Thursday, May 30, 2013

Students, Muslims and Change
After the Boston terror bombings I find myself writing about “belonging, hope and change” with one normal eye, and my other eye biased towards looking at Muslim readers.
Sean Crawford

The Australians have boomerang competitions, but today the best throwers are in the US.
An Australian student of Community Rehabilitation, on a visa at the University of Calgary, in a conversation with Sean, circa 2000 AD.

Although I’m middle aged, old enough to remember where I was when I heard President John F. Kennedy had been shot, I still miss those idealistic student days when we discussed change for our country and ourselves. We loved growth and learning. …Well, that is to say, the choice was there: All the folks you’d pass in the student union building were bright eyed with excitement—I don’t know anything about the party animals who slumped like sloths at the back of the classroom… As an undergraduate I loved meaning-of-life essays on change so here is one especially for students, especially for Muslim students.

A student of physical education, a British immigrant, told me how back in Britain the students planning a recreation class don’t put in goals of how the participants will benefit. Here we do, here we believe in the potential of individuals to change, a belief we’ve held since the first Puritan colonies in New England. Yes, if you want to be a better businessman or leader, have a better life, or learn to eat food with more karma, then come to the land of opportunity. But don’t stop at the New England coast, better head on over to the other coast: California. …Or you can just get a library card.

I’m joking—let's not be prejudiced. All coasts and all nations are equal, of course… and some nations need change more than others. The remaining communist countries, as everyone knows, still need to learn that communism is wrong. And the terror exporting nations need to learn something too… One night, back in the days of long hair and liberation movements, I was at the Orpheum Theatre. (Incidentally, it was used for the golden opera house scenes in Battlestar Galactica) There I was privileged to hear China sympathizer Han Suyin—a very nice person—say something profound about “revolution.” Surely her words could be paraphrased for our new century: “Terrorism must neither be imported nor exported…” There’s a thought to sit with for a while.

Maybe we North Americans, being an optimistic people by world standards, live with too much optimism regarding change, maybe from realizing the same thing the ancient Greeks did: A good democracy requires good people living good productive lives. The Greeks said, “Not life, but a good life, is expected of every citizen.” And so we remain alert to any chance for change in our lives, whether “the personal or the political.” This while we remain eternally vigilant to avoid sliding down away from liberty. This month some clear and present opportunities are before us—In Canada: the senate spending scandals; in the US: the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department scandals. I don’t think the republic will fall, but I do think the health of the country will depend on whether each scandal is resolutely faced, and then on whether we take responsible action.

Meanwhile, to observers in Iraq, say, where the car bombers of this week presumably have lots of ambition but little hope for democracy, the current North American scandals may shine some light for them on whether democracy for Muslims could be workable and sane, or simply a trick of the Great Satan. Maybe, in the light of the scandals, an ancient Arab-Muslim sharia law system is better after all? I merely ask this from being an academic: The truth is that on paper millions of people do believe in sharia law, more than they believe in the UN’s 1948 declaration of human rights. This is according to recent world polls.

Americans were not polled for their thoughts on sharia law, but they do give some thought to the terror exporting lands. By one scenario, hopeful Americans think that as Muslims come to believe in democracy and human rights there will be less internal terrorism, and less cross-border terrorism. (See economist Kruger) Overseas the liberation-transformed-into-occupation of Iraq, in this scenario, was a part of this hopeful teaching effort, hoping to create the first Muslim democracy on planet earth.

At home, for this vision of teaching, it might seem that certain Americans would be especially good at building bridges and educating folks across the water, but no: local Muslims seem to lack enough self-confidence to do so.

Apparently the confidence seen among Muslim-Americans in my youth, in the 1960’s, teaching the world that certain things are wrong, things like imperialism or apartheid, is a confidence not found among American Muslims of today. We see no teach-ins, sit-ins or be-ins. No street theater, stage plays or movies. No poetry gatherings, rallies or concerts. No post card mail-outs, conferences, or visits to meet and teach. (Or are there?) During the decade the Berlin Wall fell my university student newspaper did an exchange, sending two students to the Soviet Union, and then hosting two young Cold War Soviets, a man and a woman, in return. In contrast, during our new century’s War on Terror, I see no student efforts, no anything… No “puppet shows for peace.” Let’s hope I’m simply uninformed.

As for how to achieve confidence, "there are many roads to Rome." For myself, “nothing succeeds like success.” As a young student, I experienced great change in myself; I saw change in other individuals and groups too. This all gave me the hope and energy to hike the Roman road alongside ambitious people. “I was not always the man you see before you.”

Another road, I as mentioned at the start, is using your library card to learn tools and concepts that may be common knowledge in southern California, concepts such as “boundaries” and “victim.” For example, you can’t be in victim mode and still be a business executive. Maybe classes in business management or social work could best teach various terms, as a classroom setting might be easier than lonely evenings at the library. Another road would be student meaning-of-life discussions, such as, “Across time and space, what would a "lack of boundaries" mean?”

Also worth mentioning, with their track record of success in change, are vibrant groups both in the greater community and in the campus community. For example, during my time at university women of the Mormon religion had Mormon-only meetings to raise their consciousness, and I’ve heard that today on campus there is a Muslim-only feminist group. My point is that, in a land of believers, change is forever possible. American capitalist Henry Ford said it first: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—either way, you’re right.”

One of the values of meeting together is to learn you are “not the only one.” Light bulb! This reduces the energy needed for defending the ego, which then frees up considerable energy for shining brightly, working for change and achieving success. Along this line, it might help a young Muslim student's ego, if he lacks boundaries, to know that Muslim countries are not alone, that certain non-Muslim countries are grappling with the same problems. For example, on the CBC Radio One I recently heard a successful Greek mystery writer being interviewed. The writer said Greece had a victim problem: They never saw anything as their fault. Sound familiar? But don’t despair—In my swift decades of life I have seen so much energy liberated, and so many changes rushing like the wind through North America, that now I will never give up hope for change in other countries too.

I think about these things. If I was a motivational speaker from California speaking to young students in general, then I wonder if anything I would say would be especially helpful to young Muslims in particular. As a matter of fact, yes.

I would start by telling the story of the experienced seafaring Athenians at war with the landlocked Spartans. How could the Spartans ever hope to be as good as the Athenians at sea battles? Obviously the Spartans would need their own war galleys: They’d have to borrow, beg, build or buy their own ships. Meanwhile they would have to sit in ranks on the beach learning to row together. And so they did. Perhaps the Spartans, proud land warriors, felt silly practicing rowing without ships, but in the end their humble determination paid off. They won their sea battle.

The moral is clear: As the proud Athenians found, you mustn’t take old traditions and past expertise very seriously. Any person, any region of persons, can change. For example, when I was a young man we all knew that traditionally the best martial artists were from the Far East, but nevertheless there were two world class artists right here in the United States: Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. It was during his military service in South Korea that Norris had found groups doing their martial training out of doors (not inside a dojo). He had then lingered in the back, trying to copy what he saw, until the Koreans recognized his spirit and invited him to join them.

People of the North, the Canadians, may have invented ice hockey, but during an Olympic tournament their mens team would last no longer than a snowball in the Saudi desert. Amateurs of Eastern Europe had been willing to change to adopt this new sport, becoming much more skilled than Canadians. Finally, as it happens, the Canadians have resorted to sending only their professionals to the Games. (Athletes from the televised National Hockey League)

And while the Americans, back in the days of the TV show Mad Men had said, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country,” feeling so confident and so proud of their auto industry, now they know their protégés in Japan have become better at designing and assembling cars than they are.

Depressing? No, exciting, for now Americans, ever optimistic, can learn to get better at making cars too. How exciting to embrace the future…There is nothing magical about past expertise, not when change is possible. The world is a smaller place, information wants to be free, and the lessons of Henry Ford, “…if you think you can…” are freely available.

It’s exciting how today the schools for Christian priests (seminaries) in the English speaking countries are just as good as the ones across the ocean in Italy. Yes, Italy still produces most of the popes, and yes, Italy is against homosexuals, but still: If a pope or bishop came from Italy to London England, or to London Canada, he would be welcome to join in the church service and he would be politely but firmly informed that homosexuals would not be prevented from worshipping. Not when the experts can study the Holy Bible here just as well as the experts can study in Italy. Information wants to be free.

Here in Canada, our home, the experts will ignore the biblical verse about “you shall not allow a witch to live” because a living god—not a frozen god—does not today believe in violence. And besides, Canada has no death penalty. Surely Muslim experts in Canada will ignore any violent verses too, looking only at the Koran (Quaran) verses that say Islam means peace and good will. ...Well, that is to say, the choice is there: I think Canadians have the character to make the loving choices—in Canada, a land of eager immigrants and visa students, a student shared-house can include a Shiite, a Sunni, an atheist and a Jedi Knight… And that is something you don’t have to take my word for: You can go ask others as part of your student meaning-of-life discussions.

It was my dad’s generation, while ignorant of gays, which established the United Nations for world peace. It was my generation, ignorant of Wall Street, which learned that homosexuals have the right to live their lives in peace and safety. Now we are passing the relay race baton to the younger generation. What will they learn? Something “exciting, new and improved,” I’m sure. Having seen much in my half century, I first dare to hope, and then to believe, that one day people who study Arab history and the Koran in London or Boston will feel just as self-confident as someone studying in Arabia or Iran. Surely one day, with God’s help, young Muslims here will feel confident enough to look across the globe and teach all the Arabs and all the Ayatollahs that Islam means peace.

Sean Crawford
Remembering George Carlin, R.I.P.
May 2013
(Footnotes moved to next essay)

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