Saturday, June 16, 2007


karen armstrong lecture...peace, man...

karen armstrong ended her public lecture held this morning at the mandarin oriental hotel kl , in conjunction with a conference on islam and the west with a story from homer's illiad. When petroclus, achilles' closest friend and companion was killed by hector the king of troy, the great greek warrior achilles was so mad that he decided to rejoin the war and challenged hector to a duel which ended with hector's death and not content with this he tied the dead hector to his chariot and dragged the body around the city for three days and prevented hector's soul rising to heaven which moved priam , hector's father to seek archilles in his tent to retrieve his dead son. So they went in there, and started talking and they started to understand and see each others' point of view and both started weeping loudly for all the agony each side inflicted on each other and all those killed on each other's side in the war - much to the astonishment of all the armies who could hear the weeping far and wide. and achilles in the end released hector's body to priam for a proper burial.

and the point of the story i guess karen wanted to convey was that if mortal enemies could come and sit down and try to put themselves in each others' shoes, we may start to understand each other and good things will ensue from there.

Well, i'd love to see president bush coming into osama ben laden's cave and both weeping for all the mayhem that they have caused. osama for killing two thousand or so souls on american soil and bush responding by raping afghanistan and iraq and killing perhaps a thousand fold of that and continuing to do so at this very moment. them coming together and forgive and forget isn't likely to happen in the very near future. that,i am very certain.

and there lies the problem with the admirable idealism that karen armstrong is trying to convey.
much of her talk was about one aspect that is universal in all the major religions and this is what usually understood to be one of the central teachings of jesus based on his saying "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" only for her to inform that this exact conscept was in fact first preached- to her knowledge- by the great chinese sage confucious about half century before and also by rabbi hillel , a contemporary of jesus who when asked to explain the torah in one sentense uttered the famous saying That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is in a sense one of the most beautiful christian idealism is based on er...plagiarism...but as she said, this is universal and a common thread to all , but she was rather at a lost to explain exactly where this concept is stated in islam apart from saying ..."dr chandra muzzafar mentioned to me yesterday that there is also a hadith about this ..." well, of course this is central to islam too...i very much admire her quest to make people understand both sides of the coin, be non judgemental and see the universalism of compassion and striving for peace in all religions - but as she put it, not the form of peace, man as the flower people of the sixties adopted in ther drug addled state.

it is interesting for me to note that she ended the lecture with a myth and started her lecture with how various religions view god, a concept which is unfanthomable and beyond comprehension of human intelect which no religion can satisfactorily explained. well, if you put it to Richard dawkin, the answer is very simple, because religion is bunkum, plain and simple. Seems to me it doesn't really matter whether you take the bible (which is full of contradictions as she mentioned), or the mahabarata or thr illiad, or tolkien's lord of the rings as our religious texts... if we want to pick and choose each one is equally valid or ridiculous. for that's what she seemed to suggest. We have to pick and choose what is relevant to our times. will not sit well with my fellow taliban brothers, this.

i was really looking forward to this lecture as we don't get to see and hear too many celebrated thinkers coming our way and seemed like many were of the same opinion and the big emerald ball room where the lecture was held was full and when i came in at exactly 10 .00 am, the time of the lecture to start the room was already standing room only. there were many big heads in attendance including from the political parties, noticed hamid albar the minister of something or other was there and there were a few big brains too, dr m and his wife were in the front row sitting beside mr albar. it was a healthy mix of muslims and non muslims with a sprinkle of what looked like my fellow taliban brothers.

the audience was almost reverential and lapped every word ms armstrong said and her delivery was very confident and she spoke without the need to look at notes, the way i like the presenter to do. which was not the case with some people who posed questions in Q&A who came with a piece of paper and read from there which i always find distracting. but on the whole the Q&A which i always look forward to was very lively . perhaps one of the most interesting questions to me was the first one which i couldn't catch too well ,from one muslim lady who perhaps in response to ms armstrong position that all religions' aim is peace commented something about the dalai lama once mentioned that the reason why tibet was colonised was because the tibetan people were too peaceful (due to their religious belief) but unfortunately this was lost and inexplicably not answered , perhaps because she was distracted by a taliban looking guy who asked another question before she could address the first, and his' sounded like a harangue for people to read the holy book and act on it rather than just talk. that was the closest to a nut case for the day.

Was a bit disappointed because the time allotted for Q & A was too short. For a speaker like her, and for such topic, the organizer should have considered this, at least that's what I think.

Anyway, great piece you have here.

~ tef
anon, tef;

yes, Q&A could easily go on for another hour or more. it was the first time i saw people Queuing(!) at the mike to wait their turn for Qs. When the Q&A stopped there were at least 4 people in the Q at the centre aisle alone.

and we did hear some interesting insights from the Q&A...her thought why Europe is so irriligious now whereas america is very religious made very good sense (due to harrowing direct effect of the 70 millions of people killed directly on their soil (where was god ?, and how can this be allowed etc) cf america although involved in the war, their land was not affected, so people didn't really feel the effect and weren't as traumised ) or the insight about her, she being unmarried, living alone, liking solitude and sometimes get short glimpses of trancendance while writing...

if you've read her book the spiral staircase you'll know a lot more about she battled depression, coping up with dissapointments and a sickness..epilepsy (which now thank god she has recovered from) etc...

and her surprise that malaysia bans darwin's origin of species ..because as she puts it...muslims are much more rational about science (cf christians) and going all over the world saying this and now discovered that muslims also ban the book!

and happy for her to probably cynically saying that 'malaysians are grown up people etc..." in response to a question about her books are banned here...
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