Saturday, March 18, 2006

friend and foe

My beloved could tear my skin away --

I won't cry out or say she's caused this pain.

I've enemies aplenty, only her for friend.

To foe concerning friend I won't complain.

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

Key idea: torture

One of the rumours about Shams' murder depicts him as having been flayed alive, surely a most cruel torture and difficult to avoid crying out over. Today's quatrain sounds like a defiant response to the news or rumour of this torture. Perhaps he was told that Shams did cry out and did rue his relationship with Rumi since it brought on the punishment. It is certain that Rumi witnessed no such event himself so this quatrain may have been his way of saying: I simply don't believe it happened that way.

It saddens me that humanity behaves in this way, that it chooses to test a belief, a passion, a commitment, by applying torture to the believer, the lover, the adherent. This is the test of the lover's resolve. A similar test is being applied to the West by the bullying elements in Islam. We are harassed on all sides, from the skies and in our undergrounds. Not just at work but at play, in our tourist buses and our nightclubs. Our children are attacked in their schools, our teenagers in their meeting places. The innocent and the young are our most tender skin parts.

There are plenty of intellectuals and analysts who ask us to blame ourselves: the US for its foreign policies, the Jews for their Zionist zeal, the French for their isolationism, the Danish for their tactlessness. By contrast, there are voices like Oriana Fallaci, Robert Spencer, Ibn Warraq, and now Wafa Sultan, who say that Islam is to blame, Islam is the real enemy, Islam is the way of thinking and feeling about the world that is putting us all at risk. And what's more, this Islam has no room for reform, it is rotten to the core. It simply must die or we will all die together as victims of its wrong-mindedness.

Islam is like a god of division. It separates out humanity into believers and infidels, friends and foes. This is not a god of transcendence, certainly not of transcendence of opposites. There is no vision of something higher than this division of friends and foes. By contrast, there are clear pointers in the Christian teachings.

I have agonized over this issue because the warrior stance of the anti-Islamists, especially of Ali Sina of, uses a rhetoric very similar to that of the Islamists themselves. It effectively plays into the hands of Islam by accepting and affirming the war that Islam declares. It seems to say: "You want war? Well then, we'll give you war!"

I would like to believe that this war god is needed for now and we will eventually transcend it, we will find a way beyond it. However, that is similar to what Islam seeks. It seeks a world in which there are no longer any infidels, much as we (its now sworn enemies) seek a world in which there are no longer any Muslims. Separate worlds could once be sustained by separate geographies but we are heading now towards One World and we are clearly fighting over what that world will look like.

The Westerner in me hopes it will look like my current familiar world. The mystic or gnostic in me expects that both of the competing worlds will be destroyed, each by the other, and that some new vision will arise, phoenix-like, from the ashes. I strongly suspect that this vision will resemble this friend of Rumi's, this friend over whom great suffering has been inflicted and endured but about whom he would not complain. At least not to her enemies.


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