Culture and Religion

Immigration is like a tornado. It begins far away and grows till it touches down, disordering lives and rearranging hopes, depositing the detritus of new identities, writes Ziauddin Sardar in Balti Britain: A provocative journey through Asian Britain (2008). Learning to cope with multiple selves became the quest of Sardar’s adult life.

Asian Britons are all the direct product of the British empire, which steamrolled around the world, razing whatever got in its way, leaving a lot of detritus, creating new identities (for better or worse) for hundreds of millions, with a legacy that keeps giving today (for better or worse).

As a Muslim Canadian, I enjoyed Sardar’s dissection of the British Muslim experience, which has some parallels with US-Canada, but a big difference.

George Steiner, Grammars of Creation, Yale University Press, 2001.

(George Steiner: Real presences (1989) notes here)


Plato maxim: in all things natural and human, the origin is the most excellent. To begin is to act essentially. But our perception now is afternoon, twilight. Century of progress liberalism -> ‘long summer of 1914’. Collapse of humaneness not from distant steppe, nazism, fascism, stalinism from within the context of civilization.

Shoah (wind out of blackness) not ‘holocaust, a technical greek designation for religious sacrifice.

Future tense came relatively late into human speech. Ability to discuss possible events on the day after one’s funeral or in stellar space in a million years. Every use of ‘to be’ is negation of mortality. Every ‘if’ sentence tells of a refusal of the brute inevitability, the despotism, of the fact. Hope and fear are supreme fictions empowered by syntax. Fear has mustard seed of hope. Hope encloses fear of unfulfilment. ‘Hope to god’.

Gregg Levoy, Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life, Three Rivers Press Random House, 1997.

-in many traditions, calling (sounds) precede prayer, rites of initiation, major life events. summon adherents away from routines to new level of awareness, into sacred frame of mind, communion with what is bigger than themselves. what is calling? 'life's longing for itself' (Gibran). 'living means being addressed' (Buber).

-we can't see the force, but we can see what it does. a return call, a response, creates a dialogue. our own unfolding requires that we be in constant dialogue with whatever is calling us. call-response central metaphor for spiritual life. listening = following in Latin.

'No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.' (Donne 1624) brings on the fear that frightens away sleep. no guarantee change for better.

-re-ligion = re-connect, re-member our selves, the deep life within us where religious impulse resides. William James: religion as 'the attempt to be in harmony with an unseen order of things'. 'hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.' -we don't know enough to despair. Despair is hidden arrogance. i have seen the future and it doesn't work. hope is rooted in trust in the unknown. work, wait, and hope. that is enough. (Sam Keen)


He had it all, and survived to relish it. Beauty, stardom, even an okay love life. The epitome of Hollywood in its heyday. And it was all a (well-meant) ruse. Tab was happy to stay ‘in the closet’ right to the end. He accepted his sexual orientation but was ‘not comfortable discussing it.’ His work with John Waters and Divine were ‘the high point of my professional life, even though it led to another label being hung on me that I have no use for: Gay Icon.’


Ne Arthur Gelien, rechristened Tab Hunter (Art loved riding and shooting) by sleazy agent Henry Willson, who Art/Tab insists never got his lecherous paws into his pants. Tab survived the poison of Hollywood long enough to leave his mark and then have a real life afterwards, despite his ‘secret’. And that’s the way he wanted it.

Reviving the ‘House of Peace’ as the peace movement's guiding principle

Those of us lucky/unlucky enough to live in the West see the rest of the world revolving around us, like Europe's 17th century sun, which, of course, orbited around the earth. So goes the western narrative: pre-Greece, Greece/Rome, Christianity, renaissance/ reformation, enlightenment, industrial revolution, nation-states/empire, WWI&II, cold war, democratic capitalism, end-of-history.

But Galileo tried a counterfactual: what would things look like, if I were standing on that blazing sun? Well, the rest-is-history. Maybe we aren’t the centre of the world. What if I were born and learned history as a Muslim?

This is Ansary's project in Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes (2009). Born Muslim in Afghanistan, he arrived in the US in the 1960s and jumped right into western life, seeing his new home through both his and the countercultural eyes of his new age young friends, so he knows the value of changing skins and seeing things anew.

In a nutshell, the Islamic narrative: pre-Islam, Islam, khalifate (quest for universal unity), fragmentation, catastrophe (crusades, Mongols), 3 empires (Safavid, Ottoman, Moghul), western occupation, reform movements, secular modernists, Islamist reaction. The two narratives overlap in Palestine-Israel, their core Mesopotamia and Persia-Iran.

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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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