Monday, March 31, 2008

Where Art and War Meet

My mind went on an overactive tirade the other day: "Wouldn't it be nice if everyone could just get along? Looking out on the world right now and reading various news accounts, you'd think that the whole world was going up in flames--Kenya, Zimbabwe, Iraq, Tibet, China, Russia, Ukraine, Columbia. The list goes on and on. How are we ever going to get to a different place--one where peace and prosperity are the reality and not merely the expectation?" Yada, yada, yada.

When this tape began running through my mind, I knew it was time to take a step or two back and re-assess. Paramahansa Yogananda said that "a harmonized mind produces harmony in this world of seeming discord." Hum. That probably meant it should start with me. So, I decided to take a harmonized mind out for a stroll to see if that made a difference. I couldn't say the world got instantanously more put together, but my perspective took an enlightened turn.

Take the wars issue. There's a lot of them going on as we speak. Many are being waged by Muslims against anyone else in their path, including rival Muslims. But on the flip side, where once wars were predominantly waged about territory and wealth, they've now evolved to wars of ideology tinged with the underpinnings of territory and wealth. Looked at from the universal perspective, that is definitely progress and may be evidence that we are on the path to the next big evolutionary step--no wars at all.

My mind began to enjoy this walk-about when it realized something as seemingly chaotic as war-waging could have a silver lining. "But, was there any progress toward the ultimate goal?" my always inquisitive mind asked, "Silver linings only go so far." Surprisingly, the answer was a reassuring although not a resounding "yes" on a couple of different fronts. A few areas got a more measured "maybe."

On the "yes" side, we had the scientific community's recent confirmation that compassion could be learned, much like a sport or a musical instrument. To my mind, that meant in the future, learning compassion could be included as part of the curriculum of every child in the world and, as such, could be the overarching theme in every study including history, health, science and music.

At a young age, children could be taught to meditate and, in doing so, open their hearts to every living thing on the planet. Subsequently, the lines of science and spirituality would first blur and then disappear altogether. That would be a good start toward getting along, I thought.

Another "yes" included the restoration of the Iraq National Symphony Orchestra, led by a colorful and courageous conductor. Every day he risked his life to bring music to his country, but dids so because he believed strongly that where music played, dissonance departed. His own words eloquently expressed his thoughts: "I like to think that we inspire people--they see us and they see the barbarism everywhere. It gives them a choice: It could be like this, or like this."

Improvisation is important when playing music in a war-torn country, but this orchestra plays on--even if it only has part of the orchestra any given night. Thus, not only have the melodies inspired, but the story behind them have as well.

On the "maybe" side was the story of the first inkling that Cuba was at long last opening a window to individual freedom. Cuba's new leader announced Friday that he was lifting the ban on Cubans staying in foreigner-only hotels. This surprise came on the heels of an earlier announcement that ordinary citizens would be allowed to purchase cell phones. While these might seem like two odd new freedoms to have granted, each was a sore point to the subjects of this island nation.

What's more, the brother Castro "pledged to make improving everyday life for Cubans a top priority and undo 'excessive restrictions' on society and the economy" (AP, 3-31-08.) Like Bhutan which just last Monday held it's first democratic election, Cuba may be moving slowly in the same direction, even if its communist leader doesn't know it yet.

Also in the "maybe" column were sparks of light coming from nations formerly held by tyrants, in such places as Zimbabwe, Kenya and Pakistan. Each may have moved through a rocky transition only to have emerged on the other side stronger in the knowledge that without freedom a people were simply impoverished slaves.

In Zimbabwe, an election was held a few days ago that for the first time might not be rigged by their dictator of 28 years. At 100,000% inflation, no jobs, and no international future, the people may have had enough and the courage to back it up. On another front, Kenya is just awakening from months of rioting and killing to a government shared by its opposing parties. This feat was orchestrated by the former UN Secretary General.

While in Pakistan, the newly elected Prime Minister freed the beloved but imprisoned Chief Justice in an act of vindication for this fledgling democracy. In their recent elections, the people resoundingly trounced the former dictator, and he will be lucky to get away with his life.

The final "maybe" was held for the article as to how al Qaeda will perish. Many understand that change can only come from within. But for the last seven years the question has been: how will change come from within when there were few within who wanted it. That may be changing.

Evidence for this unexpected transition merged from an unlikely place, the Egyptian prison cell of a terrorist Imam. Quite unexpectedly, this influential cleric wrote a new tome recanting his former views. This book has caused quite a stir in intellectual circles, although some refute his "conversion," saying it was nothing more than torture speaking. The world can only hope the new views are real.

Bret Stephens, a thoughtful editorialist for the WSJ, recently shown a bright light on the murky world of fascist Islam and found:
"There really is a broad rethink sweeping the Muslim world about the practical utility--and moral defensibility--of terrorism, particularly since al Qaeda started targeting fellow Sunni Muslims. Osama bin Laden is no longer quite the folk hero he was in 2001. Reports of al Qaeda's torture chambers in Iraq have also percolated through Arab consciousness."
"Moral defensibility"--many of us have wondered why this has not come up before? More remarkably, Stephens went on to say:
"No less significant is that the rejection of al Qaeda is not a liberal phenomenon. On the contrary, this is a revolt of the conservative elders. . . they have seen through (or punctured) the al Qaeda mythology of standing for an older, supposedly truer form of Islam. Rather, they have come to know al Qaeda as fundamentally a radical movement."
And not religion at all--again, better late than never. And he concluded his astute observations:
"In would be a delightful irony if militant Islam were ultimately undone by a conservative reaction. That may not be the kind of progress most of us had hoped for. But it is a progress of a kind" (3-25-08.)
I couldn't have said it better myself. Many have been waiting for the Muslims to denounce killing, and the first crack in this wall may portend more.

With that, my mind decided it was time to come in from its stroll. After all, it had had enough intellectual stimulation for one day, and the lines of harmony were starting to blur. But before retreating to the land of dreams, it turned to thoughts of cheek kissing. Yes, cheek kissing.

Listen up, because this international politeness will soon be a necessary requirement for any member of the international community. That means all of us. With that in mind I'm sure, last Thursday the WSJ featured an lengthy and instructive article on the art.

You might be as surprised as I was that there was the one, two or three cheek kiss and rules as to when each was appropriate; of course, there were always exceptions. But as I was drifting off to sleep, it struck me like a thunderbolt that wars would no longer be possible if cheek kissing was the accepted etiquette-especially if the three cheek bussing became the norm.

After all, how could you kill someone you just kissed three times? It gave new meaning to the hippie saying "make love not war," but I never contemplated that underutiized phrase might portend the revolutionary re-invention of cheek kissing as an instrument of peace. Now that would be progress.

Kiss, kiss, kiss. Pass it on.

Of note: A fiery sky pierces my sister's evenings regularly. She is mesmerized by them and so am I.

Today's Weather Report: Don't know how to tell you all this, but we are in the midst of a blizzard. Big heavy flakes, but lots of them are careening past the window without pause. In Missouri, tornadoes from this same storm are menacing the state. I'd rather have the snow, thank you. Bet they would too.

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