About two years ago I had the immense pleasure of traveling in Greece and vicinity. My wife and I departed from Athens and took a cruise on the Aegean up to the Bosporus, down the coast of Asia Minor, to Santorini, and back to Athens. We spent a day and a half in the lovely city of Istanbul in April when the tulips were blooming in abundance. There were seas of tulips, and seas of beautiful people, beautiful buildings, delicious food, and marvelous Efes beer. Even in that brief time the culture captivated me and I basked in the experience of “difference”. I’ve always loved “difference” and travel has permitted to cater to that whim occasionally. And with the blog-o-sphere, and with reading I can also meet people of different cultures and appreciate the diversity which I feel is so vital in life. As a result of the delightful, though brief, stay in Istanbul, I have since read novels by two Turkish novelists, Orhan Pamuk (my favorite of his being The Museum of Innocence) and two novels by Elif Shafak.
I am currently reading Shafak’s novel, The Forty Rules of Love, which is a fictionalized account of the life of the Persian poet Rumi. And early in the book she makes an observation about Rumi’s perspective of jihad which is very relevant to world culture today and even to my country’s own “jihadists.” She noted of Rumi, “In an age of deeply embedded bigotries and clashes, he stood for a universal spirituality, opening his doors to people of all backgrounds. Instead of an outer-oriented jihad—defined as “the war against the infidels” and carried out by many in those days just as in the present—Rumi stood up for an inner-oriented jihad where the aim was to struggle against and ultimately prevail over one’s own ego, nafs.”
This resonates with an old refrain of mine, borrowed from W. H. Auden, “We wage the war we are” and relevant to Charlie Brown’s observation, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Though we must never withdraw and live in isolation, we must be engaged with the world and take purposeful action in this world, we must always remember that our primary enemy is always within. When the Apostle Paul lamented, “I will to do good, but evil is present with me,” I do not think he was talking about “them” out there in the world. He recognized that though he was a child of God, he still fought a daily battle with his inner haunts. Failure to recognize those haunts risks self-destruction and great harm to those around us. In my country, we have “jihadists” who are presently in paranoid fury with our government and even intimate taking up arms against this government. I really think they, and those who egg them on, should take a peak within.
I’d like to share another bit of Rumi relevant to this matter that Shafak quotes:
The whole universe is contained within a single human being–you. Everything that you see around, including the things you might not be fond of and even the people you despise or abhor, is present within you and in varying degrees. Therefore, do not look for Sheitan outside of yourself either. The devil is not an extraordinary force that attacks from without. It is an ordinary voice within. If you get to know yourself fully, facing with honesty and hardness both your dark and bright sides, you will arrive at a supreme form of consciousness. When a person know himself or herself, he or she knows God.