Wednesday, 30 September 2009
Tuesday, 29 September 2009
By Chris Hedges
There is a scene in “Othello” when the Moor is so consumed by jealousy and rage that he loses the eloquence and poetry that make him the most articulate man in Venice. He turns to the audience, shortly before he murders Desdemona, and sputters, “Goats and monkeys!” Othello fell prey to wild self-delusion and unchecked rage, and his words became captive to hollow clichés. The debasement of language, which Shakespeare understood was a prelude to violence, is the curse of modernity. We have stopped communicating, even with ourselves. And the consequences will be as extreme as in the Shakespearean tragedy.
Those who seek to dominate our behavior first seek to dominate our speech. They seek to obscure meaning. They make war on language. And the English- and Arabic-speaking worlds are each beset with a similar assault on language. The graffiti on the mud walls of Gaza that calls for holy war or the crude rants of Islamic militants are expressed in a simplified, impoverished form of Arabic. This is not the classical language of 1,500 years of science, poetry and philosophy. It is an argot of clichés, distorted Quranic verses and slogans. This Arabic is no more comprehensible to the literate in the Arab world than the carnival barking that pollutes our airwaves is comprehensible to our literate classes. The reduction of popular discourse to banalities, exacerbated by the elite’s retreat into obscure, specialized jargon, creates internal walls that thwart real communication. This breakdown in language makes reflection and debate impossible. It transforms foreign cultures, which we lack the capacity to investigate, into reversed images of ourselves. If we represent virtue, progress and justice, as our clichés constantly assure us, then the Arabs, or the Iranians, or anyone else we deem hostile, represent evil, backwardness and injustice. An impoverished language solidifies a binary world and renders us children with weapons.
How do you respond to “Islam is the solution” or “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior”? How do you converse with someone who justifies the war in Iraq—as Christopher Hitchens does—with the tautology that we have to “kill them over there so they do not kill us over here”? Those who speak in these thought-terminating clichés banish rational discussion. Their minds are shut. They sputter and rant like a demented Othello. The paucity of public discourse in our culture, even among those deemed to be public intellectuals, is matched by the paucity of public discourse in the Arab world.
This emptiness of language is a gift to demagogues and the corporations that saturate the landscape with manipulated images and the idiom of mass culture. Manufactured phrases inflame passions and distort reality. The collective chants, jargon and epithets permit people to surrender their moral autonomy to the heady excitement of the crowd. “The crowd doesn’t have to know,” Mussolini often said. “It must believe. ... If only we can give them faith that mountains can be moved, they will accept the illusion that mountains are moveable, and thus an illusion may become reality.” Always, he said, be “electric and explosive.” Belief can triumph over knowledge. Emotion can vanquish thought. Our demagogues distort the Bible and the Constitution, while their demagogues distort the Quran, or any other foundational document deemed to be sacred, fueling self-exaltation and hatred at the expense of understanding. The more illiterate a society becomes, the more power those who speak in this corrupted form of speech amass, the more music and images replace words and thought. We are cursed not by a cultural divide but by mutual cultural self-destruction.
The educated elites in the Arab world are now as alienated as the educated elites in the United States. To speak with a vocabulary that the illiterate or semiliterate do not immediately grasp is to be ostracized, distrusted and often ridiculed. It is to impart knowledge, which fosters doubt. And doubt in calcified societies, which prefer to speak in the absolute metaphors of war and science, is a form of heresy. It was not accidental that the founding biblical myth saw the deliverer of knowledge as evil and the loss of innocence as a catastrophe. “This probably had less to do with religion than with the standard desire of those in authority to control those who are not,” John Ralston Saul wrote. “And control of the Western species of the human race seems to turn upon language.”
The infantile slogans that are used to make sense of the world express, whether in tea party rallies or in Gaza street demonstrations, a very real alienation, yearning and rage. These clichés, hollow to the literate, are electric with power to those for whom these words are the only currency in which they can express anguish and despair. And as the economy worsens, as war in the Middle East and elsewhere continues, as our corporate state strips us of power and reduces us to serfs, expect this rage, and the demented language used to give it voice, to grow.
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Thursday, 24 September 2009
Tuesday, 8 September 2009
Monday, 7 September 2009
WHY ZAYTUNA COLLEGE
Islam has never become rooted in a particular land until that land began producing its own religious scholars. There are several million Muslims in the United States and rapidly growing Muslim populations in Canada, Great Britain, and Western Europe. Yet, there are no accredited academic institutions capable of training students in the varied sciences of Islam, while also instilling in them a sophisticated understanding of the intellectual history and culture of the West. Clearly, there is an essential need for Muslim institutions that can wed Islam’s classical texts with the contemporary context.
This reality has led to two lamentable situations. First, there are very few Muslim scholars who can meet the religious and pastoral needs of a rapidly expanding Muslim community in the West. Second, much of our younger generation has become alienated from the mosque and from religious culture.
From Vision to Reality
Since its founding by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf in 1996, Zaytuna has been attempting to address these issues through a variety of educational programs. Zaytuna’s vision has always been to create a lasting institution of higher learning. To that end, we launched a pilot seminary program in 2004 that graduated five students in 2008. Based on our experience with the pilot program, we are moving forward with our plans to establish the first accredited Muslim college in the United States.
Zaytuna College will function at a level comparable to the best of religious seminaries and general institutions of higher education in the United States. We have carefully designed a rigorous curriculum in Islamic Studies and Arabic, as well as in the humanities and social sciences, so our students can confidently navigate the cultural, political, and intellectual currents that are shaping our world.
We are also seeking accreditation from the most demanding accrediting bodies in the United States, as well as recognition from major educational institutions in the Muslim world, such as Egypt’s al-Azhar University. Finally, we are building an endowment that will rival that of comparable academic institutions.
Indigenization of Islam in the West
By aspiring to produce scholars who understand the specific needs of contemporary societies, we believe Zaytuna College has an important contribution to make in the indigenization of Islam in the West. An indigenized Islam is of particular significance at this time when there is so much suspicion directed toward Muslims as illegitimate “outsiders,” while at the same time a demonstrated desire on the part of many in the West, especially in America, to create a more open, multicultural, and tolerant society.
God willing, a Zaytuna College education will prepare students for a meaningful life as compassionate, productive, and educated citizens of the global community who understand Islam as a living, viable, and relevant faith, and who represent that faith with dignity, wisdom, and honor.
"For ten years, Zaytuna has played a key role in helping the Muslim American community rediscover much of the beauty and wisdom of traditional Islam. We look forward to the growth and expansion of Zaytuna’s services so it can further explore and implement, in partnership with other Muslims, the best of this classical heritage in a complex, pluralistic society.”
Dr. Ingrid Mattson
President, Islamic Society of North America