Wednesday, September 20, 2017

I Met a Muslim in London

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Hello Reader,
Got Muslims?

Writer’s note: This was composed on my returning aircraft, the day before the morning of the fourth terror attack of 2017 in Britain. Despite the seriousness of the bomb on a commuter train, I am not going to grim down my essay. If we can’t stay cheerful, then the terrorists have won. I do wish I’d stayed another week, to talk about it.


They say the important part of traveling is meeting the people. 

As a tourist staying in “Central London,” where 90 per cent of the London tourist attractions are located, I could see by their outfit that lots people walking around were Muslims. Not assimilated. Not “European Muslims” from the Muslim areas (The Balkans) of southeast Europe. Now, what I could not discern, based on their dress and speech, was whether in their own minds they felt integrated, not segregated. But I doubted it: For example, a block away from my hotel, near Paddington Station, (Yes, there’s a statue of the bear) was a barbershop: On the sidewalk was a sandwich board, listing features and prices, entirely in some Muslim language. Even the prices. In the heart of London. 

If I wanted to ask any Muslims if they agreed with American Muslims that Islam means peace, well, how was I to meet one? Because of their religion, I wasn’t exactly going to meet a fellow in an authentic British pub.

There was no pub in my cozy hotel. How cozy was it? The only lift was so small, in width, that if I stood with my hands on my waist then my elbows touched the walls. Lengthwise,  between the two sets of doors, I could stand with one hand on my waist, stretch the other arm the length of the cage, and my fingers would be curled touching the other door. And I’m a small guy. Down at the cozy reception counter the night clerk was a pleasant man. I practised my “be friendly and lighten your brother’s load” ethic by always saying hello when I came in for the night and announcing what tourist attraction I had seen that day. 

One evening I followed a moped delivery man—they have a huge box behind their seat—to the sidewalk in front of my hotel.  I entered, and was leaning my elbow on the reception counter when he came in. He had an extra pizza, he said, giving it to the night clerk. It is vegetarian. Good, said the clerk, so I can eat it. He looked at me. 

“Do you want a piece?” I did. 

I piped up, “If it’s vegetarian then you can be safe that it’s halal, (kosher) no pork.” I had just discovered the word “halal” the previous night, after finding a book at an Oxfam used bookstore, by a Muslim girl who joins the British army. (Yes, I will read books when I’m on vacation—but I don’t lie on the beach with Daniel Steele) The clerk knew how to pronounce “halal,” saying, “Halal food means how it was butchered, it’s not just pork.”

I wondered if he had time to talk. He said, “If you want to know anything about Muslims you can ask me, I’m Muslim.”

“Great! You can save me a trip. Because otherwise I was going to hike over to a building near the Edgeware tube station. Up on the third floor is a big sign you can see from the sidewalk, for the Arab Human Rights Office… Now I can just ask you.”

Because we were talking so thick and fast, I must confess I didn’t get around to asking such naive questions as, “Do the European and Arab Muslims think American Muslims are traitors to Islam for believing in peace, and for not wearing Burkas the way they do in London?” Besides, I already knew the answers. 

We got into religion before we talked any politics. We both follow an “Abrahamic religion.” Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet, a major one, and to my hotel friend, “It’s an abomination!” to say that Jesus is the son of God. We shared our strong feelings in our discussion of religion, but I won’t repeat here any confidences that might horrify you. Except—as I put it, we both don’t believe in God having two arms, two legs and a head. And, as my new friend added with distaste, no human bodily functions to our God. Yup.

My hotel friend, who lives in “North London,” father of two girls, whom he is teaching to be able to think for themselves, was emphatic: A believer has to believe in the Koran, (Quran) in every page or none of it. I told him of a public thing I had read about, where leaders of Muslims and Christians had met to discuss things. The Muslims had said they had to go totally by the Koran, so that was that. How sad. If they had met on stage, and if I had been in the audience, and if there had been lineups to ask questions at a microphone, then I would have asked the Muslim leaders whether they knew the concept of “Even the Devil can quote scriptures.” More precisely: If the Bible has a scripture to kill witches, then would Christian leaders have to quote it, and follow it? 

My fellow monotheist told me his judgment of westerners, and then explained that for Islam you have to understand the dates of the Koran pages, because they contradict each other. He said Arab words can sometimes have ten different meanings. He said, too, that the Koran is written in classical Arabic, which is not modern Arabic, so again a lot of people don’t know. So yes, there’s a passage that says to kill unbelievers, (Maybe he said it’s “kill them all on sight,” I forget) but you don’t have to go by that. The terrorists go by such a passage, but they don’t know anything about it. They don’t know the context, and “they can be easily misled.” By “they” he meant the average Muslim in Eurasia.

Easily misled. Which leads us to politics. “How brainwashed are Muslims?" I asked “I know they don’t totally believe their clerics, because the mullahs say that Europe is bad, and western Europe the most satanic of all, yet the mid-east refugees go to Europe, and then they mostly go to western Europe.” My friend was old enough to remember when the leaders in his country were saying that western education was bad, that girls didn’t even need an education, were saying so “quite passionately”… yet they were sending their own children to high class private Catholic schools! “Leaders are corrupt” he said. By “leaders” he meant politicians too, not just clerics.

I have read all the books of that Muslim Dutch Member of Parliament. So I was not surprised when this intelligent devout Muslim hotel worker was disgusted with how the European nations treated Muslim immigrants, saying to me, “They encouraged them to segregate, saying ‘come to this country and you will have your own… keep your own… etc. etc.’” He was not surprised at all that they would (clasping his hands to illustrate) “clumped together.” We shared our disgust.

I told him when I was a boy the “melting pot” model meant you wanted to be American, and would be ashamed of being unAmerican, but somehow, when I wasn’t looking, that had changed. This I knew from looking at a book sold in a Canadian college bookstore for U.S. “dormitory monitors,” or “residence advisors” a paid position, where older students in the dorms look after the freshmen. This book advised (no doubt for in case the monitor came from a mono-culture small town) that Americans now believe in pluralism… I don’t know when things changed. Presumably, now they prefer to have little pots of pluralism in perpetuity. 

…And so, that was how I met and talked with a real live Muslim in London…

… As for clumping, “30 minutes out from central London” (by the underground train) according to their web site, is the Who Shop, selling Doctor Who official BBC merchandise. I just had to make the pilgrimage. 

So I took the tube to Upton Park station. Before going to the shop, I hiked for about 15 minutes in the opposite direction, along a main road, just to see what I could see. Ever seen one of those ethnic stores at a flea market or something, and of course there’s only one, and it’s empty, and you wonder how they stay in business? Indeed. Empty of customers was a store for South Asian clothing, then another, and another… for fifteen minutes. How did they stay in business, so empty, competing with each other? By people clumping, that’s how. Along the way I passed a green Muslim “community centre.” Not a temple.

My London friend had asked with displeasure why Americans don’t let everybody in, because he thought they should have a wider door policy; I told him the quotas are to aide integration. I could have simply used his words, “So people don’t clump.” I remember, as a young man, walking over and sitting with a group of “Italian” young male classmates, and one said, “But you’re not Italian.” Being quick, I answered “But last night I had pizza!” In other words, we were both joking. North Americans, on the whole, don’t believe in living like the folks in the movie Bend it Like Beckham. (I saw the DVD to prepare for my holiday) But immigrants will believe, if their surrounding society of doesn’t know any better.

… I regret that, while on vacation, I didn’t meet any real live “bleeding heart European liberals.” But I never seem to stumble over them in the bar.


Sean Crawford
Back in Allah’s own country
September
2017

Footnotes of the Doctor Who sort:
(Deleted for some future post)
Footnotes:
~The above mentioned book is by Azi Ahmed called Worlds Apart. (2015) The cover shows her face only one quarter normal, one quarter concealed by a jet black cloth mask, and by half of her face in dark camouflage paint at night. 
The army as scary? Maybe to a civilian. An innocent civilian prairie girl, a neighbour in my condominium, who had been to London, told me the London ladies in big black burkas, with a little flapping triangle over their faces, look scary too.

~People overseas regard North Americans as optimistic, even naive, in their trusting of others and their “can-do” spirit. Hollywood movies, say the Europeans, are more prone to happy endings, and to individuals making a difference. 

Perhaps it was in this spirit a certain American movie was made. It’s a romantic comedy, where an affectionate East Indian mother is fine with her son being friends with all sorts of races, religions and creeds, specifically all sorts of Indians such as Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims. And a blond boy too, on whom the mother paints a red spot. Most of the movie takes place where the young men hang around together in college, with the son chasing an “Indian” (American) girl. Once he sticks his foot in his mouth by saying (I forget) to the girl he he is chasing something like, “That’s as boring as pornography dragged out to the length of a Bollywood movie”  His friend later (I forget) says, “You idiot! Now she knows you don’t like Bollywood, and you watch porn!”

So what this movie, so unlike the Beckham one, shows is that Americans don’t always believe in being in a pluralist bubble, with a snobbish dislike and disapproval of their neighbours. Too bad I forget the title. I saw it at the Plaza.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Talking at Light Speed

essaysbysean.blogspot.com

Hello Dear Reader, 
and fellow citizen,
You can send out your words at the speed of light,
But can you think that fast?


Proper talk takes proper time. 

I remember one evening when I was chairman of the board of directors for Full Circle Adventures, an outdoor pursuits company. Our chief programmer wanted to hire more program leaders. This was harder than it sounds because we didn’t do run-of-the-mill programs. No, we would do a program like “snowshoeing-and-yoga” in the same weekend. Because for us, each program had to offer things beyond the purely physical.

It would be a team interview, with her and I interviewing candidates. She wanted us to set up a time for a telephone call so we two could plan out our interview agenda. I said, “No.”
“No? You sure?” 
“Yes, I’m sure. We had better meet in person.” 

So one evening we did. At a quiet members-only bar. The same bar where we would interview candidates. Result? As we talked, with time to relax our brains, at one point it “popped into my head” that we could have our candidates plan a program, on paper, right there at the table. Wow! Candidates really liked that idea, because they were really excited to work with a company that looked into the spiritual, emotional, nature-world and so forth—not merely “physical education moved outdoors.”

Good thing we two had met to calmly plan in person, as this would not have “popped in” while talking over the phone lines. Strange but true, in this age of light-speed communication, face to face still works best. Of course, light-speed has its limitations. May I appear to digress? Science writer Isaac Asimov once wrote a scene where a senior scientist is telling his old mother about his frustration as she sits knitting. The man’s problem is the “light-speed delay.” You may recall that as our Apollo astronauts were in the lunar rover riding across a crater it took a second and a half for our radio waves to reach them. 

Houston: “What’s that to your left?” As the buggy rolls along. 
Astronaut: “Where?” Round trip of three seconds… A question to Jupiter takes 30 minutes. One way.

To reach a domed base on a planet orbiting another star? Light-years. Four and something years to the closest star.
“What about X?”
“Do you mean Y?”
“No, I mean X.”  With over a dozen years lost.

The senior scientist expresses his frustration to his mother. Without dropping a stitch Mama tells him what the ladies do: They just keep information constantly flowing around their social circle,  out and back again. During the flow, most questions get answered, without ever being asked! 
The scientist? He’s speechless. 
Mama? She’s happy her boy still listens to his mother.

I thought of this because a retired fellow I know has no landline, but he does have one of those new fangled cellular telephones. With a phone plan. With very limited minutes. Sometimes as we talk he asks what he can do for me, or I for him. I’ll tell you, dear reader, what I can’t do for him: Problem solve. There is no time for information flow, not enough flow for me to make any connections. No “Hey, I just realized—this compares to what Roger faced. What he did was…” No “Something just popped into my head. Have you thought of…?” I can tell the old guy information I already know, off the top of my head, but I can't reach down into my subconscious where wisdom lies. Neither can I stand in silence, like propane salesman Hank Hill and his buddies do, around a truck with the hood up, as they regard a broken engine.

Proper talk takes proper time. I remember my old Mount Royal College professor, Len Thomas, Ph.D., telling us that if you ask someone to go for a cigarette, then you have seven minutes to converse; if a coffee, you have 15 minutes. If less than a cigarette, under a very limited cell phone plan, then you are like someone living under communism: You censor yourself, in advance, semi-consciously, so creativity never happens. Nothing pops in. 

I believe, fellow citizen, there’s a reason the Iran theocracy, with millions of residents, has produced no internationally-read Salman Rushdie. They are walled off from their subconscious. Their muse has fled. There’s been no great literature out of Russia since the Marxist October revolution, nothing classic out of mainland China, with their “Great fireWall,” (Censoring the Internet) since they went communist. Meanwhile, we still read Tolstoy and Gorky from economically harsher but mentally easier times, before the coming of the Thought Police. 

In everyday life, dear reader, if you are surrounded by oppressive relatives, friends or co-workers, then I suppose there must be a similar dampening down of your brain functions. In a harsh realm your I.Q. may drop to the point where you seem, even to yourself, to lack even common sense. Unfortunately you would not realize you were “artificially dumber” unless you somehow escaped—not only physically, but got away from the “committee in your head” too. 

Ugly ducklings don’t grow until they are among swans. This I know, from decades ago, as a child, adolescent and young man. One awful week, as a middle aged fellow, I temporarily returned to a “state of oppression.” (Self imposed) Weird. I regressed to making bizarre mistakes—incredibly bizarre—and then, after it was all over, and my life was nicely back to normal, I thought: “Holy cow, is that what I used to be like, decades ago, all the time?” It was very weird.

A pop culture equivalent, shown by camera, might be the episode of Angel where Wesley’s abusive father comes from England to officially visit the office. Wesley, a competent senior partner, bumps into a door frame, and bumps into an administrative assistant carrying a stack of papers. This is to outwardly show his inner plummeting I.Q. 

Near the end of the episode, to do what’s right, during a “clear and present danger,” Wesley has to shoot his own father… The father being a covert operative for the bad guys. Wesley stands there, his gun smoking, grimly speaking clearly—his I.Q. instantly restored—about what to do next.

Now-a-days when I talk, be it face to face or at the speed of light, I consider time and space and who.


Sean Crawford
Central London
September
2017

Afterthoughts 
OR 
Recent posts in context:
 Down the years, I have been re-examining the story of my family. As part of such re-examining, reframing and retelling, I have become more productive in life. In other words: My brain is clearer. 

My August essays have included examples of Hollywood art (and genre) reflecting life. It might be OK to live our lives on autopilot, but for an artist it’s not OK: For many artists, an unexamined society is not worth living in. (Socrates) The novelist mentioned above (by the headline I believe) points out, in his wikipedia article, that stories matter… that our nation, family, even our very selves, are a story.


The problem with Islam today, at least in the theocracies like Iran that still mix mosque and state, is that people are restricted to shallow breathing, without feeling permission to reexamine, change, and retell the stories they grew up with. Hence Iran still has an infamous torture prison. It’s as if to them God is no longer a living God, but dead and frozen in place. This unwillingness to think doesn’t serve God and man… it only serves some old male persons who enjoy having power over others.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Clutter Hovering like a Dark Drone

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Sisyphus. You probably know the Greek legend: The poor guy keeps rolling a small boulder to the top of a hill… but always, well before the top, or sometimes nearly right at the top, it rolls back down again. Every time. I bet I know where the first story of Sisyphus came from: Surely some poor storyteller had been feeling crazy from clutter.

As for me, I remember well: Once a week I would finish my work-day, right next to a cheap all-day multi-plex theatre, but I never lingered to see a good film: I’d “have to” go home because I meant, at last, to de-clutter. But “at last” never came. Next week, I’d miss a good movie again. Each time, as I passed the cinema going home, I never stopped hoping I might one day live without clutter, each time. I should have remembered Sisyphus.

Papers. I had lots of 81/2 by 11 papers. Part of my “be prepared” ethic was to save tons of wise handouts: I couldn’t merely take them to the recycling, not after Chairman Mao had advised taking great pains. Ah, but now that I’m older and not trying to be such a “prepared” Boy Scout—the papers have mostly gone. To honest recycling, or merely to the garbage on days when I’m too unhappy to do more. 

Of course my clutter began during childhood. As a grown man, I once asked my dad, calling long distance: “In our family, do we believe that if there is just one thing wrong with you, then you are no good? Dad said “No…” and then, “Your mother just came in, you can ask her your question.”

“No, Sister said not to ask her.” Because Mum would worry… Because during my childhood Mum would rant and loudly rave, like a rolling storm with deadly lightening, insisting my clutter meant I was “not good enough.” Looking back, it was crazy: Jesse James could rob trains and still be the “good enough to love” but as for me, God forbid I should have any clutter. My feelings at the time? Sad! Later? Grrr! In fairness, some of my peers—the queer sort of kids who changed daily into “play clothes”— truly had rooms that looked just like in some pretty magazine. So for other children, obviously, living clutter-free was possible.

 Meanwhile, despite Mum’s annihilating rage at my clutter, our whole house was an archeology dig. As I child, of course, I did not know the word “hypocrisy.” I just knew I would open my eyes in the morning instantly feeling bad and guilty. Too bad Mum never noticed the teenager’s room in the Hi and Lois comics, never compared notes with other parents and never got counselling. Today the family counselling experts offer hard-learned advice: Just keep the children’s bedroom door closed. As a tired parent, you have to pick your battles.

My parents tried to motivate themselves by calling their stuff “junk,” with an ugly special sneer, but this self-hatred never succeeding in causing them to act, it only succeeded in lowering their morale still further. The opposite strategy would have been to joyfully consider what stuff gave them joy, and what didn’t, but they never thought of that. Marie Kondo (footnote) hadn’t been born yet

Year later, as a grownup, “if I really wanted to badly enough”—Mum’s ugly phrase, Grrr— then hypothetically, I too would have a nice pretty room right out of Home and Garden. But first, to make a peaceful, silent space, I would have to destroy my beautiful books. Like drowning my cute puppies, calling them “junk,” merely because they make a little too much noise… Or, to consider my pretty books as being part of my room, I could use that Vietnam phrase, “We had to destroy that room (village) in order to save it.”

At the thought of puppies and Vietnam, my head would spin, I’d plunk into my chair, my eye resting on a book about Sisyphus.   

In my previous home, “my ships cabin,” I had my bonny books piled on every raised surface, crammed in every closet. A visiting married couple, with even worse clutter at their house said, “At least you can see the floor.” A visiting Buddhist said, “You aren’t messy, you just have too much.” He was right: When I prepared to move to my new place I just had to laugh: From one corner to another, as I crated my books, I dug up six—count ’em, six—books on getting organized. 

The most interesting such book was by a man with a background in self-help groups, where desperate hopeful people share tales that are far stranger than fiction. He shared how his girlfriends would never last: “You love your stuff more than me!” That sounds like something the spouse of a person in Alcoholics Anonymous would say— “you love your booze more than me!” I wondered: Did that writer have a problem worthy of a 12-Step group? He did, he looked, and he found his group: Yes, there is such a thing as Clutterers Anonymous, (CLA) which he attended, but unfortunately, there is none for me in my city

(Update: There is now! Since the summer of 2015: I’ve just found their local website. Maybe I’ll go to a meeting, just to make sure I don’t backslide into cluttering again) 

For years my clutter hovered close to me, like a dark drone, kept me from seeing movies, and… and if I wouldn’t change then there could be some psychological reason. Maybe I was avoiding something. The writer shared to his group that he had stuff everywhere, even on his bed, because, as he came to realize, he clung to his stuff as symbolizing love. 

As it happened, my struggling best friend had stuff on her bed too. (Single mother, small kids) I never asked my friend about her clutter. No, because I assumed she was merely overwhelmed, nothing too psychological. I liked her, she was OK… it was only me who had enough stuff that I wasn’t “good enough.” Interestingly, my friend was “out of the closet” to herself and others. She told me once, “To be gay and in the closet is to live with a constant low grade depression, and not even know it.”

I wonder: What did I “not even know?” Maybe I was avoiding life, maybe I was using clutter the way an addict uses substances to depressively dull my feelings, to “medicate.” Or maybe not.

In the end, I de-cluttered not with any group’s help, and not by changing myself on the inside, but simply by sheer brute force over a long time. Now that most stuff is gone, “good enough” success looks like this: Underneath my two sinks, kitchen and bathroom, is now stacked only a single row of books, not double; my freezer is book-free now, the passenger area in my car is book-free and I can close my trunk. Barely. In the hallway is a nice tidy tower of shoeboxes I hope to steadily work through… (Update: hall boxes gone, car trunk empty) 

De-clutter expert Marie Kondo wrote: “Once your house is in order, your life can begin.” Well. After many, many moons of ongoing effort, at last, I have de-cluttered… Seriously, I have, almost. Now I feel so strange, so blank… I wonder what’s next?

Sean Crawford
Posted from central London
September, 2017

Footnotes: 
Others like books too. For this quote, Palo Alto is the anchor town of Silicon Valley, and Cambridge is the university hub of Boston. Here is Paul Graham from his web essay Cities and Ambition:

One of the exhilarating things about coming back to Cambridge every spring is walking through the streets at dusk, when you can see into the houses. When you walk through Palo Alto in the evening, you see nothing but the blue glow of TVs. In Cambridge you see shelves full of promising-looking books. Palo Alto was probably much like Cambridge in 1960, but you'd never guess now that there was a university nearby. Now it's just one of the richer neighborhoods in Silicon Valley.


~Of course I don’t say “Grrr” about my dear family anymore. Those days are far behind me.

~I suspect Marie Kondo’s decluttering book, reviewed in Oprah’s magazine, is very good. I say this not because I’ve seen how people will blog while reading the new-to-them, exciting book, (although I have) but rather, because I found a respected blogger, Penelope Trunk, who still swears by Kondo a full year after first trying the book.

~Update: My home town no longer has a Clutters Anonymous meeting; the website was old, had not been updated. Drat! Oh well, those grapes were sour: I didn’t really want to say my first name to the group and then announce I was “powerless over clutter.”

~Another Update: I am visiting  “Central London.” Here in the heart of London we have a Clutterers Anonymous, one that has a “website in progress” blank page, giving a telephone number to call. Forget that noise: After my Calgary experience I know better than to call that number. Instead, a month ago, still in Canada, I went on the web for the U.K. Clutterers Anonymous to tell them I was going to London. Besides asking for my e-mail address to reply, they wanted my website too. Forget that noise: I left out my site, and rightly so, because Clutterers Anonymous U.K. is gone too—they did not e-mail me back.


I am not surprised. Maybe they all got cured. You think? More likely, group help for cluttering was a passing fad… But group help for life-threatening problems like alcohol, (AA) cocaine (CA) and narcotics, (NA) will always be with us.