Friday, February 24, 2006

Inside joke

Endless Conversation by Tony Evans

Tony Evans


Edward Abbey once wrote, "A distrust of humor is the beginning of tyranny." This is because tyrants are well aware of the incendiary nature of wit and its ability to rally reform, reduce hypocrisy and transform leadership. I've seen some of the "offensive" cartoons of Mohammed with turban wrapped in the shape of a cartoon bomb while a fuse burns on the top of his head. This scowling image struck me as good political satire, considering the morbid identification with violence by radical Islamists in the world media, where martyrdom and murder grow closely by one another, and where 10-year-old boys are probably not making wisecracks in the madrassa while memorizing the Koran. (oops, that's Qu'ran. So, flog me.) Mohammed Atta wasn't laughing as he drove a jetliner into the World Trade Center, either. He was praying. What a desperate fool.

Humor represents a higher form of knowledge than hostility and revenge. Satire itself is sacred because it points out the weakness of pretense and the ultimate frailty of propriety and position each of us encounter on the deeper levels of our common humanity. Perhaps there were no knee-slappers in the Old Testament only because God knew we wouldn't get the joke.

Jesus Christ, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., ... these are martyrs who showed the world the power of peace. By contrast, I see these bomb-strapped fanatics as rank amateurs, who have confused dark political objectives with the love and compassion at the core of all religions, including Islam.

We in the West are getting a crash course in Islam, but, unfortunately, it is only through the narrow and politically charged lens of television media. Consider instead the universally significant poetry and stories of 13th century sheik Maulana Jala al-Din Rumi. Rumi represents much of what is sacred to the Sufis, or mystics of Islam, reducing clerical bureaucracy and pretense in favor of a direct communication with the divine. Rumi has grown in popularity recently, although the once cosmopolitan city of his birth, Balkh, Afghanistan, was long ago lost to the sands of the desert. Sufi poetry explores the personal mystery of union with God, who is at once friend and lover, presence and mystery. The urgency in Rumi's poetry is only to find the true value of human life. Thanks to translator Coleman Barks, Rumi will be the keynote speaker at this year's Sun Valley Wellness Festival. Barks' translations have made Rumi one of the most read poet in America. Who says we don't know anything about Islam?

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