Weapons Without Boundaries : a spiritual – humanist response to terrorism

by Musa Askari

originally published in the Journal, InterReligious Insight – July 2012

 full article  http://www.interreligiousinsight.org/bedlam_code/data/2012-07_a4.pdf

If we are going to address ourselves to the issue of terrorism let us state the obvious and most important at the outset: the threat of nuclear weapons. The weapon announced its arrival to the world by unleashing its horror over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, stayed within our collective consciousness during the cold war and now, due to the one-sided debate on group terrorism, faded into the background. But it remains nonetheless real. It is impossible to comprehend fully the potential horror of such a weapon unleashing terror across the planet faster than any virus mutating across national boundaries.

The weapon and its fallout, like a virus, ignore national boundaries, recognising neither friend nor foe, neither oppressor nor oppressed. It is does not discriminate. It is non-ideological. The hypnotic pull of the weapon is in the illusion of power it offers those in possession of it. Furthermore, the hypnosis is so far reaching we remain reluctant to be rid of it. The ultimate paradox is that we are protecting ourselves by sustaining a weapon which holds within its capability the destruction of its creator, humanity itself.

A call from the Russell-Einstein Manifesto can be understood as a call to humanity to wake up from the spell of collective hypnosis:

“We are speaking on this occasion, not as members of this or that nation, continent, or creed, but as human beings, members of the species Man (sic), whose continued existence is in doubt.”

http://www.umich.edu/~pugwash/Manifesto.html

The threat to humanity’s continued existence from weapons of mass destruction, stated by Russell-Einstein, is the canopy of “terror” under which humanity has been conducting its affairs for the last seventy years or so. It is a threat that has become embedded in our consciousness to such an extent that it assumes fantastical and mythical proportions. As Hasan Askari puts it: “After all, what is a myth? A myth is a public dream. What is a dream? A dream is a private myth.”  It is a dream one remembers dreaming but cannot recall the details fully upon awaking.

More immediate and urgent than ecological concerns, if not on a par with them, humanity needs to be free from the terror of all weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological. To fulfil this extra-ordinary call, heeding the warning of Russell-Einstein, we need an equally extra-ordinary response of freeing ourselves from the grip of collective hypnosis. Unless we give up the old habit that by violence one can defeat violence we may not be able to save any innocent child’s life, born or unborn, now or years from now.

The nuclear weapon has no loyalty to either democratic or totalitarian nations. Is it not utterly shocking that the human intellect which unlocked the science to create such a weapon has resulted, through its proliferation, in creating a situation where the weapon can now destroy its creator? If this is not hypnosis then what is hypnosis? This is the unconscious terror under which we live and dare not look in the face: to behave in such ways where we believe we have freedom of choice when in reality our choices are governed by hypnosis.

To refer to Einstein once more: “God doesn’t play dice with the world.” We may now add: humanity does indeed play dice. What dangerous game of chance is it where the bet being waged is the continued existence of humanity? Whether one describes oneself as spiritual or a secular humanist, what is the value of that spirituality and humanism when such a weapon exists and we do not address ourselves to it? On this greatest of questions for human survival we require a combined, wholehearted, sustained spiritual-humanist response. When we talk of terrorism should it not be a minimum requirement to talk about the greatest threat humanity faces?

The real achievement of collective hypnosis is in its being hidden from our consciousness; by denying its own existence it continues to exist. At least a stage hypnotist asks for consent from an audience and removes the hypnosis at the end of the act. Collective hypnosis, on the other hand, neither asks for permission nor considers removing its influence. Let me cite again Hasan Askari:

“When I spoke in India after the atomic bombs were dropped over Nagasaki and Hiroshima, I said then (1950) that the ideology was dead, the weapon had surpassed it all. A quarter million people were destroyed in a couple of minutes. Man had acted against his own survival. Oppenheimer, the architect of the first nuclear device, while watching the mushroom cloud, had shouted that he had become the destroyer of the world. He then spoke on behalf of those governments of the world who could go on producing more and more deadly weapons, thinking that these weapons would give security and peace to the nations of the world. The irony is that the very ideological division in whose context the weapon was invented had vanished. But the weapon remains. The knowledge that produced it remains. Its potential users are all there. All these years I have waited for that idea that will surpass the weapon of mass destruction and the philosophy and the technology that produced it and that dark psyche which may use it. Hence, whichever ideology claims to meet the challenges of the world at this critical hour must call upon all mankind to rise to abolish weapons of mass destruction and abolish war altogether and every violent means to achieve any national or ideological ends. We then require a total commitment to honour and uphold each individual life. We have limitless resources within our soul to repel evil by the good, repel violence with non-violent means knowing that the truth has its own might to defend and protect itself.”

On one level the general debate seems fundamentally flawed, reduced to questions of power and control. On the one hand, it lends itself easily to rightly denouncing acts of violence carried out by interest groups, while on the other hand it is inconsistent in that equal attention is not paid to similar, if not worse, acts of aggression and violence linked to conflicts past and present by those in political power. A life lost is a life lost despite the ideology that inspires the act of violence. A life lost from either a suicide attack or a guided missile launched from thousands of feet is a precious life. At both ends of the spectrum of violence there is a person, family, neighbourhood, a child, hopes and aspirations. Thus any discussion of terrorism which does not look at the greater issue, loss of human life from any form of violence, is bound to fail due to its one-sided character, and this in turn perpetuates illusions, self- righteousness and collective hypnosis.

SPIRITUAL CRITIQUE REQUIRED

A noticeable omission, so it appears to me, in the general news media is we are yet to be presented with some meaningful insight into the thinking of individuals, charged with or suspected of allegedly trying to commit horrific acts of violence. There is much news and information on movement between countries, occupations, academic backgrounds, other general details and so forth. One may track, locate and stop those who are committed to doing something deadly serious. However, beyond this physical security-led approach an attempt to present a spiritual critique becomes relevant when we come to religiously inspired group terrorism.

We may never know the inner psychological make up of each individual case. What we do know is that so-called religiously inspired terrorists, of whatever collective religion and political persuasion, present themselves as people of faith and that opens up the possibility of a spiritual response which both secular and faith-based humanists should be able to make together. Humanists cannot afford to wait on the sidelines and not participate in a joint spiritual-humanist critique of terror acts. A rationalist critique only of organised religion from humanists will not do. The time to revisit that is later.

We require a spiritual-humanist response addressed to the individual committed to acts of violence. The focus of our attention in any response must have at its heart the individual who would carry out a devastatingly merciless act of violence. If that means humanists and religious people need to go down the path of inquiring about spirituality together, so be it. It is in the individual where the hypnosis of terror takes hold, as it tempts individuals (and consequently nations) to respond to violent acts of terror with ever more violence, believing that “terror” has a physical locality – that if it is defeated by physical means in one place it will be defeated in every place. Let us admit that once and for all such an approach is absurd. We should have listened more attentively to those who were advocating an alternative to ever more violent responses to terrorism.

It is a trap we have fallen into it and tragically so many individual lives have been lost – individuals who make up a neighbourhood, city and country going about their daily lives. Whether it was Hiroshima or Nagasaki, Vietnam or Cambodia, Sri Lanka or Palestine, Chile or apartheid South Africa, Afghanistan or Iraq – a suicide attack by a Kamikaze pilot or a bomb exploding in some busy street – who can deny that in every instance the loss of individual lives is tragic beyond measure?

INDIVIDUAL GRIEF

It is individuals related by family or friendship who are left to suffer tremendous sorrow and heartache. They cope in their own way, with immense courage, to somehow carry the grief of their loss. As individuals we suffer, as individuals we grieve, as individuals we hope to rise again above the waterline of trauma and re-gather the shattered pieces of our lives, never forgetting to honour those who have been taken from us prematurely. Should we notice the grief and hear the testimony of mourners we are humbled. Should we hear one story of heartache surely we must also recognise and pay tribute to all such stories across the world, regardless of circumstance, political grievance, national and religious boundaries.

Why are we not permitted to hear, in her own traumatised voice, in her own language, the pleas of a mother in Afghanistan cradling her new born child who was alive only moments ago and now is no more? Why do our news media, for example, seem to insist in having an intermediary to that grief by placing their reporter on the television screen between the victim and ourselves? Who other could do justice to that grief but the grief-stricken themselves?

PURPOSE

I am reminded of the 2011 January 25th protests in Egypt where a man turns to the camera with his mouth bloodied saying: “Here is blood, there is terrorism”. Behind him on that night in Cairo we see crowds rushing for safety at the advance of security forces while the sound of gunshots can be heard. It is frightening watching it and one can only wonder what it must be like to have been there. What shall we say of any purpose behind violent acts of aggression by terrorist groups or states?

By “purpose” I imply something greater, universal, a goal to which every member of the human race can feel akin. A purpose which recognises that humanity’s past, present and future is both secular and sacred. Such a purpose excludes all forms of violence. A purpose which is a conscious self-thinking act by humanity. This to me is a purpose worth striving for in all peace. This to me is for the “common good”. What could be more common between each and every human being than “life” itself? What further good between us could there be than to honour the life of each and every self? Why should we not take a new direction and outdo one another in ever more greater acts of kindness, compassion and generosity upholding the common good, the principle of life?

SPIRITUAL SELF-PERCEPTION

With regard to so-called religiously inspired terror acts I would suggest that what is required is the shattering of religious self-righteousness. If one believes in a merciful and compassionate God, the Lord of “heaven and earth”, then is the mercy and compassion which characterises that Lordship to be understood as limited to a particular religion, region or piece of land, or is it not properly to be understood as universally transcending all divisions which we have created between us? We may need to take into account not only how a person perceives themselves socio-religiously but also “spiritually” – through what I would term “spiritual self-perception”.

By considering individual spiritual self-perception, asking questions about it, by altering the direction of our inquiry, we may yet steer a course away from a troubling development – a development which is another trap of collective hypnosis – that is, identifying the whole terrorist motivation of a small group of religiously motivated individuals with all of the followers of that religion worldwide. By doing so we do an injustice and miss the individual altogether, amplifying the effects of the physical horror, converting it into a general social suspicion of a faith body. Spiritual self-perception is a means to avoid all such developments, keeping our focus on the individual, thereby saving us from demonizing the other.

Continue reading rest of the article at following link (page 22 of journal) …..  http://www.interreligiousinsight.org/bedlam_code/data/2012-07_a4.pdf

When The Atheist Met The Mystic

Sincere thanks to Professor Gregory A. Barker on the following book review.

“Towards A Spiritual Humanism” is as a result of many hours of dialogue sessions between Hasan Askari and Jon Avery in June 1989. Hasan and Jon met one another at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado where Hasan was the Louise Iliff Visiting Professor. Jon writes in the introduction, “Hasan’s openness, warmth and erudition were engaging, especially in his informal discussions with students after class.” It is with the aspiration for that same sense of openness “SpiritualHuman” is proud to present this book review by Professor Gregory A. Barker.

When The Atheist Met The Mystic

A Review of Hasan Askari and Jon Avery’s Towards a Spiritual Humanism: A Muslim-Humanist Dialogue (1991)

Gregory A. Barker. Formerly Senior Lecturer, Religious Studies The University of Wales, Trinity Saint David

A Dialogue Joke?

Did you hear about the Muslim Mystic who found common ground with an American Atheist? That question sounds like the beginning of a joke. It isn’t. 

A very unusual book, first published in 1991, brings us a series of discussions between the celebrated esoteric Muslim scholar Hasan Askari and the American humanist Jon Avery. 

The book is unusual because these dialogue partners are interested in exploring common ground beyond obvious differences toward metaphysical beliefs.

Perhaps what is most striking about the volume Towards a Spiritual Humanism is that it sounds such a different note from the voices we typically hear in our polarized culture.

In popular media, religion and atheism are viewed as locked in debate: religion represents revelation, dogma, and traditional values; atheism champions truth, science, honesty and innovation.  Each charges the other with immorality, violence and repression of the human spirit, with atheism currently gaining the upper hand for many with its “slam-dunk” arguments against traditional belief.

Yet many are currently questioning this simple opposition.  On the religious side, there are reformulations of traditional theological ideas alongside a social justice agenda which views religion as a force of good in a society that can all too easily lose its soul in nationalism, consumerism and cultural fashions.  At the same time a number of atheists are seeking to balance their “no” to traditional beliefs with a “yes” to spiritual values – as the recent book Religion for Atheists (2012) testifies.  Askari and Avery’s volume anticipated this current movement.

Twenty Years Ahead of Its Time

Anyone interested in current rapprochements between religion and atheism will be very interested by this book which was, in some ways, twenty years ahead of its time.

Don’t worry: this volume does not end up as a set of vague platitudes or a mutual admiration of liberal social principles. The encounter between these men produces heat as well as light. 

Askari describes himself as an esoteric Muslim mystic who utterly rejects the dogmatism that holds contemporary Islamic movements in a “collective hypnosis”, blind to the deeper spiritual unity of the human race.  Yet he will not surrender his conviction that there is a transcendent, non-material dimension to the cosmos, a force that unifies and enlightens every human being.

Jon Avery, an atheist, rejects this notion but sees it as a possible corrective to a rationalism that denies the emotional and aesthetic sides to human personality.  He also shares Askari’s view that literalist-traditional theologians have created dogmatic approaches to theology that oppress rather than liberate the human spirit.

Thus, the central disagreement over the non-material transcendent dimension is accompanied by a central agreement over the “sin” of reducing human beings to theological slavery, rationalist one-sidedness or rabid consumers of western products.   The two men bring this agreement and disagreement to a host of vital subjects: religion, psychology, the problem of evil and contemporary challenges such as the environment and the threat of nuclear war.

Let’s look at just a few of the central concerns.

A Materialistic Universe?

Askari begins by clarifying the nature of his own adherence to Islam.  He seeks to locate his own position between a thoroughgoing rationalism on the one hand, and a religious literalism on the other.   He has found his own answer in a mystical or esoteric approach witnessed to by a host of thinkers from Plotinus to Carl Jung.  A significant shift on his journey came when he accepted the notion that symbols from various world religions witness to unity and transcendence, a position he calls “poly-symbolism” rather than “polytheism”. This view, he says, mitigates against making absolute any one religion and relativizes any claim to “revelation” in terms of a strict set of doctrines and rules. It also challenges, for Askari, the reduction of life to that which can be seen with the physical eyes.

As one might guess, a chasm opens up between the two men on this final point.

Avery agues, “…only matter exists (as long as this matter is understood as evolving and dynamic) is more conducive to happiness than the language of a soul that is separate from the body.” (30) Avery, rooted in his humanist tradition, wants to see humans freed from superstition and religious fanaticism so that they can live in harmony with their physical environment – something, he says, that religious traditions have not always championed. 

Askari is concerned that Avery’s view of religion is little more than a superficial ideology, a projection of materialist scholars about the content and direction of religion rather than a serious attempt to reconcile ancient and abiding insights with modern discoveries.  

It is clear, says Askari that our intellectual lives operate on a different level from the material systems governing our physical lives.

Avery insists, however, that there is no need to introduce a dichotomy between the soul and the body – they are the same reality.  The two then move into a complex argument about motion, with Avery arguing that material movement is self-caused and Askari that all motion is, ultimately, caused by non-material forces.  Through this discussion, Avery is concerned that a religious determinism will remove humans from being properly concerned about the material world. Yet Askari argues convincingly that the idea of “self caused motion” is itself a metaphorical interpretation of reality rather than a scientific statement – to which Avery agrees.

Is There A Soul?

Both men use the word “soul” but, predictably, with different meanings. For Jon Avery the soul is a “metaphor for the source of human values” (46); this leads him to define God as the earth and “the soul is the earth in us.” (47). For Askari these definitions are inadequate as they leave humans subject to collective social hypnoses that are destructive to human life; there must be a source beyond ourselves he insists.  

The two men are able to agree on the importance of human responsibility, the danger of the doctrine of “original sin” and the idea that human identity is not exhausted by individual consciousness.

Both men are fascinated by Carl Jung and see much promise in the idea that there is a shared humanity, the collective unconscious that unites humans at a deeper level than ideology.  Yet, Avery contends that there is a rationalistic explanation for Jung’s archetypes: they are a product of a specific functioning of the human mind, rather than stemming from a mystical source. In other words, the fact that similar categories of thought emerge between otherwise disparate cultures is not necessarily an argument for transcendence but may simply be how the human body works.  Still, Avery appreciates the wider view of consciousness provided by a psychoanalytic viewpoint.

At this point Askari passionately declares: 

“We need such a unifying principle (i.e. the soul), which connects matter with man and man with the cosmos, in order to realize that the physical images within man and the physical reality outside constitute one reality.   Perhaps we don’t know what name we should give to it, but it is at that juncture that we stand today.  What can save us from a nuclear holocaust, or a collective destruction of the entire human race, or the destruction of the ecosystem is a glimpse of that unity of the psychic and the physical realms.” (65)

Avery admits that a rationalistic suppression of the emotional and aesthetic dimensions has limited human life and contributed to an exploitation of the earth’s resources.  He accepts that there needs to be a human “integration” that accompanies positive progress.

A Spiritual Government?  

The dialogue takes a fascinating turn when Askari reflects on attempts to fuse or separate spirituality in politics. Bearing witness to Islamist movements, Askari makes the point that the state inevitably is divinized when it is viewed as a necessary arm of religion.  In other words, the state is equated with spirituality and becomes nothing less than an idol that oppresses humanity.

But Askari does not stop here. He believes that America has produced an equally devastating problem through the separation of church and state.  By privatizing spirituality, the state becomes free to create powerful ideologies that are immune to spiritual criticism. Here, too, the state is divinized.

At first, Avery objects to this criticism of the United States and champions the justice that has come from the separation of church and state. However, after some further interchange, he admits that the state needs a corrective from a non-ideological point of view.

Askari accuses America as having fostered nothing less than “schizophrenia” between private spirituality and public ideology which leads to an imbalanced soul.  His solution is that there should be a unity between our private and public lives  — which, for Avery, is best captured by the term “dialectic”.  However, for Avery there are forces other than the state that lead to dehumanization; for example, the uncritical use of technology.

A Good or Bad Dialogue Encounter?

Shining through these pages is the fact that both of these men are “Humanists”: each hold human life to be precious, and are convicted about the need to resist the threat to human welfare that comes from war, inhumane actions and the irresponsible use of the environment.  However, these men are at odds with their definition of the term “evil”.

This critical difference means that they take a different attitude to human suffering.

For Avery, evil is anything that prevents life from flourishing. He identifies with the “meliorism” of William James: our task it so reduce human suffering as much as possible.   However, Askari locates the source of suffering in human ignorance of the underlying unity of life, an ignorance fought against by leading spiritual figures through the ages.

Thus, the book ends with the same tensions introduced at the beginning.  Askari is, ultimately, informed by a religious or spiritual vision of life and Avery tends to think that this vision has done more harm than good for human beings.

Askari’s point of view leads him to the striking attitude of questioning that all suffering should be eradicated. Suffering is, he says, a part of the structure of human life.  The main enemy is not physical death but absolutizing our own narrow images and ideas about life and holding these as a sword over the heads of others.   His vision of “poly-symbolic” pan-spirituality rooted in notions of the divine realm testified to by Plotinus is recommended as an antidote to religious sectarianism and the collapse of the human soul into superficial trends.  Scientific reason is not alone going to be able to combat the forces that pull humans into blindness and ignorance, he insists.

But Avery will not so quickly be lured away from his conviction about alleviating all human suffering.  Furthermore he sees dangers in superficial spiritual solutions promoted by New Age approaches. Yet, he acknowledges that the answer to the question, “What is the basis for human rights?” must draw upon a different type of reasoning than that normally provided in the rationalist-humanist tradition and he thanks Askari for helping him to seeing that some thinkers from religious traditions have answers to this question that can complement a humanist perspective.

The Meeting Ground

Despite all of these differences, Avery refers to having broken new ground as a result of this dialogue:

“If human rights are an expression of these higher reaches of humanity beyond the physical and dogmatic level in the creative and trans-human levels, then I would agree with you that human rights have a spiritual foundation.” (121).

The use of the term “spiritual” by an atheist is but one of the many features of this dialogue which puts it decades ahead of its time. 

Anyone who is not satisfied with polarized portrayals of atheists or religionists will find this book to be a rare gem.

-Gregory A Barker

More on the work of Professor Barker: http://www.trinitysaintdavid.ac.uk/en/schooloftheologyreligiousstudiesandislamicstudies/staff/drgregoryabarker/

* See also “Human Nature” above for extract from Towards A Spritual Humanism

*See also “Spiritual Humanism” above for speech transcript by Hasan Askari

*See also “InterReligious Dialogue” above an article by Hasan Askari

“Seers & Sages” Compiled by Hasan Askari / David Bowen

The following is the brief introduction to a small book, Seers & Sages (1991), compiled by Hasan Askari and David Bowen. Further below extracts from the book.

Seers & Sages (600 BC to 1850 AC) “We present here under 40-year cycles from the sixth century B.C. to the nineteenth century A.C the names of both the well-known and lesser known sages, mystics and sufis drawn from all over the world, and also mention, wherever necessary, the schools and the orders they or their followers created. By looking at one cycle, one can notice names from East to West and discover how at one and the same time there were people, scattered in different parts of the world, yet all united in their work to bring to mankind a higher level of awareness. For centuries we were locked up in one particular spiritual geography and history. Now is the time to move from all modes of narrow spiritual patriotism and participate in a broader communion with the elevated souls of all humanity.

We may then realise that we must hesitate before making any exclusive claims on our access to truths that are universally attainable. Now we stand at the threshold of a new cycle, not a new symbol or name, but of an inter-relationship, a neighbourhood, a kinship of spirit, a real community; and the individuals who figure under these “cycles” may therefore be considered as transparently one and many at the same time.

The list offered here can in no sense be considered complete. It cannot possibly include those guides and masters who remain hidden and unknown.” (Hasan Askari / David Bowen)

“Spiritual Human” Interview with Antony Thomas

“Film-maker Antony Thomas has won recognition and acclaim throughout the world for his powerful and thought-provoking programmes. Born in Calcutta, Thomas was taken to South Africa when he was six years old. He moved to England in 1967, where he has written, directed and produced 40 major documentaries and dramas. He is also author of a highly-acclaimed biography Rhodes, the Race for Africa. Thomas’s films have taken the top prizes at numerous documentary festivals, including the most prestigious — the US Emmy Award, the George Foster Peabody Award, the British Academy Award and the Grierson Award for best British Documentary. Two of his documentaries, Twins – The Divided Self and Man and Animal won fourteen international awards between them.

Thomas has succeeded in creating programmes with a strong message that are also highly popular. The opening programme of his 1998 series on obesity, Fat, won three awards from the British Medical Association and was also one of the ten most popular programmes of the week in the UK, with an audience of 9.5 million. When his drama Death of a Princess was originally shown in the United States, it earned one of the highest ratings in the history of PBS, while his 2004 programmes on the Ancient Greek Olympics were sold to 83 countries.

In 2007, his documentary, The Tank Man, was invited for special screenings at the US AGM of Amnesty International and the United States Congress.

His recent work includes a two-hour documentary on The Qur’an (co-produced by Channel 4 and National Geographic) which premiered in the UK on July 14th 2008, and has subsequently been seen in 32 counties; How do you know God exists? which premiered in the UK on August 16th 2009 and For Neda, a documentary special for HBO, which tells story of Neda Agha Soltan…” (For more on the work of Antony Thomas please visit his website http://www.antonythomas.co.uk/ )

Sincere thanks to Antony Thomas for agreeing to this interview.

Musa Askari: As a documentary film-maker you have talked about having “no idea where the beginning, middle and end of the programme is”. I would like to inquire however about another “beginning”. A beginning of questions formulated through your reflections. Questions which perhaps first attract you to a project as like standing at the circumference of a dimly outlined circle with new questions coming to light during the spontaneity of filming as you traverse various radii toward the centre or heart of the piece.

Whenever you undertake a project would it be fair to say it is generally governed by a set of key questions? Also could you please talk a little about how such initial questions of inquiry are arrived at and to what extent you rely upon your instinct and intuition for guidance through the project?

Antony Thomas: Yes. It is fair to say that my work is governed by a set of questions – in some cases a single question.  “How do you know that God exists?”  “What does the Qur’an actually say?” – to mention two of my more recent films. 

What matters most to me is research in depth. “Instinct and intuition” may help to guide one to the right people and the most relevant source material, but the principle aim is to discover as many perspectives as you can on the subject you have decided to tackle, and that has to take place before any filming starts.

Musa Askari: I would like ask about your inner “experience” on the craft of editing. You have talked about there being a period of reflection before the actual editing commences. That “something very strange happens” and eventually the “whole thing seems to fall in to place”. This I find fascinating and grateful if you could share some insights on the experience of “something strange” and the recognition of things falling in to place.

Antony Thomas: We need to distinguish between the two types of programme I’ve been involved on – pure documentary and docudrama.  In the case of the latter, one is following a script.  It’s an inflexible form; the beginning, middle and end are known before you start filming. 

I would never approach “pure documentary” in the same way, because of the danger that one might (consciously or unconsciously) manipulate what is happening in front of the camera so that it fits into the preordained plan.   The decision to film a particular scene or to interview a particular individual should be based on the conviction that they are relevant to the story you are telling, but there are times when the whole experience turns out to be very different from what was anticipated, and one must always be true to that.  

After the filming is over, I generally spend a couple of weeks looking through all the material that we’ve shot, and it’s quite extraordinary how clearly the structure starts to emerge – and, of course, it’s a structure based on the truth and not on some pre-ordained plan.

Musa Askari: “Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smoothes there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown upon his work.” Plotinus (The Enneads: 1.6.9) 

Plotinus, the father of Neo-Platonism, the mystic-philosopher whose work is soul through and soul, is talking about sculpting as a reference to inner self mastery, a spiritual endeavour. There is on the one hand a sculptor seeking to bring forth a material expression of beauty, and on the other hand a documentary film-maker, in my view, also seeking beauty, perhaps a beauty non-material, not of marble, stone or wood. But rather beauty to be found through heartfelt testimonies of people interviewed, of ideas expressed. In other words a quest for “truth” at the heart of the issue being investigated is a beautiful quest. That “truth” in essence is beautiful but also enlightening, liberating and awakening.

As a principle would you agree that sculptor and film-maker have a common bond in the pursuit of “Beauty”? And in general to what extent would you consider editing akin to the art of sculpting?

Antony Thomas: I have to be very frank about this.  I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to a sculptor, or seen a sculptor at work, so I’m not really equipped to answer that question.

Musa Askari: Through your work on “Death of a Princess” (1980), “The Tank Man” (2006) and most recently “For Neda” (2010) these appear to be, apart from the social and political context, powerful representations of individual lives. In your opening sequence to “The Tank Man” for example we are presented with images on the vastness of Tiananmen Square and you comment about “treeless spaces” and “monumental buildings“. As we survey these images of the square your narration talks about, “the insignificance of the individual before the might of the state.”

Could you please talk a little on what you find compelling about individual lives which are caught up within great currents of society and state?

Antony Thomas: As you know, most of my documentaries have strong political or religious themes, but I am not the slightest bit interested in theory and dogma.  What matters to me are the practical outcomes. I want to the viewer to feel what it’s really like to be living under this or that system.  I don’t want to be up there on podium listening to the Head of State or the Pope, I want to be down on the ground floor of ordinary human experience.   

The reviews that make me happiest are those that suggest that this method is working, like this one, in response to a documentary I made in Egypt some time ago:  “I have seen many documentaries telling me what it was like to be in Egypt, yet this was the first one to spell out, both beautifully and brutally, what it felt like to be an Egyptian.” 

Musa Askari: I find the liberating power of the individual no better expressed in your work than in “The Tank Man”. A lone man standing in the middle of a boulevard, straight, still and defiant. No weapon, just his individuality. It is seems remarkable to me with so much violence having taken place already, so many individual un-armed lives already brutalised the night before on June 4th 1989, why the driver of the lead tank halted at all. What transpired between those two as they stared at each other we may never know. As we witness the bravery of one man standing before the lead tank, an image which has become an icon of freedom, we are also witnessing the actions of another man who is hidden from view. Namely, the driver of the lead tank. Enfolded within the machinery of military power, represented by a tank, the individual is not only insignificant (recalling your quote earlier) but also absent. Yet here in this event, in this image, the individual is unmasked for all to see in the clear light of a noon sun confronting symbolically a state power and in doing so invites the driver of the lead tank, for a few minutes, to become an individual also.

Would you agree perhaps there were two “Tank Men” that day in Tiananmen Square? And I would be grateful for your thoughts on when you first saw the footage of this anonymous individual making a brave and selfless stand.

Antony Thomas: Yes. I certainly remember the powerful emotions I felt when I first saw that image of a young man, standing in front of that column of tanks, and I completely agree with the point you make.  There were two heroes that day – one unseen inside the lead tank, and one standing in the road with his back to us.  I’m afraid it’s likely that both of them shared the same fate.

Musa Askari: I note your interest in religion, through works such as “Thy Kingdom Come” (1987), “The Quran” (2008) and more recently “How Do You Know That God Exists?” (2009), and present the following quotes from my late father whose work and reputation I understand you are familiar with.

“The prospect of a religion reflecting the Absolute absolutely would turn that religion into the most dogmatic and oppressive belief system imaginable. Hence, there should be room between the religions for mutual critique and complementarity. In turn, this should generate a religious need for religious plurality and diversity.” (Professor Syed Hasan Askari: From Interreligious Dialogue to Spiritual Humanism http://www.interreligiousinsight.org/January2004/Jan04Askari.html

“It was Brumana consultation in 1972 in Beirut the biggest Christian – Muslim consultation of the century, that in my paper I made it absolutely clear that perhaps, perhaps we need more than one religion. How could one dare to equate the Almighty Unity and Transcendence and Mystery with the form of one faith and practice?” (Professor Syed Hasan Askari: speech on Spiritual Humanism, 1995 http://spiritualhuman.wordpress.com/speech-hasan-askari-spiritual-humanism/

Through your work, research and study of religion could you please talk about your observations when an exclusive one-sided approach to religious witness is taken at the expense of the universal and inclusive? And to what extent do you think the direction of inter-religious dialogue has changed or stayed the same since your interest in religion and inter-faith began?

Antony Thomas: I agree with every word that you have quoted from your father’s writings. The tension and violence, not only between people of different faiths, but between co-religionists is one of the greatest tragedies of our time.   

I know many wonderful people who are trying to reach out across these divisions, but in spite of all their efforts, it seems to me that the problem is more serious now that at any other time in my life.

In Memory of Syed Mohmmed Taqui

In Memory of Syed Mohmmed Taqui

To learn of the passing of a loved one thoughts issue forth like the dawn of a sunrise. The first ray of light followed by countless rays that, due to their brilliance, are now indistinguishable one from the other. There is only light. Light upon Light. 

When I heard the news of the passing of my dear uncle Syed Mohmmed Taqui I felt the sun of his soul had fully risen. As if the entirety of a life was akin to the slow gradual rise of the sun above the horizon, the last tip of the sun having bid fare-well to the line of horizon. A line drawn from birth to the moment of passing. A line along which a life had been lived. A line that was drawn horizontally is now drawn vertically leading one to another life, another horizon, another sunrise. 

A life lived is more than the trace of footsteps left in its wake. Above all it is a sign of journeying from here to there, from right to left, from below to above. All the rotational points forming a circle of many dimensions. Our life as soul to sojourn knowing the permanence of our abode is “elsewhere”. No place of locality, but eternal, placeless and traceless. To become “homeless” innerly we are home. I pray for the continued safe journey of the soul of Syed Mohmmed Taqui.  

When reflecting upon one’s own life or the life of another it is as if we are always watching a sunrise. There is no death only the beginning of another journey. The birth of a life is the sun rising, a new “day”, our whole life as one “day”. For the Soul knows this association with body is but a fleeting moment within many moments.  

The reverse I find holds more in it, not the setting of a sun, not the receding light of a life lived but the full glory of a magnificent sunrise. We are left to bathe in the light of his life, the mark of all that was and remains the best of his life. No mark such as that of a seal, of ring impressed upon wax, no impression such as this to be worn away by the weathering of time. Rather a mark made upon one’s consciousness, one’s heart and one’s soul. 

The mark of his life summed up in words such as courage, strength, compassion and great humour. I will forever remember the glint in his eye and the warmth of his smile. When these two qualities combined, there in those moments, I recall now one was meeting the essence of his nature. 

What to speak of sadness and grief? How to speak of sadness and grief? These deep feelings for us left behind to undergo. Clutching to them like the trailing string of a kite set aloft to the wind, cut free from the bonds of the hand that held it with love during its flight before our eyes. It flies now held by and tugged by another Hand.  

A child stands upon a rooftop balcony; a kite flies from its hand. A tug, a lengthening of the string followed by a firm grip. Without warning the kite breaks free, separated from its connection with the earth as like the passing of a life from this world. The face of the child aghast and distressed. The smile upon his face moments ago is no more. A tearful sadness and perhaps a desperation takes hold; a longing to taste again the sense of freedom through the symbol of a kite imparting. 

The kite swaying in the wind like a leaf set free from some branch. The trailing string of the kite passing overhead; a prayer leaps forth with hope to reclaim it. The child rushes to the street below and searches patches of sky in-between the towering buildings as if looking for a lone cloud in a cloudless sky. A fleeting glimpse of the kite gliding overhead, the heart races, a memory recalled. He turns corner after corner just about keeping pace with the trailing string but the kite itself is out of view. 

His hand outstretched while he runs ahead as if the roles are now reversed. Where the kite once danced to the tune of the child’s hand it is the child which is now beckoned. The joy which was the mark of friendship between the kite and child still remains though now expressed differently. An invisible bond connects them. 

This journey of following a kite, a free spirit, akin to a mystical relationship between a master and disciple. One may live an entire lifetime until eventually the kite and follower must part ways. The kite has brought the child to the shores of a mighty ocean and flies on to the horizon. There is sadness; there is grief as like the passing of a loved one. 

He raises his hands in prayer to the Supreme, bidding a final fare-well to his beloved kite, his master. A prayer of gratitude, a prayer of friendship, a prayer of love. As his hands pass over his face he feels each line, each groove, each fork and twist. Each line a path the kite had lead him to tread. Each line upon his hands a horizon upon which countless suns had risen and set during the course of their journey. The child has now become a man. He looks up to the horizon. The sun is rising upon the ocean. 

It is the dawn of a new life. This journey of longing, sadness, mourning and grief has not been in vain. It has cleansed entire. The kite flies on to the horizon. Soon there is no kite to be seen. Only a glorious sunrise. Each soul moves toward a greater horizon should it so choose. Each kite longs to fly freely to meet the rising sun. 

May the Light of a Greater Sun forever shine upon the soul of Syed Mohmmed Taqui. May the horizon to which his soul journeys draw ever nearer.

Musa Askari

“One of a Kind Soul – Hasan Askari” by Candice Rowland

Candice Rowland  http://fruition2012.wordpress.com/ is an aspiring author on a spiritual journey. Her passion is to HELP others someway, somehow. She cannot say she is religious but religious about all faiths. Candice BELIEVES there is a God with a mighty purpose for all of us to follow. Candice hopes all can listen within to our tiny voice, “If we silence ourselves, God is whispering to us all the time. If we listen long enough we will find our true purpose in life. Anything is possible if you are pure and true in mind, heart, body, and soul.” Candice’s faith resides in Love and Peace. “When one’s soul has found LOVE within oneself, one has found God. When one has found GOD with LOVE peace and tranquility assumes their being. When peace and tranquility begins with one soul, this will transpire to another soul and another and so on.”

“One of a Kind Soul – Hasan Askari” by Candice Rowland

“We have first to wake up from the spell which our collective identity, whether it be of race or of religion has cast upon us, and see the sun of awareness rising in the horizon of our souls, in whose light the hidden grace in each one of us would become visible to the other. As we bow to each other as soul beings, we bow before God who is both in us and above us. What can then prevent us from saying to each other that my soul and your soul is one soul, that our God and your God is one God? We shall then abolish fear, and then our greeting of peace will be a perfect greeting!” Hasan Askari http://www.interreligiousinsight.org/January2004/Jan04Askari.html

Reading Hasan’s words above gives me goose bumps within my own soul every time I read them; how divine his words resonate with souls on a spiritual journey such as mine as yours. His connection with the religious diversity is far beyond wisdom; it was part of his true being to bring all faiths to an interfaith dialogue to speak, to converse with one another of one another’s religious beliefs; to bring understanding within one’s soul to another soul.  As Hasan states, “Our coming together in dialogue becomes akin to an act of worship; our exclusive witness is transformed into co-witness; our one-way mission is replaced by mutual mission.” 

The one thing Hasan believed man had forgotten which has brought much suffering in the world, forgetting the Supreme (God), and the soul. “The loss of a sense of transcendence from our consciousness, and the accompanying loss of the gnosis of soul, have led first to the degeneration of religion and eventually to the despiritualisation of politics and science.”     

Hasan was a man with a mission to somehow, someway to spark awareness in mankind to transcend him back to God and to “our nobler and loftier companion, our Soul.” Hasan directly points out, “First soul, then God! The soul possesses the vision of the Supreme One.” He proceeds to say further in his article, “First one must “Know thyself” (written on Gate of Entrance to the ancient Temple of Delphi) and “Whoever knows his self knows his Lord” (said by the Prophet of Islam).

As Hasan expresses adamantly, “Soul is one and many, a universal being. It is in souls of each other that we encounter each other both individually and universally. We surpass the boundaries of our outer identity.”  In other words, we must as spiritual beings find within ourselves, our soul then only then can we move to find God. And when we unite with the soul we find God; then can we see our soul reflected in other souls with different religious backgrounds, race and culture because the soul is universal as so is our God, all is one; we are one.

One quote always remained in my memory from Hasan and this is why I chose this article in particular to try to bring clarity to myself and others on a spiritual journey. It is this, “A real evangelist would be one who brings the good news of universal truths as these are glimpsed through various religious symbols and philosophies.” This rang with vibration within my soul when I read this because if we all could speak of universal truth and not just what we collectively identify with in our culture, this would bring a sort of peace to mankind. Why? As Hasan says: “Our perspectives will expand: we shall not only notice religious diversity as a spatial fact but also value the coming and going through time of teachers and prophets, religions followed by religions – all calling upon us to wake up and humbly bow in self-knowledge before the almighty source of our souls. Then our conversion will be not to this or that religion but to one God (speaking theistically), All Transcendent-All near, All Freedom-Ever New!” How beautiful Hasan wrote this; brings tears to my eyes.

Not only did Hasan write scholarly, spiritual inclined papers with answers to beyond difficult questions one must answer to bring peace to Earth and unity of mankind, but he wrote poetic articles. As such, the “Seven Mirrors.”  http://spiritualhuman.wordpress.com/2012/02/19/seven-mirrors-by-hasan-askari/

Reflecting his vision during silence of one candle; reflecting in seven mirrors reflecting seven candles. He then through thought realized, “If the original candle stands for the eternal presence of the Light of God, all its reflections too were eternally present before it. For God there is neither before nor after, neither past not future, but one eternal present, not like our present but a time that includes without division all times.”

And lastly, Hasan’s heartfelt story, “The Rebirth Through My Son.” http://spiritualhuman.wordpress.com/2011/04/25/rebirth-through-my-son-by-hasan-askari/

This is about a father’s journey through his life while in search of meaning knowing the pain and misery he caused to himself and his family.

But his youngest son never gave up on his father. He visited his father because of a bond he could not help from feeling to his father and the longing to want to know more of him. Finally one day the son asked him a question that stirred him within.It was that evening that all of a sudden he felt that he was renewed deep from within. His son’s remark had demolished his shyness before his son. He felt that they were now brothers.”

And so how Hasan ends the story with a story to his son, “Once a visitor called and said to his father, “I have come to see your son. May I know where he is?” His father replied: “Do not call him my son. I am his son!” How this says it all between Hasan and his son, Musa.

Now this brings me to the end, to Hasan’s son Musa. If was not for Musa I would not have had the beautiful experience of reading Hasan’s work. And because of Hasan’s works it has brought me to a new but reviving view of my spiritual journey.

Hasan, I can only say you are a precious soul for other souls to follow in your footsteps but that would not be right, as you would say, “This is not a journey for the feet; the feet bring us only from land to land; nor need you think of coach or ship to carry you away; all this order of things you must set aside and refuse to see: you must close the eyes and call instead upon another vision which is to be waked within you, a vision, the birthright of all, which few turn to see. (PLOTINUS – The Enneads, 1.6 “On Beauty”)

On this day February 19th, a very special day, I can only say Hasan would be so very proud of his son, Musa. To keep his work alive through his continuing relentless effort or shall I had said “effortless” for Musa. I thank you Hasan for your work; and your loyal son and your best friend, Musa. God Bless both of your souls.

I have only mentioned a couple of Hasan’s articles that resonated with me, but how all of his articles and works are a tremendous awakening for all to read. I encourage you to read them all.

Namaste, Shalom, Salam, Peace,

Candice Rowland

Seven Mirrors by Hasan Askari

After hours of discussion about the question of finality claimed by each revealed religion I returned home so exhausted and perplexed that I had no other way to get to the heart of the mystery but to wait, wait in silence, all arguments set aside, all inner turmoil hushed to point of total surrender. I lighted a candle, burnt some incense, and sat down in that tender light, in that refreshing air.

I stayed for a long time with my eyes closed. I felt I was entering a state resembling sleep. All of a sudden I saw seven mirrors with seven reflected candles. The real candle was not visible. A voice said: There is only one real candle. You can never see it. You can see only its reflections.

The vision stayed before me for sometime and then it disappeared all at once. I was fully awake now. I was startled: I had been given the answer. The vision held the key to the solution of the problem of finality.

The vision was pointing to something more crucial than the familiar idea that each revealed religion held the light from the same source. It was representing something far more decisive that was not so vividly perceptible to us through our discursive approach to the problem. The vision appeared at the limit of that approach. Hence, I continued to ponder keeping the image of those seven mirrors before me, each mirror reflecting the same invisible candle.

What struck me, something which was not so obvious in the beginning, was that each light in each mirror was an immediate reflection of the original light without any interval of time. All belonged to one moment of receiving the image, no one image following the other. If the original candle stands for the eternal presence of the Light of God, all its reflections too were eternally present before it. For God there is neither before nor after, neither past not future, but one eternal present, not like our present but a time that includes without division all times. No one reflection has any priority, whether temporal or qualitative, over the other reflection, their original being one light. The reflections themselves are not many lights. They are one indivisible light even in their reflected status. Only the number and the diversity of mirrors which emerge in the temporal order divide that one reflection into many reflections. Otherwise, we have to suppose as many gods as there are revelations at different moments of history. The vision did not have seven original candles reflected in seven mirrors but only one original candle with seven reflections all at once.

The vision became so decisive for my understanding and further contemplation that I made a small representation of the seven mirrors and one hidden candle to be permanently kept in my room. Each evening I used to light the candle and watch the miracle of its seven reflections filling those mirrors. I could see the seven mirrors with their seven reflections but I could not see their unity as a physical object.

The vision perhaps represents our own reality: our seven powers of touch, smell, taste, hearing, sight, memory and imagination, each a different mirror holding a different picture, and yet all being one light which stands before them, namely the light of judgement, that invisible light without which no faculty can operate, without which there could be no unity of knowledge and consciousness. It is the unity of the act of reason that gives to the diversity of our faculties its validity and organization. Diversity of phenomena is no argument against the unity of their source. One may regard each of our faculties as a “revealed religion”.  

(This reflection from Hasan Askari’s book : Alone to Alone, From Awareness to Vision)

Towards A…..Spiritual Humanism

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