Wednesday, February 15, 2006

cutting sleep's throat

You pitched your moon-tent on the night's dark depth;

Then threw water on Reason as he slept.

Your lullaby promises set dreams afloat,

And then, with goodbye's knife, you cut sleep's throat.

#1801: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: tent

I've been reading up on Oriana Fallaci as my stand on Islam moves more and more toward the territory that she speaks for. I was moved by this passage about tents in her post-sep11 article, Rage and Pride:

I don’t go and put up tents in Mecca. I don’t go to sing Our Father or Hail Marys before the tomb of Mohamed. I don’t go and pee on the marble walls of their Mosques, I don’t do cacca at the feet of their minaret. When I find myself in their countries (something from which I have never derived any pleasure) I never forget that I am a guest and a foreigner. I am careful to not offend them with my dress or my gestures or the way I act which for us is normal and for them inadmissible. I treat them with due respect, with due courtesy. I apologize if by some absent mindedness or ignorance I break one of their rules or superstitions. I wrote this scream of pain and disdain while having in my mind's eye scenes which did not always give me apocalyptic fits. Sometimes I would see the image, for me symbolic (therefore infuriating), of the big tent with which one summer ago the Somali Muslims disfigured, smeared with shit and profaned for three months piazza Del Duomo in Florence. My city.

A tent raised to curse and condemn and insult the Italian government that was hosting them but would not give them the necessary documents to run around Europe and would not let them bring into Italy their hordes of their relatives. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, pregnant in-laws and even the relatives of their relatives. A tent raised next to the beautiful building of the Archbishop’s residence on whose sidewalk they kept their shoes and slippers which in their countries they line up outside of their Mosques. And with their shoes and slippers, the bottles of water with which they wash their feet before prayer. A tent raised in front of Brunelleschi’s cupola and next to the Baptistery with Ghiberti’s doors of paradise. A tent, furnished like a primitive apartment: chairs, tables, chaise-lounges, mattresses to sleep on and to copulate, ranges to cook the food and stench up the piazza with the smoke and smell. Thanks to the usual unconscionable Enel who cares about our works of art as much as it cares for our countryside, the tent was furnished with electricity. Thanks to a tape recorder, enriched by the coarse ugly voice of a muezzin who punctually exhorted the faithful, deafening the infidels, and suffocated the sound of the bells. To add to this, the yellow lines of urine that profaned the marble of the Baptistery. (By gosh! They have a long "spray" these sons of Allah! How did they manage to hit their objective, which is separated from the street by a protective fence, hence almost two meters distant from their urinary apparatus?) With the yellow lines of urine, and the stench of the excrements the huge door of San Salvatore was blocked and the Bishop unable to use it. The exquisite romanic styled church (built in the year one thousand) which is right behind Piazza del Duomo and that the sons of Allah had transformed into a shit-hole. You know it well.

After much agitation, Fallaci finally managed to get the police to remove this "tent embassy", knowing it was just one among many other "acts of desecration and destruction with which for many years they have been humiliating and wounding what had been the capital of art, beauty and culture".

I have not visited Italy since I first went there over thirty years ago. Like any other art lover I was enthralled by the cathedrals and art museums of Tuscany. It really saddened me to read this story of Muslim disrespect for our own cultural icons. For me, if God does have a Meccan-style residence on this planet, it is in Florence, in the apse of the Basilica di San Lorenzo, in the form of Michelangelo's architectural and sculptural masterpiece, the Medici Chapel tombs.

medici chapel

Michelangelo: Medici Chapel @

In today's quatrain, Rumi imagines Shams as a wanderer who has pitched his tent in the deepest darkest part of the unconscious psyche. He has enticed Rumi to put Reason aside and to follow his alluring dream tales. Then suddenly: goodbye. Shams disappeared. The acute pain of this parting put an end to Rumi's sleep, to his blindness, perhaps to his complacency. He became awake, enlightened, self-aware. And that would result in his spending the remainder of his life writing copious collections of poetry.

When Fallaci compares the cultures at war, she lists for her own the likes of Homer and Socrates, the law-making and road-building of Rome, the revolution of Christ, Leonardo da Vinci and his fellow Renaissance artists, the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and on to Verdi, the huge advances of science and technology. When it comes to the Islamic side, she writes: "Ha! Looking and looking I find nothing there but Muhammad with his Koran and Averroes with his scholarly accomplishments."

She's right really. Although she fails to mention Rumi and his fellow Sufis, she is right. For Sufism never became a part of Islamic culture like Mozart and Newton are a part of ours. It was never held up by mainstream Islam as something to be proud of. For fourteen centuries now, the Muslim world has had great gems buried inside its dung heap. If it can find ways to clear the muck away it will have a chance to stand proud. These gems are their only chance and I sure hope they seize it in time.


At Thursday, 16 February, 2006, Blogger Bob Hoeppner said...

I also visited Italy (in the Navy) about 30 years ago. Naples, mostly. Muslims have had much to do with mathematics (Arab numerals, algebra, algorithms: all derived from the Arab culture.)

At Thursday, 16 February, 2006, Blogger Arizona said...

Islamic culture collected and transmitted the known (mainly Hindu) mathematics of its time. That is why many of those names are of Arabic origin. The specifically Arabic numerals (purely as notation) were adopted in Europe and are what most of us use now. There were no significant advances made in mathematics from within the walls of Islam itself, although there were some notable but small breakthroughs here and there. The whole idea that Islam advanced mathematics falls down at the slightest further investigation into the matter.


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