Friday, June 16, 2006

defending the Enlightenment...

Like Sara, I, too, am a fan of Digby and rarely disagree with him. I actually missed the post that she is writing about here, but was fascinated by her experience, and thought other Lyssa Strada readers would be, too. - Karen M.

"We progressives have to honestly deal with al-Qaeda, and what it represents. Humor and Cynicism don't do it."

Contra Digby By Sara, cross-posted from The Next Hurrah

Most of the time, I don't disagree or question much of what Digby posts, but today I got bothered by the tendency to deal with the challenge presented by Jihadist Islam with a mix of Cynicism and Humor. I don't think that is helpful, progressive, or enlightening. Much as I am a critic of things "western" or "American" -- I also am determined to defend the Enlightenment, and one really cannot do that without becoming anti-Jihadist. My point in earlier posts here [at The Next Hurrah] defending the something like 80% Majority in Denmark who believed Danes had rights to draw cartoons about any damn thing they wanted to draw about were essentially defenses of enlightenment rights. And we should know that the upshot of the Cartoons matter was 44 dead protesters, lots of cheese unsold, and lots of Danish Flags burned -- and not much more. But it was about much more.

The essential matter is the extension of Sharia Law to Muslim populations in Europe -- and beyond that, into the US by indirection. And beyond that -- it is about demands that such law be considered legitimate or valid.

Jihad has two meanings -- one, the understood notion of human perfectability attained through self examination and criticism, but the other, and the one that should concern us, is the idea that man can judge man (or know the mind of God) and kill in the name of perfection. That's what we saw on 9-11, and what many we encounter as belief. The first fits well into Enlightenment, the second, is way outside that idea set.

What bothers me about Digby's post is non-recognition of reality. We progressives have to honestly deal with al-Qaeda, and what it represents. Humor and Cynicism don't do it.

Let me be concrete. Back at the break between 1984 and 85 I was staying at Dean's Hotel in Peshwar Pakistan, between two archeological tours. Having spent 13 years taking care of parents, and having a small inheritance, I decided to spent part on a 3 month tour (or tours) in India and Pakistan. In the early 60's, (Kennedy Days) I had done some administrative stuff with the first Peace Corps in Pakistan, and in the 80's what I discovered (on site visit) was that our schools built with AID funds and staffed by Peace Corps had been turned into gun factories. Under Zia, our teachers run through an AID Funded teacher training academy in the 60's and 70's, could only do private tuition. They were political out's -- And they had to be very careful if they wanted to keep alive. But these are the guys who showed me the buildings which had become gun factories run by the Imams.

Between Archeological tours, I stayed at Dean's Hotel in Peshwar, and attended to interests from there. I had made early connections with two nurses who were funded by the World Council of Churches, WCC -- and were running a huge DOT (Directly observed Treatment) program for women and kids with TB in the Refugee camps around Peshwar. What I wanted was to observe, and I got much more. About a third of the women in the camps had TB, as did many kids, and what was on offer was 23 hundred calories and the proper drugs. But shortly after I observed, the TB Lab and X-Ray van was blown to kingdom come by Afghani Arabs. WCC did not replace.

When I was at Dean's Hotel in Peshwar in very early 1985 I came to understand that Doris Lessing, along with about a dozen Afghani women who had re-located to London and who were trying to found a magazine for refugee women, were also at the hotel. Now someone my age knows the "Golden Notebooks" and the rest of Lessing's importance, so an invite to tea with her and her women was something to be attended. Actually the Afghani women were mostly Doctors, who had managed re-training in GB and were not part of the National Health Service -- in Islamic Countries women are medically trained only to deal with women. If a woman has a breech birth and only a male MD is available, she dies most times. Anyhow the women with Doris Lessing had all been trained to British Standard, and that is not discriminatory.

It was the statements of these women who introduced me to what ultimately became al-Qaeda. They described how the Arabs were taking over the camps and defining the culture. They described how harsh it was. They outlined the religious-political motivation. Eventually Lessing wrote about it lightly in her book, "The Wind Takes Away Our Words" and while she notes, she says little. The point is that she said something about it in the 1980's, and in tune with the women she took to Pakistan and the camps -- supposedly refugees from the Soviets she was more than perceptive than the CIA -- but maybe somewhat more so.

[Originally posted at The Next Hurrah; click on the first link if you would like to read the comments.]

UPDATE: A passionate thread of comments/letters at Salon discusses, among other things, the nature of Islam.

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