Paul P. Mealing

Check out my book, ELVENE. Available as e-book and as paperback (print on demand, POD). 2 Reviews: here. Also this promotional Q&A on-line.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

The battle for the future of Islam

There are many works of fiction featuring battles between ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’, yet it would not be distorting the truth to say that we are witnessing one now, though I think it is largely misconstrued by those of us who are on the sidelines. We see it as a conflict between Islam and the West, when it’s actually within Islam itself. This came home to me when I recently saw the biographical movie, He Named Me Malala (pronounce Ma-la-li, by the way).

Malala is well known as the 14 year old Pakistani school girl, shot in the head on a school bus by the Taliban for her outspoken views on education for girls in Pakistan. Now 18 years old (when the film was made) she has since won the Nobel Peace Prize and spoken in the United Nations, as well as having audiences with world leaders, like Barak Obama. In a recent interview with Emma Watson (on Emma’s Facebook page) she appeared much wiser than her years. In the movie, amongst her family, she behaves like an ordinary teenager with ‘crushes’ on famous sports stars. In effect, her personal battle with the Taliban represents in microcosm a much wider battle between past and future that is occurring on the world stage within Islam. A battle for the hearts and minds of Muslims all over the world.

IS or ISIS or Daesh has arisen out of conflicts between Shiites and Sunnis in both Iraq and Syria, but the declaration of a Caliphate has led to a much more serious, even sinister, connotation, because its followers believe they are fulfilling a prophecy which will only be resolved with the biblical end of the world. I’m not an Islamic scholar, so I’m quoting from Audrey Borowski, currently doing a PhD at the University of London, who holds a MSt (Masters degree) in Islamic Studies from Oxford University. She asserts: ‘…one of the Prophet Muhammad’s earliest hadith (sayings) locates the fateful showdown between Christians and Muslims that heralds the apocalypse in the city of Dabiq in Syria.’

“The Hour will not be established until the Romans (Christians) land at Dabiq. Then an army from Medina of the best people on the earth at that time… will fight them.”

She wrote an article of some length in Philosophy Now (Issue 111, Dec. 2015/Jan. 2016) titled Al Qaeda and ISIS; From Revolution to Apocalypse.

The point is that if someone believes they are in a fight for the end of the world, then destroying entire populations and cities is not off the table. They could resort to any tactic, like contaminating water supplies of entire cities or destroying food crops on a large scale. I alluded in the introduction that this apocalyptic ideology, in a fictional context, represents a classic contest between good and evil. From where I (and most people reading this blog) stand, anyone intent on destroying civilization as we know it, would be considered the ultimate evil. 

What is most difficult for us to comprehend is that the perpetrators, the people ‘on the other side’ would see the roles reversed. Earlier this year (April 2015), I wrote a post titled Morality is totally in the eye of the beholder, where I explained how two different cultures in the same country (India) could have completely opposing views concerning a crime against a young woman, who was raped and murdered on a bus returning from seeing a movie with her boyfriend. One view was that the girl was the victim of a crime and the other view was that the girl was responsible for her own fate.

Many people have trouble believing that otherwise ordinary people, who commit evil acts in the form of atrocities, would see themselves as not being evil. We have an enormous capacity to justify to ourselves the most heinous acts, and no where is this more evident, than when one believes they are performing the ‘Will of God’. This is certainly the case with IS and their followers.

Unfortunately, this has led to a backlash in the West against all Muslims. In particular, we see both in social media and mainstream media, and even amongst mainstream politicians, a sentiment that Islam is fundamentally flawed and needs to be reformed. It seems to me that they are unaware that there is already a battle happening within Islam, where militant bodies like IS and Boko Haram and the Taliban represent the worse and a young schoolgirl from Pakistan represents the best.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (whom I wrote about in March 2011), said when she was in Australia many years ago, that Islam was not compatible with a secular society, which is certainly true if Islamists wish to establish a religious-based government. There is a group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, who is banned in most Western countries, but not UK or Australia, and whose stated aim is to form a caliphate and whose political agenda, including the introduction of Sharia law, would clearly conflict with Australian law. But the truth is that there are many Muslims living an active and productive life in Australia, whilst still practising their religion. A secular society is not an atheistic society, yet is religiously nondependent by definition. In other words, there is room for variety in religious practice and that is what we see. Extremists of any religious persuasion are generally not well received in a pluralist multicultural society, yet that is the fear that is driving the debate in many secular societies.

Over a year ago (Aug 2014) I wrote a post titled Don’t judge all Muslims the same, based on another article I read in Philosophy Now (Issue 104, May/Jun 2014) by Terri Murray (Master of Theology, Heythrop College, London) who made a very salient point differentiating cultural values and ideals from individual ones.  In particular, she asserted that an individual’s rights overrules the so-called rights of a culture or a community. Therefore, misogynistic issues like female genital mutilation, honour killings, child marriage, all of which are illegal in Australia, are abuses of individual rights that may be condoned, even considered normal practice, in some cultures.

Getting back to my original subject matter, like the case of the Indian girl (a medical graduate) who was murdered for going on a date, this really is a battle between past and future. IS and the Taliban and their variant Islamic ideologies represent a desire to regain a past that has no relevance in the 21st Century – it’s mediaeval, not only in concept but also in practice. One of the consequences of the Internet is that it has become a vehicle for both sides. So young women in far off countries are learning that there is another world where education can lead to a better life. And this is the key: education of women, as Malala has brought to the world’s attention, is the only true way forward. It’s curious that women are what these regimes seem to fear most, including IS, whose greatest fear is to be killed by a female Kurdish warrior, because then they won’t get to Paradise.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Why narcissists are a danger to themselves and others

I expect everyone has met a narcissist, though, like all personality disorders, there are degrees of severity, from the generally harmless egotistical know-it-all to the megalomaniac, who takes control of an entire nation. In between those extremes is the person who somehow self-destructs while claiming it’s everyone else’s fault. They’re the ones who are captain of the ship and totally in control, even when it runs aground, but suddenly claim it’s no longer their fault. I’m talking metaphorically, but this happened quite literally and spectacularly, a couple of years back, as most of you will remember.

The major problem with narcissists is not their self-aggrandisement and over-inflated opinion of their own worth, but their distorted view of reality.

Narcissists have a tendency to self-destruct, not on purpose, but because their view of reality, based on their overblown sense of self-justification, becomes so distorted that they lose perspective and then control, even though everyone around them can see the truth, but are generally powerless to intervene.

They are particularly disastrous in politics but are likely to rise to power when things are going badly, because they are charismatic and their self-belief becomes contagious. Someone said (I don’t know who) that when things are going badly society turns on itself – they were referring to the European witch hunts, which coincided with economic and environmental tribulations. The recent GFC creates ripe conditions for charismatic leaders to feed a population’s paranoia and promise miracle solutions with no basis in rationality. Look at what happened in Europe following the Great Depression of the 20th Century: World War 2. And who started it? Probably the most famous narcissist in recent history. The key element that they have in common with the aforementioned witch-hunters is that they can find someone to blame and, frighteningly, they are believed.

Narcissists make excellent villains as I’ve demonstrated in my own fiction. But one must be careful of whom we demonise lest we become as spiteful and destructive as those we wish not to emulate. Seriously, we should not take them seriously; then all their self-importance and self-aggrandisement becomes comical. Unfortunately, they tend to divide society between those who see themselves as victims and those who see the purported culprits as the victims. In other words, they divide nations when they should be uniting them.

But there are exceptions. Having read Steve Jobs’ biography (by Walter Isaacson) I would say he had narcissistic tendencies, yet he was eminently successful. Many people have commented on his ‘reality-distortion field’, which I’ve already argued is a narcissistic trait, and he could be very egotistical at times, according to anecdotal evidence. Yet he could form deep relationships despite being very contrary in his dealings with his colleagues – building them up one moment and tearing them down the next. But Jobs was driven to strive for perfection, both aesthetically and functionally, and he sought out people who had the same aspiration. He was, of course, extraordinarily charismatic, intelligent and somewhat eccentric. He was a Buddhist, which may have tempered his narcissistic tendencies; but I’m just speculating – I never met him or worked with him – I just used and admired his products like many others. Anyway, I would cite Jobs as an example of a narcissist who broke the mould – he didn’t self-destruct, quite the opposite, in fact.