ISIS and the dead

by Modaser Shah

Da’ISH, or ISIS, has claimed responsibility for a recent (4/19/2015)  suicide bombing in Jalalabad; the Taliban have condemned it. The latter are looking more & more like moderates in light of what the former is only too willing to take credit for. ISIS seems to require more  dead people, and it refuses advice, perhaps ascribing to the aphorism:  Optimi conciliari mortui (The best counsellors are the dead ones).
A Zen monk and a Guru were travelling together along a riverbank and decided to visit an adjacent island. The Guru sugested they walk. “Why not take the ferry?” the monk said. The Guru said because he had spent twenty years learning to walk on water, to which the monk responded: Why take twenty years learning to walk on water,when you can take a ferry for a paisa (penny)?

Perhaps there is a less expensive way (in terms of lives!) to achieve what they are striving for, their desire (unless it is death that they desire).  Are years of mayhem necessary?

A Zen saying goes, “Today’s enlightenment becomes tomorrow’s delusion.” An ideology may be perceived as an enlightenment at a particular time. But perhaps not for long, at least not all of it. Contradictions, paradoxes, absurdities, even falsities being part & parcel of a human (all too human!) whole, splits & conflicts arise and deconstruction &  new synthesis follow. The wheel keeps  turning.

The question is: Will the split represented by ISIS lead to a new synthesis? If there is a potential there, then there are opportunities for development, arising from the existence of what otherwise strikes most people as a malignant growth. How can anything good come out of a cancer?

Most Muslims tend to deny that members of this organization are Muslims, given that ISIS indulges in wholesale Takfir, which is decried as an extremist practice.

It is worth considering that they and other such groups represent certain elements in our history, psychology, ideologies and practices, that we don’t want to face up to, because they contradict our ideal images of our ancestors & ourselves; our need to see them as more than just human. ISIS,then, is doing the service of bringing to our attention things we would not rather think about, but deny or repress. They are the “return of the repressed,” in psychoanalytic terms, the way the haunting spirits of the dead are.

The denied or repressed elements can go back for generations; ISIS may represent the transmitted traumas of our collective & individual pasts. It is well known in psychiatry that unmourned & unintegrated traumas & losses tend to repeat themselves in one way or another, looking for a way out, looking for recognition and acceptance. The past haunting the present, blocking the future! Isn’t that what ISIS is, a  past disfigured by the present or vice versa?

There are innumerable losses, traumas stemming from early history, but one that was certainly uniquely catastrophic in the extreme, was the Prophet’s death, for which the community was not prepared, as can be inferred from Abu Bakr’s & Omar’s diametrically opposite reactions. The latter  showed a more emotional response, threatening to kill anyone who spoke the truth about what had happened, i.e., the reality of loss. The former was more cool & rational; he prevailed, and yet, for that reason, the community could not mourn & process the traumatic loss & confusion & so had to pass this task on to future generations, to us, and more than likely we are going to pass these on.

As you may recall, Nasruddin (the wise fool of the Sufi lore) was looking for his lost keys where there was light, rather than where he had lost them, in the dark. The past is “known”, or taken to be known; the present & future are not. The former is the light, the latter the dark. Hence,the part of us that is “ISIS” is looking for “the keys” in the certainties of the reported, unrepressed past, not in the uncertain darkness of the shunned/dead  past, or the present & the future.

The formula seems to be: follow the acceptable past and the future is guaranteed.

What was Nasruddin trying to tell us?

He was asked once how old he was. He said 40 years old. Asked the same question several years later, he gave the same answer. When questioned about his truthfulness, he said “A truthful man does not turn away from his word.” What a mullah! Stick to the (told) truth & time, aging stop. This strategy would stop, indeed reverse, the passage of time, undo/deny the reality of loss, of abandonment, humiliations (of growing old, whether for an individual like the Mullah, or a civilization).


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2 Responses to ISIS and the dead

  1. aziz anjum says:

    I do agree to what you have said. The problem is in the perception of ideolgy. Unless we are bold enough to recognise the wrongs of past, it is not possible to move forward. These people of ISIS are dragging us back what was practised at the time. We have to be bold and loud to recognise the wrongs of past.

  2. sufiways says:

    You are right.The past has to be seen in all its complexity,including its wrongs.Boldness,on the part of all of us is required.
    Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

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