Martin LeFevre: We All Die In Mumbai
We All Die In Mumbai
Extruding onto the land like some slow, cold lava from Hades, ten well-trained terrorists were able to shatter the polytheistic openness of Mumbai, and telescope the distancing complacency of the global society.
Much has been said about the military precision of the terrorists, the degree of the planning and preparation that enabled a small group of young men to coolly wreak so much mayhem. One small fact struck me—the killers carried large bags of almonds to sustain them along with hundreds of rounds of ammunition in their backpacks.
Nearly half of all the almonds in the world are grown in this part California, and the northern Central Valley is covered with almond trees. There’s a good chance, in this globalized economy, that the almonds (‘the perfect food’) came from near here.
As the Muslim scholar Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad says in “Islamic Spirituality, The Forgotten Revolution”: “If these things go on, the Islamic movement will cease to form an authentic summons to cultural and spiritual renewal, and will exist as little more than a splintered array of maniacal factions.”
I have neither the knowledge nor inclination to comment on Islamic extremism. But this attack reaches a new level of cold-blooded, diabolical planning, and demands reflection and response.
It has become a cliché to say that there are not enough moderate Islamic voices enunciating things such as Murad does: “To take innocent life to achieve a goal is the hallmark of the most extreme secular utilitarian ethic.” The issue goes beyond Islamic fanaticism, however, and raises disturbing questions about what is happening in human consciousness itself.
The ‘clash of civilizations’ is past the prescription that Murad gives, which is that unless “the mainstream [in Islam] regains the initiative,” more and more Mumbais will mark the “humiliating end to the story of a religion which once surpassed all others in its capacity for tolerating debate and dissent.”
In any religion or social movement, the mainstream cannot “regain the initiative” because the mainstream never takes the initiative. The mainstream, almost by definition, is comfortable and complacent. It is always the marginalized that seize the initiative, for good or ill.
Mumbai is not a manifestation of irrational hatred, or an inchoate and incomprehensible evil; it is the expression of a calculated and well-trained focus. As Yeats limned prophetically about our age in “The Second Coming”: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
Even so, Murad’s question remains: “What attracts young Muslims to this type of ephemeral but ferocious activism?” He suggests it’s because of “the almost universal condition of insecurity which Muslim societies are now experiencing.” And a main source of that insecurity is the wrenching transition that Muslims are going through, due in no small measure to a “history of economic and scientific change which in Europe took five hundred years, [but] in the Muslim world is being squeezed into a couple of generations.”
A victim reported that one of the cold-blooded murderers in Mumbai wore a smile along with his jeans and designer T-shirt as he sprayed automatic fire into Indians and foreigners enjoying an evening meal. As Murad says, fanatical Islam gave that young man “what he needed: instant certainty, a framework in which to interpret the landscape before him, to resolve the problems and tensions of his life, and, even more deliciously, a way of feeling superior and in control.”
Islam has been hijacked by extremists because the extremists are the only ones with a passionate and coherent message, as false as it is. Of course the Christian world, with its mind-boggling wealth and military power concentrated for the last eight years in the ‘civilized’ fury of the Bush Administration, has its own versions of ‘shock and awe.’ Indeed, the terrorists, in their ‘asymmetrical’ fashion, have been feeding on the nationalistic ‘global war on terror’ and reading from the Bush and Cheney playbook.
What is the way out of this deepening morass? Could the mystical traditions in Islam and Christianity provide the foundation and fountainhead for the reconciliation and renewal of both religions, within the context of the transformation of human consciousness?
Sufism, which is the mystical dimension of Islam, has for centuries been concerned with “inner reform…to improve the state of our hearts.” Murad says that this “traditional competence of Sufism is a precondition for the restoration of unity in the Islamic movement.”
Though Murad points in the right direction for any religionist, Islamic or Christian, he carefully stays within mainstream Islam, trying not to attract the opprobrium of religious authorities. Thus, in seeking collaboration with reigning Islamic dogma, his clarity is limited and diminished by the need to pay obeisance to orthodoxy.
Are the world’s mainstream religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, even Buddhism) destined for extinction, or can their adherents be infused and informed by direct experiencing of the sacred? I don’t know, but the terrible conflicts and evils that religions have spawned are leaving less and less space for an authentic spirituality that has any connection with this world.
Though historically enclosed by tradition and culture, mystics see that the flashes of truth in religious texts are universal. Murad cites a Quranic verse that is very applicable to America today: "God does not change the condition of a people until they change the condition of their own selves."
Source: “Islamic Spirituality, The Forgotten Revolution”: http://web.archive.org/web/20021020001038/http://188.8.131.52/ISLAM/ahm/fgtnrevo.htm
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: email@example.com. The author welcomes comments.