Saturday, May 12, 2007

'Sufism' and US Foreign Policy (Part II) - An Examination of the 2004 Nixon Report -

You can read Part I on Austrolabe (I didn't hear from them about the following, so I'm publishing it here after some editing).

Deconstruction of Poetry, Programme Objectives and Introducing ‘Neo-Sufism’

[In this part, you’ll find that I’ve corroborated the first part and basically looked at very broad themes. It is in the final section i.e. Part III of this series that I have introduced new ideas and themes that mayn’t directly relate to the report, because all along my effort has been to humanize the dehumanized in this report as I initially stated. This of course is because of the underlying argument of the report itself, which casts aside “Wahhabism” as a scourge not just to the world; but given the diplomatic, conceited slant of its address to an American foreign policy audience, “the West”].

This is a follow up to my last entry in which I basically discussed the fanatical standardisation of Islam by Shaykh Hisham Kabbani through his private Sufi viewpoint as distinct from the understanding of Sufis in general, and where all other roads or sects would be monitored, and if need be, their followers designated as terrorists. Before I proceed, let me once again affirm that my critique of the 2004 Nixon Report titled Understanding Sufism and its Potential Role in US Policy (edited by Zeyno Baran) isn’t a slam on Sufism. My objective is merely to talk about it in terms of political implications. I remember I did touch upon the poetry and philosophy aspect of Rumi and Ibn Arabi, but this was in response to Bernard Lewis’s obvious extolment of the tolerance in the writings of such aesthetic, spiritually sensitive Muslim thinkers which he played against ‘standard Islamic texts’ i.e. the Qur’an and the Hadith. I personally have a lot of respect for Sufi poets, though I have the right to disagree with some of the things they said or did. Let me mention here that according to Shaykh Hisham Kabbani, Al-Hallaj is too extreme. But his personal pact with neocons is not extreme and they’re made merry with anti-orthodox Hellenized philosophy that he doesn’t mind quoting, which casts great doubt on his supposed faith. Let alone the fact that the particular quote by Rumi may well have been inauthentic as Ibrahim Gamard shows in this brilliant article. It is interesting that none of the Muslims who shamelessly participated in this phoney albeit curious conference had the mettle to confront Lewis. For every Muslim of whichever school of thought or sect, the Qur’an and the Hadith serve as the texts. And it is absolutely fallacious to contend that the writings of poets and thinkers are of greater merit for co-existence between peoples of different religions and races. While the writings of poets may have that charm and some lovely rhymes and some of their authors may have been good souls, the Word of Allah is far superior, it can’t even be compared. Poets mostly cling to wings of imagination and as you may know, imagination is a moody enterprise. All chapters in the Qur’an proclaim mercy and compassion of Allah right in the beginning and Allah means everything in His speech. Mevlana Rumi himself wrote in taut reflection:

I am the servant of the Qur’an as long as I have life.
I am the dust on the path of Muhammad, the Chosen one.
If anyone quotes anything except this from my sayings,
I am quit of him and outraged by these words.

[man banda-yé qur’an-am, agar jan dar-am
man khak-é rah-é muHammad-e mukhtar-am
gar naql kon-ad joz in, kas az goftar-am
bezar-am az-o, w-az-in sokhan bezar-am]

-- Rumi’s Quatrain no. 1173, translated by Ibrahim Gamard and Ravan Farhadi (in “The Quatrains of Rumi,” an unpublished manuscript)

Shakykh Hisham Kabbani would never quote this. I mean, you would need something anti-orthodox to make everyone happy in the conference. Ah, and what a conference! The objectives of which I may quote as drawn out right in the beginning of the document:

Major programs of the Nixon Center include the Chinese Studies Program, Immigration and National Security Forum, International Security and Energy Program, National Security Program, Regional Strategic Program, and U.S.–Russian Relations Program. Topics addressed by the Center’s programs range from U.S. relations with China and Russia to energy geopolitics in the Persian Gulf and Caspian Basin and European Security Issues. The Center is supported by the Nixon Center Library and Birthplace Foundation endowment as well as by foundation, corporate, and individual donors.

Did you spot the word ‘peace’ or ‘love’ or any of those fuzzy words so sanctimoniously used against Islam throughout this lecture, Islam made sapless by describing it and calling it ‘Wahhabism’ and bashing ‘Wahhabism’? Pausing here, let me mention that I’m no fan of fundamentalism or the Jahiliyah culture as exhibited by the Taliban, or Afghan warlords (currently supported by the Bush administration) of whom Ismail Khan has “religious police” to go after women or any extreme, but the ideas expressed in this report are absolutely rash. By the by, these are cultural and contrary to the principles of Democrats and Republicans (and other similar things) on CNN, not inspired by “Wahhabism”, let alone the oft-repeated calumny of labelling any depraved Muslim a “Wahhabi” and painting the entire group as backward, literal and unimaginative (you just have to peruse through some of the Salafi blogs to know that it is untrue and bogus); moreover, I doubt the Taliban and their fellow warlord schmucks are even aware of women’s rights and hygiene issues as prescribed in Islam. Fundamentalism and ignorance and brutality in patriarchal (too light a word) cultures can be handled without snubbing any government process that engages with ordinary members of another community. What has chiefly upset me is this gross slander against mainstream Muslims that they are prone to terrorism – that’s just about how Shaykh Hisham Kabbani brands others. And as it has Bernard Lewis’s peaceful, darling seal on it, I must confess it must be a great forum for co-existence and tolerance. I mean, when the pioneer of the so-called clash of civilizations talks about tolerance and acceptance and the lack thereof in “standard texts”, it must be true I suppose. There’s a phrase in an earlier paragraph “American national interests” which I didn’t quote as it’s pretty obvious just like everything else in it. You don’t need to be a critic to see right through it and decipher that what seems like appendages are really bloodsucking leeches. I’ll now insha’Allah briefly look at some of the speakers.

Dr. Timothy J. Gianotti, Department of Religious Studies, University of Oregon spoke well on the advent of Sufism that will definitely be accepted as fair speech by Sufis (especially on the spread of Islam in which Sufi Muslims played a leading role as you may know), and personally I’ve tended to agree with the anthropological explanation of it which is slightly hinted at by Dr. Gianotti as its one possible course. The reason why I said this is because the Sufi Muslim Council is trying to extend it socially even further, but not merely socially but rather politically even if it leads to libellous slander and state crimes. This is when it gets interesting because all the poetry and philosophy becomes valueless and a group takes advantage of the times and politics, against aesthetics previously chanted and held dear, never mind the teachings in the Qur’an.

Dr. Zeki Saritoprak, Department of Religious Studies, John Carroll University takes the baton from Dr. Gianotti and resumes a history tour, punctuated with interesting insights, and close to the end of his speech he throws up a very interesting term “neo-Sufism”. I think this explanation is the lace which ties up this conference and the motives of the Sufi Muslim Council. Dr. Saritoprak notes that “neo-Sufism” will not merely concentrate on spiritual matters but advance to [wait for it] “social, political and economic realms.”

To me this was very interesting. Dr. Saritoprak has described, in my view, the policy and goals of the Sufi Muslim Council. Allow me to mention here that the Sufi Muslim Council is not a money-grubbing or contract-whacking organisation like say in the vein of Irshad Manji or one of those Muslims for Imperialism and Bombing Iraq and Anti-Terrorism mountebanks but ideologically sufficient to lobby in foreign policy institutes against those it deems different sorts of Muslims. This as we know is being picked on by Western governments leery of mainstream Muslims, and just the shooting glamour of the “spiritual organ of Islam”. Let us leave aside the fact that Muslim Sufis or students of the science of tassawuf, who have heard or read of it, are furious at the antics of this lobby group, which is the antithesis of what they practise. Let us leave aside the fact that those damn “Wahhabis” and as Laurie Silver might say “whacky Saudis” et al are accused of being prone to terrorism in the eyes and on the tongue (it was heard by everyone) of Shaykh Hisham Kabbani, a die-hard sectarian. An illustration of this is his support for the repressive government of Uzbekistan that is apparently so concerned by the legal activism of orthodox Muslim dissidents that it thinks it wise to give them a shove into scalding water whenever it deems fit (and now that those orthodox Muslims are being tortured, let Orpheus play his harp and the bloodthirsty leader Islam Karimov and some of his sinister generals go around the circle and chant that wonderful mantra “How to Deal With the Islamist Threat, See Ya Daniel Pipes”). I think this venturing of the Sufi Muslim Council into what Dr. Saritoprak calls “neo-Sufism” (though he doesn’t point the finger at those in the conference; I have simply linked the two in a figment of irony) is a very important political landscape for Muslims, mostly around the Atlantic and which may well spread overseas. The only way in my view to resist this is for Muslims to collectively speak out, as one body. We should boycott all Muslim lobbying groups in sync with the neocons, including the Saudi dictatorship, which are taking pot-shots at those who don’t have the privilege of public speech like them. Running around politicians, who are worried about Muslim votes while making war, may get them seats and podiums in conferences, but will it get them the trust of those they aim to represent or the respect of those they aim to tame for the crime of not being them?

I don’t think so.


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