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Dealing with difference

Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 13:30 UK time, Tuesday, 29 June 2010

For this latest entry I decided to respond to some of the comments that I've had on the blog. The replies here are from my last blog entry, though I'll address other comments on previous posts on the radio programme, The Strand.

This first one comes from onceone:

Hello: thank you for sharing your thoughts and the selections from your book. It is hard to know just what one will do under stressful situations. To make an honest inner judgement, I compare the situation that arose (with a disagreement about the use of a common hallway) with one of my neighbours who persecuted me in ways that no law enforcement could find. Just now we get along by ignoring each other. However in the past there were times that I fervently wished he absolutely didn't exist. Would I have actually done anything violent if no law enforcement? I could not in my most angry fantasy/visualisations harm him physically. Partly because I was not brought up in such an environment and also partly because I could image the consequences on all sorts of levels. However, I certainly imagined that a tree fell on him or that he had some other fatal accident.

This seems in stark contrast to the heros of forgiveness of our times like Nelson Mandela or Aung San Su Kyi. Here is my thought for the day: the wiser a person is, the further he can see the ripples of the consequences of his actions.

I do agree that very often we avoid making an honest inner judgement, accepting instead the mainstream course of action - be it hyped up nationalism or highly sprung xenophobia, or anything else. Unfortunately sometimes that median bearing directs us towards raw zoological instincts, which are, as I said, inferior even to those of the crows.

I regret many things, which I've done in my life, carried away by presumptions, traditions, common sense. In your words I sense a note of repentance which I also feel, which offers hope, and which also differs us from crows.

This next comment comes from Endada:

Throughout history, the man with the biggest stick always wins. There is always someone designing a bigger stick. Our moral behaviour is constructed and is not inbuilt, as Kant argues.

If I disagree with you, it paradoxically means that you are right (as each of us in turn comes with a bigger stick of argumentation). If I agree with you, I'll be feeling like a man who lashes himself to that bigger stick. So should I give up, multiplying the paradoxality of the situation, or may I come at it from a different angle?

I am a bit sceptical of renewability - reusability of human experience. My experience shows that one should fall upon oneself and break one's head, rather than learn from numerous failures. Once I wrote that 'life means creating a new chaos out of an old one' and I would say that that is still my yard-stick :-)

Meanwhile, jenhall noted:

Thank you for your post Mr Ismailov. I enjoyed reading it very much. I have travelled in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan so your post has a deep resonance for me. In 2001 I travelled the Silk Road from Japan to Italy. My route went through China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Greece. Many of the countries I went through were plagued with some kind of unrest - Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, etc but there was also political disquiet on a more day-to-day level in the cities and towns. In fact we wanted to cross the border at Osh but they closed it while we were there and we had to fly from Bishkek to Tashkent. Of course during this ten month trip I experienced difficulties, some racism and threats (mainly from police!). But I also experienced kindness that went beyond the bounds of what I myself felt I would have offered if the circumstances had been reversed (it caused me great shame when I realised this). I stayed with families in Son-kul, Kochkor, Naryn, Tashkent, Bukhara, Mary, Sheki, Kutaisi... all along the Silk Road people invited me into their homes and lives. I attended weddings and birthdays (even a farewell party for an Azeri lad going off to fight). People were extraordinarily generous and I feel privileged to have had such cultural experiences. I have since travelled to many other countries where people have suffered political and economic repression.

I grew up in Australia and I know that I am extremely lucky to have been born in a country that, throughout my lifetime, has not seen war or fighting on Australian soil. That is not to say that there is no racism here - unfortunately there is. But if life happens in words as you say, then surely words can heal and they can reduce the ignorance and misunderstanding that is the root of hatred and violence. Words are the most dangerous weapon humans have, but they are also the most powerful. As a writer, I'm constantly aware of that. I believe that if I can share my experiences and make people at least question their beliefs and prejudices then it will help. Is this a naive interpretation of Kant - that if you give individuals the knowledge they will act rationally and therefore morally? All I can go on is my experience based on my travels - that basically, people are good.

In response, I say:

There is a certain delusion in this reality,
the beloved does not pine for the one who is pining.
If you are nostalgic for the earth, there is no homeland for you
and so on... the rest is clear.

But in the bottom of my heart
like the sun on the well water
there is a reflection: either a reflex, or a remarkable sight,
or a stain, or an unending pain
that glimmers. I throw down a bucket
to catch it, and finally
word after word I drag in
the feeling like something slippery and heavy.
O for this pain to end
completely. It's as though the eyewater
flows like an irrigation ditch from my pupil.

It's all clear:
that is a word, and this is pain.
But if this is so, then 'pain' also is a word.

saram15 wrote:

There are those who would say that both the barbaric behaviour that causes us such anguish, and our seeing it as evil, are the result of our dualistic view of the world. That in reality there is no "moral" and "immoral", "good" and "evil". And that same dualistic view causes us to see everything in terms of "us" and "them". It's not so easy to really live, think and act according to that non-dualistic world view, but to the extent that each of us can adopt it in some measure, we can view events in a more objective and compassionate way. Regarding your analogy with the crows -- it does often seem that most animals are more "civilised" than humans, doesn't it?

Perhaps the problem of "us" and "them" arises initially from our inborn fear of what is "different". What happens to that fear as we mature depends in part on our environment. How do our families, neighbors, friends speak of and behave toward "them", and how do "they" behave toward "us". I was born into a white protestant family in the vicinity of Washington, D.C. As a small child I may have seen a black person now and then, but I lived in an essentially segregated world. One day when I was maybe 4 years old, we drove through an African-American community, and I remember how very frightened I was to be completely surrounded by "them" -- people who looked so different from me! Happily, the message from my family as I grew up was one of equality among the races.

"Us" and "them" can crop up in so many situations - religion, social standing, bosses vs workers, disabled people vs non-disabled, male vs female, powerful vs weak. Whenever intolerance and/or exploitation by one group of another comes into the picture, we are liable to react in anger and possibly with violence. Sometimes these "differences" are entirely artificial -- for example in football! When we attend a game we know in advance that one side is going to win and the other lose. Supporters of both sides come full of happiness and anticipation, sharing their love of the game. So how on earth can warfare erupt from a football match?! I know, it may all begin from a few rabble-rousers, but still, why do so many of us instinctively identify them as fans of the other side, rather than simply as rabble-rousers? So much depends on our education and present social milieu.

And then there are those precious gems, people who have grown up in an environment of blind hatred towards some "them" or other, who look inward and contemplate, and understand by themselves that there is no "us" and "them", and then have the courage to speak out and act on that understanding. Most of us need some help and support in order to reach this understanding, so (returning to the quote at top), while fear of law enforcement may be necessary to stop some people from killing others, we can all do a lot to nurture tolerance and non-violence in our fellow humans.

I've enjoyed your posts from Africa and liked the excerpts from your book. Please keep writing to us with your wonderful descriptions and tough questions.

On the subject of the fluidity of 'us' and 'them'. Many years ago I had a colleague. Once she told me a story, which I will remember til the end of my life.

She was born in Khorezm province. To put that in context, let's say she is a down-to-earth woman from Yorkshire.

When she turned 18 her mum said to her: 'Why you don't get married a nice Khorezmian boy ('a nice Yorkshire lad'). My friend replied: 'No, I would like to study in Tashkent ('London'). And she went to a university in the capital.

When she came home for vacations, her mum would say: 'OK, why don't you get married to an Uzbek chap?' She would reply: 'No, mum, I'm planning to go to Moscow (New York), to do my PhD'. So she did.

When she used come back home from Moscow, her mum would start up her seductive talk again: 'My dear, why you don't get married to a Muslim man, be he Tatar, Chechen...' But my friend, who is a very decent person and an extremely nice character, would say: 'No, mum, I've got an offer to work in London'. So she came to London.

When she used to go back to Khorezm, her mum would say: 'OK, my dearest daughter, you are the only child we have, so now we are old and would like to see our grandchildren. Why you don't get married to any good man?'

My friend wouldn't say anything to that. But recently she got married to an Englishman, who has converted to Islam and immediately after the marriage she has started to teach him Uzbek, but not the literary version of the language, but with a colloquial Khorezmian accent...

What a wonderful circle...


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