Sunday, 31 May 2015

Living in Postmodern Times

Here systematic explication of postmodernism is not possible so a few points will be made though I risk certain oversimplification. It must be borne in mind that there are divergent interpretations of and approaches to understand postmodernism.
Muslims are required to appreciate the spirit of the times and recognize the signs of the Lord in change, in history, in new unfolding events.  A Mujaddid or reviver of religion is born after every 100 years to help cope up with the new challenges. Today we try to appreciate the challenge from postmodern thought currents are posing and opportunities they are providing for exploitation on our part.
First it is to be noted that ours is, willy-nilly, the postmodern age. Living in a globalised world, a multicultural world we might suffer cultural shock or pathologically reaction to the cultural or religious other. Salafi-Sufi polarisation or Shia Sunni skirmishes that have intensified recently for reasons we know can be better understood by understanding the times we are in and then we can explore possibilities of dialogue.
Postmodernism is said to be the new religion of the West. As a philosophical articulation of contemporary cultural experience it is the spirit of our skeptical age. It is defined by the French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard as a state of disbelief in all grand theories or narratives that claim to explain everything or have access to Truth or promise salvation. Religions as ideologies explaining or interpreting the world and claiming to impose their views too will fall under this rubric. Its critical tool is deconstruction, which distrusts all centres, all claims of unique or final interpretation of any text. It asserts that all we have is a text that has infinite contexts and words whose meanings can’t be fixed. Power relations are so pervasive that truth is always a casualty. All ideologies, all views are in some sense exclusionary and thus need to be overcome or resisted. We need to give benefit of doubt to the opposite party. Justice is never done but we must strive to do it. We must criticize whoever presents itself as the Truth. To man condemned to deal with texts or language there is no unproblematic or direct access to Truth. We must resist those who say they know and then seek to impose their views. Let thousand flowers bloom and all tell their small stories. Let us respect singularity of every event. All dogmatic thinking could lead to totalitarian or Fascist or antidemocratic approach. Resist binary logic of either, whose notorious example is Bush’s statement: “Either you are with us or against us.”
Postmodern thinkers have presented devastating critiques of dogmatic Marxism. Today Neomarxism engages with postmodernism. American Marxist political theorist Fredric Jameson wrote a foreword to Lyotard’s classic text ‘The Postmodern Condition’. Fundamentalism in any version, religious or secular, is no longer credible in intellectual terms. However, there is a relativist and nihilist interpretation of postmodernism that asserts nothing matters, only power, as all truths are equivalent and we don’t have access to the Truth. But more sophisticated advocates of postmodernism have resisted these interpretations arguing that what we are given is greater freedom to explore alternatives, letting marginalised or oppressed groups speak, letting those stories like Kashmir being heard equally respectfully.
Derrida, the founder of deconstruction, is notoriously difficult thinker. So are other postmodern thinkers including theologians like French Emmanuel Levinas. However, all of them seem to have affinities with spiritual currents like mysticism. Postmodernists have rejected rationalism and claims of the enlightenment project that banned the realm of unreason. So science claiming to explain everything has been questioned. Mystics are not unfashionable. Neither are madmen to be condemned unheard. In fact Foucault wrote a book ‘Birth of a Clinic’ in which he showed how traditionally there was a space for mad people and it is only recently thanks to new narrow view of reason that they had to be dispatched to psychiatric wards. In Kashmir we know, for instance, mad people were mostly perceived as special people and somehow tolerated. Some powers or insights were attributed to them. Of course a few pathological cases were not thereby condoned.
We need to understand postmodernism if we are to be up to date in intellectual matters. Our audience has been exposed to some current postmodern thought. An example of how contradictory things exist side by side is ‘QTV’ showing advertises of commodities or women in such a manner that contradicts the speaker, stating his views or giving sermons before the break. Or we keep changing channels every moment or countless versions of the same story we find circulated in social networking sites.
Let us see both dangers and opportunities of postmodern thinking. Engage with it respectfully but critically. We have things to learn and unlearn.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Education Department; Really!

How many ZEOs or CEOs spend time in schools?
We do have an information processing cum literacy department but not any education department.
I argue that we need to change the name of the department from education to literacy department as long as we don’t prove that it is also educating. Once we had it, at least something approximating it. Now we don’t. I think the following explains my point.
     There have been numerous critiques of current educational system and various proposals to redress the increasingly appreciated problems at moral and spiritual plane inherent in it.
     Suggestions from certain well known commissions constituted for analyzing and development of educational policy; suggestions for bringing in the moral and spiritual element in education that had traditionally been the bedrock of Indian educational system and that constitutes vital element of our cultural heritage have not been implemented, or perhaps could not be implemented due to current fashionable paradigm that makes no reference to transcendence as it is wedded to pragmatist instrumentalist view of rationality and human vacation.
     Immense problems in socialization could also be attributed to faulty education. Such diverse problems as delinquency, drug addiction, suicides, failure and trivialization of relationships, disrespect for teachers and elders and increased susceptibility to corruption are all attributable, partly to background worldview taken for granted in modern educational system. Capitalist co-opting of modern education as seen in increased privatization and dependence on requirements of industry – the phenomenal rise of MBA is only one instance – means decreasing tolerance and space for traditional view of knowledge, ethics and human vacation as self-other relationship has been redefined in terms that sharply contradict with everything for which traditional cultures – with their arts, religions, philosophies and symbols – stand.
     Modern systems of education cater to everything but not the most important dimensions of man – his soul and his spirit. 
     There is hardly any scope for teaching wisdom in a worldview that is bereft of it or finds little use for it for Homo economicus.  Modern civilization has given rise to the fragmentary  man.
     The knowledge that constitutes the raison d’etre of man is absent in its curriculum.  Metaphysics is the science that is most important in this connection.  In fact all traditional civilizations have prioritized metaphysics (Ad-Deen, Tradition or Sophia perennis as the science that needs foremost consideration in educational curricula).  In fact Greek and all great educationists of ancient and medieval eras have defined education in these terms.  Modern concept of education that produces workers or wage laborers and increasingly specialized professionals who know more and more about less and less while missing the one thing needful that is the basic aim of education is something like an aberration or monstrosity from traditional point of view. And our educational policy has not so far taken note of this aberration! We need super-specilizations but we also need to be good humans. Good careers and good humans shouldn’t be incompatible. We rarely find this combination now. Professionals and highly literate sections aren’t less corrupt or mean or alienated or obsessed with big houses, lavish wazwaans, newer cars.
     Seen from our point of view contemporary education is bereft of higher principles that philosophy and ethics catered to. There is little concern with the knowledge per se but with only to what material use it can be put.  An average student here doesn’t know anything of philosophy and thus of the knowledge of general principles of all disciplines, of the knowledge that synthesizes discordant and heterogeneous bits of information in a certain coherent framework. 
     He may get 100% marks but never know what it means to think, to be creative, to be transformed by education.  Students may know much mathematics but not the philosophy of mathematics or why of mathematics and its connection with beauty and our deeper drives.  In fact even the definition of mathematics isn’t known to most of them (ask your students, even PG students).  We know much about individual sciences, physical and biological but are mostly ignorant of methodology and philosophy of science and relation of science to other pursuits. Our knowledge of social sciences presents still more depressing scenario. The fact that humanities or social sciences in our universities and colleges don’t have great reputation is partly because of lack of exposure to philosophy or absence of philosophical orientation. 
     What constitutes civilization and culture? How many students could even define these terms or distinguish between them?  We are appallingly ignorant of history. It is no wonder that we are increasingly alienated from our historical or traditional roots, our cultural and spiritual heritage.  Very few of students know how to approach such vital questions as God, meaning of life and suffering, difference between theology and metaphysics or sacred sciences. And that explains interminable debates and confusion on issues such as shirk, on atheism, on orthodox formulations and currency of sectarian and fundamentalist debates. What is the difference between faith and belief?  Students are abysmally ignorant of their own religion and its philosophy and its history, not to speak of our crass ignorance of other religious and mystical traditions. 
     Students are not being taught all this.  Educational curricula are to be blamed first of all. Why can’t good education in schools clear basic concepts that concern our whole being or psycho-spiritual development? Why can’t we revive the old idea of fusing madrassas and schools giving secular education? Why should our children need to go to darsgah after or before schools? We have had one institution in our history giving both “secular” and “religious” educations. Let heads of madrassas think.
     The same remarks could be made on student’s knowledge of aesthetics.  Of fine arts they have only very vague notions.  Their knowledge of painting, sculpture, architecture and music is next to nothing.  Education supposed to contribute to development of the whole personality including its cognitive (knowing), conative (willing)  and affective (feeling) dimensions, is simply lacking. No wonder we have fragmented ill adjusted people who are literates only. Character that education is supposed to cultivate and perfect is simply not the priority.
     Thus our education department has three fold task: to critically appraise instead of simply import or adopt International and National Curricular Frameworks, link education to our Heritage or Tradition that helps shape identity, and prevent enormous wastage and leakages by fixing the target of skill oriented and vocational education that takes equal care of drop outs as well. There are no cases of failure in good education system. The idea of policed examination, gazette or result or marks sheet is simply revolting and against human dignity.  We have reasons to expect something will be done as we are seeing  that a beginning seems to have been made towards rethink.
     Our education ministry has inherited a directionless, visionless, highly bureaucratized, more administration and contractor centric than academic centric system of education. Will it muster the will to think out of box, push for certain direly needed reforms while plan for long term radical changes and reorientation of the Department?
     I am smelling fresh winds of change. Especially in Bandipore, I see positive change coming up and wonder how much can be done by really concerned and dedicated local administration provided it doesn’t get tired too soon and relax its vigil. I wish every District Development Commissioner or Assistant Development Commissioner spend one day in a week in schools to sensitize and help better monitoring of the situation. How many ZEOs or CEOs spend time in schools? Let there be orders for their mandatory presence and monitoring lesson plans teachers are taught during Bed courses to follow while delivering lectures.
     Our Education Minister has an uphill task. He will find great support in well meaning teaching community (there are great souls, great teachers but the system has so far been against their blooming and not letting hem deliver). Will he succeed in at least initiating serious introspection amongst all stakeholders and give us an education department in place of information processing cum literacy department is to be seen. We have reasons, seeing the current tremors, not to be cynical but need to be watchful and respectfully critical lest the huge industry of mediocrity, chalta hae culture succeeds in maintaining status quo.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Why Ghamidi Matters?

One of our most brilliant and original scholars, who has been more reviled than read and condemned for certain inferences in which he is not unique.

Who remembers authors of 40 fatwas against Iqbal today? Who sends blessings to the person who greeted Sir Syed with shoes? Who respects those who persecuted great thinkers in Islamic history? And isn’t ours an age where argument rather than sermonizing is more convincing?
Today’s persecuted, reviled minds could be tomorrow’s celebrities. Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, I have reasons to think, is one of our most brilliant and original scholars who has been more reviled than read and condemned for certain inferences in which he is not unique. We mayn’t or needn’t agree with everything of any great scholar in the history of Islam. We need to identify the basic methodology of the scholar to situate him properly in context. Thus approached Ghamidi is rooted in Tradition, builds upon the universally accepted sources, is not a modernist or rationalist, avoids references to Orientalists or other imported authorities and is careful enough to present his viewpoint as a possible one for open debate and criticism. Let us debate them and give our judgments after proper hearing. What Mawlana Saed Akbar Abadi wrote about Iqbal’s Madras lectures, that there are precedents for his seemingly new or unique views in previous Islamic history, one can assert about Ghamidi as well. He approaches previous scholarship the way Iqbal required  - “respectfully but critically.”
Calm, cool, poetic, eloquent, agile, witty, brilliant, humane, subtle and insightful, often provocative with subtle sense of humour, Ghamidi radiates an aura that both soothes and illuminates. Ghamidi is not merely a preacher. He is not a polemicist. He is not self righteous ideologue who fulminates in loud tone against other schools.
Without necessarily agreeing all the way through, we can, regarding Ghamidi’s most famous (liberal) views on democracy, hudood, Islamic State,  fine arts including music, pictures, beard, headscarf, women’s witness and need of muharram in travel, generally speaking, point out precedents in  well known modern scholars. In practice, if not in theory, most believing Muslims, willingly or unwillingly, are with him on many issues that raise eyebrows. Let us not debate the individual issues but general methodology he invokes. And here it is to be lamented that hardly any serious work has been done by critics. I await serious engagement with his methodology. And who has told us that there is agreement in 1400 years on any major issues he has differently articulated? Islam doesn’t require agreement on legalistic, theological, and a host of other issues but only that one should be able to invoke sources in defending one’s views.
One can’t be allowed to ignore Revelation and Sunnah. And Ghamidi never ignores. He reads them differently. And there has never been veto on new readings in Islamic history as there is no Church in Islam, and the Quran is inexhaustible and every new reading discovers something new and if it doesn’t, it means we haven’t been able to do justice to the Quran, as Ibn Arabi noted. 
If we don’t reject Imam Bukhari for holding certain views (such as regarding interaction with namuharram) that appear quite unprecedented and extremely bold, why we are so uncharitable to Ghamidi? If some views of Zahiri school of fiqh are for 22nd century  sensibility, why single out Ghamidi for seemingly new views that 20th or 21st century sensibility finds in tune. Isn’t choosing a more liberal view.
Well, Ghamidi may be mistaken and we reserve the right to criticize. I personally find him inconsistent in certain places including those that engage with Sufi metaphysics and hermeneutics. I find his hermeneutical principle rather artificially restricting and I wonder how he chooses to ignore great strides in hermeneutics made in the traditional East including Islamic lands and the modern West. Let us seek to show how he fares in light of one’s alternative hermeneutic rather than accuse him of misguidance. Who can claim to be rightly guided on every major and minor issue when we have been given the (open ended) Quran and the Prophet’s authority to interpret it (known in select few cases with  certainty) and the history of countless schools/alternative views in every field of traditional scholarship including Fiqh, Kalam, and Tafseer? Who can say he or she has copyright over a particular interpretation as the prophetic interpretation? Only the most ignorant person can assert homogeneity in traditional understanding our great Aslaaf bequeathed us. God doesn’t want our agreement on details. Ultimately if it is grace rather than actions that save man finally as all Muslims believe, why so much anxiety to impose one’s “right” opinion in peripheral legal matters that concern actions? (Anyway there has never been a disagreement on key virtues and basic ethical commandments, even between religions, not to speak of among legal schools of Islam. Ad-Deen, hikmah, Ghamidi explains, concerns or draws legitimacy from our natural intuitive drives and needs that no sane person denies). Do you think that we will be, and are judged by the length of shalwars or beards in a world where the shalwar we know is unknown in many places and countless people including Eskimos, for biological reasons, can’t grow beards because nature doesn’t choose to adorn them thus? Let us put first things first. It is pride and all its manifestations that burn in hell. And judging others often involves a manifestation of pride and that explains why we have been commanded “Judge not.” Let us leave to God what is God’s – the right to judge.
Ghamidi belongs to future. He is already the most popular scholar for better educated sections of society. His popularity is going to increase. He is there to stay even if he is exiled to the otherworld. This is because he touches a deep chord in all of us. Muslim women have especially more reasons to take note of him as he is able to address their queries in such a humane and rational manner. Compare his views on purdah with Syed Moududi, Dr Israr or Ibn Baz and we can understand how and why he is unique and more convincing for modern Muslim women.
Let those who disagree with Ghamidi copy his polite attitude towards his adversaries. His voice box never grows shrill. He never claims to be the scholar but says he is a student. He is always open to changing or correcting his views if critics can point out. I am afraid if he has been understood by those who dismiss him without reading. We can dismiss some of his readings but not him. There is no Fascism in Islam that proscribes right to tafaqqur and tadabbur. Ghamidi is a phenomenon. Exceptionally bright and brilliant and original mind. Let those who accuse Ghamdi of misguidance explain who has copyright over guidance in matters theological and juristic in a religion that has no room for Church. Let us debate Ghamdi. Let us debate with Ghamdi. Let us learn how to debate like Ghamdi.
Let us not ignore that it is thanks to Ghamidi that many educated Muslims have been able to resist atheism and many women who have been saved from soul killing guilt for failing to observe or not choosing to observe conventional purdah. Ghamdi educates, illuminates and thereby liberates.
I am not a Ghamidian ideologue; neither does Ghamidi encourage marketing his views. He invites us to think. We may take refuge in not thinking and keep avoiding the realm of what Arkoun calls unthought. Those who think Islam is a cut and dry system, has all the ready made answers that we only need to implement, need to engage with Arkoun’s Retrhinking Islam, Abu Nasr Zayd and others. The Quran too invites us to think and rethink. The Companions valued thinking and getting corrected by even most ordinary people in the audience. (A woman corrected Hazrat Umar on the question of dower and he gratefully accepted correction).
After Syed Moududi, he seems to be destined to become the most influential Muslim scholar. He is direly needed in a world ripped apart by fundamentalism, for clarifying Islamic view of State. Iqbal’s son, Javed Iqbal, has remarked that Muslims keep emphasizing the need for Ijtihad and if anyone does it, he or she is targeted. This explains uneasiness with Ghamidi.
Those who have known Ghamdi report about his saintly ethic. Those who have read his works closely can’t resist getting impressed by him. Like a Socratic gadfly he asks hard irritating questions.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Education Policy: Do we have any ?

Life lost in living, knowledge lost in information, and wisdom lost in knowledge.
What for do schools, colleges and universities exist? We all know they are for education, and comprehensive concept of education would include teaching or developing skills for earning a living or vocation. Now our educational institutions fail on all the grounds. They don’t fashion souls or make us better humans. Ethically, in terms of vulnerability to corruption or harbouring a selfish, mean, sadistic personality, educated persons including the best educated PhDs don’t score better than uneducated rustics. They don’t teach the most important thing – the art of thinking (critical thinking, difference between opinion and truth, facts and interpretations, divine and human views, self and Self etc.), scientific and unscientific attitude (recently some sermons against weather prediction legitimacy were heard!). They are not, excluding some professional colleges or institutions, oriented to vocational training (less than 10% only  get jobs or make any significant use of learnt knowledge and skills during graduation or post-graduation, implying 90% drop out rate which is like traveling in a train that takes only 10% of persons to their destination, throwing out the rest ). There can be no serious doubt that current system of colleges necessarily, by design, manufactures graduates that cannot and will not find jobs using their knowledge acquired during studies. The fact that schools have failed is evidenced in their focus on exams instead of a list of skills, theoretical and practical that need to be learnt and evaluated.
There are no schools that teach about life (schools of life) but only schools that teach syllabi that  our mind mostly formats after every new year. Life, its meaning, its perfection, its joys, its challenges are all out of syllabus questions. Where is the life lost in living, knowledge lost in information and wisdom lost in knowledge as Eliot lamented? And how many literates know the difference between them?

“The unexamined life is not worth living,” said Socrates and this is recognized as the foundational statement in any philosophy of education worth the name. Now we are subject to the suicidal torture of dozens of examinations during schooling but this question of examining life never crops up. In fact we are never taught the art of conversation, of dialogue that is so crucial in learning to approach this examination of life. We live life in the caves of which Bacon spoke and in the cave of which Plato spoke. We don’t develop the faculty of vision. Intellectually and spiritually most of us fail to move forward from toddler or nursery stage. Name any moral weakness from backbiting to lying to vanity educated people don’t have? Unless we introduce something of philosophy at every level in school system, we are not going to teach students anything worthwhile as far as life, spirituality, ethics, art, rationality, love and all the noble things that make us human are concerned. What have you gained if you have gained the whole world but lost your soul or missed one thing needful as the Bible warns? Good careers constitute the worldly gain only (only exceptionally they contribute to otherworldly gain or moral-spiritual development).
Do  schools immunize us against mental and spiritual diseases? No. Do they teach us love for books, for learning? No. Do they help us in giving us jobs? To privileged few (less than 10%) only while making most of the rest disqualified for a job. Do they fashion citizens? Seeing traffic jams, misuse of electricity, and countless illustrations of irresponsible citizenship around us, who can doubt about the quality of citizens produced by our education system.
Even education for 15 or 20 long years fails to inculcate such elementary lessons as “Judge not” “virtue is its own reward” and the dignity of what Hazrat Ali (RA) calls “free man’s worship” (Russell’s influential essay by the same title may be read in light of this quote).
What can be done against the swine flu of mediocrity, and divorce from ethics and spirituality afflicting us? A dose of philosophy first to teachers who will then transmit to students at every level. We kill the philosopher, the scientist, the questioning, the wondering curious being in our children, at in early age as they ask some hard questions, like who created God, or why pray if God is bayniyaz? Neither parents nor teachers are able to satisfy children or students on countless questions because they have not been trained to think or exposed to philosophy. Philosophy understood as love of wisdom is the Queen of Sciences. Small wonder we keep complaining regarding leaders, mothers-in-law, daughters-in-law, spouses and about almost everyone excepting ourselves that they have little wisdom.
Syllabus for all the classes is out of tune with local requirements (both cultural and economic). When the syllabus for KAS hasn’t been updated from quite some time and is not in line with IAS forcing students to separately prepare for two exams, what to expect regarding lower classes.  KAS syllabus is designed in such a way, especially prelims paper that only those will qualify who are ready to force minds to memorize more useless than useful things.
It seems that autonomy has been lost or sold by J & K State in education sector. We don’t have any defensible policy on education. We have understood that education is the greatest force for change and liberty and thus it is best not to educate or convert education into a commodity and divorce it from culture, from tradition, from classics, from every humanizing element. How education sector has become an industry may be illustrated by bureaucratic approach of  the BOSE  and turning examination into a money minting industry besides wasting time of students for nothing.
Post script:
The Examination, as far as the conducting them is concerned, is an industry. There are complaints that some persons manage through various means, including unfair ones to be appointed as Superintendents for conducting the exams. Haven’t we heard stories that from Rs. 500 to Rs. 10, 000 are asked from candidates for helping them in the exams? I remember some years back some candidates on the pretext of centre-change from district Srinagar have been allotted a centre at Pampore in district Pulwama. Later, in one of the papers, ten Answer Scripts were recovered by an Inspection team outside the examination centre on the day of exams.
My experience shows one can help the blue eyed ones in examination in various ways. There is a perception that some schools, reportedly, get better results and some manage positions. What we need is replacing  the need for exams with more creative alternatives. Until we do this, why not ensure that local staff is not appointed in conducting exams, inspection teams involve people from local administration and may be from civil society and attempting formulating question papers in such a way that copying becomes futile?

Friday, 8 May 2015

The Question of Marxism versus Mysticism

Kashmir has a mystical heritage and identity. And it has politically been transformed by socialistic vision of Marxists and Sheikh Abdullah. However, Marxism and mysticism have been mutually suspicious and that has hampered tackling the questions of both politics and religion. So we ask today why is religion perceived as an enemy of a socialist or communist state? It is replied that because it is “the opium of the peoples.” It lulls workers to sleep. It is thus anti-revolutionary. It is complicit with capitalism. It too exploits in the name of God when it extracts wealth from gullible masses. It creates false substitutes like the goods of the otherworld so that people don’t take the problems of this world very seriously. It encourages detachment that conflicts with the spirit of active involvement needed for changing the order of the world. It reconciles people to present ills by attributing them to fate or karma. It says resist not evil and believes that change of heart in the capitalist will do the needful. It is false consciousness or inverted view of the world. It merely provides consolation and not real help. It is not against private property per se. A few remarks in response to this mistaken view that is widely shared among scholars. Brief comments on all these points are in order:
1. History refutes the assertion that religion lulls people to sleep. Perhaps all great revolutions in history could be traced to the influence of religion. Prophets have been, generally speaking, social rebels, politically dangerous and that is why mostly mocked if not executed. They have challenged the establishment and existing socio-political-economic set up while standing for the oppressed, the sinners, the masses. Same is the case with mystics. They have been persecuted by both the paid officials of exoteric religion and the state. They have denounced riches and in many cases taken arms against the state. They have preached if not fought against the haves, the ruling class.  Of course religion degenerates soon as does any nobly conceived idea. In a generation only one or two live it in its true spirit as Simone Weil observed. In the degenerated populist form of Marxism, Marx would not have counted as a Marxist as Christ is imprisoned rather than welcome when he arrives on earth in Dostoevsky’s novel. It is in the name of religion that people have dethroned many regimes. Jihad is an instrument to forcefully implement revolutionary spirit of religion. By definition, it is directed against oppressors regardless of creed or colour or region. Any struggle carried for the sake of justice and freedom from oppression without any selfish motive can qualify as Jihad.
2. Religions have tolerated limited private property as Marxism has practically done though ideally both are against the possessive, hoarding, grabbing mentality. It is impossible to outlaw all personal possessions. In practice even Communist countries couldn’t do away with limited number of personal possessions. The world would be terribly dull and boring where man’s sense of individuality and nature’s love for diversity is loathed. There will be little progress if the instinct to excel is suppressed in the name of collectivism. Healthy progressive society is an organism rather than a collection of individuals mechanically and uniformly made one.
3. Mysticism has actively struggled against the self that seeks private property. Mystics have been reported to sell everything for society even when society in turn made no commitment to share its wealth with him. Jesus rejected private property, as did his Russian disciple Tolstoy. Prophet’s (SAW) companions shared everything with their brothers. Augustine identified charity as the essence of scripture. Buddhism prefers begging to hoarding.
4. Priestly class has often been complicit with exploiting ruling class. That is why prophets like Jesus denounced them. Both mystics and Marxists have common enemy to fight and Marxist mode of fighting is more effective.
5. Of course mystics have been pacifists and have not advocated violence in meeting enemies. Marxism is effective in meeting an enemy, which understands no language other than violence. But mysticism can act as a counterforce against indiscriminate use of violence. If Lenin and Stalin were mystics as well they would not have allowed so much violence to be unleashed. Mystics do well to make us remember that it is after all life which should count above everything. We must wage war against capitalism with full force but we must work for transformation of the culprit self that ultimately makes capitalist a capitalist. That people could be transformed on large scale and make the world a better place is evidenced in history. This is what the Prophet (SAW) achieved though Marxist reading would see only immoral calculative business mentality everywhere even in the self denying martyrs and mystics and prophets.

Why Read Marx?

Without reading Marx one is illiterate in modern thought
Like it or not, Marx tops the list of the most influential thinkers of the modern age. He has helped shape, or influence, not only politics, but economics, literature and literary criticism, philosophy, liberation theology and almost every important stream of humanities.
Nothing makes sense in the capitalist world except in light of Marx. Without reading Marx one is illiterate in modern thought. Name any philosopher or writer or political personality with whom one day (Ist May), every year, is identified across the world?  Reading Marx helps explain the world we live in and partly help fighting injustice in it.
All those who curse money power or rat race for competition and hanker for guaranteed employment, free education and healthcare, more leisure, holidays, pensions, social welfare schemes,  all kinds of insurances against exigencies, and have reasons to complain about banks and other capitalist institutions, and keep demanding better wages and talk about labour rights, are invoking Marx in one or the other way. It is the Left that has mostly been serving as the conscience of mankind taking head on neocolonialism and corporate rule.
From Chomsky to Tariq Ali to Arundhati Roy (and almost all important public intellectuals) whom we keep reading for insightful commentary on the mess in our world, we see invoking of Marx. From Sartre to Gunter Grass as writers, from Hobsbwam (internationally) to Irfan Habib (nationally) as historians, from Lucas and Althusser to Gramsci and Jameson as critics of ideology, from Brecht to Neruda as poets (Neruda was called by Marquez the “greatest poet of the century”), it is Marx who provides the tools to best diagnose and treat the sickness of the modern world.
Illuminating collection of articles in Man Alone: Alienation in Modern Society underscore diverse facets of alienation in our culture we all complain about. Frontline environmentalists and human rights activists keep turning to Marx for analytical tools. No use approaching Marx primarily from religious lens or fulminating against him. Marx is there to stay as long as poverty, unemployment, visa restrictions, arms industry and spirit killing competition and alienation exist.
Reading Marx in depth is tough and lifelong odyssey as is reading almost most of significant thinkers from Aristotle to Derrida. However a selection of him and such slim writings as Communist Manifesto  should be largely accessible for general readers. I think reading Erich Fromn’s Marx’s Concept of Man, a few chapters from Capital, (especially from first volume) along with listening to some lectures from Harvey on it may be enough to taste something essential in Marx.
Following Marx who counts as influential thinker and is not a “Marxist” or influenced by Marxism or somehow engages with it implying there is no escaping Marx. In the case of Islam Marx has been appropriated by as diverse figures including  such “Sufi-Marxists” as Hasrat Mohani and Faiz, Ali Shariati, Allama Pervaiz and Iqbal ( whom Eqbal Ahmad calls a Sufi and a Marxist and for whom socialism + God = Islam ), not to mention countless number of public figures and social activists (Abdus Sattar Eidhi is a living example).
Who can afford to ignore or even seriously disagree with such key Marxian statements as: “All social rules and all relations between individuals are eroded by a cash economy.” “The rich will do anything for the poor but get off their backs.” “Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.”
“In bourgeois society capital is independent and has individuality, while the living person is dependent and has no individuality.” “Private property has made us so stupid and partial that an object is only ours when we have it, when it exists for us as capital… Thus all the physical and intellectual senses have been replaced by … the sense of having.”
When  Communism seeks to abolish private property it echoes ethics of saints who have never sought to build huge private property. Prophets too have lived by this ideal of voluntary poverty (faqr) though they have taken a more liberal view in not imposing ban on human propensity to build small property.  Great souls have dreamt of semblance of heaven on earth and Marx has sought to show how to go for it.
Who can deny class matters (e.g., difference among A.C, sleeper and general classes of trains and impossibility of trespassing)? Who hasn’t been hurt by crippling effects of specialization and can hunt, fish, write, play as he wishes in a single day as Marx would like? Who can vote for Capitalism while being conscious of its human and moral costs? Who wouldn’t wish to be inhabitant of the “republic of goodness” that Marx sought to create that includes such clauses as life as leisure with art as key pursuit, that requires giving to each according to his need and taking according to his ability,  where  self realization of each is the self realization of all?
Marx’s tools for analysis of capitalism, his views on alienation, on labour theory of value, on need to change rather than merely interpret the world (without forgetting Heidegger’s retort that one first needs to understand the world one seeks to change) and his respect for the concrete and temporal in elucidating truth are abiding contributions for which mankind can’t be but grateful.
Let us read Marx along with critical reception of him from the likes of Simone Weil, Hannah Arendt, Albert Camus, Eric Fromn, Eric Voegelin, Jacques Derrida,  thinkers of Frankfurt school and such NeoMarxists as Zizek and Eagleton – to name a few only – to see how we keep the essential insights while rejecting authoritarian, totalitarian, grand narrative view that historically has been associated with its evolution in Stalinist, Maoist and other forms that mercilessly killed people, worshipped fragmentary images of transcendence in history and its own heroes and have given us stronger States instead of stronger communities through which the ideal of a world free of politicians and bureaucrats he implied in his idea of withering of the State could be realized. 
Some myths that need exploding include that Marx has failed after the fall of Soviet Union and Berlin wall, that we have no alternative to capitalism (Socialist, Islamic or traditionalist alternatives are there as live possibilities and largely converge in ends if not in means) and that Marxist approach can’t afford positive engagement with religion and mysticism (from Eagleton to Zizek we see opening to the theological).
We need to read Marx, appropriate him and proceed beyond him. Although Marx invokes the Sacred as far as passion for Art, Justice and Freedom of Spirit (thwarted by wage slavery and inhuman conditions of labour) partakes of the Sacred, he sides with desacralizing movement.
About deeper things that will sustain man in classless society (don’t forget Whitehead’s definition that religion is what one does with one’s solitude), for exploring depths of basic categories Sat, Chit and Anand  at both objective and subjective poles and resources for meaning in life Marx has little to offer and quite misleading if we take his materialist ontology seriously.
What Marxism misses at spiritual plane may be gleaned from reading, among others, Nietzsche, Heidegger,  Levinas,  Heschel and Schuon. Our ultimate destiny is the Kingdom of God rather than the earthly heaven which can only be approximated but never realized as earth is not heaven. NeoMarxism has increasingly abandoned naïve rejection of religion and economic determinism and reduction of almost everything from art to philosophy to ideology. We find fruitful cross fertilization with postmodernism, feminism, theology and other disciplines.
If the fundamental claim of Marxist theory is  “there must be countervailing forces that defend people's needs against the brutality of profit driven capitalism” who is not bound to take heed of Marx even though we need to be careful  to distance ourselves from a materialist metaphysics that denies man access to the Absolute or quest for transcendence.
Let us be weary of labels; even Marx had problems with the label Marxist. To conclude with Fedel Castro   “There is not Communism or Marxism, but representative democracy and social justice in a well-planned economy” and Sayle “Despite its flaws, Marxism still seems to explain the material world [today, in the reign of capitalism] better than anything else.”

Saturday, 2 May 2015

The Question of Art Education

The universe can’t be justified except in aesthetic terms. Nietzsche
Religious, artistic, mystical and philosophical traditions are unanimous in asserting that we are here to appreciate, to love, to enjoy, to play, to beautify rather than to worry, to solve the mystery in logical terms. But our tragedy today is we seek explanations, utility, profit. We taunt youth why they spend time in playing or watching sports. We don’t live life. We just vegetate. We bring calculative business mentality to basic question of living. We ask how much does one earn, what work does one do, what new thing has been added. We do not know how much joy is there in the world. What great treasures we lose daily, we don’t notice. Our education doesn’t teach us to live life. “The School of Life” is nowhere to be seen. We are crippled before weal and woe of life; a small event may make us sad or even force us to consider suicide. We don’t learn the art of life in schools, in mosques, in social networking sites or elsewhere. None teaches us why we are here and how to face our deepest issues. We have forgotten life’s deeper joys. Today we consider why art or life of imagination has been central to humankind and the loss we suffer from relegating it to background.
Art concerns both with perfecting the work or vocation we are in. Pursuing or embodying beauty is the food of the soul. Ordinarily we acknowledge this only about music as we say it is the food of the soul. Beauty is apparently the most useless thing in the world but the world worships it. We are beauty-seeking creatures. Art has always offered ecstasy, sublimity. Art has celebrated epiphanic moments. Aren’t mysticism and poetry, as interfused and embodied in Persian poets, and sabk-i hindi fundamentally part of a project of aestheticization of experience? Isn’t self-transcendence or detachment from egoic passions or self-reference the key toananda or joy in any experience? Isn’t love (even its flowering in compassion in nirvana or other value directed modes of existence) valued fundamentally because it partakes of the joy of the Spirit. The secret of morals, as Shelley rightly noted in his Defence of Poetry, love. The secret of love is a movement of the Spirit that leaps in joy at the symbols or footprints of the Beloved. The secret of beauty is its attractive power that drives one on while we are seeking fuller or deeper realizations of the life of Spirit. Consciousness, knowledge or gnosis and joy – joy resulting from certain attitude or perception toward things or other are inseparable. That explains why we can assert that aesthetic and playful view of existence is a common postulate in spiritual traditions. As Bedil puts it:

In the world cast into stormy intoxication by your eyes
My self-abandonment but a ripple in the wine
The beautiful dream of existence upon me, oblivious I lie, but know
Anyone speaking your name my quiescence breaks
 In my oblivion I traversed many a house of beauty
Even a false step in your desire became the masterstroke of Behzad
If the enchantment of your promise such flavour has
We shall find a leisure unbounded by a tomorrow
 Art saves or consoles or uplifts us by defamiliarizing the world. Ordinarily habit makes our perception dead. Although starry heavens and rising of the sun are perpetual miracles, we fail to be overtaken by them because of habit. We see them daily. Art allows us to see them on their own terms. It is wonder that is a mode of worship. If we cease to wonder we are dead. The world appears boring. Bedil is for defamiliarization that comes from what we may call the station of wonder. Nothing is repeated in divine scheme, every moment is a new revelation. Sufi tradition has endlessly meditated on this theme and we find Ibn Arabi returning to it time and again in his work. Art owes its enchantment to what Russian formalists called defamiliarization and the magic of creative activity is itself connected to phenomenology of newness, of wonder. As Bedil puts it:
“Upon need at a stranger’s door prostrate
But raise not your solicitous gaze to a familiar face.”
When will we ask from educationists to educate us and our children in the school of life that requires art? Without the medium of art education is not possible. Without art education, we are literate but uneducated. And we don’t know how to live deeper, richer, more meaningful, more joyful lives.

Why Read Rahi?

Because Rahi is to Kashmir what Sartre is to France
Muhammmad Yusuf Taing, one of the frontline critics of Kashmiri literature and culture, believes  that it will require another 500 years to produce second Rahi. Why? Let us seek to investigate today.
How it is possible,for any critic, to say that “Rahi is Kashmir”, as Charles de Gaule, the famous French President, said about Sartre: “Sartre is France.” “What do you like from Rahi’s poetry?” “All of it is dear to me,” replied one of the meticulous readers, and critics of Kashmiri poetry. If we ask this question regarding even the great Kashmiri Sufi poets, not to speak of other poets, none of our important critics can go to this extent. 
Rahi giving us, in captivating and sublime language, the best of Persian Masters in (post)modern idiom,. He has expressed the best of Indio-Persian Kashmiri literary heritage in the (post)modern or contemporary idiom, it is he who has distilled in local idiom,  certain important elements in Hafiz, Bedil and Ghalib, on the one hand, and German Romantic-mystic poets on the other hand. And this, without failing to appropriate the mostly benign influences from almost a dozen of the best writers including transcendentalists, modernists, existentialist and absurdists. 
Whose work presents the most comprehensive and serious adaptation of or engagement with the Tradition?  If we have to pick up one living writer from Kashmir who can stand shoulder to shoulder with the literary giants from other cultures in the contemporary world, whom would we pick up?  Rrahi.
Rahi’s wide readings across traditions (his translations from variety of literatures shows this), his great capacity to be receptive to all experience, (he resists all dogmatic posturing both as a critic and a poet), his deep respect for the Tradition, and his great integrity to concede his “art of failure” in the face of the Inscrutable but Irresistible Power and Beauty that moves all things, make him quintessentially human in Shakespearian-Keatsean-Yeatsean terms.
Some studies on Rahi’s poetry have been published but little on him as a translator and critic. Rahi’s Kahvit easily passes as the best book on literary criticism in Kashmiri. There is something universal in his sensibility and taste that he could find himself at home  (as translator) in such diverse things as Arabic  masterpiece Sab'a Muallaqat, Punjabi Baba Farid’s Sufi poetry, English Marlowe’s Dr Faustus and Russian and German poetic and philosophical texts while not forgetting Persian that is his staple food.
The difficulties of penetrating Rahi’s universe of meaning convince me that he is not difficult because he intends to, but because Kashmiri tradition is “difficult.” Rahi has sought to give expression to almost all that is great, grand, noble, profound, and perennial in our tradition. The text used as Kashmir University tarana shows his horizon of imagination, his assimilative power and his grasp of the quintessential intellectual, spiritual, religious, artistic genius of Kashmir.
One can’t easily choose from Rahi’s verses to comment. Almost everything he has written deserves a comment. Just as tabarruk a few pieces:  The poem  “Splendour and the Psalm” sings a  hymn to language that even Heidegger would have perhaps paused before and even considered quoting to express his profoundly mystical vision of language as the house of Being. A more beautiful and compelling  argument for stating importance of Kashmiri language has not been made so far by all the institutions seeking to boost it.  Its haunting conclusion written in supremely lyrical tone reads: 
“O Kashmiri language
I swear. you are
…my vision and imagination
The shimmering beam of my consciousness
The frenzied violin of my conscience”. 
His lyrical genius expressed in Su gulab roi mei deuthum…is worthy heir to the legacy of Mehmood Gami and Rasul Mir. His Ad na se roudum panes tam  echoes our greatest Sufi poetry and could well be sung in Sufi gatherings if people didn’t get misled by the outward appearance of Rahi and could see the essential connection between art and saintliness. His poem Zindagi  is supremely lucid and an apt statement about our existential predicament. 
Rahi is a poet of heights and depths and that explains why he is not easily accessible. Reading Rahi, one gets a peep into almost everything important that engages modern mind and  that calls for response from a truly representative or universal poet.  Appropriating all the paths mankind has in approaching the ultimate questions of truth or reality – philosophy, mysticism, religion and poetry – Rahi gives us a poetry that will need generations to explore in all its riches.
He recovers from the modern wasteland of spirit something of the Sacred to illumine the dark odyssey that life has become today. Rahi’s faith consists in opening up to the Mystery that is the Divine or Sacred grounding everything he finds life in its essence while duly acknowledging our inability to have a proper dialogue with it ( thus resulting in his essentially tragic but not despairing vision) in the sense that one could ecstatically sing with Rumi or Hafiz. However, he has enough faith to make an address to It: “Chi yus chuk ti su, moan faryad boaz” reminding one of a chorus in Aeschylus addressing the Greek God “ Zeus:  whatever he may be.” Like this Zeus, the Sacred of Rahi  “constitutes  the hidden and unrepresentable background that sustains all the meaningful practices of the culture.”  How can we otherwise explain his exquisite Na’at  and tributes to Marsia. One can unearth such a deep and powerful conception of the sacred in “Rahi, the gossaen” Rahi who writes exquisite Na’at, Rahi who, in Kakaseque vein, finds hard to decode the language in which God talks to us.
He is the poet of future. Contemporaries have only admired him so far from a distance leaving the job of mining into his riches to the future generation as secularization and nihilism make their impact feel on a wider scale in the youth. I wish Rahi lives for another 50 years to see his work being appreciated across the world and a number of monuments raised in his honour.
Here many critics have confounded the man and the artist in Rahi; his great art redeems him if he needs this redemption. He is not a saint; he is an artist. The best of Rahi is unsaid; I hope we can decipher it between the lines he has bequeathed us. Rahi is a phenomenon. No reader of him can claim to have exhausted his riches. He is too subtle, profound and polysemic to let you sleep complacently after trying to read him.
We don’t have Kulliyati Rahi and I hope someday we will have it along with the translation in some major world languages. Rahi is modern Kashmiri literature’s daektik.
Tail Piece:
  I wait – I kept waiting till the last moment of Kamil Sahib as well – for special series of lectures and other interactive sessions with Rahi Sahib to be organized by tens of cultural and literary organizations including Kashmiri Department and J &K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages.
We need to revive a tradition associated with Sufi poets and Pirs whom mureeds make best use of – every week a gathering in their honour and during other days creating occasions for them to speak – for trying to extract from Rahi what he has to offer. Some people are too important to be allowed to stay with their families only.
Once Rahi Sahib used to regularly come to Kashmir University on  Thursdays. Now that tradition too has gone. So where will Rahi lovers and students and scholars meet him?