Friday, 28 February 2014

Who is the culprit?

“Each of us is guilty before everyone for everyone, and I more than the others,” writes Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov. This statement expresses the quintessence of traditional ethics as developed by mystics and in modern times by Dostovesky and Levinas. Sufi ethics is an elaboration of this theme. This great idea of answerability or responsibility is a response to Ivan, the famous character in the same novel who says: “If there is no God, all is permitted.” In Kashmir we behave as if there is no God and all is permitted and none is guilty. Let us analyze the question of responsibility in the particular case of scenario of water bodies in Kashmir.
Our water bodies are fast becoming history. Most of the springs are gone. The Dal is politicized to death. Anchaar story is getting repeated in the Wular as it is dying a silent spectacular death. Glaciers are melting. Pure water in streams or rivers is becoming a fiction. We have to pay for water bottle and business of water purifiers is on the rise. It could not be imagined by our forefathers few decades back that water would be sold for Rs 15/litre or so in the market, that we will first pollute our sources of water and then employ machines to purify it and use plastic to distribute it and continue this circle of destruction and dependence. We have been gifted with water resources and we have proved unworthy of this blessing. But pollution or dwindling water resources is neither part of election agenda, nor an issue in question hour, nor of any leadership or even civil society groups. A few environmentalist voices in the wilderness, a lot many NGOs selling the issue and nothing concrete on ground at the end of the day for the poor Kashmiri who had at least water and air though previously some food as well as something to bank upon in  a world that taxes everything except air.
One hardly cares to think that pesticide, weedicides, fertilizers and other problematic components that ultimately go to pollute water need to be regulated if not banned. One never asks for a moment ethicality of having an attached bath for almost every room in our houses.
You and me are culprits. We have hardly any qualms in encroaching water bodies. We have never protested for the rights of water bodies. We have never started any movement to de-pollute water. We have never hitches in using water packed in plastic bottles. We hardly mind taking Rani juice, for instance, despite knowing that it is packed in a manner that no conscientious environmentalist can accept. We have totally avoidable huge expenditure of Coca Cola and other drinks in all kinds of parties. We haven’t made it a point to reclaim our springs. We are hardly pushing for any policy reforms to reclaim our glaciers. We are, generally speaking, consuming three times more water than recommended for routine ablutions/bathing. The Prophet of Islam (SAW) has been extremely frugal in consuming water. So much so that it appeared that every drop was measured.
The story of Anchaar is forgotten now. I am afraid the same will happen to the Wular. Even the Dal will not be able to avert the fate if we go by the current trend. Today we have the problem of commercial and residential enterprises in the Dal. So much money has been spent for regulating or removing encroachments but results are woefully inadequate. It is clearly felt by experts that we can’t remove encroachments as long as it is seen as a vote bank. I think the best course is to deny voting rights to Dal dwellers or shift their voting constituency to motivate the leaders to take effective action.
None asks what God had ordained because all is permissible. As a Muslim, one can’t spit into water, throw wastes into it. One can’t use it as dumping ground for anything. One can’t harvest it in a manner that denies others access to it. One can’t snatch it from posterity. But collectively we are all willingly or unwillingly complicit in the project of wanton destruction of water resources. I wonder if the government can take some imaginative measures to halt the crisis of water resources. It appears that civil society based initiatives are not going to make big impact for certain reasons that Kashmiris are well aware of. Let us acknowledge our guilt at least and perhaps someday we could then think of doing something concrete. Let us redefine Model Villages as those that are not guilty of polluting water or overusing it. Let us make it a point to link scores of students to such activities as planting trees or doing anything to save water resources at individual level. Let us prepare at least a document for distribution to every educated citizen to diffuse awareness about what is going on and how all of us are complicit in the process of destruction.

Reading Ghamidi on Sufism

Is Sufism Parallel Religion or Root of Religion

Javed Ahmed Ghamidi appropriates the old Socratic philosophical method of raising questions
regarding the opponent’s view. He hardly concedes anything to the opponent and puts up his case as an expert lawyer. His approach is deceptively simple. The same applies to his classic refutation of Sufi doctrine, especially Unitarianism and Sufi view of prophecy, especially its ending. However, today I use the same old Socratic method to analyze his key arguments and hope that a refined group of students and scholars of Ghamidi responds to clarify.
Ghamidi Sahib has a lengthy essay on Sufism in his Burhan, and a few televised debates and lectures on Youtube, on Sufism. He argues that Sufism is a parallel doctrine to that of religion, that unity of being can’t be corroborated from the Quran, that Sufi view of saint’s access to divine truths puts the thesis of Khatmi Nubuwwat in danger and that we can point out numerous statements in Sufi texts, including those on ethics and such notions as tawhid of elites, that plainly contradict the Quran. He is not for reforming Sufism who objects to this or that practice or doctrine but questions the whole edifice. He also points out that he grew in a Sufi family and his father was a Sufi teacher. He knows Sufism inside out and has read important classics firsthand. He refutes identification of tasawwuf with ihsan. He states that great people have supported the view that it is a parallel religion and is able to name only two – Ibn Tayyimia and Ibn Qayyim - major scholars in this connection. In modern times he refers to Amin Ahsan Islahi who saw it as parallel religion. He states his categorical disagreement with all forms of Sufism including that advocated by Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi. He thinks that esoteric conflicts with exoteric and thus is a separate thing. He uniquely maintains that there is no such thing as kashf that Sufis claim after the Prophet declared that nothing except clear dreams remain now for accessing the Unseen. These are significant points that can’t be tackled in limited space, in one go. However, one can state broad outlines of a response, and that is what I attempt.
Let me begin with a strong counter-statement: Nothing helps us better comprehend the Quran than the light of Sufi doctrine. Nothing is ultimately explicable from the scripture except in the light of symbolism, the tool that the Sufis have perfected. Every page of the Quran cries aloud God alone is real or God is Reality. It is inconceivable to divide being or consciousness, and if God is described in terms of Being/Consciousness, arguments against wujudi tawhid from any quarter lose force. If the Quran calls God Haqq, any endeavour that talks of realities or haqiqah, or truth is orthodox, and one need not prove its compatibility to exoteric reading. Let critics of Sufism refute in philosophical terms that the Quran implicitly endorses. Islam links salvation with intellect. The will - the domain of action - follows intellect. It is faith/gnosis/grace that saves and not action. As such any sharia centric viewpoint that Ghamidi implicates can't legislate against the discoveries of esotericism, as it can't and needn't legislate against knowledge of facts or established scientific discoveries. Atheism, and most forms of irreligion, can’t be convincingly refuted if Sufi interpretation is not admitted. Most modern and postmodern criticisms directed against religion are best taken care of by turning to the tools of Sufism.
The legitimacy of the project of esoteric interpretation follows from recognition of multiple levels of reality that every Muslim accepts. How do we engage with Stace’s counter-statement that all theological statements are lies unless interpreted symbolically? Excepting the statement that God is Being could you defend literal meaning as the only meaning of any scriptural statement, especially those that describe God or His attributes, angels, afterlife, creation, Fall etc.?
The Sufis understand revelation as discoveries of Universal Intellect. If you refute this you have to explain, in precise technical terms of intellectual discourse, what is Jibriel if not universal intellect. If you find statements about meaning of revelation and Jibriel by such Muslim metaphysicians as Schuon (in easily accessible Glossary of Terms Used by Frithjof Schuon) and if you find them problematic replace them with better formulations. If we restrict it to mubasshiraat (clear dreams) and deny kashf altogether, we are strengthening atheism and removing the most respectable argument – the argument from religious experience – from the kitty of religionists. Mubasshirat are an aspect of Nubuwwat, and Sufis are defending Willayat that epistemically grounds Nubuwat as well.
Ghamdi is able to invoke only a handful of names as his predecessors and I doubt if he can cite Ibn Taymiyyah on his side as the latter talked about reforming Sufism and not Sufism per se. Let us not forget that there is virtually an ijma over Unitarianism in one or the other version not only amongst Muslim Sufis but Ulama (Ask greats in Deobandis and Berelvi school, for instance). If we note that in non-Semitic traditions and in the mystical/metaphysical formulations of other Semitic traditions there is also this consensus your case (as does that of Ibn Taymiyyah) appears idiosyncratic to an extreme degree. Note also that we have little difficulty in reconciling what emerges as unanimous traditional (wujudi/shuhudi) doctrine of Tawhid across traditions with traditional formulations of great scholastics/Ulama in last 1300 years. Even Ibn Taymiyah was initiated in a Sufi order and had disagreement with certain formulations of certain Sufis and wholeheartedly affirmed legacy of many great names of Sufism included Gowsul Azam(R.A). Ghamidi’s system has no room for key claims of even Gowsul Azzam (R.A). Granting Ibn Taymiyyan criticism of ecstasy school, of wahdatul wujood as popularly (mis)understood in pantheistic terms and certain excesses in practice of zuhd and rather wild claims regarding their status in certain Sufis, one can assert that Ghamidi’s criticism of Sufism is wide off the mark that even mainstream Ulama can’t accept, not to speak of professional scholars of Sufism. One needs to compare Sufi interpretations of every Quranic verse with other commentaries and appreciate for oneself which captures the spirit and the deeper meanings better, and how wujudi tawhid is the best approximation to scriptural statements. I simply request consulting Sufi tafseers point by point to other more popular exoteric commentaries like that of Ibn Kaseer. Occasionally we do find Sufi commentary farfetched but note that as half truth exoteric approach is only occasionally fully convincing. It is the inadequate or faulty metaphysical background that contributes a lot to controversies on either side of the debate. Metaphysics has its own set of terms to explicate scripture and without mastering them or engaging with them one can’t afford to reject countless volumes from the best minds of Islam. Ghamidi fails to explain why the best minds of Islam have been either Sufis or influenced by it. And we have not a single great scholar in the history of Islam who has rejected Sufi approach lock, stock and barrel. There have been critics of this or that practice associated with Sufism but not of spiritual-intellectual dimension of Islam. Even Ghamidi can be read as Sufi in his ethics and if we don’t grant his key premise that there is a real contradiction between the Quran and key Sufi doctrines, we can ignore his criticism as of minor difference in approach. We have countless volumes against this thesis of contradiction and one can’t refute them by citing passages that argue the case of relative autonomy of spiritual/intellectual approach. If the Quran is the criterion then the rights and testimonies of intellect or theonomous reason, the right use of which is a key message of it, are to be considered. And philosophers or Sufis simply ask for the same. The claim that Sufi drinks from the same fount from which prophets drink follows from the fact that it is theonomous reason or intellect that constitutes prophetic faculty that accesses the Unseen.
However it must be admitted that occultist mystifying anti-sha’ria narratives that have sometimes been confounded with Sufism are given a deathblow by Ghamidi. That is why he is to be read as a critic of Sufism. Much of conventional apologia for Sufism doesn’t stand his scrutiny. He forces advocates of Sufism to be sophisticated in their views. That Sufism is some secret story accessible to elite only, that occult powers have essential connection with spirituality, that Sufis can contravene or suspend prophetic authority, that soul-healing can become a business in its name, are all forcefully questioned by Ghamidi. Ghamidi succeeds in problematizing certain view of Sufism and not Sufism as such. Comparing Ghamidi-on-Sufism with Schuon-on-Sufism as I propose in future will help to show why Sufism as spiritual/intellectual aspect of Islam is irrefutable. It needs scholars of Schuon’s or Nasr’s calibre to explain Sufism in a way that resists Ghamidi’s critique and shows why nothing in Islam makes sense except in light of Sufism. Understanding Sufism helps to marry philosophy and religion and answer key criticisms against religion. Sufism is nothing but perfection of virtue and what accompanies this. It is knowledge, gnosis. Gnosis can’t be refuted by those who don’t know it firsthand. If the Prophet invited us not just to be Muslim or Mumin but to be Mohsin as well we can’t refute Sufis in the name of Islam or Prophecy. We need to carefully read Ibn Taymiyyah on Sufism, point out if there is any misreading and then situate modern critics of Sufism who appropriate him to comprehend the issue in a perspective. Ghamdhi scores many points in his critique of khanqahi business but can’t dislodge the idea which such institutions seek to embody.

Friday, 21 February 2014

What is the key Problem?

Mulla Nasruddin is said to have accidentally hit someone on the road and he fell. He was abused and called names like mad Mulla. He coolly said “Yes I am mad” and the argument ended there and then. Onus often lies on us. Or at least assume it lies on us and we will see things in a different light. Perhaps we will have conscience to prick if we are not totally given to blame mode. There is a sentence by Dostovesky’s character  that may be phrased as ‘I am responsible for any crime that happens anywhere’ that should be enough to lead us to blame ourselves rather than the other. Jesus’ “Judge not” also implies the same thing. Levinas’s view of self-other relationship in which we have infinite responsibility towards the other as the other is ultimately none other than God also implies the same attitude. Most of the troubles in the world can be traced to assertion of will or ego and Islam demands nothing but its surrender. Getting angry when abused or humiliated is, at root nothing but a symptom of egoism. Saints have been known for not getting angry when it is a question of hurting their ego. But, here in this part of the world, it is very difficult to find even one person in one’s lifetime to be enlightened in this sense. But why seek this in others if ourselves we fail to live upto the ideal. Real education and religion are nothing but deconditioning from ego complex. As Ibn Arabi has expressed the kernel of religion and mysticism:
"Now you must know that if human beings renounce their (own personal) aims, take a loathing to their animal self (nafs) and instead prefer their Sustainer/Teacher (rabb), then the Real will give (that human being) a form of divine guidance in exchange for the form of their carnal self… so that they walk in garments of Light. And (this form) is the sharÄ«‘a of their Prophet and the Message of their messenger. Thus that (human being) receives from their Lord what contains their happiness – and some people see (this divine guidance) in the form of their prophet, while some see it in the form of their (spiritual) state."
Here is Paulo Coelho at his best in explaining this key spiritual principle.
The tears I shed, I forgive.
The suffering and disappointments, I forgive.
The betrayals and lies, I forgive.
The slandering and scheming, I forgive.
The hatred and persecution, I forgive.
The punches that were given, I forgive.
The shattered dreams, I forgive.
The dead hopes, I forgive.
The disaffection and jealousy, I forgive.
The indifference and ill will, I forgive.
The injustice in the name of justice, I forgive.
The anger and mistreatment, I forgive.

The neglect and oblivion, I forgive.
The world with all its evil, I forgive.

Grief and resentment, I replace with understanding and agreement.
Revolt, I replace with music that comes from my violin.
Pain I replace with oblivion.
Revenge, I replace with victory.
I will be able to love above all discontentment.
To give even when I am stripped of everything.
To work happily even when I find myself in the midst of all obstacles.
To dry tears even when I am still crying.

To believe even when I am discredited.
Zygmunt Bauman, a great sociological thinker, has explained the other aspect of the same problem – our need for love – One only needs to note that love follows transcendence of ego. “We have so many needs in our life, but at the end of the day, all we need is to be needed. In the consumer age, human relationships are caught between our irreconcilable needs for security and freedom.” The same point has been reiterated in this statement. “The first to apologize is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to forget is the happiest.”
Kashmir Problem and socio-economic problems of modern India can be understood as pathology of self formation at national level and murky power games. Acknowledging truth of the matter would have solved the conflict but hydra headed ego-power complex has apparently made it so difficult. Winston Churchill’s observation in this regard is not without value and can’t be dismissed as imperialist hubris. "POWER WILL GO TO THE HANDS OF RASCALS, ROGUES, FREEBOOTERS; ALL INDIAN LEADERS WILL BE OF LOW CALIBER & MEN OF STRAW. THEY WILL HAVE SWEET TONGUES AND SILLY HEARTS. THEY WILL FIGHT AMONGST THEMSELVES FOR POWER AND INDIA WILL BE LOST IN POLITICAL SQUABBLES. A DAY WOULD COME WHEN EVEN AIR & WATER WOULD BE TAXED IN INDIA.”
So the question is what are we doing to educate ourselves and our children and our would be leaders to transform our beastly ego to image of divine self? If nothing why complain of all kinds of problems within and without?

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Losing Ladakh, Losing Tradition

In the light of Ancient Futures by Helena Norberg-Hodge

Tourism can be a scandal. It can lead to destruction of not only land but cultures and sacred traditionsIt can ultimately create, rather than cure unemployment. It can, especially when unregulated, open up Pandora's box that are not foreseen by planners. This is one of many other important theses of the greatest book written on Ladakh ( Is it not ironic that one of our tourism ministers has been from Ladakh in the past? The sordid side of tourism – in the name of development we can turn sanctuaries of spirit into deserts where even devils would not dare to tread – is not kept in consideration.) The book, that every Kashmiri who is concerned with development discourse, tourism and identity of pir-waer should read, argues quite lucidly and brilliantly many theses that almost all of us would intuitively consent to.
It also argues the importance of Ladakh culture for the world that has severed ties with tradition.
 First, a few points about the author Norberg-Hodge. About the author it may be noted that a linguist by training she was the first Westerner in modern times to master the Ladakhi language. And has for almost two decades spent half of every year in Ladakh. She has been committed to protection of culture and environment of Ladakh against the onslaught of modernization. She is a recipient of 1986 Right to Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize. She served as Director of the Ladakh Project, which she founded in 1978 and its parent organization, the International Society for Ecology and Culture.  About the book I note the comment of the Guardian reviewer: “‘Everyone who cares about the future of this planet, about their children’s future, and about the deterioration in the quality of our own society, should read this book.'’ The Dalai Lama has written the foreword to the book. 
As Hodge notes, the region had been protected from both colonialism and development by various factors including its lack of resources, its inhospitable climate, and its inaccessibility. Thanks to the decision to open the region to tourism in 1974, concerted efforts were initiated to develop it. She compares sudden influx of tourists to a sort of invasion by aliens and notes how money became all important in a culture where it had little use, except for luxuries for certain people. It was not easy to make traditional people greedy as notes the statement of Development Commissioner that efforts to make people greedy to pave way for modernization or development needed to be made and were made. Until now Ladakhis would not exchange local products for even hefty sums but as the power of money became known and greed was instituted people sought tourists to fetch money. “During my first years in Ladakh, young children I had never seen before used to run up to me and press apricots into my hands. Now-little figures, looking shabbily Dickensian in threadbare Western clothing, greet foreigners with an empty outstretched hand. They demand “one pen, one pen,” a phrase that has become the new mantra of Ladakhi children” (p. 62) .
We can only note a point or two that the author invites us to take note of. She describes one aspect of traditional Ladakh in these words:
In Ladakh I have known a society in which there is neither waste nor pollution, a society in which crime is virtually nonexistent, communities are healthy and strong, and a teenage boy is never embarrassed to be gentle and affectionate with his mother or grandmother. As that society begins to break down under the pressures of modernization, the lessons are of relevance far beyond Ladakh itself. Where we would consider something completely worn out, exhausted of all possible worth, and would throw it away, Ladakhis will find some further use for it. Nothing whatever is just discarded. What cannot be eaten can be fed to the animals; what cannot be used as fuel can fertilize the land. Ladakhis patch their homespun robes until they can be patched no more. When winter demands that they wear two or three on top of each other, they put the best one on the inside to keep it in good condition for special occasions. When no amount of stitching can sustain a worn-out robe, it is packed with mud into a weak part of an irrigation channel to help prevent leakage.
Virtually all the plants, shrubs, and bushes that grow wild, either around the edges of
irrigated land or in the mountains — what we would call “weeds” —— are gathered and serve some useful purpose... The soil in the stables is dug up to be used as fertilizer, thus recycling animal urine. Dung is collected not only from the stables and pens, but also from the pastures. Even human night soil is not wasted. In such ways Ladakhis traditionally have recycled everything. There is literally no waste. With only scarce resources at their disposal, farmers have managed to attain almost complete self-reliance, dependent on the outside world only for salt, tea, and a few metals for cooking utensils and tools.
The conditions today in Ladakh are well known and I need not comment. The difference between traditional relationship centric and modern money centric or market driven economy and culture is thus stated:
In the traditional culture, villagers provided for their basic needs without money. They had developed skills that enabled them to grow barley at 12,000 feet and to manage yaks and other animals at even higher elevations. People knew how to build houses with their own hands from the materials of the immediate surroundings. The only thing they actually needed from outside the region was salt, for which they traded. They used money in only a limited way, mainly for luxuries.
Now, suddenly, as part of the international money economy, Ladakhis find themselves ever more dependent—even for vital needs—on a system that is controlled by faraway forces. They are vulnerable to decisions made by people who do not even know that Ladakh exists. If the value of the dollar changes, it will ultimately have an effect on the Indian rupee. This means that Ladakhis who need money to survive are now under the control of the managers of international finance. Living off the land, they had been their own masters (p.66).
For centuries, people worked as equals and friends—helping one another by turn. Now that there is paid labor during the harvest, the person paying the money wants to pay as little as possible, while the person receiving wants to have as much as possible. Relationships change. The money becomes a wedge between people, pushing them further and further apart (p.67).
Noting that while in traditional economy life was lived at a human pace and everyone could afford to be patient, “the modern economy turns time into a commodity— something that can be bought and sold—and suddenly it is quantified and divided into the tiniest fragments. Time becomes something costly, and as people acquire new “time-saving” technologies the pace of life only gets faster. The Ladakhis now have less time for each other and for themselves.”
The story of modernized Kashmir is not much different. Our traditions and culture and the values that have sustained us for millennia are fast disappearing. Is the development costing  us our soul? When will we debate development discourse and  such associated things as costs of tourism? Where is the frugality in a culture that increases dishes in wazwaan every year? Why worry for loss of respect for elders or loosening of family values if we have chosen to modernize? I ask all those who advocate development to take a look at the Ancient Futures and write a counter-narrative if they have any.

Friday, 14 February 2014

The Question of Finance and Market Fundamentalism

It is not usually recognized that Islamic spirit is utterly incompatible with present day consumerist culture sponsored by free market capitalist economy. It is not a serious matter of debate in theorists of Islamic banking what to finance and why to finance. Any financing enterprise that calls itself Islamic must make very clear its often undefined policy regarding extent of compatibility between Islam and the very question of business, manufacturing commodities as dictated by market demand fulfilling often unethical desires of people, warrantability of current currency models that use fiat money and assume dollar’s sovereignty, artificial or manipulated inflationary pressures and the very question of market in a unipoloar world manipulated by big bosses. The question is how ethical or Islamic is capitalism sponsored modern individualism that fuels demand for separate houses even at the cost of agricultural or other productive enterprises, need of private transport at huge environmental costs and foreign exchange losses on account of oil import, financing costly marriages involving gold trading and expensive clothes, financing education in private schools and healthcare in private hospitals owned by the rich Capitalist, hiring expensive services that a State could have or should have taken care of. The question of State’s complicity with class interests isn’t thoroughly discussed in normative inquiries on legitimate economic ventures, stocks, projects that could be financed by Islamic banks. Islamic banking needs to squarely face debates in political economy on the ethics of most of market centered economic activity that needs financing by banks, Islamic or otherwise. It can’t be denied that market fundamentalism sponsored by Capitalist powers and their puppet financial instruments like IMF and World Bank has been instrumental in inflicting great damage on human, social and economic planes to majority of humans and needs strong critique from spiritual and ethical normative.
Allah declares war against interest and yet Muslim societies have hardly any problem with it. We don’t think it is a scandal against the majority of humanity that banks are functioning in the current format. The true character of banking enterprise is seen when bank officials hound a poor farmer or businessman who can’t repay the installment. Opening of a branch of a bank is looting of the whole community in the area as Bertolt Brecht said. It is not that investors invest and take risk. No they have got the money. Generally speaking, by exploitation of labour or through corruption or using other humans as means. How come one can own a property to the extent that it becomes a source of profit while he can stand idle? How come one can get domestic labour so cheaply or get cheaply rice that farmer’s hard underpaid labour produces? How come that one owns means of production in the first instance? How come that one wealthy person in Srinagar has 7 cars for just personal use? Who mines in utterly inhuman conditions and who manufactures the car in factory and who repairs parts in the streets? Is it not the case that the Capitalist/rich person lives by sheer exploitation? Why should the same product cost Rs 10 in India and Rs100 in US? How come that trade is not free or salesmen (our shopkeepers are all salesmen of big companies) have no other means of livelihood? Why is not agricultural land priced better than commercial land or land for house construction? Why is a professor (80% of them in India are not doing justice to their job) who may or may not take the class be entitled to more than Rs 4000/day when other skilled craftsmen or masons don’t get more than Rs 400? The academic elite hides truth or distorts it so that the oppressed class doesn’t get conscious. How can a professor, teaching environmental science, afford to use costly car for even very small distance travelling, say from department to department and participate in a lavish wazwaan? How can a professor teaching education or Religion send his child to costly private school while seeing government schools rotting? How ethical is to let public transport go down to drain while buying one after another car for personal transport? Who decides bureaucrats should have not only handsome pay but huge TA bills at the cost of State exchequer. All these questions have clear cut answers if we understand political economy. Islam envisages levelling of income gap by putting very hard conditions and ensuring better distribution of wealth. It allows owning private property but not without heavily regulating it in the interests of the community. Accumulation it forbids. And what is invested is accumulated money.  There are thousands of questions on the ethics of banking and most forms of business from an Islamic viewpoint. But we don’t ask these questions. Why?

Friday, 7 February 2014

Selling the Ideology of Development

There is neither any knowledge divorced from power relations, nor possibility of either peace or sustainable development in a unipolar world may not be governed by the immoral ecocidal logic of corporate globalization. There is piling information overload and lack of real discernment or knowledge in the age aptly called the Age of Information. The age valorizes surfaces and has little use for depths, essences, reality behind appearances and truth behind illusions. Postmodernism is content with illusions and is committed to the “ontology of singular events.” Knowledge of reality is denied to most people in an age that puts onus on utilitarian or pragmatic consideration and maintains subtle control on media. The true story of exploiting financial structures, of neocolonialist banking masquerading as aids/loans, of dissolution of gold standard, of inflation, of recessions, of remote controlled speculative businesses of markets especially stock markets, imposed myths of national interest and all pervasive war machinery eating up public money for imaginary and manufactured security threats is largely hidden from public gaze. Current Development Model involving industrialization and technolgization is also a great myth that has been perpetuated and preached to the third world. It has resulted in virtual slavery of the latter and destruction of the environment and put them at the mercy of ill understood market forces. It is no wonder that peace is largely absent. Capitalist economy that has been successfully able to globalize itself thanks to opening up of “closed” economies such as Indian economy has resulted in unappreciated damages to economic, social and moral fabric of society. Capitalism necessarily breeds conflict and it is strange that Muslim academia has not sufficiently recognized the roots and real causes of conflict both within their societies and with the West.  How development discourse has affected agriculture – to take just one illustration – may be understood by taking note of the following few points.
Today we don’t have agriculture we knew few decades back – organic and sustainable that was key to provision of local needs. Increase in production did occur thanks to green revolution but is it sustainable? Hasn’t it increased dependence on imported capital, pesticides, weedicides etc. and hasn’t this all led to health hazards and isn’t the fact that almost all of us are ill partly attributable to food we take that has been produced through modern technology. Drug residues are in animal products thanks to this development ideology. (And dairy industry has grown at the cost of other things that we don’t discuss).  Today agriculture is not envied or profitable that way it was.  Agricultural land sells for a paltry sum as agriculture is hardly profitable. Only cash crops are profitable though in the long run we are perhaps destroying the very basis for sustainable cash crop production. The State has lost much of pasture land and much of public land. The farmer’s son can’t afford quality education or healthcare. It means feudalism is there under a different guise as the rich have costly land and production or industrial units and farmers are only labourers. They have nothing to sell but labour power. Agriculture lives largely on subsidies. We have lost erstwhile independence and autonomy in agriculture sector when we had relatively large quantities of rice grains, vegetables, pulses etc. For most people there was little market dependence on important commodities, especially food items. Adulteration was largely unknown. Villages have been increasingly converted into deserts if we speak from economic perspective. We are losing villages and with this tradition and culture.
I am not advocating return to agriculture for a modernizing economy but ask for debating the costs and how we move forward and take care of other factors associated with the ideology of development. The question today as election fever has gripped the nation and our state is how come our leaders invoke the rhetoric of growth and development. And what an irony that rozgaar that has become a key issue in elections is a product of development discourse. Why can’t we ask those who seek votes to be better informed about the violence in the very ideas that they sell us. How development discourse has almost destroyed Ladakh is a tale so little known and I suggest reading Helena Norberg-Hodge’s Ancient Futures to understand the point. None has so far attempted to write a similar book about Kashmir. We need those who ask questions about what is not questioned at all thanks to hegemony of such ideas as those of development and even sustainable. There is no such thing as sustainable development and development implies, if we go by its history after Truman exported it to the developing world, decadence in many ways.
I conclude by raising another related question. No radical and imaginative steps have been taken to reorient economy on traditional/Islamic lines, decentralizing power and strengthening community centric enterprises as against rampant individualism which has destroyed sanctity of relations and bred unemployment and alienation. We need to analyze the nexus of distorted/manipulated knowledge and lopsided development and consequent impossibility of sustainable lasting peace in the world, especially in the economically and politically vulnerable Muslim world. Kashmir issue is a result of development discourse that great powers need to keep imperial machinery working. 

Reading Wittgenstein on God

Engagement with the great questions - of death, of meaning of life, of self and its destiny - are what constitute the important themes of great philosophers. And all great thinkers have provided almost similar answers though emphasized different points, or in their own ways. And these largely agree with the answers provided by prophets and saints across cultures. It is sad to note that so few religiously oriented people and scholars take note of this point, and have been suspicious of philosophy. Philosophers help to understand grammar of theology or scripture better and are best antidote to sectarianism and ideological battle fought in the name of religion. Both religious and secularist fundamentalisms are best tackled by philosophers. I know lay critics of philosophy who think we don’t need it as the Prophet is the greatest philosopher, so why go elsewhere. My answer is: all genuine philosophy is illumined by the prophetic lamp and what is not or what contradicts it is not what traditionalists  would advocate. Philosophers help to understand deeper meanings of prophetic wisdom and those who dispute this should explain how one can dispense with use of illumined reason in approaching scripture. Iqbal’s remark that it is myopic for a legalist to see mystics as rival can be extended to imply that rivalry with philosopher is also unfounded.
Great thinkers have nothing to preach but simply invite us or help us to identify our prejudices and presuppositions, transcend our conditionings, and think hard, very hard for ourselves. (Right use of reason and actualizing intellect is all that prophets sought from us.) If we do this we reach the same conclusions and that explains  the perennial appeal of great thinkers and remarkable agreement on key issues (especially ethical and spiritual) amongst great thinkers, artists and saints across tradition our conclusions would not be much different. Today we explore the meditations of Ludwig Wittgenstein on God and belief.
For him the metaphysical self that constitutes us transcends the world, the urges that move us point beyond the world, experiences that we most cherish are of the world beyond the ordinarily familiar world, our ethical and aesthetic dimension is anchored outside the world. For him both the willing subjects and the knowing subjects are one and both are outside of the world, and are the source of our language and world-cognition. However, as in mystical traditions, transcendence/union with God is not consummated; it remains an unfulfilled quest. It is movement, perpetual movement and not reaching anywhere. It is the limit that can never be reached. The Absolute is inexhaustibly rich. Man must perpetually travel. Experiences are open ended. It means one can never stop worshipping or glorifying God and travel on the plane of servitude or perfect his surrender or state of innocence or vulnerability to reality. Mystics, as true practitioners of philosophy (as traditionally understood activity) are always striving to remove the veils of language and thought in order to reach the still centre of existence that transcends language and thought.
His characterization of scientific-technological civilization as dark ages places him squarely with other great religious critics of Enlightenment thought. He lamented that Russell, Carnap and many others who were so close to him didn’t really understand him and those who claimed to be his followers didn’t make spiritual endeavour  to share the spiritual vacation that moved him. For Wittgenstein God approached more as an attitude than a proposition in experience of wonder, of mystery, of eternity, of the ethical or unconditional goodness or urge for it or order of the world (as how things stand) is the case and only the fools or the utterly wicked say in their hearts that there is no God.
Wittgenstein is to be read alongside great traditional philosophers that saw the Good above everything, had little use for fashionable pursuits of today, considered ethics as first philosophy and metaphysical discoveries as fruits or realizations of real ethical life. Like them he is God-centric rather than man-centric and saw quintessentially human in living up to the divine image in him, in transcending himself.
All his work was dedicated to the “glory of God” as he once said to his friend Dury – an expression quite unexpected from modern profane philosophers. He didn’t like philosophizing as a speculative/analytical  exercise, as an academic pursuit as is the case now in modern academies or universities but something that Plato would appreciate or other ancient traditional philosophers would prescribe as a way of life. That he wanted his legacy to be of changed attitude towards ethics is hardly surprising.  “I am by no means sure that I should prefer a continuation of my work by others to a change in the way people live which would make all those questions superfluous.”
Wittgenstein rejected theological representations as many others before have done but he never rejected what they sought to symbolize. He said there is no theoretical content in religious doctrines (so sectarian fights are often simply errors of grammar or pointless). Though one may wish to qualify it somewhat, it is, in a way, easily understandable. God is not a thing, an entity, a being among other being or existence. “God is not” as Eckhart would put it. Godhead is Nothing (not nothing) as Buddhism would put it. God is all that there is as Sufism and Taoist mysticism see it. Samsara and Nirvana are really one. Time is the moving image of eternity as Plato put it.
In fact mystical is the case for him and needs no arguments. The unrepresentable shows forth. It is there to be contemplated, breathed and enjoyed. God is everywhere and nowhere. Man is not.
For Wittgenstein what can’t be said is the case. The world is not explained by science or philosophy or anything that employs language. He asks us to consent to unlearn.
The fact that Wittgenstein had personal mystical experience is well attested. His description of being absolutely safe and seeing creation as a miracle are so compelling that we hardly need to entertain any second opinion about the mystical in him or his encounter with the mystical. The cognizance of the fact that there is a world is enough to make one dance with ecstasy and wonder. Wonder is the beginning and end of human wisdom. It is what is implied in the opening verses of the Quran that defines believers as those who are rightly oriented towards the Transcendent Mystery (Al-Gayyib). There is great mystery at the heart of anything or everything, of being as such. Have humility to keep wondering and you will never be bored, never be complacent, never be arrogant, never be dogmatic. I conclude by quoting Wittgenstein’s concluding statement of his Tractatus “Of what one can’t speak, one should be silent”  and the caution that it implies.  Let those who invite us to their theological schools tell us what can they say about the “Indescribable,” of that which no eye has seen, of the “Gayyib-ul Gayyib.” When someone assumes to be advocate of God or his private secretary dispatching people not of his liking or school to hell I recall Wittgenstein. If you have any doubt regarding such things as after life, prayer, grace, fate, have a look at Wittgenstein’s understanding of them. They may not tell the entire story but do open a fresh vistas and leave you almost dumbfounded. He is mostly convincing because he has nothing to sell, nothing to seek conversion to. He invites us to mystery of being, to be humble, to attend to things as we engage with them in concrete action rather than how language treats them, to see groundlessness of all narratives as far as they invoke concepts or language, to renounce what is dearest to us – our self and will – and above all to silence the humdrum of mind and take seriously what can’t be thought about but what is seen or felt or sought  or God in short.    For him philosophy is an activity and in one sense a cure for the fever of the mind that asks philosophical questions forgetting that answers are in ethics and religion and in understanding the use or grammar of language. I wish we apply Wittgenstein to Deobandi-Berelvi-Salafi-Jamaati debate or to theist-atheist debate to see pointlessness of much of the debates.