Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Soul of Amarji the Heretic

A Syrian exile shares his inner torment, perhaps seeking an answer, or at least a reply:
Guilt is a would-be messiah’s constant companion, so, naturally, as a man mired in messianic expectations, - and how could a liberal heretic working within the context of a traditional Arab-Muslim society not be so afflicted? – I am riddled with basic motivation was my constant obsession in remaining true to myself. But in doing this, and in following the dictates of my conscience and taking them to their logical conclusions, a process that took me on a long journey through different modes of religiosity and heresy, I ended up turning my back on the very foundations of my culture. I have made myself irrelevant to the very people that I sought, and seek still, to change. Somehow, and in being true to who I am, I stopped being true to my people and to my calling. But then, can I really be true to my people on their own terms? How can be a messiah then? How can I save the world?

For yes, even a secular heretic like me can still speak of a calling, of salvation...Yes, you can actually take faith out of the Arab. His Messiah Complex, however, is a completely different matter -

My response:
This is deep. To be so self-honest must have been very draining. I am honored that you choose to share your soul with us.

the whole point of messianic aspirations is to be able to belong somewhere, at some point in time, somehow, to something that you can believe in, because you have built it yourself.

In this respect, both the sociopolitical liberals and the religious and nationalist radicals are the same.

What if you managed to displace Asad from his throne? Could you accept being kicked out by the ballot box, as American presidents do? Could you accept that the people, who may not share your vision, might want to kick you out? Or if you choose to stay despite losing, which means you will always have to fear others seeking your weaknesses for a chance to become messiahs themselves?

I realized the limitations of my messianism: I cannot save the world, at least not at that point, but I can save my family, not to mention myself.

Perhaps it is not for us to save the world, but rather for us to enable it to be saved by enabling the people to save themselves without a messiah: through education, democratic party politics, freedom of speech and thought, etc.

But that's rather unsatisfying, isn't it? Not much room for messiahs that way. Yet the Western Experience has shown that this is the true way to liberate the people, to allow souls to make their own choices - even if we consider them to be bad ones, like wearing bikinis or chadors or changing religion or listening to bad music.

I have to be relevant to both worlds, I have to belong to both, I have to breathe my soul into both, and I have to save both, save me from both and save both from me. I have to be a multi-faceted messiah, it seems, to make all this work.

So my question is, do you believe in yourself, or in the values you believe will save your people?

On the one side is "Saddam", on the other is "Havel". If you choose "Saddam", then you are a messiah and we have seen you must deal with guilt or deny guilt entirely. If you choose Havel, there is disappointment and frustration, yet guilt is replaced by a quiet moral serenity.

The choice is yours; the fate is that of your people.

Addendum: Perhaps the Winston Churchill approach is a kind of middle ground:
“Every man can be a hero in this great struggle. Not since civilization sprang up between The Rivers 5,000 years ago has there been a crisis, and I say, an opportunity, like this. Allah has joined the fight on our side. He sent the Americans to destroy Saddam, but only we, my brothers, we Iraqis, we citizens, can win this war and throw out the evil from among us.

“When the history of our land is written 50 years from now, 500 years from now, 1000 years from now, people will ask what did their ancestors do in the Great War Against Evil? Every man who wields a rifle will be remembered. Every man who identifies the evil ones will be remembered. Their deeds recorded. Their contribution acknowledged. Your posterity will look back with pride and say, ‘Yes, my Fathers, my ancestors, honored their family and their clan and drove out the evil in this great battle of civilizations.’

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