Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
After an event like yesterday’s murders of the Charlie Hebdo staff, I have to remind myself of what’s actually happening with jihadis. And what’s happening with us.
If we think of what we’ve read about drone attacks on Afghan villages that take out a dozen kids as well as guys plotting vicious mayhem; or off-target bombings of terrorists that turn out to have hit Pakistani weddings; or the wide loss of life in Iraq after the invasion a dozen years ago, the honest comment is that it only stirs us in a general way. We are so far from those places – humanly, culturally, in whatever way – that the casualties are just statistics in a news item. Any human concern we might (or might not) feel is abstract.
And for the jihadis, the same applies to us. French or Danish cartoonists, workers in New York office towers, TV pundits, infidel bloggers like me: we don’t have any substantial existence for them. We’re just statistics, like the numbers of a salesman trying to hit a sales target to earn his bonus.
The jihadis’ actual battle isn’t with our style of freedom at all. Rather, it’s a fight for Islam, which has steadily drifted towards western perspectives in the past century. The Iranian writer Ahmad Fardid coined the term ‘westoxification’ (gharbzadegi in Farsi) seventy years ago, and it’s been adopted elsewhere in the Muslim world since then. This is the real concern the fundamentalists have. At bottom, they have as much interest in us as we have in an illiterate goatherd who dies as collateral damage in the hills beyond Kabul. Their openly and repeatedly declared aim is to take control of the ‘real’ people, the Muslims, wherever they are, and to re-establish the Caliphate or something like it. God will then help them eliminate us from the face of the earth in some apocalyptic manner, and their job will be done.
Our only function in this is to become irritated enough to insult the Prophet or Islamic belief still further. Or better still, to attack Muslim communities by force of arms, proving once again how base we unbelievers truly are, how far from the love of Allah. Since a fundamentalist views life after death as superior to life before it, he has little actual concern over causing shattered families, maiming children, killing my hypothetical Afghan goatherd, or any other collateral casualties. God is in charge, trust in Him: end of story.
Many friends of mine yesterday were posting “Je suis Charlie” signs, and as someone who worked for many years in a corner of the magazine business, I almost joined in. But who, among the vast community of infidels, doesn’t support those murdered people and their families right now? And this is what those three terrorists, and whoever else helped or commanded them, want me to do. They want more scorn heaped on their faith, and more hostility directed at the quiescent, westoxicated Muslims living in western countries. They want them to experience more ostracism, more alienation, and not less. Alienated young men – and women in some cases – are more likely to join the cause.
Looking at it all throughout the day, as a French 9/11 unfolded, and feeling saddened and alarmed in alternating waves, I made some half-hearted efforts at this post, and said a few things on Facebook. But no more. Today I still don’t see quite what I’m trying to say here, because it contains a mystery that no-one, or hardly anyone, can address.
One of the few things I have in common with Aleister Crowley is that I’m an Islamophile. I’ve enjoyed my experiences in Islamic societies, I find sections of the Quran deeply moving, and I can’t join in the fashionable reviling of the Prophet Mahommed. I was deeply affected 45 years ago when a toothless but pious old man saved me from a dicey situation in a Cairo slum, and I could never look at normative Islam with my acculturated scorn for all things Arab any more. At one point I was actively investigating teaching English in Iran, and only government restrictions on visas for Canadians prevented me.
Therefore, I have a modest grasp of what the Islamic world is about, and I’ve tried intermittently to appreciate its history. And its history is absolutely not that of the western mindset. Ayatollah Khomeini read Plato, but generally the philosophers and interpreters of the Islamic world are not ours. Avicenna, Ibn Arabi and especially, more modern thinkers like Ahmad Fardid, Ali Shariati or Sayid Qutb are largely unknown even to educated people in western societies. We’ve even lost a magnificent poet like Rumi to the bastardised pseudo-translations of the American pretender Coleman Barks; forget about Fitzgerald’s cheery renderings of Omar Khayyam from a century earlier.
Pundits spoke some years ago of the clash of civilisations. But I’d hardly call the members of Al Qaeda or ISIL – Daesh, as Muslims prefer to call it – ‘civilised,’ let alone the three murderers in Paris yesterday. They are people who reject non-Quranic learning and all things civil.
But there is a clash of histories, ours tending until recently to place the stress on the individual’s relationship to God-as-Christ, or recently as the individual’s relationship to society; Islam’s tending towards greater orientation to God, or the will of God per se. In that nuance lies an ocean of difference.
And this is where I’m stuck on the mystery, which pivots around where we’re headed.
Yes, we can take Thelema as an applied philosophy, an affirmation of personal liberty. I have met Thelemites who feel the US constitution is the closest embodiment of their ideals that exists. Then again, some people are put off by magick, by the mysticism of Heru-Ra-Ha or Nuit, and by esoteric thinking generally. But if The Book of the Law is our guiding manual, and Crowley’s own voluminous writings are relevant, then we are headed for someplace beyond currently popular concepts of social or political freedom. We’ll actually end up as dyed-in-the-wool fundamentalists, and as committed in our way as the jihadis. It’s just that our fundamentalism will be unique to each Thelemite’s case, and it will be based on an appreciation for the fundamentalism of the next person.
But to exclude or ignore the idea that we are becoming connected to a specific and divine Other as the goal of living according to True Will is simply dishonest. Our method, Crowley said, is science, but our aim is religion – religio, or connecting to the Divine.
Possibly by the time people read this post, the two homicidal jihadis in France will have been killed or captured. In a few weeks or months, there will be others like them, elsewhere. There is no ‘winning’ by ‘our side’ since for the jihadis we’re just extras in their videos. The real protagonists, for these people, are all Muslim. Like Dubya, we could declare victory at some convenient point, but our declarations aren’t very relevant.
The vast majority of Muslims are trying to handle life like anyone, and they find these violent historical currents as hard to fathom as we do. If the jihadis fail it will be because that majority doesn’t choose to follow them in sufficient numbers. Already, despite the indifference or even the scorn of western media, major Muslim opinion-makers are lining up against the fanatics. They speak as Muslims to Muslims, which is why their comments are seen as half-hearted. “Are you with us, or against us?” is our perpetual challenge. And of course the answer is, “We aren’t the same ‘us’ as you.”
The battle with the jihadis will be won or lost within Islam. We are merely caught up in it, and will be for the foreseeable future. And overall, the western public won’t understand why, because our history doesn’t mesh with that of the people who want us to shed some blood for the cameras. We always ask the wrong questions.
But as the Aeon progresses, events will continue to re-shape all of us, in ways we can only guess about at the moment. I don’t and can’t reject the idea that some of our concepts of individual freedom are key to the eventual outcome. I also think that Islamic reverence for divinity, though in a radically altered form, will become steadily more a part of our internal conversation.
The Aeon has scarcely begun and we have a long and transforming journey ahead of us. “Nu is your refuge as Hadit your light; and I am the strength, force, vigour, of your arms.” (II, 17).
Love is the law, love under will,