Rumi On Reason

(adapted from his Fihi Ma Fihi )

M. Shahid Alam

Man seeks to know God, not because he is knowable;
not reasonably, but by reasoning he knows him.

When man accepted the trust, it was reason
he acquired, to say yes to his Creator.

Man is a moth, God a candle. When his wings
wrap around the candle’s flame,
why should they not burn –
and he perish in its fire?

A moth that shuns the candle’s flame
is not a moth. A candle that does not
draw the moth, that will not
burn it to ashes – is not a candle.

Man is not man if he denies God,
if he eviscerates his urge to know him.

A god that man can know is not
God, he is man’s alter ago.

— M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University, Boston, and author of Israeli Exceptionalism (Palgrave: 2000). Visit his website – http://qreason.com – and write to him at alqalam02760@yahoo.com.

Israel: A Failing Colonial Project

by M. Shahid Alam

Increasingly, despite its early military and political successes, Israel cannot for long endure as a colonial project. It must choose between wars – and destruction – or transition to a state for all its peoples.

In order to firmly secure its existence – as firmly as that is possible for any state – a settler state has to overcome three challenges. It has to solve the native problem; break away from its mother country; and gain the recognition of neighboring states and peoples. It can be shown that Israel has not met any of these conditions.

Consider Israel’s native problem. In 1948, in the months before and after its creation, Israel appeared to have solved its native problem in one fell swoop. It had expelled 80 percent of the Palestinians from the territories it had conquered. In addition, with the rapid influx of Arab Jews, Palestinians were soon reduced to less than ten percent of Israel’s population.

So, had Israel licked its native problem for good? Not really.

The Palestinians inside Israel pushed back with a high natural rate of growth in their numbers. As a result, despite the continuing influx of Jewish immigrants, the Palestinian share in Israel’s population has grown to above 20 percent. Increasingly, Jews in Israel see Israeli Arabs as a threat to their Jewish state. Some are advocating a fresh round of ethnic cleansing. Others are calling for a new partition to exclude areas with Arab majorities.

The Palestinians expelled from Israel in 1948 did not go away either. Most of them set up camp in areas around Israel – the West Bank, Gaza, southern Lebanon and Jordan. In 1967, when Israel conquered Gaza and the West Bank, it could expel a much smaller fraction of the Palestinians from these territories. In consequence, with more than a million additional Palestinians under its control, Israeli had recreated its native problem.

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Getting Out of Palestine?

by M. Shahid Alam

When veteran journalist Helen Thomas was asked recently if she had any comments on Israel, she shot back, “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.” She apologized for the remark, but, as the campaign against her escalated, she chose to retire from her position as White House correspondent.

Putting aside the edginess in her words, does Helen Thomas’s remark deserve serious consideration?

Over the years, it has been receiving just that from many tens of thousands of Israelis, who have been emigrating from Israel, applying for emigration, or staying in Israel but holding or applying for dual citizenship. According to Arnaud de Borchgrave, half a million Israelis hold dual citizenship.

Although the Israel lobby expressed particular outrage at Helen Thomas’ suggestion that Israelis go back to Germany and Poland, many Israelis have done precisely that. In his book, The Seventh Million, Tom Segev writes that many thousands of Israelis have “requested and received German passports.” According to the Jewish Virtual Library, there were 118,000 Jews living in Germany in 2006. Another 49,700 lived in Hungary and 3,200 in Poland.

Disconcerting as some Zionists may find this, Jews have not stayed away from countries where they faced near extermination under the Nazis. Does this mean that these countries are now safer for Jews than Israel?

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Reading Roger Cohen in the New York Times

Roger Cohen: Liberal ZionistM. Shahid Alam

Roger Cohen is the rare columnist at NYT who makes an occasional effort to bring some objectivity to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet, how far does his objectivity go?

Consider his piece of June 10, “Modern Folly and Ancient Wisdom.”

I have selected a few excerpts for comment.

First excerpt:
“Israel’s bloody interception of the Mavi Marmara and its motley crew was crass — another example of the counterproductive use of force — but nothing about it could justify the Turkish prime minister’s outrageous statement that the world now perceives “the swastika and the Star of David together (italics mine).”

Why does he speak of the “motley crew” on the Mavi Marmara? First, is ‘crew’ the appropriate word for the humanitarian activists on a ship bringing relief to people under blockade. ‘Crew’ has unpleasant connotations. Let us consult the Oxford English dictionary. Originally, it meant “an augmentation or reinforcement of a military force.” Now, by extension, it means “Any organized or associated force, band, or body of armed men.”

In addition, why is this a ‘motley’ crew? Does he mean heterogeneous? In fact, most were Turkish. Why then are they “motley?” The word has a bad odor. The OED concurs. Consider two entries in the OED. Entry one: “Of a thing or collection of things: composed of elements of diverse or varied character, form, appearance, etc. Freq. with implication of poor design or organization (italics added).” And entry two: Of a gathering or group of people: consisting of people of diverse or varied appearance, character, etc.; miscellaneous. Freq. depreciative (italics in the original).

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Allama Iqbal, Gabriel and Iblīs

Allama Iqbal, 1877-1938

translated by M. Shahid Alam

Note: In the Qur’anic account of man’s creation, God asks the angels to bow down to Adam; they bow down, except Iblīs. God banishes Iblīs but, granting his request, gives him the power to tempt and waylay humans except those who submit in sincerity to their Creator.

Gabriel

Old friend, how is your time spent in banishment?

Iblīs

In fire wrapped, pain-swept, surging, toiling, unbent.

Gabriel

At our heavenly summits, we often talk of you.
Should you repent, seek grace, give us the cue.

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Zionists Against Zion?

By M. Shahid Alam

Zionists have worked hard and cleverly for their successes, but their cause has been greatly advanced at each stage by the logic of their colonial project aimed at the creation of a Jewish settler state at the very center of the Islamicate.

Most importantly, Zionism created a geopolitical realignment of great importance. It brought together two strands of the Western world, previously at odds – Christians and Jews – to join their forces against the Islamicate.

At every stage in its history, Israel has ratcheted its power by unleashing forces, even negative forces, that it has then turned to its advantage. Power, intelligence and luck have played into this.

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Will the Afghan Surge Succeed?

Soviet Exodus War Rug

M. Shahid Alam

More than eight years after dismantling the Taliban, the United States is still mired in Afghanistan. Indeed, last October it launched a much-hyped ‘surge’ to prevent a second Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, not imminent yet, but eminently possible.

The first dismantling of the Taliban was a cakewalk.

In 2001, the United States quickly and decisively defeated the Taliban, killed, captured or scattered their fighters, and handed over the running of Afghanistan to their rivals, mostly Uzbeks and Tajiks from the Northern Alliance.

Unaware of Pashtoon history, American commentators were pleased at the smashing victory of their military, convinced that they had consigned the Taliban to history’s graveyard.

Instead, the Taliban came back from the dead. Within months of their near-total destruction, they had regained morale, regrouped, organized, trained, and returned to fight what they saw as a foreign occupation of their country. Slowly, tenaciously they continued to build on their gains, and by 2008 they were dreaming of taking back the country they had lost in 2001.

Could this really happen? That only time will tell, but prospects for the Taliban today look better than at any time since November 2001.

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2. Ghazal from Ghalib

translation by M. Shahid Alam

.

کہتے ہو نہ دینگے ہم دل اگر پڑا پایا
دل کہاں کہ گم کیجئے ‘ ہم نےمدُعا پایا

.

I can’t have it – you say – if you find my heart.
Once – it was mine. Now I know who has it.

Love is easily the best part of life. This pain
cures life’s itch: there is no cure for it.

She is coy & cunning, sweet – exacting too.
She is testing me when I do not know it.

The plain truth about my heart is this.
Every time I look for it, she says she has it.

My mentor likes to rub salt in my wounds.
Sir Tormentor, I ask, what is your reason for it?

.

.

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USA and USSR: Accidental Parallels?

M. Shahid Alam

Cover Image GIFIs the question of parallels between the USA and the USSR idle, even mischievous? Perhaps, it is neither, but, on the contrary, deserves our serious consideration.

During the Cold War, the USA and USSR were arch rivals, each the antipodes of the other. For some four decades, they battled each other for ‘survival’ and global hegemony, staring down at each other with nuclear tipped missiles, ready at the push of a button to consummate mutually assured destruction. What parallels could there possibly exist between such irreconcilable antagonists?

Dismissively, the skeptic might retort that their similarities start and end with the first two letters in their names. The USA won and the USSR lost the Cold War. With all four of the letters in its name, the USSR is dead and gone. Its successor state, Russia, now ranks a distant second behind the USA in military power, a position it retains only by virtue of its nuclear arsenal. Measured in international dollars, the Russian economy ranked eighth in the world in 2009, trailing behind its former client, India.

On the other hand, the USA still believes it can ride roughshod over much of the world like a Colossus. It came close to doing this for a few years after the collapse of communism. In the years since its occupation of Iraq, that image has been deflated quite a bit. Haven’t the events of the last decade – the growing challenge to its hegemony in Latin America, the economic rise of India and China, and the recovery of Russia from its collapse of the previous decade – downsized the Colossus of the 1990s? Indeed, the near collapse of its economy in 2008 appears to have brought the Colossus down on its knees.

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A Eurocentric Problem

M. Shahid Alam

Cartographic violence

He who knows himself and others
Here will also see,
That the East and West, like brothers,
Parted ne’er shall be.

Goethe[1]

In no other major civilization do self-regard, self-congratulation and denigration of the ‘Other’ run as deep, nor have these tendencies infected as many aspects of their thinking, laws, and policy, as they have in Western Europe and its overseas extensions.[2] These tendencies reached their apogee during the nineteenth century, retreated briefly after World War II, but have been staging a come back since the end of the Cold War.

For several decades now, critics have studied these Western tendencies under the rubric of Eurocentrism, a complex of ideas, attitudes, and policies, which treat Europe — when it is convenient — as a geographical, racial and cultural unity, but places Western Europe and its overseas extensions at the center of world history since 1000 CE.[3]

Unlike the garden variety of ethnocentrism, Eurocentrism emerged as an ideological project — shaped by Europe’s intellectual elites — in the service of Europe’s rising expansionist states, starting in the sixteenth century. It makes sweeping claims of European superiority in all spheres of civilization. In this worldview, only Europeans have created history over the past three thousand years, beginning with the ancient Greeks. In various accounts, this centrality is ascribed to race, culture, religion and geography.

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