Despite opinion to the contrary, journalists can report and very well on issues of values, ethics, morality, religion and history. Not, perhaps, right out of journalism school, but in time if they continue to look, report, read, converse, and see things first hand. Here is a pair of articles by Robert Fisk of The Independent (UK) that give us a perspective on Trump's first tour that -- first and foremost -- inspires us to continue questioning this current moment. We need to ask what is the blend of anger and fear inside that makes us recoil from the Trump regime. Is it possible anymore, after decades of total immersion in an ideology of hedonism focused on our individual "passions" and desires, to recover our own histories and the larger histories that make up the nation, so that we might find some way out of this?
Chris Hedges' ideology1. may work for the socialist elect, those who possess the key to the right interpretation of the prophesies and of the arts, but the rest of us are still left searching for an accurate report that gives us enough historical background so that we can understand something about the Why? as well as the Who, What, Where, and How.
Donald Trump has just met with the new leader of the secular world – Pope Francis
It’s an odd sight to see the head of the Catholic Church – with his anti-war, anti-corruption, anti-violence and pro-environment beliefs – greeting the President whose policies are not those of the Western people he claims to represent
After two days lecturing a collection of head-choppers, dictators, torturers and land thieves, Donald Trump at last met a good guy on Wednesday. Pope Francis didn’t ask for a $100bn (£77.2bn) arms deal for the Vatican. He wouldn’t go to war with Iran. He didn’t take the Sunni Muslim side against the Shia Muslim side in the next Middle East conflict. He didn’t talk about Palestinian “terror”. And he looked, most of the time, grim, unsmiling, even suspicious.
So he should have been. Trump’s broad, inane smile on confronting the Holy Father might have been more appropriate for the first of the Borgias, Alexander VI, whose 15th century womanising, corruption and enthusiasm for war would match Trump’s curriculum vitae rather well. But the poor man’s pope, who last year suggested that Trump wasn’t much of a Christian because he wanted to build walls, didn’t seem to be very happy to see the man who called him “disgraceful” for questioning his faith. “One offers peace through dialogue, the other security of arms,” one of Francis’ advisers said of the visit. Which pretty much sums it up.
It was indeed an odd sight to see the head of the Catholic church – whose anti-war, anti-corruption, anti-violence and pro-environment beliefs must surely now represent the secular world – greeting the present if very temporary leader of the secular world, whose policies are most surely not those of the Western people he would claim to represent. For more and more, the Good Old Pope is coming to represent what the Trumps and Mays will not say: that the West has a moral duty to end its wars in the Middle East, to stop selling weapons to the killers of the Middle East and to treat the people of the Middle East with justice and dignity.
No wonder the 29 minutes which the insane president and the sane pope spent together – Francis himself suggesting that they both keep away from the microphones – remain secret. Until, I suppose, Trump starts twittering again. They supposedly chatted about climate change, immigration, even arms sales. O fly upon the wall, speak up. And they talked, we are told, about “interreligious dialogue” and the need to protect Christians in the Middle East. They shared, we were finally informed, “a commitment to life, and freedom of speech and conscience” – which is more than most of Trump’s other hosts would have approved of these past two days.
Trump duly handed over a bunch of books by Martin Luther King which he hoped Pope Francis would enjoy – whether he had read them himself remains a mystery – and the Pope gave Trump some of his own writings on the environment. “Well, I’ll be reading them,” said the US President. A likely story.
When the Pope emerged from his private meeting with Trump, he was smiling in a relieved, almost charming way – like a man who had just left the dentist’s chair – and his joke with the veiled Melania about Croatian cookies, if not quite understood, showed that even a distressed pontiff can retain a sense of humour amid spiritual darkness. Trump thought it all “a great honour”. Not for the Pope, one imagines.
And there was the inevitable send-off from Trump, the kind he probably gave to all the greedy kings and criminals of the Middle East. “I won’t forget what you said,” he told Pope Francis as he left. O but he will, reader, he will.
We must look to the past, not Isis, for the true meaning of Islam
Emir Abdelkader was a Muslim, Sufi, sheikh, humanist, protector of his people against Western barbarism, protector of Christians against Muslim barbarism, so noble that Abe Lincoln sent him a pair of Colt pistols
After the Manchester massacre… yes, and after Nice and Paris, Mosul and Abu Ghraib and 7/7 and the Haditha massacre – remember those 28 civilians, including children, killed by US Marines, four more than Manchester but no minute’s silence for them? And of course 9/11…
Counterbalancing cruelty is no response, of course. Just a reminder. As long as we bomb the Middle East instead of seeking justice there, we too will be attacked. But what we must concentrate upon, according to the monstrous Trump, is terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. And fear. And security. Which we will not have while we are promoting death in the Muslim world and selling weapons to its dictators. Believe in “terror” and Isis wins. Believe in justice and Isis is defeated.
So I suspect it’s time to raise the ghost of a man known as the Emir Abdelkader – Muslim, Sufi, sheikh, ferocious warrior, humanist, mystic, protector of his people against Western barbarism, protector of Christians against Muslim barbarism, so brave that the Algerian state insisted his bones were brought home from his beloved Damascus, so noble that Abe Lincoln sent him a pair of Colt pistols and the French gave him the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour. He loved education, he admired the Greek philosophers, he forbade his fighters to destroy books, he worshipped a religion which believed – so he thought – in human rights. But hands up all readers who know the name of Abdelkader.
We should think of him now more than ever. He was not a “moderate” because he fought back savagely against the French occupation of his land. He was not an extremist because, in his imprisonment at the Chateau d’Amboise, he talked of Christians and Muslims as brothers. He was supported by Victor Hugo and Lord Londonderry and earned the respect of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (later Napoleon III) and the French state paid him a pension of 100,000 francs. He deserved it.
When the French invaded Algeria, Abdelkader Ibn Muhiedin al-Juzairi (Abdelkader, son of Muhiedin, the Algerian,1808-1883, for those who like obituaries) embarked on a successful guerrilla war against one of the best equipped armies in the Western world – and won. He set up his own state in western Algeria – Muslim but employing Christian and Jewish advisors – and created separate departments (defence, education, etc), which stretched as far as the Moroccan border. It even had its own currency, the “muhamediya”. He made peace with the French – a truce which the French broke by invading his lands yet again. Abdelkader demanded a priest to minister for his French prisoners, even giving them back their freedom when he had no food for them. The French sacked the Algerian towns they captured, a hundred Hadithas to suppress Abdelkader’s resistance. When at last he was defeated, he surrendered in honour – handing over his horse as a warrior – on the promise of exile in Alexandria or Acre. Again the French betrayed him, packing him off to prison in Toulon and then to the interior of France.
Yet in his French exile, he preached peace and brotherhood and studied French and spoke of the wisdom of Plato and Socrates, Aristotle and Ptolemy and Averoes and later wrote a book, Call to the Intelligent, which should be available on every social media platform. He also, by the way, wrote a book on horses which proves he was ever an Arab in the saddle. But his courage was demonstrated yet again in Damascus in 1860 where he lived as an honoured exile. The Christian-Druze civil war in Lebanon had spread to Damascus where the Christian population found themselves surrounded by the Muslim Druze who arrived with Isis-like cruelty, brandishing swords and knives to slaughter their adversaries.
Abdelkader sent his Algerian Muslim guards – his personal militia – to bash their way through the mob and escort more than 10,000 Christians to his estate. And when the crowds with their knives arrived at his door, he greeted them with a speech which is still recited in the Middle East (though utterly ignored these days in the West). “You pitiful creatures!” he shouted. “Is this the way you honour the Prophet? God punish you! Shame on you, shame! The day will come when you will pay for this … I will not hand over a single Christian. They are my brothers. Get out of here or I’ll set my guards on you.”
Muslim historians claim Abdelkader saved 15,000 Christians, which may be a bit of an exaggeration. But here was a man for Muslims to emulate and Westerners to admire. His fury was expressed in words which would surely have been used today against the cult-like caliphate executioners of Isis. Of course, the “Christian” West would honour him at the time (although, interestingly, he received a letter of praise from the Muslim leader of wildly independent Chechnya). He was an “interfaith dialogue” man to please Pope Francis.
Abdelkader was invited to Paris. An American town was named after him – Elkader in Clayton County, Iowa, and it’s still there, population 1,273. Founded in the mid-19th century, it was natural to call your home after a man who was, was he not, honouring the Rights of Man of American Independence and the French Revolution? Abdelkader flirted with Freemasonry – most scholars believe he was not taken in – and loved science to such an extent that he accepted an invitation to the opening of the Suez Canal, which was surely an imperial rather than a primarily scientific project. Abdelkader met De Lesseps. He saw himself, one suspects, as Islam’s renaissance man, a man for all seasons, the Muslim for all people, an example rather than a saint, a philosopher rather than a priest.
But of course, Abdelkader’s native Algeria is a neighbour of Libya from where Salman Abedi’s family came, and Abdelkader died in Syria, whose assault by US aircraft – according to Abedi’s sister – was the reason he slaughtered the innocent of Manchester. And so geography contracts and history fades, and Abedi’s crime is, for now, more important than all of Abdelkader’s life and teaching and example. So for Mancunians, whether they tattoo bees onto themselves or merely buy flowers, why not pop into Manchester’s central library in St Peter’s Square and ask for Elsa Marsten’s The Compassionate Warrior or John Kiser’s Commander of the Faithful or, published just a few months ago, Mustapha Sherif’s L’Emir Abdelkader: Apotre de la fraternite?
They are no antidotes for sorrow or mourning. But they prove that Isis does not represent Islam and that a Muslim can earn the honour of the world.
1. Chris Hedges, The artist as prophet, Truthdig, May 29, 2017