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Kahlil Gibran on the Middle East

 

An Inevitable Awakening
Now Defies and Defeats Slumber
 
 
Carlos Cardoso Aveline
 
 
 
 
A map of the Middle East, with a few surrounding countries
 
 
 
In the Middle East as around the planet, the fundamental contradiction in political life has long ceased to be the struggle between left-wing and right-wing parties.
 
Apart from electoral schemes and propaganda techniques, there are scarce differences in contemporary politics between leftist and rightist policies. The concept of “class struggle”, for instance, which is central to left-right dichotomy, has been rarely used for decades.
 
Besides, since Marxism got into a historical “void” during the last quarter of 20th century, no philosophical view can be found in most “progressive” grassroots movements. The notable exception to such a philosophical desert is environmentalism, which entirely transcends the old “left-right” divide. Deep ecology is universal. [1]
 
The fundamental contradiction, then, of the world today is not between left and right. And it is not between different religions or contrasting civilizatory traditions, either.
 
The internal conflict among Islamic nations and sects themselves is as bloody as, if not bloodier than, the conflict between the Muslim culture and the rest of humanity.
 
Every dogmatic religion is now living a sort of slow implosion.  Each year, Catholic churches around the world turn out to be emptier than previously. Dogmatic sectors of Judaism undergo a vivid ethical decay, and lose influence. The cultural contrasts within the Jewish world are too significant to be ignored. No one can say that the Jews stand united against the Muslims, or - the other way around - that the Muslims are united against the Jews.  
 
The main divide or central contrast in society in the present moment is one that transcends short term politics.  It did not emerge last week. It was pointed out by Kahlil Gibran in an article entitled “The New Frontier” and first published in Arabic language, in 1925. Gibran was no stranger to Universal ethics: his main work, “The Prophet”, is partly inspired by the founder of the Baha’i faith, whose view of life has also many points in common with classical theosophy. [2]
 
In the article “The New Frontier”, Gibran says:
 
“There are in the Middle East today two challenging ideas: old and new. The old ideas will vanish because they are weak and exhausted. There is in the Middle East an awakening that defies slumber. This awakening will conquer because the sun is its leader and the dawn is its army.”
 
He proceeds: 
 
“There is on the horizon of the Middle East a new awakening; it is growing and expanding; it is reaching and engulfing all sensitive, intelligent souls; it is penetrating and gaining the sympathy of noble hearts.” [3]
 
The new frontier is the “invisible border” between a thoughtful open-mindedness and blind fanaticism.  
 
It is the contrast between a severe love of peace and a “sweet” love of death and war. It is the subtle abyss between emotional attachment to the sad aspects of the past, and a willingness to build a better future.
 
There are two main pillars, in one of the various doors to the next step in historical evolution. Intercultural harmony is one of them. The other pillar is total severity as to terrorism and anti-Semitic propaganda, which justifies it.  Although the second element is of decisive importance, the present article is not the occasion to discuss it.
 
Regarding intercultural harmony, into the extent that the Jewish-Arab friendship and cooperation gets stronger within Israel and elsewhere, the propaganda war against the Jews will fade away.  Hate, fear and separativeness result when people do not think of their duties, first. Peace occurs when people work and build and know that it is better not to lose time with negative feelings. In his groundbreaking 1925 article, Gibran wrote:
 
“The Middle East, today, has two masters. One is deciding, ordering, being obeyed; but he is at the point of death. But the other one is silent in his conformity to law and order, calmly awaiting justice; he is a powerful giant who knows his own strength, confident in his existence and a believer in his destiny.”
 
Historical time is of course slower than the timing of an individual. An evolutionary need usually takes several generations to be attained, even after being clearly formulated. Almost one century after Gibran’s words, most political parties are still myopic. They see but small isolated events. They don’t grasp the wider process of life. Because political corporations are addicted to mediocrity, their decay on ethical and philosophical grounds gets more evident every day.
 
The new politics, whose historical need is shown by Gibran and other humanistic thinkers, must be centered in the individual. Vigilant people abstain from blindly following ideological-electoral bureaucracies or propaganda machines.  Only pioneers can change the world for the better. In January 1961, John Kennedy said this famous sentence in his inaugural speech as President of the United States:
 
“Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.”
 
I do not know who wrote Kennedy’s speech.  In any case, the powerful axiom was taken from Gibran’s article, which says:
 
“There are today, in the Middle East, two men: one of the past and one of the future. Which one are you? Come close; let me look at you and let me be assured by your appearance and conduct if you are one of those coming into the light or going into the darkness. Come and tell me who and what are you. Are you a politician asking what your country can do for you or a zealous one asking what you can do for your country? If you are the first, then you are a parasite; if the second, then you are an oasis in a desert.”
 
Indeed.
 
Regarding political leaders, Gibran asked other questions:
 
“Are you a governor who denigrates himself before those who appoint him and denigrates those whom he is to govern, who never raises a hand unless it is to reach into pockets and who does not take a step unless it is for greed? Or are you the faithful servant who serves only the welfare of the people? If you are the first, then you are as a tare in the threshing floor of the nations; and if the second, then you are a blessing upon its granaries.”
 
Questions are often more important than answers, because they stimulate one to think by oneself. Gibran uses his Socratic sentences to examine the state of contemporary religions:
 
“Are you a religious leader, weaving for your body a gown out of the ignorance of the people, fashioning a crown out of the simplicity of their hearts and pretending to hate the devil merely to live upon his income? Or are you a devout and a pious man who sees in the piety of the individual the foundation for a progressive nation, and who can see through a profound search in the depth of his own soul a ladder to the eternal soul that directs the world? If you are the first, then you are a heretic, a disbeliever in God even if you fast by day and pray by night. If you are the second, then you are a violet in the garden of truth even though its fragrance is lost upon the nostrils of humanity or whether its aroma rises into that rare air where the fragrance of flowers is preserved.”
 
It is important to perceive and observe human shortcomings.
 
However, criticizing mistakes is sometimes useless, if one does not have a clear vision of a better future. Gibran did have that vision, and he wrote:
 
“…The children of tomorrow are the ones called by life, and they follow it with steady steps and heads high, they are the dawn of new frontiers, no smoke will veil their eyes and no jingle of chains will drown out their voices. They are few in number, but the difference is as between a grain of wheat and a stack of hay.”
 
He goes on:
 
“No one knows them but they know each other. They are like the summits, which can see or hear each other - not like caves, which cannot hear or see. They are the seed dropped by the hand of God in the field, breaking through its pod and waving its sapling leaves before the face of the sun. It shall grow into a mighty tree, its root in the heart of the earth and its branches high in the sky.”
 
The poetical use of the word “God” in the lines above should not mislead us.  In this, too, Gibran is in accordance with the true esoteric philosophy. He knew that mankind has created the various monotheistic Gods, rather than the opposite. [4]
 
The man-made character of “personal and all-powerful Gods” explains Their perfectly human appearance and attitudes. Realizing the fact that men created monotheistic Gods in their own images is something of a great philosophical and religious significance. 
 
Its sociological importance is also decisive, for humanized monotheistic gods have been used during more than a few millennia as excuses for wars and all kinds of cruelty. Adolf Hitler, for instance, was never criticized by the Catholic and Lutheran representatives of God, in Germany and other countries, as long as he had political and military power.
 
The ineffable G-d is a host of impersonal deities (Elohim), whose names will not be pronounced. They are far beyond the monotheistic creations made by men, and cannot be manipulated or used as instruments of hatred and narrow-mindedness.
 
Indeed, according to Theosophy, nothing divine can be fully expressed in words. It can only be hinted at.
 
Presenting the divine world through human forms is at best a poetical expression not to be taken literally, and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, whose writings are in harmony with the worldview of theosophy, admits:
 
“All talk of God in the Bible is by way of metaphor. God, the prophets tell us, is a king, a judge, a shepherd, a husband, and many other images, each of which captures a fragment of the relationship between heaven and earth while none expresses all. Undoubtedly, though, the most powerful and consistent metaphor in the Bible is of God as a father. (…) Sometimes the prophets, Isaiah especially, speak of God as a mother.”[5]
 
While the divine world is ineffable, universal brotherhood constitutes an objective duty and a Law to be obeyed with stern justice and discernment.
 
God as a cultural creation constitutes a limited mirror reflecting the human search for the divine. In fact, the transcendent nature of sacredness needs a universal mind to be understood. One’s view must be larger than any particular description in words, and Jonathan Sacks quotes from Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935):
 
“The narrow-mindedness that leads one to see whatever is outside the bounds of one’s own people (…) as ugly and defiled is a terrible darkness that causes general destruction to the entire edifice of spiritual good, the light of which every refined soul hopes for.”[6]
 
Life is wider and deeper than any explanation about it. The mysteries of birth and death should be enough to teach us the need to constantly reexamine our thoughts and to question that which we may think we know.
 
The afterlife is but one example among others.
 
Theosophy, Eastern religions, the Jewish Kabballah and the works of Kahlil Gibran all teach Reincarnation.[7] The transmigration of souls or Jewish Gilgul means a periodical change in one’s body, one’s soul, and one’s horizons.
 
Life recycles itself in unpredictable ways, and all beings are brothers of different ages and epochs.
 
Gibran wrote:
 
“I love you, my brother, whoever you are - whether you worship in your church, kneel in your temple, or pray in your mosque. You and I are all children of one faith, for the divers paths of religion are fingers of the loving hand of one Supreme Being, a hand extended to all, offering completeness of spirit to all, eager to receive all.” [8]
 
The supreme being can be rightfully seen as the One Law.
 
While there is no doubt that the Law of the Universe has always been kind enough to all beings, it will be wise of us to decide to do our best at all times, and to deserve, before desiring.  By promoting interreligious peace and defeating terror, the Middle East will both deserve and pave the way to a more real and balanced connection to the divine realm, which is only possible when cultural diversity is combined with mutual respect.
 
NOTES:
 
[1] The philosophy of nature preservation has no single guide-book to follow; it teaches the inner unity of all life together with the need to respect its outward diversity. The love of Nature embraces the main religious and mystical traditions, discarding their outward dogmas and vestments. Although the ecological view of life is correct, it remains marginal to conventional politics.
 
[2] On Gibran being influenced by Baha’i, see the article “Collection of Kahlil Gibran manuscripts donated to the Library”, published in the “Princeton Weekly Bulletin”, Princeton University, for June 18, 2007. The Bulletin is available online.
 
[3] The full article was published in the September 2015 edition of “The Aquarian Theosophist”, pp. 11-14.  It was previously included in the volume “A Third Treasury of Kahlil Gibran”, edited and with an introduction by Andrew Dib Sherfan, The Citadel Press, Secaucus, New Jersey, USA, 434 pp., copyright 1975, pp. 52-57. The article “The New Frontier” is has been also published under the title of “The New Deal”.
 
[4] “A Third Treasury of Kahlil Gibran”,  edited  and with an introduction by  Andrew Dib Sherfan,   pp. 97-98.
 
[5] “To Heal a Fractured World”, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Schocken Books, New York, 2005, 280 pp., see p. 24.
 
[6] “To Heal a Fractured World”, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Schocken Books, New York, 2005, 280 pp., see p. 10.
 
[7] “A Third Treasury of Kahlil Gibran”, pp. 397-401.
 
[8] “A Third Treasury of Kahlil Gibran”, p. 102.
 
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The article “Kahlil Gibran on the Middle East” was first published on 16 April 2016 in a blog at “The Times of Israel”.
 
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Kahlil Gibran on the Middle East




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