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Man and Islam: Extraction and Refinement of Cultural Resources

Ali Shariati

As a nation and a society possesses economic resources, rich in energy, but worthless when raw, it also possesses vast cultural and spiritual resources that have accumulated throughout history. An inept and incompetent nation will sit upon such rich treasures which are capable of making people comfortable, nevertheless its people will remain ignorant, stagnant and deprived. At the present time we know of large nations in Asia and Africa that own vast and rich cultural resources, but they are being stereotyped as backward, ignorant and spiritually and morally bankrupt. There is a correspondence between the cultural and economic resources of a nation. In short, a generation looking for a way to solve its economic and cultural spiritual problems and to transform its society into a progressive and creative one, must posses a historical and cultural awareness aw well as technical scientific know-how. This does not mean it should merely emulate another progressive society. Rather, it must posses an independent experience, and original principles and virtues, with a new mission in moving towards its goals.

In recent years the enlightened generations of Asia and Africa have come into direct contact with the philosophical, cultural and spiritual schools of Europe. In the past (e.g.. in the 19th century), when an educated Asian returned from Europe, he would merely recount his memories, and whatever he said people would accept. This was the only type of connection between Asians and Europeans. Today however, Asian and African free-thinkers are well acquainted with Europe due to today's educated class, mutual relations, heightening of cultural awareness, and familiarity with various aspects of European culture. These handful of Eastern free-thinkers are self-conscious of themselves as well as their cultural and spiritual values.

They have realized despite the fact that they posses great and rich cultures brimming with spirituality, philosophy, and knowledge of life, they are so 'culturally' poverty stricken (due to alienation from their roots) that they have their mouths open for any European cultural morsels. These peoples' only pride is to learn the colloquialisms, ideas, expressions of the European thinkers and take them home as souvenirs. We notice that the contents have nothing to do with our miseries, pains and fate. The fact is that the Easterner suffers from hunger while the Westerner suffers from a full stomach. Therefore what the latter says does not make any sense to the former, though in their western atmosphere they are proper and make sense. However once these ideas are transferred to a different atmosphere they become useless except to those who like to show off.

I have studied existentialism and am a bit familiar with it. I see existentialism in it's philosophical and spiritual form, and as an art, the most splendid human consciousness in industrial Europe and the materialistic West. But unfortunately I often notice that our Asian and African free-thinkers, who know nothing about their own native historical and spiritual treasures and know only one western language, have learned existentialism in Europe or America and imported it to their homeland often passing it off as a new phenomenon. When we examine the "souvenirs" we notice that what was the existentialist revolution of the 19th century in Kierkegaard's era to the 20th century, in Sartre's and Jasper's period consists of a sort of spiritual and human consciousness against the materialistic order and vile and fossilizing of consumption which has been ruling the West.

Up to this point, fine, but as compared to the Eastern spiritual experiences, these are very elementary and crude lessons. Anxiety, which has been the most basic spirit of existentialism in the past 100 years (man's estrangement with the material world, the anxiety due to responsibility and inability to find direction and the right way), make up the bulk of the most fundamental problems of existentialism. We see that such problems are as easy as "learning the alphabet" in Eastern theosophy . They have existed in Laotse, Buddhism and Islamic theosophy long ago, we have had rich experiences in such areas. Unfortunately for example, we notice that an Iranian free-thinker goes to Europe without knowing anything about Islam and his own history other than those things he learned from "Mama" and "Granny" and his high school books. He studies literature, philosophy and art, and when he returns home, he offers us elementary concepts that are taught in our high schools and religious seminars.

For instance, this free-thinker goes to Europe and learns that Sartre talks about "Choisir" (verb in French, to choose, and Choix, a noun), which is our determinism and free-will in Persian. Determination and free-will have always been in circulation and usage in our culture, especially in the philosophical, spiritual, and theosophical writings of the Islamic culture. However, since this free thinker was unaware of their existence before going to Europe , he thinks he is offering something new!

We notice that there is an exact correspondence between the economic and the spiritual fate of the East. As I mention before a nation which is incapable of utilizing it's own material resources remains hungry, no matter how rich it is. By the same token if a nation cannot know it's own cultural and spiritual resources and is incapable of extracting, refining, and turning them into energy, it will remain ignorant and backward while sitting in piles of spiritual and cultural resources. The same type of correspondence exists between the role of cultural and material resources in the fate of a society. That is, those who are incapable of utilizing their resources have to extend their hands for rations from foreigners.

We see that the conscious Europe, which knows us better than we know ourselves, utilizes our cultural and spiritual resources and builds new schools of thought and ideas. Since we are not worthy of a conscious utilization of our spiritual resources, our free-thinkers have to beg them, and it never dawns these free-thinkers that what they are receiving is their own raw materials. Since they were not able to utilize their own resources, they are being accused of savagery, ignorance, spiritual, moral, and material poverty.

Therefore, as the East is trying to know it's own raw material resources - learning to extract them, showing their worth in refining and converting them to energy - in order to save itself from poverty, it should also do the same in cultural realms. By extracting and refining it's cultural resources it must attain a spiritual comfort, as well as a spiritual movement and creativity. As the East is trying to become self-sufficient and independent in the economic realm in order not to consume European consumer goods, by utilizing the same consciousness, it must try and become independent of Western spiritual products and ultimately achieve moral and spiritual independence.

It is impossible to achieve economic independence, without having achieved spiritual independence and vice versa. These two are interdependent as well as complimentary conditions. In order to have an independent character in the material, social, and economic sphere, we must develop an independent consciousness before the West, and vice versa. What should we do, and in what way?

It is quite obvious. We must know that the best teacher for regaining and wresting one's independence and national character is the enemy (or enemies) who robbed us from our independence and national character. Therefore we must develop consciousness of how the West has deprived us of our cultural and spiritual resources and consequently trained a generation of Easterners who have lost the capability of utilizing their rich treasures of thought, ethics, spirit, and culture. In reality we have become estranged from these resources. We must search for the steps that the West has taken, as well as the method, and the stratagems it has used to succeed and reach it's goals in the East, to such an extent that she has accused the grand East, the origin, cradle, and the foundation of Western man's civilization and culture, of savagery, backwardness and corruption. Once we study and find the tracks through which the West has entered our lands, we can then retrace them and return to the origin.

Instead of knowing the great African and Asian thinkers of the present century who have found solutions with their own national and universal consciousness, with greed and indescribable enthusiasm, we spend our energies and efforts to know people such as Brecht, Beckett, and so forth who have nothing to do with our own condition. If I were a German I would worship Brecht, but since I am an Iranian, I cannot understand him and I do not know what he can do for me. The fact is that Brecht's prescription is not good for my pain; he has a neurological problem, but I have a stomach ache. Further, he has gone through two world wars and three centuries of machinism, but I know neither what a world war is nor machinism and bourgeoisie. Therefore his philosophy is of no use to me. My anxiety is over fuel for winter, my future job, and the training of my child, while his anxiety is existential. He is asking himself, "what is my role in the world?". He has reached a point where is secure in all aspects and now he has come to grips with his own existence. We are still without clothing and charcoal, but he is thinking about "himself". Therefore his malaise is different than mine.

In searching for a writer and thinker , we must look to those individuals whose pains, history, condition, and fate are identical to ours. I wish we knew Kateb Yassin instead of Brecht, Omar Mawloud, Omar Ozgan, Frantz Fanon, and Aime Cesaire instead of Jean Paul Sartre and Camus. Unless we know ourselves to the extent that we are familiar with the Western free-thinkers, we will to the same extent become alienated from ourselves.

Those who sincerely and honestly contaminate the Eastern free-thinkers' minds with existential, cultural, philosophical, and social problems of the post W.W.II Western man and create in them extreme subjectivity for the European problems and the progressive schools of the West, will not only distract the Eastern peoples and their free-thinkers from their subjective mission and the existing reality which they are confronted with, but they will also change themselves into corrupting and deceitful elements.

What has the West done to the East , that the latter has become alienated and become unworthy of her own material resources? It is quite obvious. Omar Mawloud (one of the greatest African thinkers) says, "In order to turn a man into a subservient, obedient, and trusting creature, we must strip his personality away Because as long as he has character he cannot be a servant. And in order to get a good ride from a nation, human feelings must be taken away from them, or at least weakened. As long as the Easterner feels he is independent, noble, and worthy, he will never fawn and wag his tail for a Western morsel to be thrown to him.

Sordell is one of the great African thinkers, writers and free-thinkers. He is one of the individuals we should seek to know rather than Jean Paul Sartre. He says, "In the relationship between two human beings as well as two societies, and in the relationship between the East and West, there is a contradiction, a dialectic. How? Look at the dialectic between a mother and the child. The mother despises the kid, beats him up, negates him and rejects him. And the child in order to be immune from all these harassments resorts to the mother herself. He resorts to the mothers lap and the mother accepts him. Why? Because he is no more nuisance, he is hanging onto the mother, he is part of the mother, and he has resorted to her. The child by doing this negates his original character, the one that exasperated the mother, 'I will not listen to you, and I don't care what you say'. But since the child wanted to be immune from all these hassles he resorted to the mother."

As we notice in the dialectic relationship, the child was despised by the mother but in the meantime in order to respond to being despised he resorts to the mother herself. This resembles the relationship between two human beings, and two societies, the East and the West. This is Sordellian dialect; superior vs. inferior, Western vs. Eastern and white vs. black. The fact is that the west with her philosophy from Nietzsche, Hegel, to Freud and Siegfried, all have designed the issue of superior race inferior race, Western Eastern race, and black-white.

Ernest Renan, one of the greatest spiritual and moral anthropologists of the world, also spurts out such nonsense's as: "Man's spiritual race is the Northern and Western race".

Yes, I have seen it with my own eyes in universities such as Sorbonne in Paris. In the 20th century an M.D. writes his dissertation on the subject of the cells of the blacks vs. whites. And a group of world famous professors offer him his degree since he has proven that brain cells of the black man's cortex are inferior to white's or that the curvature of the tail in a black's cell is less than that of the white's. I told him then that he was mistaking the cell's tail and his own tail!

Hegel who purported to be a great genius, says, "God was a 'subconscious' that entered nature. He developed and entered plants; he developed further and entered animals.....into man.......into Eastern man......into Western man....into Germans, and he evolved further and entered into the German government, and finally it entered the kingdom which rules us now." Wow! Look how far Hegel's whole reasoning and arguments have gone!

Today in schools the war between the Greeks and the Persians is called the war between the Greeks and the barbarians (though Persians had the greater civilization). These people still do not know that the Greeks were not defeated by barbarians but by a great civilization. From the second and third grades on, children are indoctrinated with the myth that Westerners are superior to Easterners. Even university professors and thinkers in all areas of the universities cherish the feeling of racial superiority. For instance the contemporary professor Siegfried states that, "God has created two kinds of races in nature: the boss who must direct, and the laborer who must obey. Which one is needed more? Obviously the laborer. Every thousand laborers calls for two to three bosses. So, God has created a European race who is the boss, and an Eastern race, who is the laborer. This is why the birth rate of the East is 3%-5% annually, while for West is 1%."

Mr. Siegfried is a sociologist and a member of the French academy today. He is an international figure and has not been accused of racism. He says, "What you see and tend to ignore on the sidewalk is a French gentleman, an average worker with blond hair and blue eyes, who can easily direct huge organizations and offices of the East. While, if you go to the East, you will find great thinkers and personalities who are incapable of directing a six man organization. Why? Because the Western brain creates civilization and organization while the Eastern brain is sentimental, poetical, and theosophical. Furthermore, a European is capable of working with a machine for forty years, but an easterner wrecks it within the first six months and then continues to work with it for the next twenty years." ( L'ame des peuples (Spirit of Nations), translated into Persian by Mr. Ahmad Aram, Tehran).

I want to tell Mr. Siegfried that what he says is true but it has nothing to do with being as Easterner. It is due to unfamiliarity with the machine, and because the Easterner has become corrupt. There was a time when the Persian mind organized and administered a huge empire extending from India to the Mediterranean. The direction of this empire was in the hands of one man Khaje Nezam al-Molk at a time when going from one end of the empire to the other required one to pass through twenty races, religions , and nationalities. This used to be the Eastern mind. If the Easterner is incapable of it now it is because he has been corrupted by Westerners, but the Easterner is not aware of this.

The people of India who are being accused of being useful only for theosophy, morals and mortification of flesh, discovered the first numerals for man. The laws of light refraction discovered by Ibn Heitham, and the Algebra by Omar Khayyam are still valid. These are some of the discoveries of the East. Why are we told the East is only good for theosophy, ethics and meditation, rather than intellect, logic and economics? The reason for designing philosophical, scientific, sociological, and historical problems in this manner is, because the Europeans, while trying to buy themselves security and assure themselves of superiority and originality, want to make Easterners feel racially inferior, weak and faithless. Why? Because, according to Sordellian dialectic, on the one hand the Easterner is made to feel inferior (having a corrupt past, religion, and history), while on the other hand, in order to get rid of his complexes, the Easterner tries to be like the Westerner, the superior race. Once the Easterner follows the superior race he will be, he will be immune from attacks which label him black, Eastern, theosophical, religious, corrupt and brainless. Why? Because he is no longer being accused and he is no longer in his native suit. Just like a child who is attacked by his mother but resorts to the lap of the mother himself. When I use the 'mother-child' instance to depict the relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed, from a cultural point of view, it is not an example - it is a reality.

The mothers for Asia and Africa are England, France and Belgium, and Holland. When these countries accuse us of a base culture, people and race we tend to believe them. How does a country interested in freeing herself from such accusations go about it? By pretending to fulfill those descriptions. Once this is done, the "mother country" is satisfied, and consequently one's country is secure and everything is alright.

When an individual thinks, consumes, socializes, creates, and wears a suit like "himself", he is independent. But now such an independence is being attacked, all the talks are a means to severe the East from "it-self", and make her a consumer like the West.

Ever since the 18th and 19th century when European machines began to overproduce, the surplus had to be sold to Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Australia, but the merchandise such as beauty aids, were made for European tastes. How could an African woman use it? As an African woman makes her own beauty aids from her farm, the same is true of her clothing.

What should one do to attract the villagers to buy expensive coats? Their mode of consumption must be changed. But consumption cannot be easily changed since it is related to one's religion, history, social standing, culture and ethics. All these must be destroyed in order to change a villager into a mannequin that can be manipulated the way we wish. That is we must force things down his/her throat (regardless of how the individual feels).

What is culture? It is the spiritual, mental, moral, and historical accumulations of a nation, similar to natural resources. How were natural resources formed? Throughout centuries animals and plants were pressurizes within layers in the depth of the earth. Due to the interplay of myriads of variables they were transformed into vital economic substances. Throughout history, culture, due to the appearance and demise of successive generations, also becomes accumulated and forms the spiritual assets of a nation. No matter how we interpret originality, it belongs to history since man's character is not suddenly formed from nothing in a single period.

Therefore, the personality of a generation depends upon the constant flow of past accumulations of spiritual, mental, ethical, artistic, and theosophical nurturing, to the extent that a generation can digest his past savings, he can receive nourishment from the makings of it's own century. Which tree can utilize the sun, air, and nitrogen best? It is quite obvious that it will be the one that has grown roots deeper in the soil.

An individual who feeds on his own history possesses a personality that is capable of choosing and shaping his tomorrow. It is absolutely impossible for an individual who has no past to have a future. Whoever has no past begins from zero, and whoever is not familiar with his own culture is a primitive man.

The exploitative sociology of Europe has realized that in order to be able to rob the East, to ride on her back, and to easily deceive her, it is imperative to strip her from her personality. Once this is accomplished she will proudly follow the West and with unspeakable lunacy and thirst she will consume Western goods. Because whoever is deficient in personality will relate himself to someone who has it. And one of the manifestations that help an individual resemble someone else is through consumption., by which the person can imitate. This is very true, since those who want, for instance, to look like a celebrity (scientific, artistic, and cinematic) often imitate his consumption, and drive his type of car.

The exploiter wishes to see his machines work all of the time. Furthermore, he wants to see all originality, religion, tastes, and various talents destroyed, so that all races can be changed to become consumers of his products. In order to achieve this purpose, the exploiter searches for ways to deprive a nation of it's personality, which is defined as the unique aspects of a culture that differentiates it from another. Therefore, a generation, like a tree, must be severed from it's roots so that it can be used and manipulated any way the exploiter wishes.

Depriving a nation of it's history and cutting it off from it's culture with subsequent alienation of the present generation from it's cultural resources, have reached a point that the cultures which possessed the proudest religions, most progressive philosophical thinking, the most delicate arts, created the grandest civilization and contributed the most experience to human history, today have become so alienated with their past possessions that they have been transformed, into a sort of human being that has to re-learn how to dress, eat, read, and write! Why are these societies living in poverty and ignorance while the West and it's thinkers, by looting such cultures, are trying to enrich their own cultures?

In the Crusades, the Islamization of Christianity created Protestantism. Christianity, which throughout centuries was the cause of retardation, was transformed into a builder and energizer of Europe. Unlike what we are told it was not the negation of religion which created modern Western civilization but the transformation of a corrupt and ascetic religion into a critical, protesting and mundane Christianity. That is, Protestantism was the creator of modern Western civilization, rather than materialism or anti-religious sentiments which did not exist in the Renaissance.

The transformation of Catholic to Protestant meant changing a corrupt religious spirit to a social religious spirit, one which built today's grand civilization upon centuries of Western retardation and inertia. What I am about to mention happens to be the biggest Renaissance experience; no cultural assets (including religion) were negated in the Renaissance, It was Hitler who asserted that he was in the process of building history. If you start building history now you will have just what you made! What did Hitler do than destroy past accumulations?

What was Renaissance? It was a revival of the Greek cultural elements which were unknown in the Middle Ages. Therefore today's great Western civilization is the product of 15th,16th, and 17th century thinkers who decided to extract the Greek and Roman cultural resources (along with their own vast reservoir of faith and feeling) in order to consciously "know" Christianity, so that they could convert this opiate to energy and awareness generating force. And they successfully did it. Why are we not told the truth?

We are told these thinkers threw religion and past away, marched forward and suddenly embraced a new civilization! But how could they march forward empty-handed? With an empty hand you must start from zero and a primitive condition. Rather, they returned to the past consciously from the right direction, and instead of knowing Plato and Aristotle through the Arabs, they decided to do it their own way.

Today, we notice that Asian and African progressive thinkers and leaders who have advanced European education attend international circles in their own native costumes and attires. Why? Because they are aware that for the past 200 years" exploitation" has tried to tell them that, "You had know native clothes of your own and "I" put it into you. You had no language, I taught it to you. You had no past and I provided the present for you. You were not familiar with civilization, I civilized you." All in all, the exploiters had trained the black Africans in such a way that they could feel that they were only good for servitude and dancing. The black leader who puts his native clothes on wants to create a faith in himself. He has been a good human being, a good thinker in the past, a partner in human civilization, and he contributed to helping the human condition.

At the present time the Tanzanian intellectuals speak English since they have learned it from childhood. But their president (Julius K.Nyerere) says that they should return to Swahili, the language which is used by the country's natives. Their president is a sociologist, and a well known thinker on the international level today. He is not a "fuddy-duddy" reactionary. Why? Because as long as the Tanzanian black man does not realize that talking is possible without using a foreign tongue, he will continue to feel like a dumb semi-savage who was civilized by having attached himself to Europeans. In order to create a faith, character, spirituality, and originality in themselves, Swahili must be learned and English thrown away. And this experience is possible only when they can get rid of European culture and return to themselves and depend upon their own history and culture.

We Easterners have been civilization builders and humanity's teachers throughout man's history, so much so that we now own a collection of vast and deep cultural, mental, and social experiences of humanity. Why can't we, by depending on ourselves, extract and refine all these spiritual resources (which have been sitting unknown and idle), rejuvenate, and convert them to consciousness raising and protesting forces? Yes, we have these vast resources which are like mines and rich sea under our feet, but they were severed to such an extent that in order to regain our personality we have to resort to others. What should we do?

We must mend and fill up this gap in order to be able to think independently and know ourselves. We must find the strength to choose and turn into a creative force the past historical, religious, theosophical, and literary factors which have changed to superstition, and opiate matters and have caused inertia and corruption in our societies.

The Westerners, unlike what they did to Africans, did not negate our past, they metamorphosis it. And when we look at our own new portrait we hated it. Consequently we began to run towards our "metamorphosized" past and religion, as well as towards European schools and culture.

We have had no choice but to shatter such images of ourselves and inculcate the portrait of reality in the minds of our masses in the East, and extract and refine our cultural resources, not the way the West has done it for us, but with a method and conscious responsibility, relative to our people and society. Further, as in economics, where we convert raw materials to energy and consequently start a great industry and production, we have to use the same spirit in building up our personality and cultural independence in thinking, spirituality, and human movement.

Courtesy: www.shariati.com

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