mercredi 7 octobre 2015

CULTURAL IDENTITY IN THE EMERGING WORLD OF ASIA IRAN INDIA MALAYSIA

CULTURAL IDENTIY IN THE EMERGING WORLD
Personal thoughts about IRAN INDIA MALAYSIA
The idea to write this blog came when I was on a long distance flight reading FT of October 3. 2015
There was an interview with Daryush Shayegan, the Iranian Intellectual, who speaks six languages including Turkish, Sanskrit and German and has published 17 books mostly in French.

He reminded me very much of his contemporary scholar of the History of Islam, Bernard Lewis, a British Jew.
I thought of India, and especially the only place I know in India is a small town in the southwestern part.  Hindus, Muslims and Christians share the space but only grudgingly. Muslims are the most aggressive and most disliked; the Christians the more sophisticated and the Hindus possibly the more intellectual.
Then there is poor Malaysia, where the majority culture is backtracking fast into the past, the Chinese who are the engines of the society afraid of the Other and the Indians, oh squeezed oranges of Malaysia, waiting for visas to Australia or USA or Canada or any other country that would admit them and recognize their academic qualifications usually gained in India while maintaining a distance from the land of their ancestors.
Of these three countries the most interesting from any point of view is Iran despite a theocratic government but the people have managed to free themselves into a post Islamic situation. 
As Shayegan would say: the young generation has plural identities. But in India and Malaysia, the identities are ethnic as well as Western, but a poor photocopy of the Western civilization. A large proportion of Iranian educated people especially women can assume their places in the west without problem, in contrast to those from India or Malaysia. At a recent International congress of my medical specialty, Endocrinology, there were at least 80 Iranian young scholars, mostly women. They were self-poised and confident and about to take on their path to a greater glory for themselves, their families and perhaps for Iran itself. One of them said to me: I am glad the theocracy forced Islam upon us, making it so easy for us to reject it. The Indians at the congress who numbered a few, had a distinct cultural luggage with them, they acted as if they were in disguise, hiding their culture to which they are tethered. When it comes to intellectuals, Iran is way ahead of India, which has about 20 times its population; Malaysia and Singapore are not even on the screen. As a good Chinese friend of mine in Malaysia said, our ancestors migrated here to survive and they inculcated the survival instinct which is counterproductive to intellectual endeavours. How many of you can name a single Malaysian or Singaporean writer or poet?  India because of its sheer size of humanity has produced a number of excellent writers, my own favourites are Pankaj Mishra and Amitav Ghosh, both of whom live abroad, but who has the depth of Shamloo?

But what strikes you when you meet someone from Iran or Malaysia or Singapore (a wasted Nation) or India is that HOW MUCH WESTERN THEY THINK THEY ARE?
Western dress, frequenting bars with low class Europeans and eating Italian food does not make you WESTERN! Why is this attraction to the WESTERNERS rather than the WESTERN culture and philosophy? Iranians can stand up to Westerners as equals whereas other Asians consider the European a superior beings, sad considering the nature of Europeans in their midst.
I found Sheyagan’s approach to dialogue of civilization very refreshing.  To quote, Shayegan says his idea was not so much an east-west dialogue but for Iran to initiate a dialogue between eastern civilizations, through dedicated centres in Cairo, New Delhi and Tokyo.
Buddhism went to China from India. It was an Indian prince, Dara by name who translated Upanishads from Sanskrit to Persian.
Dara Shikoh (Urduدارا شِكوه‎), (Persianدارا شكوه ‎‎) M 28 October 1615 – 30 August 1659 [Julian]/9 September 1659 [Gregorian]) was the eldest son and the heir-apparent of the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. His name دارا شكوه in Persian means "as magnificent as Dara". He was favoured as a successor by his father and his sister Princess Jahanara Begum Sahib, but was defeated by his younger brother Prince Muhiuddin (later the EmperorAurangzeb) in a bitter struggle for the imperial throne.
Did you know that partition of India and the exodus of 1947 may not have happened if the Moghul Prince Dara who took an enlightened view, rather than sectarian, of Hinduism and Islam. His brother, Aurangazeb defeated him thus chartering another destiny for the country later to be called India, which had known nothing but foreign rule until 1948.
Tolerance is what is necessary, absent in Malaysia, India and Singapore but preached by all intellectuals in Iran.
I have great faith in Iran, great faith in its future, since it has already gone into the future, waiting for the ageing Theocrats to disappear. Living in a country like Cuba, which is already living in the future, without sacrificing the humanity of the individual, I can well understand it.  India may send a rocket to the moon, but it will be a long time before it can catch up with the humanity of a poor little country like Cuba
What I found in my travels in India, Malaysia and Singapore was INTOLERANCE of the other, as if it has been woven into the fabric of the society and a total lack of understanding of the western philosophy, because they were not tutored in their longstanding and magnificent philosophies of India or China. Constructed identities such as Malaysia and Singapore makes it easier to cut your connections or pretend to be something new without connections to the past. A soul with roots is an injustice, said the poet.
It was interesting to learn that the court language of Delhi of Moghuls was Persian and most of what we call “Indian food” manufactured by Bangladeshis from Silhet province is actually Iranian in origin? Modified of course with spices available locally. Any Iranian can walk in to an “Indian” restaurant in the west and identify the dishes.
The word Moghul itself is Persian, denoting a Mongol or a Barbarian, descendants of Tamerlane. (Whose birthplace I visited in Uzbekistan)
So I salute you, Iran without Mullahs, the Iran of Hafiz and Khayyam, the Iran of Makhmalbouf and Panahi, the Iran of Shamloo and Shajarian!
And Soheil Nafisi! And his haunting voice…
(you can watch Soheil Nafisi, Ahmad Shamloo at youtube)

And to quote Shayegan for my friends in the East:
Tolerance is accepting the other and taming your ego.

I am a Jew, I look forward to visiting Iran
And to my father, who spoke Persian.