Monthly Archives: November 2015

… The Inner Jihad …

I met some remarkable people in my life. During the late 70s, instigated by my then Sufi teacher, Fazal Inayat-Khan, I stayed with my then partner for two months in Washington DC, at the time when President Carter was inaugurated.  Our contact person was Dr Abdul Aziz Said, Professor for International Relations at the American University. We saw him almost every day at his office at the University or at his lectures, or we met him at his home, and in other places. His sincerity had a great impact on me. His words never left me. He made us think about spiritual economy (of that another time) and he introduced us to some wonderful people, many of them Sufis , in the area in and around Washington DC.

Image by Yeshen Venema

Image by Yeshen Venema

Some were Muslims some were non-Muslims, some were Christians or Hindus, and others followed no religion but had faith in mankind. One day we were invited for a meal by a young couple, a practicing Muslim and his wife, a practicing Christian. Their loving relationship impressed me deeply. They lived what Sufis call the Greater Jihad, the inner struggle.

After the atrocity in Paris, having written realms of nonsense to try and clear my mind, I wondered what Professor Said had to say on the Islamic conflicts, I searched & re-found this yourtube video, where he addresses his students. It’s three years back but worth listening to twice. Here are some of his points:

  • Communicate respect and share values. Peace has been conceptualised by dominant cultures. Seek conflict transformation.
  • Insist on negotiating solutions, not impose them.
  • Engage – don’t exploit the rivalry between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
  • Westerners and Muslims could re-frame the conflict between Israelis and Arabs as an internal conflict within the Abrahamic family.
  • Peace is a fragile flower. Use public diplomacy to listen … and speak.
  • Build bridges through intercultural and interreligious dialogue, engage youth,
  • It’s not enough to condemn radical religions, we need positive alternative visions.
  • What does your religion bring to the table to deal with the issues of poverty, violence, and the environment?

He widens the perspective. East and the West must together become architects of a new story. The West could give the East the best it had to offer in exchange for the best the East has to offer. The idea is beautiful. I hope, with patience, it comes true.

Here are some of my present thoughts. I’m totally against bombings in Syria, as I was against the interference in Iraq. The problems of Islam are for the Arabs to sort amongst themselves, should have been from the start. In international conflicts the circular blame goes, ‘They hit us back first.’ Justified anger arises from having suffered abusive power, threats to livelihood, resources, security, chosen identity, religious or otherwise, or simply unbearable disillusionment, the loop has repeated itself throughout known history in the form of wars.

There is no denying the grit in the shells of democratic systems. Present irritations I observe in the UK are the dissemination of local community shops and enterprises, since anything small and beautiful can’t be economic, can it? Then the privatisation of essential resources, the absurd discrepancy between the rich and the poor, the lack of jobs due to a runaway technology, depriving innumerable young people of meaning. Add crime, insufficient support for mothers, depression and marginalisation … all in no small way due to excesses of a capitalism that feeds greed, consumerism and the exploitation of the earth. I’m not alone in feeling disheartened about such developments.

And yet, here’s the amazing thing, I can express my thoughts without being persecuted as an enemy of the state.  Cognitive dissonance and the battle for tolerance are uncomfortable, but rewarding. Maybe because of their faults, democracies have an evolutionary edge.  Here’s why?

Self-examination serves the growth of human qualities, or, if you like, the expansion of consciousness. I have an inner terrorist that battles with ambiguity, confusion, anger and vulnerability, at the same time I value being able to think independently. I feel privileged to live in a country where creativity and innovation are encouraged, individual voices can be heard, disagreements are allowed, and negotiations can be reached. Yes, hypocrisy and corruption are also rife, but with it the means to expose them.

Dresden, Feb 1945

Dresden, Feb 1945

Ideas can of course be subverted. Academics, innovators and scientists can’t control how their insights and inventions are applied, especially when social unrest becomes the manure for another utopian uprising, and more kneejerk reactions.

Are we brave enough to face the latent dangers of injustice, poverty and disillusionment that could call in another despot who sedates with propaganda and naive solutions that promise to solve all problems? For this reason, I think, a debate weighing the benefits of market-oriented enterprise against ways to curb the excesses of capitalism needs to happen, to search for a dynamic balance.

When it comes to the killing of civilians by militants in the name of Islam, ordinary Muslims do not condone these atrocities. Many may well be too dumbfounded and embarrassed to comment on the bizarre brainwashing of young the name of their faith, as in this video, which, however, given the puzzled expression on the children’s faces, I suspect has been commissioned to incite outrage in the west.  I dearly hope Muslims will find ways  to open a dialogue amongst themselves and with other faiths.

Lovers of life – don’t look away, don’t reject conflict and doubt, don’t numb your hearts. Secular societies with their temporary guardians, for better or worse, challenge us towards unlearning. Editing out complex thoughts will keep us stranded in the flatland of the known, unable to empathise with the physical and spiritual starvation suffered around the globe. Listen to the lecture of Dr Abdul Aziz Said again – and seek conflict transformation in all spheres of life.

One could say we are the particles of multiverses becoming conscious of embodied spirit. It’s no mean feat to shield our little lights from the winds of ignorance.

‘One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.’ – C G Jung

‘We are not meant to agree with each other, but to create beauty.’ – Fazal Inayat-Khan

And I can’t help it, I admire the graceful poet and singer, Leonard Cohen, who loves his country though he can’t stand the scene. Here is …  AnthemRing the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering – there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in …

 

Advertisements

18 Comments

Filed under Blog

… where does it hurt? – everywhere …

Käthe Kollwitz,  'Zertretene' 1900

Käthe Kollwitz, ‘Zertretene’ 1900

The night before Friday 13th 2015 I could not sleep, then, all day long I was gripped by vague apprehensions, until I caught the news, late that night, about yet another atrocity devised to feed animosity rather than dialogue, this time in Paris.

I searched for comments that made sense, and formulated plenty of analytical thoughts, until I found a poem (below) by Warsan Shire, which expresses accurately how I feel, in sympathy with all bereaved, not just in Paris, but in many places across the world, and all who have cracks in their hearts to share the hurt, and that’s enough. Thank you Warsan.

 

… later that night

i held an atlas in my lap

ran my fingers across the whole world

and whispered

where does it hurt?

 

it answered

everywhere

everywhere

everywhere.

Earthrise, Dec 1968

Earthrise, Dec 1968

 

This interview with Warsan Shire, the poet, will lead you to another page. 

9 Comments

Filed under Blog

… what writers can glean from cinematographers …

Like writers, filmmakers manipulate time. They take a story apart and re-assemble it.

Robert Bresson, inquisitor and humanist, stimulated filmmakers and enriched the experience ofrobert-bresson2 viewers. With a tiny leap of the imagination his ‘Notes on the Cinematographer,’ publ. by Quartet Books in 1986, transl. from the French by Jonathan Griffin, also offer inspiration to writers of stories. Here are a few  brief notes I collated during my vocational film degree in the early 90s:

An image is transformed by contact with other images as is a colour by contact with other colours. A blue is not the same blue besides a green, a yellow, a red. No art is without transformation.

For the writer – this would apply to action and reaction, resonance or dissonance, anything that develops the dynamic interactions of a narrative.

img108 adjustedTo create is not to deform or invent persons or things. It is to tie new relationships between persons and things which are, and as they are.

This equally holds for writing. Characters discover themselves through relationships.

Something that failed can, if you change its place, be a thing that has come off.

If a writer’s darling idea distracts in one place, in another place it may earn its stay.

One dismantles and puts together till one gets intensity.

This reminds me of a Goethe quote … Dich im Unendlichen zu finden, must unterscheiden und verbinden … To find yourself in infinity you must differentiate and combine … Details works best if they have a purpose in the protagonist’s quest, especially when it comes to turning points.

An old thing becomes new if you detach it from what usually surrounds it.

This is what creativity is all about. Entrepreneurs seem to grok this.

What is for the eye must not duplicate what is for the ear (within.)

This serves as a reminder not to overwhelm a reader with sensual information.

The cause which makes him/her say this sentence or makes that movement is not in him/her, it is in you. The causes are not in the models. On the stage and in films the actor must make us believe that the cause is in him.

A one-up on the ‘show don’t tell’ writing mantra. Both telling and showing have their place, though we connect to a character more intimately through being shown the interactions with him/her self and others.

The omnipotence of rhythms – nothing is durable but what is caught up in rhythms.

We love rhythm. It measures time and gives coherence, while a counter rhythm can surprise and quicken our heartbeat. In film as in writing this might be the repetition of quirky character traits, tone of voice, tempo, mood, atmosphere, or reoccurring shifts in style and perspective, in the way we enjoy how adagio and presto in music enhance each other.

P1090890 - Copy (2)Translate the invisible wind by the water it sculpts in passing.

This ventures into the domain of poetry …  the ongoing challenge to find ways to express in words or images what rushes past us in daily life, but nevertheless affects us deeply.

The eye is (in general) superficial, the ear profound and inventive. A locomotive whistle imprints in us a whole railway station.

This is about trusting the imagination of the viewer, or reader.

Let the cause follow the effect, not accompany it or precede it.

Robert Bresson shares: The other day I was walking through the gardens by Notre-Dame and saw approaching a man whose eyes caught something behind me, which I could not see: at once they lit up. If, at the same time I saw the man, I had perceived the young woman and the child towards whom he now begun running, that happy face of his would not have struck me so; indeed I might not have noticed it.

Build your film on white, on silence and on stillness.

Profound. Allowing a unique story to emerge requires intuition, and an inner kind of listening.

*     *     *

A touching interview of R Bresson. And some video clips relating to cinema, including hand gestures R Bresson used in film.

As writers, how do we move a story from one setting to another?

In film, a sudden jump of scene is kind of lazy, unless intended to shock. In writing, too, there are more elegant ways to transit from one place, or time, to another, mainly through matching parallels or correspondences. This could be: A keyword in a dialogue repeated in the next scene, or a similar action, direction of movement, speed, light, colour, shape, sound or mood. It could also be an artificial device, featuring a narrator, or a recurring (out of time) interlude which can form the spine for the narrative.

I have time-jumps in my novels (yet to be publishend.) It remains to be seen whether they work.

Regarding spatial/temporal suspensions of linearity, I remember the beginning of the film Space Odyssey 2001. A victorious ape, having discovered a bone can be a weapon, spins his tool high into the air … time leaps … and next we see a spinning space station, shaped like the femur bone.

More recent, in the TV series The Last King – 1st episode, a time leap works well … The Saxon boy, Uhtred, captured by Danes and taken under the wings of Earl Ragnar, is pushed by him playfully into a river with the words ‘You’re as a son to me.’ In the next scene Uhtred steps out of the river as a grown man, albeit with conflicting localities.

*    *    *

On a personal note, as my life’s narrative is concerned, having made professional sacrifices ten years ago, in order to write, I wish I could shift to a scene and time that did not involve worrying about keeping my roof over my head.

15 Comments

Filed under Blog