Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Freedom of belief

Is it worse than Conspiracy in Egypt?

Many people in Egypt believe that western media is biased in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood.

I think they are right, but for the wrong reasons.  It is not because of a sinister western conspiracy to empower the Muslim Brothers, as Egyptian media never tire of telling their public.

The reasons are simpler and perhaps more depressing.   Some are related to how the media operates, while others have to do with occidental perceptions of Egyptian society.

posted in Democracy, Egypt, Islamism, Sweden this Sept. 28, 2013

During a recent visit to Sweden I heard the public radio network (P1) describe the interim-government in Egypt as the “military regime”. I was shocked.

Sweden is a country whose energetic foreign minister, Carl Bildt, has been a vociferous critic of the 30/6 uprising and the subsequent military intervention that overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood president, firing the occasional tweet calling on the EU not to pull its punches and punish Egypt. Thank god Mr Bildt is not in the EU’s driving seat.

Why should the man who’s supposed to be the voice of Sweden on the global stage be on the side of an extremely reactionary political movement (in fact, it is a cult of religious supremacy) that is in every conceivable aspect the opposite of what Sweden stands for:

1. freedom of belief (more people were tried for blasphemy during Mursi than any other time);

2. equality between genders (Sweden tops the global list);

3. the parliament dominated by the MB and their Salafi friends was in favour of removing the ban on minimum age for marriage for girls,  and removing the ban on the abhorrent practice of female circumcision, otherwise known as FMG.

So what kind of “democracy” is Mr Bildt championing  for Egypt?

Muslim–Brotherhood

Although we expect foreign ministers to rely on little more than headlines to find out what actually happens in far away places, I  think western media bears part of the blame.

I don’t mean individual journalists, some of whom I know and respect for their professional integrity. But I mean the dominant news paradigm, which determines how news stories should be told.

This model favours simplicity, stark black and white narratives with clearly defined heroes and villains. If it has to deal with complex or ambiguous developments,  it will iron them out to fit them into its straitjacket.  But the devil is always in the details.

According to this paradigm the story of a “coup” is a lot simpler and sexier than say  “another uprising backed by the army” (which sounds like a déjà vu,  given what happened in February 2011). The coup narrative envisages a dramatic development, a counter-revolution, that is hard news, tangible leap into the unknown. You can already hear the potential for suspense.

The alternative narrative of the “revolution continues” is dull, boring and predictable,  “continue” is not a very newsy verb and does not create headlines.

Although the Egyptian scenario deviated in many significant respects from the classic coup narrative template (an army colonel reads the first communiqué,  announces the formation of a revolutionary council that assumes all powers, and sends all the civilian political class home or to jail ) it didn’t stop the media or many Western pundits from persevering in their monochrome vision.

Once you have superimposed the “coup template”, many details fall into place, the story almost tells itself,  because it follows a well-trodden path :  an elected president against an unelected general.

And Egypt has seen it all before, all the more reason to invoke yet another trope “history repeats itself” and the story is so easy to sell and explain.  Once you have inserted the complex reality into this needle’s eye of a template, the drama unfolds effortlessly.

But what about the millions who took to the streets demanding Mursi to step down, and who urged the army to intervene — these are facts that disrupt the “coup narrative template” and would make the story too complex to tell —  “people and the army together” does not simply fit into any of the readily available narrative templates.

Even when the individual reporter does acknowledge that people supported the army or demanded the military to intervene, this will figure way down in the story and the headline (the most effective of all messages) will still have the word “coup” or “coup leader” in it.

Alternatively,  the reporter may narrate it with  a degree of skepticism and incredulity;  it is presented as an opinion or a point of view, rather than a hard fact like the tanks on the streets, bloodstained faces etc .. all that stuff sells the story much better as a coup than anything else

Egypt tourism

Next to the media I put the blame on what you may describe as, short of a better phrase –the cultural prism through which Egypt is seen by Western eyes.

Many have made the assumption that because most Egyptians are religious and socially conservative then the Muslim Brotherhood must be truly representative of the majority. The MB itself has worked tirelessly for decades to convince Western journalists and think tanks to buy into this self-serving myth.

But this notion has been proven to be blatantly untrue.

The past two years have  demolished this fallacy — one can be conservative without being a supporter of the MB or any other Salafi group. Egyptians now know these are political parties and will judge them as such.

Further, a close examination of all the polls since February 2011 has revealed that if you factor in the turn-out figures, the MB are not a majority, but in fact an organized minority.

Most Egyptians are religious, but unlike the MB, they have always found a way to combine fun with faith.

Wearing hijab has never stopped Egyptian girls from trying to look elegant and attractive. In fact, Egypt has turned the headscarf into an Islamic fashion item that comes in all shapes and colors.

There’s also the other myth that the Muslim Brotherhood is the voice of the downtrodden masses,

The MB are closer to the average Egyptian than the urban and well-off population of Cairo or Alexandria for example.

There’s an old leftist bias here with a dash of orientalism, which obfuscates the nature of the conflict and serves the interests of the Mulsim Brothers rather well.

The MB are not poor, but prey on the poor.

They are in every bit as capitalism can be.  Remember too, these are the men who joined hands with Ronald Reagan back in the 1980’s to defeat communism. The MB are a global network backed up by multimillion-dollar business empire whose exact finances are known only to the few.

The poor were the human shields and cannon fodder in the bloody confrontation with the security forces  while the Muslim Brothers “aristocracy”  were in hiding.

The Muslim Brothers have also benefited from a political taboo prevalent mainly among the left in Europe and America.

Left leaning journalists don’t like to be seen criticizing or exposing Islamism for what it is , a supremacist ideology prone to violence,  out of fear of being seen as Islamophobes, a charge they prefer to hurl at their political enemies of the far-right in Western Europe and the neo-cons in America.

In this context, siding with the Muslim Brothers appears progressive, a way of burnishing your leftist credentials and  asserting your place in the ideological battle raging back home, which has little or nothing to do with Egypt.

All of this has fed into an orientalist bias that the MB are “the authentic Other”, while their opponents are not truly representative of the average Egyptian. To explain this let me digress briefly.

A young English lady travels to Cairo for the first time. She was disappointed when the taxi that took her from the airport was a modern air-conditioned car, not the old rickety black and white vehicle she had heard about. She missed the “exotic” thrill.

Something very similar happened with another former European colleague who didn’t like the newly restored quarter in old Cairo  (done with great care to the historic nature of the area in coordination with UNESCO) because it was no longer “authentic”. So the only way to stay  authentic is to be doomed for ever to live in chaos and covered in historic dust.

The Orientalist prism was evident in the  condescending advice from seemingly well-meaning Western friends (former American Ambassador Anne Patterson is the best example ) : this is not how democracy works, you must wait till the next round of election and vote the elected president out of office.

The 30/6 uprising was a slap in the face to the likes of Miss Patterson.  So it was also for Western professors who built their careers on the study of the Muslim Brothers and worked hard to sell them to policy makers in Washington and London as an effective anti-dote to the militancy of Al-Qaeda. They were suddenly made redundant by the Egyptians rising up and rejecting political Islam. Those quarrelsome, garrulous natives –  how dare they!

Egyptian writer and academic, Galal Amin,  had a  rhetorical question for the likes of Mis Patterson and Mr Bildt.  In his weekly column in Al-Shorouk newspaper he wrote :

“I am really surprised that those supporting the Islamists are people who come from a culture whose civilization began with a revolt against fanatical religious discourse hostile to freedom and science ! What drives the  representatives of such culture to deny us the same right to reject what they rejected 3 centuries ago – but  hypocrisy and the defense of their narrow interests !”

[written for the Islamist Gate (under construction) ]

Many people in Egypt believe that western media is biased in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood. I think they are right, but for the wrong reasons.

It is not because of a sinister western conspiracy to empower the Muslim Brothers, as Egyptian media never tire of telling their public. The reasons are simpler and perhaps more depressing.   Some are related to how the media operates, while others have to do with occidental perceptions of Egyptian society.

 

I demand freedom to pay tribute to my Idol

People are more inclined to be loyal to a saint, a shrine, or an honored Imam, or apostle.

People have need to use their senses to get connected to a spiritual entity: you cannot expect human to think exclusively on abstract notion without the intermediary of their senses of seeing a representative picture, of smelling incense, of touching a bust, or of listening to a hymn.

One God who created man and the universe is fine, but is not sufficient for man.  Several Gods doing the job is more convincing and pragmatic: specialization is highly valued.

Monotheism is a totally abstract concept that no human was yet able to feel physically loyal to a one, all encompassing God.

Ever since man descended from his tree, his prime concern was struggling for his freedom to pay tribute to his favorite Idol God.

Fear of the many dangers threatening his survival forced man to seeking a much more powerful ally to protect him and come to the rescue.  Depending on his wide spectrum of phobia, man wanted the total freedom to worship and be loyal to his “loyal” companions in times of imminent dangers.

Man would not take for granted Idols imposed upon him; he wanted his personal choices that most satisfied his psychological world.  Freedom of belief is not a modern concept; man fought all his life and for millennia for this natural right and is continuing the struggle.

I noticed lately that my dad, at each pass in front of the Virgin Mary or Mar Charbel (a Lebanese National Saint), has to touch these pictures in the house with his index, kiss his index, and then sign the cross.

Dad is 85 years old and has refrained attending mass for years.  Mother is also devoted to the Virgin and all the national female saints such as Rafqa; she never misses an occasion to get in the car or a bus going to pay tributes to shrines; she pay money, that she has not, for the Saint so that the church make “good” use of it.

Obviously, Mar Charbel is in her pantheon too, along with the newly beatified Hardini.  Interestingly, miracles have a way of occurring at election times.

In all ages, whether a religion claim to be monotheist or polytheist people end up selecting a particular idol to pay allegiance to and write ex-votos to Him in order to be cured, enjoy prosperity, safety to the family, and safe travels.

Indeed, people are loyal idolater to whom they perceive to be pretty much handy, accessible, and an excellent intermediary to the One God.

For example, in Latin America people are loyal to the Virgin Mary and cannot think of any other Saint to turn to in time of distress; thus, St. Mary of (name a city or a village), or the Virgin of (name a city or a town) and you have hundreds of Virgin Maries, tailored made to a specific locality, ready to come to the rescue.

The Greek Orthodox Church cannot think of more than three female saints to name girls at baptismal ceremonies: it must be either Mary, Ann, or Elisabeth; as for male kids you have an assortment of complicated and long Greek saints with plenty of X and Ch.

In predominantly Moslem Egypt, and generally in North Africa, you have St. Fatima, Aicha, Ali, Hussein, the Imam of the regional legal sect, or the shrine of the veneered Sheikh of a locality is paid more attention and visits to any other worshiping figures.

Pictures of Moslem saints are prohibited in public places or in mosques but that do not prevent homes to hang pictures of their preferred saint as relevant to current standards of beauty for both genders.

There is this myth that the Jewish religion is the first to adopting monotheism; it is just a myth. 

Ancient civilizations were never monotheists; they all had an overall God, nominally superior to the other demi-gods but that nobody paid much attention to or prayed to Him or even remembered asking his help in ex-votos.

God El was the all encompassing God in the Middle East as was Allah in the Arab Peninsula or Zeus for the Greeks, but He never generated a dime to tribes that had exclusive rights to his worship.

People converged to more palpable and understandable demy-gods; cities and towns adopted one of them as symbol and recognition of their trades or power.  In general, more weight was given to the “messengers of a God” (they were written in plural) than to a specific God.

Yahweh (God of thunder) was one of the Gods to the Jews after Moses introduced Him during the long crossing of Sinai and the worship of the “golden cow”: the Jews had, before and after Moses, many regional demy-Gods who did exist even if at periods they were forbidden to be worship.

Jews might have converged to a unique God in Judea in the second century BC.  Many of Canaan demy-Gods were far more beneficial and interesting than this newly created Yahweh that came into the picture during war periods. In war time, Jewish mercenaries were asked to support Baal under the banner of the dusted off Temple and bust of Yahweh.

Salomon worshiped Ashtarout (the Goddess of Sidon in Lebanon), and idol Baal had many Temples in Jerusalem while Yahweh had only one.

One common denominator to all salafist or extremist religious sects (Christian, Jewish, Moslems, or cults) is being totally peeved and obfuscated that the One True God is being sidetracked for substitutes.

Joshua offered the Jews choices of keeping Yahweh as sole God or accepting other demy-Gods.  When the Jews decided to keep exclusively a “tribal” God then Joshua ordered all strangers’ Gods destroyed. In ancient time, destroying the bust of a God didn’t mean that he no longer existed, but that the local God was to be more efficient to the survival of the tribe or community.

When Prophet Mohammad entered Mecca without a fight, after 9 years of taking Yathreb as his headquarter for his companions, he ordered all the 160 idols destroyed or effaced (pictures) save two: Allah and the Virgin Mary.

Mary was not bestowed virginity at all but she was veneered as the mother of the latest great prophet Jesus (Issa).  In Islam, idols were no longer Gods and never existed as was the case in ancient cultures.

The early Protestants erased pictures and destroyed busts of all Saints except crucified Jesus.  For the Protestants, erasing pictures of Saints didn’t mean that Saints didn’t exist but they were not that worthy to be worshiped and supplant God through the interceding process.

The most honest monotheists were the “heretic” Christian sects that the Orthodox Christian Church during the Byzantium Empire persecuted relentlessly.  Most of these sects would not even bestow a divine nature to Jesus, and Marie was not virgin by any means; no pictures or drawings were permitted for any Saints.

The farthest that these sects could indulge in is to veneer the apostle whom they claimed to have written the “true” Testament they adopted and read in.  The Nestorian sect proselytized in China and translated its Bible in Chinese in around the year 600; it built churches all along the “silk road”.  Thus, you don’t need to create saints along with pictures and busts to have the faith that travels to China.

I have noticed that:

1. centralized churches promote many saints with pictures and busts; it is a tactic to please the people so that it may enjoy total control over their temporal existence;

2. that these centralized churches inherited pagan religions aided a lot to the widespread propagation of multiple idols for each locality.

Decentralized religions have no urge to promote idols and pictures such as in Islam: it is the temporal power at every state that appoints clergies, Imams, and sheikhs.

I don’t see why all that fuss for monotheism.

If a few tribes still refuse to believe that it is earth rotating around the sun or that earth is flat, why then submerge them with an extra abstract notion?

Killing and committing suicide attacks in the name of a God is not an abstract act; this does not mean that human mind cannot reach a level of distortion that far surpasses the mere abstraction of a One God, creator of man and the universe.

Note 1:  This is a revised version of my post “Mono-idolatry (monolatry) or monotheism? (Nov. 6, 2009)

Note 2: The Christian Greek Orthodox is the church of Byzantium that persecuted the “heretic” Maronites in the year 1,000 and forced them to settle in the northern mountain chains of Lebanon. Decades later, the Maronite allied to the Church of Rome  and has been a steady ally to France since then.

These persecutions took place at a period the Moslem Arabic empire was disintegrating into small fiefdoms and Byzantium re-conquered the coastal portion in Turkey and Syria. The second crusade campaign burned Constantinople and occupied the lands of Byzantium in Turkey, Syria, all the way to Jerusalem.

Note 3: The various Protestant sects have similarity with the Wahhabi Moslem sect by discarding icons and pictures of saints in their place of worship.  The Wahhabi makes it a trend to demolish any worshiping place that is decorated with pictures, icon, and shrines, whether they are Christians or Moslems…


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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