Thursday, August 21, 2014

Words From Someone Else

I had some time to write today. I’d saved some clippings about which I could comment and I had several cat stories to share but all of those are now on hold. I ‘follow’ a blog called feminism and religion on About every other day I get something in my inbox that helps me shift my culturally-ingrained perspectives and see other ways to look at things.

Today’s post was written by amina wadud (I don’t know why she doesn’t capitalize her names) a Professor Emerita of Islamic Studies, author of Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective and Inside the Gender Jihad. At the risk of accusations of plagiarizing, I’m going to copy most of what she wrote:

No doubt about it, the news of late has been dismal, heart breaking, soul crunching. Pick a place or theme and see where you end up: Ebola in parts of Africa, Israel and Hamas; Ferguson, Missouri; Ukraine, U.S., and Russia; unaccompanied minors from the south crossing over into U.S. borders; the assault of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) on Christians, Kurds, Yazidis, Shi’ahs and journalists. This list could (should) be augmented by many other conflicts and areas of strife which have been on-going for longer than the last several weeks. I don’t know about you, but I draw my weary attention to the latest news each morning with knots in my stomach and a heavy weight on my shoulders. …

For weeks I have been thinking I should blog about an important lesson I have learned as best articulated in the book by Sharon Welch: A Feminist Ethic of Risk. In a world riddled with problems of proportions greater than can be solved by any one person, one group, one country or over one life time, how does one continue to be ethically engaged, avoid crippling despair and pointless cynicism, or just plain fall into apathy? Welch outlines the problem of an ethical model that is predicated on success in the face of inherent crisis, obvious human rights violations, or even catastrophes of nature. The success is achieved in part as a result of an on-going imbalance of power. This imbalance operates on the basis that any intervention will guarantee the sought after results: tyrants will be put down, enemies of the state will be subdued, and the victor will come home to accolades of support. This presumes that all others are not equal and so if any should transgress “our” territory or sensibilities, we will just go blow them away. (This by the way is the set-genre of US hero films). All it takes is for our hero to come into his or her full prowess and all evil doers will be vanquished, order and beauty will be restored. In short, we can go on about our lives unconcerned about lesser mortals because not only are we safe from terror or the threat or terror, we have proven we have the means to kick butt should any arise.

Naturally she compares this model with patriarchy and imperialism.

As a consequence, when morally responsible action does not have the possibility of resulting in the desired successful outcome—and in no short order—we tend to fall into despair and then, do nothing. But apathy is never an ethical alternative. I am aghast at the number of people who have gone as far to say things like “just nuke ‘em” when clear evidence of certain atrocities have been presented against some enemy (over there). In other words the only response to brute force is just to have more powerful brute force. I fear what our attitude will become when we so easily fall into such cataclysmic way of thinking. Another consequence of this, is to let roll all of our latent, anti-Semitism, racism, Islamophobia, sexism, able-ism and homophobia against those we perceive to be the enemy, and that is really the point of no return for me in these crisis, which brings me to this blog.

Mahmoud Hamdan wrote a book with the title Good Muslim Bad Muslim, in effect problematizing the extent to which this notion of clear black and white (imagine that metaphor given the Ferguson crisis?!) somehow comforts us falsely into that victor mentality allowing wholesale castigation of certain persons or people whom we find easier to blame than to work with for resolving world problems of gargantuan proportion. … Hamdan demonstrated with a cross sectional study (over time and place) how easily the ally of today becomes the enemy of tomorrow. What is more, how alliances are formed internationally in order to achieve certain (imperialist) goals even at the expense of all the cries for democracy and human rights on the surface, as long as atrocities could go on unseen or be committed by certain convenient proxies.
In other words, it’s complicated. …

Ours is a beleaguered planet yet it is ours and we share it—even with people for whom we find terrible and unconditional disagreement. Welch reminded me that a feminist ethical model (one that needs to be adopted especially in times like these) nurtures the moral subject and actively participates in resolving problems without the arrogant expectation that the problem will be resolved by our singular efforts. Rather, the ethical person continues to do what is determined to be good because of the good itself. The results are not only unforeseeable they no longer become the immediate goal. In a world that is bigger than our little corner we must continue to commit to moral actions because we elevate ourselves above the disdain for others and instead participate in the goodness that we would like to see in the world. In other words, we are not THE solution; we are part of both the problem and its solution. Take heart.

Monday, August 18, 2014

How Did I Miss it?

Somehow, in the decades of my literate existence, I missed reading Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.Why?  Was it too long? Too old fashioned? Too boring?

Turning my research to Nova Scotia, I was reminded that there was a narrative poem dealing with a portion of the province's history  -- the period, during the 1760s, when the British expelled the Acadians during the French and Indian War.

On the back cover of the book I borrowed from our library is this sentence: "It has been said that a copy of Longfellow's narrative poem Evangeline could be found in every literate household in America in the 19th century."

Sure, the story is melodramatic and improbable. But it is still compelling. And easy to read. And even more powerful if read aloud (my cats seemed to enjoy it).

Listen to this, Longfellow's description of the Acadian village, Grand Pre:
       "Where is the thatch-roofed village, the home of Acadian farmers, --
       Men whose lives glided on like rivers that water the woodlands,
       Darkened by shadows of earth, but reflecting an image of heaven?

       Softly the Angelus sounded, and over the roofs of the village
       Columns of pale blue smoke, like clouds of incense ascending,
       Rose from a hundred hearths, the homes of peace and contentment.

 And the opening lines, which somehow each of us have heard, even if we haven't read the poem:

       This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
       Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
       Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
       Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
       Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring oceans
      Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.

Ah, this is to be a sad tale. And sad it is. The lovely Evangeline, forced into exile, separated from her true love, Gabriel, wanders for years. When at last they again see each other, he dies in her arms.

And Longfellow ends this epic:

     Still stands the forest primeval, but far away from its shadow,
     Side by side, in their nameless graves, the lovers are sleeping  . . .

Then he repeats the melancholy opening words . . .

     While from its rocky caverns the deep-voice, neighboring ocean
     Speaks, and in accents disconsolate, answers the wail of the forest.

Sometimes, old and melodramatic is splendid. (Just ask my kids.)