Ming the Mechanic:
Views of the self

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Views of the self2003-06-25 16:00
15 comments
by Flemming Funch

jewel mentions an article from The Guardian, which talks in part about the differences in world views between U.S. warlords and the people who live in a place like Iraq.
"Whatever its immediate apparent outcome, the war on Iraq represents a catastrophic breakdown of the British and American imagination. Weve utterly failed to comprehend the character of the people whose lands we have invaded, and for that were likely to find ourselves paying a price beside which the body-count on both sides in the Iraqi conflict will seem trifling. Passionate ideologues are incurious by nature and have no time for obstructive details. Its impossible to think of Paul Wolfowitz curling up for the evening with Edward Saids Orientalism, or the novels of Naguib Mahfouz, or Seven Pillars of Wisdom, or the letters of Gertrude Bell, or the recently published, knotty, often opaque, but useful book by Lawrence Rosen, The Culture of Islam, based on Rosens anthropological fieldwork in Morocco, or Sayyid Qutbs Milestones. Yet these, and a dozen other titles, should have been required reading for anyone setting out on such an ambitious liberal-imperial project to inflict freedom and democracy by force on the Arab world. The single most important thing that Wolfowitz might have learned is that in Arabia, words like "self", "community,""brotherhood" and "nation" do not mean what he believes them to mean. When the deputy secretary of defence thinks of his own self, he - like me, and, probably, like you - envisages an interiorised, secret entity whose true workings are hidden from public view. Masks, roles, personae (like being deputy secretary for defence) mediate between this inner self and the other people with whom it comes into contact. The post-Enlightenment, post-Romantic self, with its autonomous subjective world, is a western construct, and quite different from the self as it is conceived in Islam. Muslims put an overwhelming stress on the idea of the individual as a social being. The self exists as the sum of its interactions with others. Rosen puts it like this: "The configuration of ones bonds of obligation define who a person is . . . the self is not an artefact of interior construction but an unavoidably public act...."
Now, that is interesting. A totally different perception of what the self is. Not only are we talking different circumstances, different history, different culture, but there's a different definition of what the self is, what society is, what the world is. And, yes, people making big foreign policy decisions, and considering changing the course of other countries, should be absolute experts in all of that.


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15 comments

1 Jul 2003 @ 15:25 by maxtobin : The self and the divine
Excellent piece. The self is a logos for the divine expression of the creative force! As such it is only valid in relationship, the quality of the self-realized is that it is only relationship. All else is locked in polarity and delusion, a difficult paradox to embrace for those of us 'trained' (or should we say conditioned) by the dominant (dominating) western world view.
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