and the Necessity of Freedom
4. Asia’s Modern Dilemmas: Named Social Life or Anonymous Markets
5. September 11: the Collapse of the Global Conversation
6. Envoi

Synopsis: The world after September 11 2001 has seemed a very bewildering place — as if all liberal notions of universal reason, freedom, tolerance and the rule of law since the Enlightenment have been proven a lie overnight, deserving only to be flushed away in the face of a resurgence of ancient savageries. One aim of this essay is to show this would be too hasty an assessment; another is to provide a general theory of “globalization”, a notion which often has seemed lost for meaning.

1. Globalization Through a Wide-Angle Lens
The perpetrators of September 11 subjectively acted in the name of Islam. It would have surprised them to know of the great respect with which the religious experience of Prophet Muhammad (572-632 AD) had been treated in the English language by Carlyle in 1842:

“The great Mystery of Existence… glared in upon (Muhammad), with its terrors, with its splendours; no hearsays could hide that unspeakable fact, ‘Here am I!’. Such sincerity… has in very truth something of divine. The word of such a man is a Voice direct from Nature’s own Heart. Men do and must listen to that as nothing else; all else is wind in comparison.” 1

Carlyle told the story of Muhammad once not abiding by his own severe faith when he wept for an early disciple saying “You see a friend weeping over his friend”; and of how, when the young beautiful Ayesha tried to make him compare her favourably to his deceased wife and first disciple the widow Khadija, Muhammad had denied her:

“She believed in me when none else would believe. In the whole world I had but one friend and she was that!”

Carlyle suggested the simple humanity and humility of Muhammad’s life and example, and even an intersection between Islamic belief and modern science (“a Voice direct from Nature’s own Heart”). He quoted Goethe: “If this be Islam, do we not all live in Islam?”, suggesting there might be something of universal import in Muhammad’s message well beyond specifically Muslim ontological beliefs.
In general, the life or words of a spiritual leader of mankind like Muhammad, Christ, or Buddha, as indeed of discoverers of the physical world like Darwin or Einstein, or explorers of secular human nature like Aristotle, Adam Smith or Karl Marx, may be laid claim to by all of us whether we are explicit adherents, disciples or admirers or not. No private property rights may be attached upon their legacies, but rather these remain open to be discussed freely and reasonably by everyone.

A second example is more proximate. It is of M. K. Gandhi the Indian sitting in South Africa reflecting on the Christian ideas of Thoreau the American and Tolstoy the Russian, synthesizing these with Hindu-Jain notions of “ahimsa” or “non-hatred” into a technique of political action to be applied eventually to end British rule in India; then transferred a decade after Gandhi’s assassination to the U. S. Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King Jr, and later, after King’s assassination, back to Nelson Mandela languishing in prison, who ends apartheid and brings in its place a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” in South Africa.2
Construing globalization to mean merely Westernization of the East has been a commonplace error, leading to a narrow cramped perspective and reflecting ignorance of both East and West. There are countless examples of the Easternization of the West including the exportation of Judaism and Christianity, and of Indian and Arab mathematics and astronomy in the Middle Ages. There have been and will be countless cross-fertilizations between East and West, let aside the subtle influences of Africa and other cultures and continents on art, music, dance, sports and beliefs around the world. In general, whenever an idea, practice, institution or artifact transmits itself from its origin elsewhere, we have a little piece of globalization taking place. The speed and volume of such transmissions may have vastly increased in recent decades thanks to the growth of modern transport and communications but that is not to say some of the most important transmissions have not already taken place or may not yet take place. Ours like every generation may be biased in favour of its own importance.

2. Suicide, Terrorism & Political Protest
Global transmissions can be as soft and salubrious as Americans learning to enjoy football which is not American football. But they can be grim and desperate too — like the transfer of “suicide bombing” techniques from Sri Lanka’s civil war to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; or the idea of schoolboys firing automatic weapons germinating from A Clockwork Orange to actuality thirty years later in an American or a German school.

In fact the Thoreau-Tolstoy-Gandhi techniques of civil disobedience or a hunger-strike inflicting pain or sacrifice on oneself to show an adversary his folly, slide naturally to a limit of suicide as political protest — as when the Buddhist Superior Thich Quang Duc, protesting religious persecution by Diem’s regime in South Vietnam, immolated himself on June 2 1963, soon to be followed by other Buddhist monks and nuns, leading to the end of the Diem regime and start of the American war in Vietnam. Six years and half a world away, Jan Palach, on January 19 1969, immolated himself in Wenceslas Square protesting the apathy of his countrymen to the Soviet invasion that had ended the Prague Spring. Suicide as political protest still abides by the Socratic injunction that it would be better to suffer wrong than to wrong others.3

Terrorism by suicide killing crosses that line — over into a world of utilitarian calculation on the part of the perpetrator that his or her suicide as political protest would be inadequate, and must be accompanied by causing death among the perceived adversary as well.

Gandhi, King and Mandela each had conservative, accommodative currents on one side, as well as radical dissident or parallel terrorist offshoots on the other, and we will return to ask why no non-violent political movement seems identifiable of which September 11 was the violent terrorist offshoot.

Where political protest is absent from the motivation, and killing the adversary becomes the aim with suicide merely the means, as with Japan’s kamikaze pilots, we have passed into a realm of international war between organized authorities in contrast with mere terrorism against some organized authority. A suicide-killer may of course subjectively believe himself/herself to be making a political protest though his/her principals may see him/her as an instrument of war.

Also, if it is correct to distinguish between kamikaze pilots and the perpetrators of September 11 by absence and presence of political protest in their motivation, terrorism typically arises as rebellion against some organized authority, and is to be contrasted precisely with war between organized authorities. “State terrorism” can then only refer to an organized authority being repressive to the point of using its power to cause terror, physical or mental, upon a people or individuals under its control. “State-sponsored” terrorism would be something else again, where an organized authority assists a terroristic rebellion against some other organized authority, amounting effectively to an undeclared international war.4

3. Science, Religion, Art, and the Necessity of Freedom
The question arises whether anything in human nature or society may be identified to help analyse, explain or predict the myriad transmissions of globalization taking place, whether salubrious or not. If such a theory claims to be “general”, it will need to be wide enough to try to explain the motivation for modern terrorism and September 11 2001 in particular.

We could start with the observable fact there is and has been only one human species, no matter how infinitely variegated its specimens across space and time. All have a capacity to reason as well as a capacity to feel a range of emotions in their experience of the world, something we share to an extent with other forms of life as well. And every human society, in trying to ascertain what is good for itself, finds need to reason together about how its members may be best able to survive, grow, reproduce and flourish. This process of common reasoning and reflection vitally requires freedom of inquiry and expression of different points of view. The lone voice in dissent needs to be heard or at least not suppressed just in case it is the right voice counselling against a course which might lead to catastrophe for all. To reason together implies a true or right answer exists to be found, and the enterprise of truth-seeking thus requires freedom as a logical necessity. It takes guts to be a lone dissenter, and all societies have typically praised and encouraged the virtues of courage and integrity, and poured shame on cowardice, treachery or sycophancy. Similarly, since society is a going concern, justice and fairplay in the working of its institutions is praised and sought after while corruption, fraud or other venality is condemned and punished.

A flourishing society may be viewed as one advancing in its scientific knowledge, its artistic achievements, and its religious or philosophical consciousness. Each of these dimensions needs to be in appropriate balance in relation to the others during the process of social and economic growth, and each has a necessity for its own aspect of freedom.

Science is our public knowledge regardless of culture or nationality gained of ourselves as members of the world and the Universe, and has been the most important common adversary of all religions. Who or what is homo sapiens relative to other living species? What is the difference between plants and animals? What constitutes a living organism? What is the structure of a benzene ring or a carbon atom or any atom or subatomic particle? What is light, sound, gravity? What can we say about black holes or white dwarfs? When did life begin on Earth and when is it likely to end? Are we alone in the Universe in being the only form of self-conscious life? Such questions have been asked and attempted to be answered in their own way by all peoples of the world, whether they are primitive tribes in hidden forests or sophisticated rocket scientists in hidden laboratories. Our best common understanding of them constitutes the state of scientific knowledge at a given time.
At the bar of reason, all religions lose to science wherever they try to compete on science’s home grounds, namely, the natural or physical world. If a religious belief happens to imply a material object can be in two places at the same time, that something can be made out of nothing, that the Sun and planets go around the Earth, that if you offer a sacrifice the rains will be on time, then it is destined to be falsified by experience. Science has done a lot of its work in the last few centuries, while the religions pre-date this expansion so their physical premises may have remained those of the science understood in their time. In all questions where religions try to take on the laws of scientific understanding head on, they do and must lose, and numerous factual claims made by all religions will disappear in the fierce and unforgiving heat of the crucible of scientific reasoning and evidence.
With the enormous growth of science, some scientists have gone to the limit of declaring no religious belief can possibly survive — that we are after all made up of dust and atoms alone, that there is no real difference between a mechanical talking doll and a gurgling baby who has just discovered her hands and feet.

Yet reasonable religious belief, action and experience does exist and may need to make its presence felt. Religion may not battle science and expect to win on science’s home ground but can and does win where science has nothing and can have nothing to say. It has been reasonable everywhere for men or women faced with death or personal tragedy to turn to religion for strength, courage or comfort. Such would be a point where religion offers something to life on which science has nothing of interest to say. These include the ultimate questions of life or death or the “Mystery of Existence” itself, in Carlyle’s term.

In fact the ultra-scientific prejudice fails ultimately to be reasonable enough, and is open to a joint and decisive counter-attack by both the religious believer and the artist. Modern science has well established that our small planet orbits an unexceptional member of an unexceptional galaxy. Copernicus by this started the era of modern science and began the end of the grip on Western culture of astrology, which was based on a geocentric Ptolomaic worldview (many Asian cultures like India and perhaps China still remain in that grip).

Yet the pre-modern geocentrism contained a subtle truth which has formed the foundation of both art and religion: to the best of scientific knowledge to this day, Earth is the centre of the Universe inasmuch as it is only here that reason and intelligence and consciousness have come to exist, that there is such a thing as the power to think and the power to love.5

We are, as far as anyone knows, quite alone in having the ability to understand ourselves and to be conscious of our own existence. The great galaxies, black holes and white dwarfs are all very impressive, but none of them is aware of its own existence or capable of the thought or love of any human baby or for that matter the commonest street dog.

What responsibility arises for human beings because of the existence of this consciousness? That is the common and reasonable question addressed by both religion and art, on which science is and must remain silent. We may come to know through science that life has existed for x million years and is likely to be extinguished in y million more years, but we do not know why it arose at all, or what responsibility devolves on those beings, namely ourselves, who have consciousness and reason to comprehend their own existence in the Universe.
D. H. Lawrence meant to raise this when he said the novel was a greater invention than Galileo’s telescope. Great painters, composers, or other artists can be imagined saying something similar. Art is the expression of life, and human cultures, like plants, may be fresh and vigourous with life or decadent and doomed to death. The society which both recognizes and comprehends its own artistic traditions through reasonable evaluation while encouraging new shoots of artistic creativity, will be one with a vibrant cultural life; the society incapable of evaluating its own art self- critically enough will be likely also to kill new creativity from within itself, and become vulnerable to a merger or takeover.

Science, religion and art each vitally requires freedom in order to thrive. In art, the function of reason arises in critical evaluation of literature, paintings, cinema, drama, music, dance, architecture and other aspects of aesthetics. Swimming against a full tide of majority opinion here often may be the right thing to do. The critic F. R. Leavis spoke of the importance of there being an educated public to maintain serious cultural standards; he meant that the freedom to be vigourously critical, often against shallow entrenched coterie opinions, may be the only safeguard preventing artistic or cultural standards from collapse. In science, the activity of reasoning whether in public with one another or privately within oneself, dispels scientific illusions (like astrology) and so enlarges the area occupied by a common empirical understanding. Freedom is logically necessary here to keep potential avenues towards the truth open; it extends also to protecting through tolerance those factual beliefs which may be manifestly false — it may be a crime to steal or commit murder but it is not a crime to hold erroneous factual beliefs about the world as such (e.g. astrology is wrong because Copernicus is right, but it would be illiberal to jail people for believing in astrology.) Such a need for freedom of belief and experience, as well as the tolerance of dissent, becomes most obvious in religion, where the stupendous task facing all human beings is of attempting to unravel the “Mystery of Existence”. The scope of these ontological questions, unanswered and unanswerable by science, is so vast it would be only wise to allow the widest search for answers to take place, across all possible sources and religious faiths, wherever the possibility of an insight into any of these subtle truths may arise. Perhaps that is why some solitary thinkers have sought to experience all the great religions in their own lifetimes, sometimes by deliberate conversion from one faith to the next.

A flourishing society, then, would be one which grows along the three planes of science, religion and art under conditions of freedom. And such a notion may be measured at different scales of social life. It starts with the family as the author of Anna Karenina knew in its famous opening sentence: “All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. It could then move to flourishing tribes, neighborhoods or local communities, to flourishing towns, provinces, or whole nations. At any of these levels, the flourishing society is one which inhales deeply the fresh air of natural science, and so sees its knowledge of the material world grow by leaps and bounds; it encourages religious and philosophical discussions and tolerance so does not fail to comprehend its own purpose of being; and it lives creatively and self-critically in trying to improve the expressiveness of its artistic achievements. Such a society would be self-confident enough to thrive in a world of global transmissions of ideas, practices, institutions and artifacts. Even if it was small in economic size or power relative to others, it would not be fearful of its own capacity to absorb what is valuable or to reject what is worthless from the rest of the world. To absorb what is valuable from outside is to supercede what may be less valuable at home; to reject what is worthless from outside is to appreciate what may be worthwhile at home. Both require faculties of critical and self-critical judgement, and the flourishing society will be one which possesses these qualities and exercises them with confidence.

4. Asia’s Modern Dilemmas: Named Social Life or Anonymous Markets
Actual societies, whether small like families or large like nations, in East or West, now or in the past, typically display these qualities in relative balance, excess, or shortage.6 Broadly speaking, throughout the vast span of Asia, there has been unstinting admiration over the last two hundred years for the contribution of the modern West to art, architecture and the growth of scientific knowledge. Where it has come to be known and applied, there has been admiration for liberal Western political thought; while ancient Asian nations which hastily imported ideologies like fascism and communism have lived to regret it. Western political morality at its finest derives from the philosophy of Immanuel Kant that rational beings recognise one another’s autonomy and treat one another as ends in themselves, not as means towards each other’s ends. 7 We see this in action today in for example the cordial relations between the USA and Canada, or between North America and Europe, or in recent attempts at European integration.

Asian nationalists in the 20th Century struggled to try to establish individual autonomous national identities, as the West had done in the 18th and 19th centuries. Asian nationalism represented an unwillingness to be treated as mere means towards the ends of Western nations, something we still see today when country B is used to counter A, then C used to counter B, then D used to counter C, etc in the old imperial manner of divide and rule This remains a serious problem of international relations but is something Asia can resolve independently by seeking to create for herself free societies which flourish in science, religion and the arts which would then be robust, self-confident and autonomous enough to decline to be used as means towards others’ ends. Furthermore, Asian societies in some respects all resemble one another and pre-modern Western societies more than they do the contemporary West. These pre-modern societies were ones in which a person was identified by rights and obligations flowing from the place he or she came to occupy through inheritance or brave achievement, and centred around the loyalty of friendship and kinship, as well as fidelity of the household. The relationships between the sexes, between generations, between friends, all these across Asia today may still perhaps resemble one another and the pre-modern West more than they do some trends in the contemporary West. History and identity continue to predominate our cultures in Asia: everyone is someone’s son or daughter, someone’s brother or sister or friend or relative, everyone is from some place and is of some age; and every deed has a history to it which everyone knows about or wants to talk about.

In contrast, the modern Western financial economics which the present author teaches his students, describes a world of anonymous “efficient markets” with no memory; where anyone can thrive as long as he or she brings something of value to trade; where all information needed to determine prices tomorrow is contained in today’s prices and events; where nothing from yesterday is necessary to determine anything in the future; where the actual direction of price-change is random and cannot be consistently foretold, so we cannot in general make any prediction which will lead to profit without risk. We are to imagine a large number of players in such a market, each with only a tiny bit of market-power itself, and none able to move the terms of trade on its own. Each of these players then, according to the textbooks, seizes every chance to improve his or her own position regardless of all else, he or she will “buy low” and “sell high” whatever and whenever possible, until price differences between identical assets vanish and no extra profit remains to be squeezed out from anything. Such briefly is the pure theory of the efficient market economy which one teaches as an economist. One tells one’s students it is a good thing, and it is to be found, if anywhere in the best international financial markets, and that what globalization refers to is the whole world becoming like one big efficient marketplace.8

Yet, privately, Asia may have watched with dismay the near-collapse of family and social life which has sometimes accompanied the modern prosperity and technological advancement. The war in Vietnam brought obvious physical destruction to parts of Asia but may also have had more subtle corrosive long-term effects on the social fabric of the West. If there has been something liberal and humane about Western politics while Asian politics have been cruel and oppressive, there may also be something stable and chaste about traditional Asian family life while modern Western societies have sometimes seemed vapid and dissolute. Specifically, if it is fair to say there has been too little autonomy experienced by women and children in many Asian societies, it may be fair as well to observe a surfeit of choices may have arisen in some Western societies, greater than many women and children there may privately wish for. How does a society find its right balance on the question of the autonomy, modesty and protection of family life and other social relationships? The divorce courts of the ultra-modern world are places of deep misery for everyone except the lawyers involved in the trade, and as some Asian leaders have observed, something the globalization of Asia could well seek to avoid. Thus the dilemma faced by many Asians today may be how to absorb the efficiency of markets and sound governance of liberal political institutions, without the kind of private social collapse that seems to have occurred in many ultramodern societies, nor the kind of loss of political sovereignty against which Asian nationalists had struggled during the age of imperialism. We may now see how far this brief but general theory of globalization may be applied in explaining the bewildering events of September 11 2001.

5. September 11 : the Collapse of the Global Conversation
Words are also deeds while deeds may also convey meaning.9 The words and deeds of the perpetrators of September 11 2001, and of the nation-states organized against them since that date, are both components of a complex and subtle global conversation taking place as to the direction of our common future.
In earlier times, Gandhi, King and Mandela each led successful non-violent political protests of “non-white” peoples against “white” organized authorities. Their protests assumed a level of tolerance arising out of mutual respect between rebel and authority. None was a totalitarian revolutionary out to destroy his adversary in toto but rather each intended to preserve and nurture many aspects of the existing order. Each had first become the master of the (Christian?) political idiom of his adversary and was willing and able to employ this idiom to demonstrate the selfcontradiction of his opponent, who was typically faced with a charge of hypocrisy, of maintaining both x and its contrary ~x and so becoming devoid of meaning. Such political conversations of words and deeds required time and patience, and the movements of Gandhi, King and Mandela each took decades to fructify during the 20th Century. They had more conservative accommodative currents on one side, and more impatient radical terroristic offshoots on the other.

All such aspects seem absent from September 11 and its aftermath, which seems at first sight sui generis. No patient non-violent political protest movement can be identified of which September 11 was a violent terroristic offshoot or parallel. Tolerance has not merely vanished but been replaced by panic, mutual fear and hatred. Violence appears as the first and not last recourse of political discussion. The high speed of the modern world almost demands a winner to be declared instantly in conflicts with subtle and unobvious roots, and the only way to seem to win at speed is by perpetrating the largest or most dramatic amount of violence or cruelty. The world after September 11 2001 has seemed a very bewildering place — as if all liberal notions of universal reason, freedom, tolerance and the rule of law since the Enlightenment have been proven a lie overnight, deserving only to be flushed away in face of a resurgence of ancient savageries.

But this would be too hasty an assessment. The global conversation clearly collapsed very badly from the time of e.g. Carlyle’s effort in 1842 to understand Islam’s legacy to the point of September 11 2001 being carried out against the United States or Western civilisation in general in Islam’s name. Even so, the universal liberal virtues of patience, tolerance and common reasoning can still find use here — in identifying possible deep, long-term historical factors which may have accumulated or congregated together to cause such a crime to take place.
One such historical factor has been technological and economic: the invention and immense use of the internal combustion engine throughout the 20th Century, coupled with discovery of petroleum beneath the sands of Arabia — all of which has made the material prosperity of the modern West depend, in the current state of technology, on this link not becoming ruptured. A second and independent factor has been the history of Christian Europe’s alternating persecution and emancipation of the Jewish people, which leads in due course to the Balfour declaration of 1919 and, following the Nazi Holocaust, to the creation of modern Israel among the Arabic- speaking peoples. The history between Christianity and Judaism is one in which the Arabic-speaking peoples were largely passive bystanders. Indeed, they may have been almost passive bystanders in creation of their own nation-states as well — for a third historical factor must be the lack of robust development of modern political and economic institutions among them, with mechanisms of political expression and accountability often having remained backward perhaps more so than in many other parts of Asia.

The end of World War I saw not only Balfour’s declaration but also Kitchener, Allenby and T. E. Lawrence literally designing or inventing new nationstates from areas on a desert-map:

“Our aim was an Arab Government, with foundations large and native enough to employ the enthusiasm and self-sacrifice of the rebellion, translated into terms of peace. We had to … carry that ninety percent of the population who had been too solid to rebel, and on whose solidity the new State must rest…. In ten words, (Allenby) gave his approval to my having impertinently imposed Arab Governments… upon the chaos of victory…”

“(The secret Arab societies) were pro-Arab only, willing to fight for nothing but Arab independence; and they could see no advantage in supporting the Allies rather than the Turks, since they did not believe our assurances that we would leave them free. Indeed, many of them preferred an Arabia united by Turkey in miserable subjection, to an Arabia divided up and slothful under the easier control of several European powers in spheres of influence.” 10

Beginning with the Allied-induced Arab revolt against the Turks, the classic imperial doctrine of “balance of powers” or “divide and rule” has seemed to continue to be applied in rather more subtle diplomatic form up until the present: with post-Mossadeq Iran against any incipient Arab nationalism, then with Iraq against post-Revolutionary Iran, then against Iraq in the Gulf War of 1991. It is only during and after the Gulf War that Osama Bin Laden, as a totalitarian revolutionary, arose as an adversary of the West.

Throughout these decades, little or no spontaneous cosmopolitan political conversation seems to have occurred from which a mature, sustained indigenous Arab or other Muslim nationalism may have arisen as the basis for nation-states, as had done e.g. with Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian or Vietnamese nationalism.11

From 1919 to 1945, the global conversation became preoccupied with other matters, and from 1945 to the end of the Cold War, with yet other matters again. While the three long-term factors unfolded themselves through these turbulent decades, the natural vibrant free conversation vitally necessary for the political life of any people continued for the Arabic-speaking peoples to remain mostly stifled, dormant, inchoate or abortive. Expectedly enough, whatever little current it had turned inward to the insular austere roots of a faith of the desert:

“The Beduin of the desert…found himself indubitably free…. In his life he had air and winds, sun and light, open spaces and a great emptiness. There was no human effort, no fecundity in Nature: just the heaven above and the unspotted earth beneath. There unconsciously he became near God…. The Beduin could not look for God within him: he was too sure that he was within God. He could not conceive anything which was or was not God, Who alone was great…. This creed of the desert seemed inexpressible in words, and indeed in thought. It was easily felt as an influence, and those who went into the desert long enough to forget its open spaces and its emptiness were inevitably thrust upon God as the only refuge and rhythm of being…. This faith of the desert was impossible in the towns…” 12

But this attempt to return inevitably became something reactionary in the late 20th Century. Finding the Beduin and the original deserts of Arabia transformed over the intervening decades, it could only try to recreate itself among the Pashtoon in the barrenness of Afghanistan, and led to the bizarre scenes of the Taliban attempting to destroy televisions and cassette-tapes in the name of Islam.

6. Envoi
The crimes of September 11 2001 were ones of perverse terroristic political protest, akin on a global scale to the adolescent youth in angry frustration who kills his schoolmates and his teachers with an automatic weapon. But they were not something inexplicable or sui generis. They represented a final collapse of the centuries-old cosmopolitan conversation with Islam, while at the same time it was an incoherent cry of a stifled people trying to return to the austere faith of the desert. Words are also deeds, and deeds may also be language. What September 11 has demonstrated is that even while the information we have about one another and ourselves has increased exponentially in recent years, our mutual comprehension of one another and ourselves may well have grossly deteriorated in quality.

Reversing such atrophy in our self-knowledge and mutual comprehension requires, in the opinion of the present author, the encouragement of all societies of all sizes to flourish in their scientific knowledge, their religious and philosophical consciousness and self-discovery, and their artistic expressiveness under conditions of freedom. Ultra-modern societies like some in North America or Europe may then perhaps become more reflective during their pursuit of material advancement and prosperity, while ancient societies like those in Asia or elsewhere may perhaps become less fearful of their capacity to engage in the transition between tradition and modernity, indeed, may even affect the direction or speed of change in a positive manner.

To use a metaphor of Otto Neurath, we are as if sailors on a ship, who, even while sailing on the water, have to change the old planks of the ship with new planks one by one. In due course of time, all the planks get changed one at a time, but at no time has there not been a ship existing in the process — at no time need we have lost our history or our identity.

© Subroto Roy, November 16 2001; January 26 2004

1 Thomas Carlyle, Heroes and Hero Worship, London 1842.
2 In fact, “Gandhi’s correspondence with Tolstoy… only started after passive resistance had begun, and he only read Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience when he was in prison for that very offence”. Judith M. Brown, Gandhi’s Rise to Power,Indian Politics 1915-1922, Cambridge University Press 1972.
3 Cf. The Collected Dialogues of Plato, Princeton, 1961, Gorgias 474b, 483a, b.Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind, Thinking, pp. 181-182, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971
4 Applying this to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the precise question would be
how far the present Palestinian authority may be objectively considered the organized authority of a nation-state: if it is, then Palestinian suicide-killings are acts of war; if it is not, they are acts of terrorism. The rhetoric on each side
5 Finding water or even primitive life elsewhere will not change this.
6 For example, the relatively new nation-states created upon the ancient societies of the Indian subcontinent to which the present author belongs, apparently display a surfeit of religiosity combined with a shortage of rational scientific growth, including the sciences of governance and economics. Despite the examples of solitary thinkers from Kabir and Nanak to Gandhi, the political and economic benefits of social tolerance still seem badly understood in the subcontinent. Equally, the mechanism of holding those in power accountable for their actions or omissions in the public domain has often remained extremely backward. A mature grasp of the division between the private and public spheres may also have been absent in Asia; the distinction between private and public property is often fuzzy or opaque; the phenomena of corruption and pollution are then easily explained as mirror-images of one another: corruption is the transmutation of something valuable from the public domain into private property; pollution is the expulsion of private waste into the public domain. Each is likely to be found with the other.
7 Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, ed. H. J. Paton, Oxford
8 The contrast between “named” and “anonymous” societies occurred to the
author on the basis of the theoretical work of Professor Frank Hahn of Cambridge University, Cf. Equilibrium and Macroeconomics, MIT 1984.
9 This was emphasized by the late Cambridge philosopher Renford Bambrough, “Thought, word and deed”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supp. Vol.
LIV, 1980, pp. 105-117.
10 T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, A Triumph, 1926, Doubleday 1935, pp. 649, 659; pp. 46-47
11 The most may have been Attaturk’s Turkey, M. A. Jinnah’s creation of a Pakistan separate from India, and Algeria’s independence from France — all distant from the fulcrum of Arabia. In case of Pakistan, it was Hitler’s invasion of Poland that led the British, in something of a panic, to begin on September 3 1939 to treat Jinnah’s Muslim League on par with Gandhi ‘s Indian National Congress. The 1937 provincial election results had shown little support for Pakistan in the areas which today constitute that country. Cf. F. Robinson, “Origins” in Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, edited by William E. James & Subroto Roy, Hawaii MS 1989, Sage 1992, Karachi OUP 1993.
12 Seven Pillars of Wisdom, pp. 40-41