Ripples

You’ve surely noticed this pattern too. A terrorist atrocity occurs. We condemn it. There is a counter-reaction which targets people who had nothing to do with the terrorist atrocity. We condemn that too. There is a further counter-reaction which posits that those who condemn the unrelated reaction have sympathy or support the initial act of violence. And so the cycle goes on, with everyone swept up in hysteria, except for those who perpetuated the atrocity in the first place.

Glorious self-image

I think the problem we have in these big civilisation debates is that most of us do not know or do not want to acknowledge our histories. Ages of empire are glossed over, romanticised or glorified, in both the east and west. Brutality, transgression, oppression: there is no room for these in our image of ourselves. On all sides, we hold the other accountable for their past and present wrongs, but refuse to acknowledge the crimes of those we champion. We have planks in our eyes, which are covered with blinkers, while our heads are buried in the sand.

Freedom

We may not like what you wear, but we’ll defend your right to wear it… Oh, no, sorry, that’s not it… What was it? Oh yes… We may not like what you say, but we’ll defend your right to say it…

But only if we agree with you and if it’s especially insulting to people we don’t like, and if it helps inflame community tensions…  but not if it’s something sensible like suggesting that it’s wrong to threaten women with arrest if they don’t remove their tops…

In that case you can just shut up, because liberté, égalité and fraternité only apply to people who recognise the importance of wearing beachwear designed by a great Frenchman, who named his garment after a beautiful Pacific atoll, five days after the first of 23 nuclear weapons tests rendered it uninhabitable… And they claim the burkini is a celebration of explosive violence!

No, freedom of expression is not about minorities choosing what they wear or how they enjoy their beach holiday… Freedom of expression is about defending great European traditions like freedom itself, liberty, independence, privilege, unrestraint, indulgence, abandonment and, well, any synonym that takes our fancy on any particular day, which of course only free people can really, truly understand…

It is about being free to be free to be free, and that includes being free from being free if being free undermines freedom. Thus it is the right of the state and its authorities to force women to adopt the national uniform of beachgoers everywhere, in the name of freedom. It is the right of authorities to compel, coerce and oblige individuals to do not as they please, but as others please, in the name of freedom. Indeed that is the defence of freedom itself!

So say yes to racial slurs, to the targeting of minorities, to insulting the powerless, to criminalising the innocent, to colonial expeditions and jingoistic expressions of solidarity with the powerful. Send those third-generation immigrants back home. Bring the de-veiling ceremonies enforced in Algeria in the 1950s to the towns and suburbs of France. Rekindle all that once made France so great: the brutal supremacist violence of empire, the sneering and mocking voice of secular rationalism, the disavowal of anything sacred other than the beloved symbols of the Republic. Let the world taste this peculiar elixir of freedom!

If there is a clash of civilisations unfolding before us, it is not as our social commentators imagine it, for Daesh and French authorities are on the same side here, both telling women how they should dress, as if the private realm were the property of the state. If there is a clash, it is between ordinary people who cherish their individual liberties, and ideological states which wish to police them. ‘Freedom!’ they chant, with weapons charged. ‘Be free,’ they insist, as they trample on the freedoms of little people everywhere.

Freedom is about being free to be free to be free, which includes being free from being free if freedom is undermined by said freedom. This is a freedom which insists, “I do not care if you do not like what I have to say, but I’ll defend to your death my right to say it.” This is a freedom in which true freedom comes from conforming to the whims of the majority, from obeying the strictures of a freedom-giving ideology and from giving up self-determination.

In short, you will never be truly free until you have given up your faulty notions of freedom. Long live freedom!

Skeptical for truth

Religion is all too frequently abused to mobilise the masses in the service of the most unholy of causes. Outright lies, false propaganda, bogus miracles, spurious scholarship and emotional blackmail: all legitimate means in both the proselytiser’s and the politician’s toolkit. It is true that skepticism is the beginning of faith, but I also believe a healthy regular dose is essential to maintain and keep your faith alive and true.

The schizophrenia of the times

My newsfeed reveals a schizophrenic attitude to faith and conflict. Today’s conflicts and violence are condemned absolutely, while the triumphant conquests of the past enjoy great eulogies, their reality whitewashed and distorted. We pine after a glorious past, oblivious to former transgressions, to doctrines of perennial war and imperial rules of engagement as cruel and unforgiving as the battles of any of the zealots of today.

What a strange situation to find ourselves in. Faced by the realities of war and conflict in modern times, we find ourselves perpetually on edge, worn down by the constant litany of barbaric acts and savagery, craving a legendary past when all men were just, all conquests honourable and six hundred years of war a time of peace. Somehow we are meant to reconcile the two implacable positions: to condemn today’s infractions and praise the misdemeanours of the past at exactly the same time. To take a different stance on the same behaviour, depending on when it occurred and who was in charge.

Too often the only element that differentiates one from the other is the question of authority. Barbarity under the auspices of a legitimate religious or political authority is sanctioned and sanctified, clothed in folklore and pious mythology.

Do not cut the tree, do not kill the child, do not kill old people, do not destroy the temple or church, do not kill the woman, do not kill the monk or priest, be good to prisoners and feed them, do not enforce Islam. Yes, all of these are found in the teachings of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and in the verses of the Qur’an. But open those classical books of fiqh, or read our history. How many times were these noble injunctions — spread so widely today — ignored?

Were not many of those past conquests, so celebrated today, offensive and not defensive? Did armies not seek to expand the borders of the state annually, to carry the faith far and wide? Did the empires of the past not believe they were liberating the people they conquered, like the armies of today bringing democracy to whole peoples with the aid of cruise missiles, stealth bombers, mass invasion and proxy wars?

So this is the schizophrenia of the times — on all sides. Civilised nations which invented the concept of terror bombing in World War II and carpet bombing in the decades thereafter, now look on perplexed at indiscriminate bombs placed in market places, condemning their barbarity without a trace of irony. Meanwhile, the faithful, schooled in the nobility of their tradition with its varnished history, sob and wail at our tragic reality today — the unending conflict and violence — while singing the praises of the vast armies of the past and their magnificent leaders, whether they were just or not, or any less sectarian than today’s bedeviled warriors.

How will we exorcise these demons? Surely not by hankering after an imagined past, or speaking of mythical laws in classical texts, or by petitioning us with tales about legitimate authority, apparently unachievable today. A paradigm shift, it seems to me, is needed — a better way of thinking — that unburdens us of these schizophrenic mindsets which cause us such unrest and discomfort. We need to open our minds and forge a thoughtful forward path.

Secret societies

It is fantastical that vast numbers of Muslims are happy to bang on and on about Freemasons and the Illuminate, but the moment you mention the possibility that a Muslim organisation operates a clandestine secret society, everyone responds, “That’s preposterous, impossible, an outrageous assertion, absolutely unbelievable and patently untrue.” Some claims, it seems, are a stretch too far.

Licorice allsorts

Some light reading for those seeking something more wholesome than Muslamic conspiracy theories, government propaganda and pious apologetics.

Media Wars and the Gülen Factor in the New Turkey – MER Sept 2011

Altruistic Society or Sect? The Shadowy World of the Islamic Gülen Movement – Der Spiegal Aug 2012

Ergenekon, Sledgehammer and the politics of Turkish justice: conspiracies and coincidence – MERIA June 2011

Fethullah Gülen’s Grand Ambition: Turkey’s Islamist Danger – MEQ Winter 2009

Turkish imam Fethullah Gulen wields power from self-imposed exile – FT Dec 2013

The 2014 Turkish Municipal Elections Under the Impact of the December 17 Process – TAD

What Future For the Fethullah Gülen Movement in Central Asia and the Caucasus? – CAC July 2014

Gülen: The Ambiguous Politics of Market Islam in Turkey and the World

The House of Service: The Gülen Movement and Islam’s Third Way – OUP 2014

Great games

Is Fethullah Gülen the head of a terrorist organisation? On outward appearances, I find that somewhat implausible. Followers of the Gülen movement are actively engaged in education, social welfare projects, humanitarian aid and interfaith dialogue all around the world. To the outside observer, they could only be an altruistic social movement; the idea of a malignant conspiratorial secret society seems preposterous. Continue reading Great games