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Religions in the speech of Malala Yousafzai

Saturday, July 13th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — a speech worth close attention ]
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I bypassed several opportunities to hear or read Malala‘s speech today, until Shivam Vij tweeted that she had mentioned Badshah Khan. That caught my attention — Khan is not the most well-known of figures, but he’s one that I admire — and when I watched Malala’s speech, I found him in some pretty significant company:

I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was standing in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion I have learned from Mohammed, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha. This the legacy of change I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. This is the philosophy of nonviolence that I have learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learned from my father and from my mother. This is what my soul is telling me: be peaceful and love everyone.

That’s really quite a paragraph. And if the lives and thoughts of Gandhi or Mother Theresa, Mandela or Martin Luther King, Buddha, Christ or Muhammad seem important to you, and you are unaware of Bacha or Badshah Khan, I can recommend to you Eknath Easwaran‘s Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan: A Man to Match His Mountains.

In these times of religious conflict too, it is worth noting that this young Muslim woman speaks, on her sixteenth birthday and before the UN General Assembly, of the inspiration she has received not only from fellow Muslims — from the Prophet of her own faith, Muhammad, from the Father of her Nation, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and from Benazir Bhutto, whom she terms shahid or martyr — but also from Buddha, Christ, and Gandhi, a Hindu.

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As my regular readers know, I make a habit of noting patterns where I can find them, so I was struck by one rhetorical trope in particular within Malala’s speech:

Dear sisters and brothers, we realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced. In the same way, when we were in Swat, the north of Pakistan, we realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns.

The relationship is a subtle one: darkness is juxtaposed to light not as silence is to voice but as being silenced is — while in the third clause, pens and books is to guns as darkness is to light, a powerful and thought-provoking juxtaposition.

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Malala’s speech, full text:

Our books and our pens are the most powerful weapons

Malala’s speech in video:

Various body parts for various body parts

Friday, May 31st, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — mostly about a fascinating quote from Martin Luther King ]
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Let’s start with the Code of Hammurabi, 196-97:

If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out. If he break another man’s bone, his bone shall be broken.

A few days ago, I found I was feeling mildly exercised by one Dan Hodges writing in the Telegraph:

Indeed, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” quoted by one of Lee Rigby’s suspected killers, comes from the Bible, not the Koran.

Hodges was quoting Michael Adebolajo, who had said on camera:

The only reason we have killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers. And this British soldier is one. It is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. By Allah, we swear by the almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone.

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It is true that Deuteronomy 19.21 reads:

And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

and Exodus 21.23-25:

And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

— but its is clear that Adebolajo — who was brought up devoutly Christian in Nigeria, converted (“reverted”) to Islam, and now references suras of the Qur’an using their Arabic names — would also be aware of Sura Al-Ma’ida (5) 45:

And therein We prescribed for them: ‘A life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and for wounds retaliation'; but whosoever forgoes it as a freewill offering, that shall be for him an expiation.

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The quote “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” is often attributed to Mohandas Gandhi, but I checked with Quote Investigator and found it was originally used by one Louis Fischer to paraphrase Gandhi’s teaching, although the Gandhi family apparently think it sounds authentic. But what interested me most was that a form of the same phrase can safely be attributed to Martin Luther King, who is quote in Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, p 208, as saying:

Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction of all. The law of an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind. It is immoral because it seeks to annihilate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends by defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.

That’s quite a paragraph.

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Of note, besides the parallel structure with which King addresses violence as both impractical and immoral, are two matters I have often pointed to here on Zenpundit:

Self-reference:

Violence ends by defeating itself.

and polyphony:

It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue.

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Gandhi’s position seems to come close to that presented in Matthew 5. 38-48 — in which Christ clearly countermands the lex talionis as promulgated in Exodus and Deuteronomy:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

And. for that matter, to The Richmond Declaration of Faith of 1887, as quoted today by my friend, Friend Marshall Massey:

We feel bound explicitly to avow our unshaken persuasion that all war is utterly incompatible with the plain precepts of our divine Lord and Law-giver, and the whole spirit of His Gospel, and that no plea of necessity or policy, however urgent or peculiar, can avail to release either individuals or nations from the paramount allegiance which they owe to Him who hath said, ‘Love your enemies.’ (Matt 5:44, Luke 6:27)

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How — without denigrating those who are of either the Deuteronomic or the Gandhian persuasion — does one nudge the world-system gently away from justice and towards mercy, away from revenge and towards reconciliation, away from war and towards peace? Towards a new and more viable homeostasis?

Applied Pontecorvo: Gaza

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — lessons from Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers for the medium-term Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and other instances of asymmetry ]
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Pontecorvo‘s film, The Battle for Algiers, really seared itself into me when I watched it again recently — and so it has been a bit of a template for other thoughts, and notably influenced some of my thinking as I was watching events unfolding in Gaza, now thankfully in cease-fire mode.

Pontecorvo, as I noted in my previous post, takes the side of the Algerians in their conflict with the French, and I suppose it’s only natural that a “reading” of the Gaza situation in light of Pontecorvo’s masterpiece will tend to support the Palestinian “cause” against the Israelis.

After all, Yitzhak Epstein, addressing the Seventh Zionist Congress in Basel in 1905, had a point when he said:

We devote attention to everything related to our homeland, we discuss and debate everything, we praise and criticise in every way, but one trivial thing we have overlooked so long in our lovely country: there exists an entire people who have held it for centuries and to whom it would never occur to leave.

On Thanksgiving Day I am reminded that my Lakota friends also have a point — but there’s what’s memorable, which can remain in very long-term memory indeed, and there’s what’s practicable, which may in practical terms be changing by the day or decade…

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Let me put that another way.

I don’t need the words of a Zionist Jew from a century ago to give me that insight into the Palestinian side of things, but Epstein’s words remind me that there are facts in the heart on the Palestinian side, just as the Israelis are building facts on the ground in the occupied territories. What of the Israeli side, are there not facts in the heart there too? And on the Palestinian side, what of the ghastly hadith of the Gharqad tree? Must apocalyptic hate last till the end of time?

Of all the reporting I have read, this, from Dahlia Litwick in Jerusalem, struck the deepest chord:

I don’t know how to talk about what is happening here but it’s probably less about writers’ block than readers’ block. It says so much about the state of our discourse that the surest way to enrage everyone is to tweet about peace in the Middle East. We should be doing better because, much as I hate to say it, the harrowing accounts of burnt-out basements and baby shoes on each side of this conflict don’t constitute a conversation. Counting and photographing and tweeting injured children on each side isn’t dialogue. Scoring your own side’s suffering is a powerful way to avoid fixing the real problems, and trust me when I tell you that everyone — absolutely everyone — is suffering and sad and yet being sad is not fixing the problems either.

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Here, then, are the parallelisms and oppositions that struck me, as I was reading about the Gaza conflict — may today’s cease-fire endure and a peaceful resolution emerge — in light of Pontecorvo’s film:

Gilad Sharon‘s words echo those of Col. Mathieu in the film: they think alike, and indeed their perspective is a not-uncommon one. But while I might otherwise have overlooked Sharon’s voice as but one among many in Israel, having just seen Pontecorvo’s film I take more note of it, and my mind seeks its rebuttal.

I find that rebuttal in the words of Thomas More, in a speech from Robert Bolt’s play that has stuck with me since I first saw Paul Scofield in the role in London at the age of sixteen:

I am, I suppose something of a Taoist by inclination. I think, with Lao Tse, that the way that can be phrased in words isn’t the authentic way — or as Count Alfred Korzybsky might put it, the map does not adequately describe the terrain — and so my feeling is that the letter of the law should be tempered by its spirit, and that justice should be tempered with mercy — a point I hope to return to.

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There is one other moment in Pontecorvo’s film that struck me as prescient — the one when Larbi Ben M’hidi comments on asymmetry:

I’ve heard remarks of that kind (upper panel) repeated many times in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli situation, but the graphic impact of the image (lower panel) outweighs a thousand explanations.

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Perhaps we can leave Pontecorvo for a moment, and consider the asymmetry further, and the symmetry:

The lower panel, by a Swiss cartoonist of Lebanese extraction, is titled An Eye for an Eye (Oeil pour Oeil) — a symmetry that is taken to its logical conclusion in a quote often attributed to Gandhi:

An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.

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My apologia:

I am distant, and I am a writer: distant enough to take all humanity for my own side, and writer enough to wish to contribute what I can of concern and insight.


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