Death defines us

imageMy impression of modern consumer society is that the whole edifice, in recent decades, has been built around the avoidance of death or its reminder. It has become the crux of existence and (I feel) has led to the rampant materialism and consumerism which exists today. Death defines us in modernity. This is a huge statement to make and I think I shall need to explain myself less cryptically.

In the old days there was a distinct belief in Allah (God, for the West). This meant that there was an afterlife. When there was an afterlife, it meant that death was just another phase of our journey. It also meant we had something spiritual and non-material to aim for. We could achieve everlasting success, by doing good stuff, which may come at the expense of material success in this life. From the times of Hazrat Ibrahim (and earlier), man had grounded his belief in Allah and great deeds were done on this basis (and some not so great!).

Somewhere, in the last three centuries, as the age of reason and logic took over, this strong belief in an omnipotent God declined. As this thought developed, the belief in afterlife became weak. The motivation for being spiritual declined and sacrifice in this life for the next one, disappeared. But death was still there, very visible round a corner. It now became a bigger problem, as afterlife was a question mark. So how to hide from death? Humanity went out in search of that cure.

There is of course no such cure. We all are traveling towards death daily and will get there sooner or later. Extension of life is a goal (I wrote about recently), but death still resides at the end of it, even after a long life. But, at least one can remove the reminder of it. More and more we erased the concept and mention of death. Anti violence movements, safety considerations at work (safety rules are huge in manufacturing organisations) and anti-war movements became stronger. The anti-Vietnam movement was the first one of its kind. Standalone, this is a good thing. But, taken as a trend and a continuum, it gradually works on our collective psyche. When some US service men were killed in a rescue effort in Somalia in the early 90s, the horror of the US population was quite visible. I remember Clinton remarking that enemies must be rejoicing, that USA can be intimidated by a few deaths. Recently, the furore about Mother Teresa being declared a saint, was ridiculous. The lady died two decades ago, how does it matter to her if she is declared a saint? Having an everlasting name in this world seems huge to the living, but the truth is it is not important at all. When your innings is finished, the judgement is made by someone else. What the living think of a dead person,  is irrelevant in reality.

This of course over the years has become a part of society. Our culture today seems to be about withdrawal from the reality of death. We establish our legacy in an overt style, because we feel what is left behind will sustain our name. So we will cheat death, by living on through the presence of our legacy. Tall buildings; iconic monuments; grand sites; big titles; all created to overcome that desperation. Alas they come to naught. We would do well to understand Shelley’s Ozymandias.

* picture from etsy.com

Nations, don’t just happen

imageThe breaking news was as usual all about dire consequences of one event or the other. One gets used to it. This is the way of all channels and media, world over. Somehow, bad news travels fast, gets more attention and attracts people. Nothing like a good old disaster to get people animated. Anyway, here in Pakistan we have become de-sentisized, as we have plenty of bad news and on top of it, dozens of channels vying for breaking news. Grief!

All the bad news notwithstanding, I would like to add my two bits to the discussion of how things have deteriorated and we are in a mess. My personal take on it is that, it is nature taking its toll. Yes surprise, Nature!

In the past I have written on our nationhood and blamed our lack of belief in our vision. This lack of vision, a desire to be an aspirational Muslim homeland, got diluted and a desire to be a strong economic state took over. We got our wires crossed and really ended up doing neither. (Reference https://sarfarazar.wordpress.com/?s=of+wings+and+visions) However, over time and after due consideration, while I still think we need a vision to take us further – otherwise there is nothing to hold us together – the reality is that nature is taking its toll.

Let me explain my statement, which I assure you is not an effort to be facetious. In the worlds written history, there have been nine great nations. There have been other good ones, but what we would classically call great, are those who have dominated their period in the world, added to knowledge and their traces are left in the working of the world even today. Historically they have lasted an average of two hundred and fifty years or more. Want me to count them out? Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, China, Arabia, Turkistan, Britain, America; more or less chronologically and another interesting point; there have been no repeats. China might well turn out to be the first repeat.

Anyway, think of these nations. They were formed layer by layer. The Egyptians took thousands of years to come to a stage of absolute dominance. Same with the Romans. From the discovery of Romulus and Remus on the banks of the Tiber to Julius Caesar was several hundreds of years. These years comprise a coming together, a homogeneity of purpose, a gathering of strength, conquest and then respect follows from other nations, that you are the leaders. Having reached this peak, the decline starts and at first society declines, then economics and finally the military strength dissipates. That is the round trip of a nation. (Reference https://sarfarazar.wordpress.com/2012/07/14/in-the-expiry-of-nations-2/)

Now think back to August 1947. When India obtained independence they had a memory. They remembered the Aryans, Alexander as he came through the Khyber Pass, later the Huns, Mongols and Babur. India owned the Red Fort and Taj Mahal. All these they took as their own. This was as much their history, as Chandragupta Maurya or Ashoka or Ranjit Singh. Their culture was a melting pot of homogeneity and in economics they were working together against adversity. So naturally it is easier to bond as a nation and have one identity.

Then there was Pakistan. We had a seven year history (from 1940 resolution), two varying lands and cultures- apart by fifteen hundred miles-, a western part which comprised borderland tribes, who had only shared history of invasions in common and were diverse otherwise. We had nothing binding us, other than a great principle and we competed for the same resources. This was running uphill against the flow of history and nature. No wonder, we shall take time! 67 years is a minuscule time period in history, a dot in time. We are children as a nation and still learning. When we get to our teens our time will be different and hopefully we will mature. It might involve another hundred years for these layers to form. In comparison to other stages of development of nations, I would say maybe we are like the Wild West of USA just now.

We shall get there In-sha-Allah. Just require patience and faith. The good will come through. Nations, don’t just happen.

Tread Softly

imageToday, I spoke at a session at Engro, where the employees of all the companies are being sensitised on the inclusiveness of the physically impaired in the work force. While I had not really thought or prepared a talk, but as I spoke, the realisation of the sheer human value of the topic was such, that I felt there is more to be said. So it occurred to me, that I should write a corresponding blog on the subject.

We as humanity have functioned disgracefully during our existence, with tiny little spots of successes here and there. Through history we have massacred, raped, pillaged and for millennia created slaves out of major sections of the population. For humans, success should not be about conquering territory, subjugating free people and living a life of luxury, while the so-called ‘great unwashed’ scrape a menial existence. So in acting the way we do, we fool ourselves to our great detriment. We are functioning more like animals, than a thinking, talking and feeling human.

Mans success has come in great Prophets projecting humanity, or a philosopher bringing out a massive truth, or advancement in science which has benefited the whole of humanity. Eradication of small pox was a great achievement. When Jonas Salk gave away the polio vaccine for free, it was a great success for mankind – one mans selflessness benefiting billions over half a century. Sometimes prosperity has been achieved for the masses and that is a great victory. During the Cyrus period, the first 25-30 years of Islam, the 1950s of USA, Sweden for a period in the 60s-70s. Contrary to popular thought, the democracies have rarely achieved overall prosperity. USA has a horrible disproportion of wealth in a few hands. The world has an even worse disproportion. Some 200 people own almost half the world.

On the other hand Man has stamped destructively and left an enduring footprint. We build concrete jungles, populate them, cut trees, carve roads out of mountains, pollute the air and seas. We eat like gluttons and waste as much out of sheer negligence and lack of thought. Man has brought the world and its nature to its knees, but we do not realise it and continue merrily on our way. In Surah Isra’ it is said “Do not walk proudly/exultant on the earth; you can neither tear the earth apart nor can you rival the mountains in height.” (Qur’an 17:37)…We mankind have just done the opposite and have walked proud and exultant and the results are very visible.

So what to do? Surah Rahman mentions ‘meezan’-balance. Balance in all facets of life. No extremes and that includes the art of living. Humans need to reduce our footprint. We walk in this world as if we own it. We don’t! The world has been lent to all humanity by Allah. The millennia before has used this earth (billions of humans) and the millennia after will need to use this earth too. So we have to live and use it, so that sustainability is maintained. Therefore, tread softly.

Part of treading softly, is inclusiveness. We need to cater for all. The poor, the weak, the women, the children, the old and also the ones who are physically challenged. The ones who are physically impaired are Allah’s gift to us. They are the beautiful people, yet we know this not! By being good to them and treating them as equals we create ‘barkat’. Our organisations and society need to help these people and make them productive, give them the self sustenance and self respect, which is a right of all the human race and individuals within it.

Tread softly! Go out there and be different to the rest of mankind and show the way of compassion and inclusiveness. Work with and give respect to these people. Be more human than most.

My montage

imageThey say that life flashes by in seconds, when Malik-ul-maut comes calling. Shudder! We will all find out at the end of our time. The mercy of Allah prevail on us all.

In this case, for five decades I have watched this world. My montage flits by too and one sees existence (‘just life’) flash by. Its been like no other half century period in mankind’s written history. We have gone from manual to nano in a few decades. For some seven millennia before that, there was little change, then the wheel accelerated from 1750 plus and now bang, we are in warp speed.

Stepping out on a road in 1964, one sees wheels. Powered by basic engines, and simultaneously by camels, donkeys and horses. The roads are not crowded but there are no metros or flyovers, Simplicity prevails and yet there is some order.

Office technology is non existent. Brain, pen and paper and our own human engine drives work. Work is hard, but we do add columns and compile numbers. And when you go home, the old box like radio plays out music and news. Rarely one sees a flash of television, it is black and white, and what is presented is also simple and real, yet imaginative. Just hear the quality of music. Beatles, Rafi, Mehdi Hasan.

Similarly, step in an office and there are registers, pens, paper, pencils and workers pouring over these. What a strange place, no computers, no mobile phones, or calculators even. Not even a photo copier. But soft, there is the telex machine. It is the basis of our communication and we see telexes being flashed out to various places in the world.

Images of humans. They are not Shias, Sunnis or Punjabis or Muhajirs. Nor Ahmedis or Christians. Actually, the montage does not make clear who they are. Just humans! I can see the Brezhnev Doctrine, Johnson and Mao and Vietnam; USA; Communism, USSR and China. Fear and money. Lots of fear! In the background is de Gaulle and he is railing at the British, keeping them out of the European Common Market. And you also see Nasser from Egypt….smug and not knowing what will happen to him soon. But there is Shah Faisal and the Shah of Iran and they are leaning towards and listening with respect to Ayub, who towers over them. Pakistan stands respected in this comity of nations, the Muslim power of the world and people listen to us. In Washington they only think of the nuclear conflagration. They are not bothered about us at all. We are small fry. The Commies could take over and destroy the world while Muslims are backwards and minuscule.

The montage starts rolling quicker. It cascades by. Early computers, then digitalisation, see Walesa in Poland and then the Berlin Wall falling, Afghanistan, Thatcher, Reagan, Gorbachev, Shah of Iran lonely on Mexican beaches, carrying cancer inside. Sabra and Shatila and Israeli cruelty. Even then, no one cares. Bosnia, as evil and torturing as Gaza today. Oil and wealth. Lots of wealth!

Then 9/11. See the world change…we are now evil and hunted. Maybe dogs are better. Afghanistan, Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, CIA, Mossad and cruelty. Lots of cruelty! Lots of treason! Our own rulers, mistreating their own, deserting them. Snakes! Israelis bomb Gaza hospitals, shelters and schools and no one says its wrong.

The world has changed these 50 years. We are advanced. Technology brings comfort. Automation and power. The human race can now rise to a level where it can spend time self actualising. Instead, our societies and families break up, drugs and spirits are overused, malnutrition for over a billion people, bombs galore, resident evil walks in and out of our homes and we do not recognise it. Decency is for imagery on Twitter and FB. Public imagery and media are dinosaurs and reality hides in blankets. We have everything material, but we have no substance. No wonder they talk of greater Israel, the Dajjal and the Mehdi. Lord help us. They know not what an evil period of bloodletting it will be. Wish we would slow down, where slow is preferred, less is preferred and happiness is supreme.

Bob Dylan “the times they are a’changing”

The picture is from dreamstime.com, a free picture site.

In the expiry of nations

In the expiry of nations

When Halagu ripped Baghdad into shreds in 1257, he was leaving a message of history, not unlike those left before. For a time thereafter, he kept the Abbasid Caliph in a cage and fed him his palaces gold crockery. When the Caliph protested, Halagu enquired what was the purpose of these plates? Had these assets been used to pay an army, then today I would be in the cage and you would be sitting outside. The caliph went to his eventual fate, pondering this question. Mankind too has never quite got to grips with this question.

By my count, 9 major nations ruled in the last 2500 years. The lifecycle of a nation starts with birth from humble beginnings, then a natural cohesion, later much larger than life aspirations (vision), success against the odds, leading to a period of glory and power, decline and then death. The events of final destruction are few and far between, occurring on average once every few hundred years. When it does happen it is cataclysmic, but it is decades or centuries in the making.

It is with this stage of decline, I am most concerned here. Rome born on the banks of the Tiber circa 500 BC, flowered and ruled via their wars and subjugation of enemies. But some 400 years before they were destroyed in 451 AD, Nero was already fiddling while Rome burned to its core. Caligula professionalized deviancy, while other Caesars and cohorts wallowed in the same mire for centuries. Only when the structure of Rome was moth eaten, did Attila destroy the empire totally.

During this 400 year period of decline, Rome still was the ultimate economic and military power in the world. The story is repeated over and over. In all the 9 cases, these nations have ruled on while huge fissures had formed inside. A social scientist evaluating these societies, would pick the tell tale signs of decay, but obviously no one listened. Despite Halagu’s lesson!

So Ottoman society was in decline in the 17th century, but expired in 1921. The Pashas court was a minefield of politics, conspiracy, deviancy and lots of other evils. Similarly in Victorian times, British morality and social norms declined, with the elite living off the fat created by previous generations. The nationalistic desire to fly the flag world over was consigned to the heap and more hedonistic motives led to self-indulgence. Again a social scientist in second half of 19th century would have said the nation is declining. But soft, they still survived two world wars almost a century later!

That is the crux of the matter, while societies decline great nations survive on economic and military strength way beyond, when their spirit has been broken. The house of cards can take long to collapse.

Now just look around and do you see something familiar happening in the last 50 years? On the North American continent is a nation born some 400 years ago, which has aspired and reached greatness and won wars and influence. When its Baby Boomer generation existed, it was a land of harmony and enjoyment, the nation was at one with itself – an envy for the rest of the world. Since then, in the last 5 plus decades, its society shows all the signs of deviancy that mankind can think of. It started with the breakdown of the family institution, leading to one parent families. Its people now focus on consumerism, just like the Abbasid Caliph in 1257 and they live for enjoyment. They do not create and manufacture things and have tolled these out to ‘inferior countries in Asia’. The country has indulged in economic wars, which it has not won, because its people do not want to take part in these wars.  Its people are forever fighting for their personal rights in court and it has become a country of litigators and litigants. It has very high rapes per capita and the most legal suits ratio. The people eulogize themselves, through items like Miss Universe and the Oscars. They have become a people lacking depth and wisdom and their media screens issues based on share of viewership rather than importance of topic.

For those who keep looking for Green Cards and American nationalities, I would suggest think again. You do not want your children and descendants growing up in a country which is on the skids. The end seems nigh.

%d bloggers like this: