Saturday, September 30, 2006

A bit of sense

Yet another West v Muslims article, but this one by Hanif Kureishi seems to me to be far more on-target.
Clearly most Muslims are not fundamentalists and most people in the west are not obese cokeheads. Our notions of "east" and "west" are screens on to which we can project our fantasies. If we can say the east envies the west while wanting to distance itself from it - "they" refuse to integrate; why don't they want to be like us if they want to live here? - we can say that the self-disgust of the west conveys a profound confusion about the way we view ourselves now.
It's in the nature of conservatism to look for simple answers, and as such the Muslim world and mid-Western USA have both turned toward fundamentalism. Meanwhile the rest of the West appears rudderless, and in the case of many people, actually is.
I think Kureishi inadvertently also hits on why Nichiren Buddhism has spread so slowly here:
In the past few years there has been much religion-lite, the New Age as well as versions of Buddhism or kabala. These are attempts to fill what Salman Rushdie calls a "God-sized hole". But these substitutes are the tofu of belief; they are not anything like the real thing. They do not terrify with their authority and they are not sufficiently irrational to inspire true faith. They do not punish enough. We are left to do that to ourselves.

While I'd thorouhghly reject any notion that we're "religion-lite" or nothing like the "real thing" - all other Buddhist sects are based on Shakyamuni's provisional teachings or have failed to grasp the true significance of the Lotus Sutra - we don't have a god with a big stick, nor his representative on earth with a less metaphorical big stick, so those searching for authority won't find it in true Buddhism. And the last sentence is accurate enough - Nichiren Buddhism aims to make you the author of your own story, as we term it "taking responsibility for your own life".

One thing the article fails to pick up adequately is the link between Radical Islam and anti-colonialism. The history of the 20th century is often regarded as one of industrial scale bloodshed. Perhaps a more accurate reading is one of imperialism and anti-imperialism. Post-WW2, many nationalist movements, particularly China and Vietnam, used communism as a binding belief. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, this can hardly be a rallying point and so the middle east has instead turned towards Islamic fundamentalism. I was particularly struck in a recent TV programme on Palestinian suicide bombers, how often their remaining families praised the bomber as a nationalist rather than a Muslim.

And there's also the irony that the tool used to defeat the Soviet Union has morphed into the West's own nemesis.


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