Goethe, Nasruddin…and Da’ish

by Modaser Shah

“Mehr Licht (More light),” said Goethe.

While, in the fable of the Lost Keys, Mullah Nasruddin points to the dark to look for lost keys, Goethe, captivated by the spirit of enlightenment, calls for more light. Get rid of all darkness, he seems to say, let’s have light only.

But, I think, the Mullah seems to be going deeper, saying that there is darkness in light, as there is light in darkness, truth in falsehood and falsehood in truth. There is no pureness anywhere to be found. There is an old saying based on this dialectic: Respect those who search for the truth; beware of those who have found it.

And what is ISIS but one example of escape from the complex reality that the world has become for modern Muslimhood. It would like to see it the way it used to be: shorn of any differences, conflicts, dialectical contradictions, light and darkness. Hence is the need for destruction: wiping out Muslims with different interpretation of the religion, people of other cultures and languages, extirpation of pre-Islamic relics (lest those relics of their own forefathers lead the current and future generations away from purity). In this sense they are in perverse agreement with Goethe, not Nasruddin: they feel they possess the light that must banish all darkness, although their movement is in the opposite direction from what the great poet would have wished.

Whereas DA’iSH (ISIS) believes it has found THE TRUTH, the one true version of the religion, the light with which all darkness must be banished, the Mullah seems to say the “keys” are always going with wherever the darkness goes; this is how the world and human beings are, in esse.

In another fable, the Mulla was grateful when he lost his donkey, that he was not riding the beast when it lost its way. He was happy to keep his confused, contradictory, conflicted humanity in not being on the donkey into a world of robotic simplicity, where someone does your thinking for you and tells you what to do and where to go.

In yet another story, the Mullah was asked where the center of the earth was. His vanity didn’t allow him to say he did not know. Instead he said it was under his donkey’s legs. To forestall further queries and doubts, he challenged his interlocutors to go measure it, if they doubted his answer!

Perhaps, he did know.

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