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Fatema Mernissi

The Casablanca Dream

Weaving Peace into Globalization

Paper for the Casablanca Group Meeting "Women Weave Peace into Globalisation",
January 2007
© Fatema Mernissi

About the meeting, its outcome and progress see:

Why are human beings - who have dreamed since the dawn of civilization of flying and of developing wings to move faster and cross familiar boundaries to discover the unfamiliar - now afraid of globalization? To fly away, to escape from danger is one of the most archaic and obsessive dreams we have inherited from our ancestors, although they limited their fantasies to magic carpets and 'wild birds as symbols of release or liberation', while we don't hesitate to include "jet planes and space rockets, for they are the physical embodiment of the same transcendent principle, freeing us at least temporarily from gravity." (1)

So why do we - privileged moderns who enjoy the wonderful advances of transport technology and can at last afford to travel far to meet strangers - find ourselves constantly harassed in airports, mesmerized by obscure threats of terrorism and senseless security procedures? What prevents us from experiencing globalization as a delightful enchantment? This is the enigma our 'Casablanca Dream' group has to solve: how to transform globalization into a voyage free of anxiety and fear? And why does the danger that spoils globalization take the form of a Moslem who can be either a terrorist or a clandestine migrant?

This enigmatic 'Muslim twist' increases the challenges of the ambitious task the Indian development economist and activist Devaki Jain has set for us: " Weaving Peace Into Globalization". What excites me about the Casablanca group is that it frees me from the straitjacket of my local Mediterranean Arab-European conflict by bringing in a heavy contingent of Asians. Can the Gandhian philosophy Devaki Jain has been advocating help the Casablanca group figure out why Islam is seen as the threat so as to be able to weave peace into our frenzied globalization? I would like us to go back now to our first question and let me suggest that we associate Oriental carpets with flying because Moslem artisans fuel them with their dreams.

The dream of flying: 'Allah made the earth a carpet for you so you can travel '

Islam's success started with the Prophet making a dream (ru'ya). So it is no wonder that interpreting dreams (ta'wil ar-ru'ya) became a science in Islam. (2) Sufis (mystics of Islam) such as Ibn 'Arabi (a Spanish Arab born in Murcia in 1165 A.D.560 hijra), stressed that our life on earth is like a dream, and decoding it helps one take the right decisions. (3) And centuries later C.G.Jung restated the same idea after discovering that a recurrent theme of our dreams are "flying or falling". (4) To devise escape strategies by developing wings or swimming such as "lizards, snakes and sometimes fish" are symbols we share with the pre-historic men who carved them on stones. (5) After studying carpets for two decades, I realized that we associate the Oriental ones woven by Moslem artisans with flying, because Islam encourages believers to indulge in their dream to travel by describing the planet earth as a carpet : "Don't you see how Allah has created seven heavens in harmony and made the moon a light therein and the sun a lamp Allah made the earth a bissat (carpet) for you so you can travel along its spacious paths." (6)

Islam stressed geographic mobility as the only way to learn and figure out how to survive : "Have they not journeyed through the land? And have they not hearts to understand with, or ears to hear with?" (Quran, Sourat XXII, 45) . This is the first hint. A second one is that we associate 'Oriental carpets' with flying because Islam encouraged believers to take seriously their dreams to move freely. Dreams, explains the scholar Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) in his "Introduction to History" (The Muqadimah, which he finished in 1377 and which is still a best-seller on the internet if we trust Google), enhance audacity by releasing imagination : "Man lets the perception of his imagination roam deep in his inner self free of the time and space boundaries." (7)

Finally, a third reason why we instinctively associate carpets with flying is that Moslem artisans who invent them are encouraged to use symbols instead of images: "In dreams, symbols occur spontaneously, for dreams happen and are not invented, they are therefore, the main source of all our knowledge about symbolisms." (8) The universal feeling of Muslims belonging to the same umma (community) stems precisely from Islam's glorification of the dream, the night and consequently the moon as important as the sun, unlike Christianity, which debased the moon as lunacy. (9) And this brings us back to our "Casablanca Dream" challenge: Why is globalization perceived as a danger instead of a blessing?

Why does the scientifically focused secular West perceive religion (Islam) as a threat? Let's listen to Amartya Sen.

To frame more clearly the features of the puzzle we have to first define secularization: "The theory of secularization that has been advocated since the 19th century in different variations by nearly all social scientists basically argues that, with increasing modernization, religions not only lose their significance for political life, but also become a purely private matter and ultimately decline as institutional entities. It follows that public manifestations of religiosity will appear either inexplicable or as atavistic echoes of an outmoded understanding of the world." (10)

Secularism complicates our puzzle further : why a science-worshipping West not only identifies its enemy as powered by religion and why of all the planet's creeds, it singles out Islam? This focus of the West's fears on Islam increases the challenges of the Casablanca group because, as Amartya Sen argues in his recent book "Identity and Violence", to reduce a person's identity to his religious affiliation as Samuel Huntington does in his famous "Clash of Civilizations" thesis is a "sharply carpentered vision". (11) Why ?

As Amartya Sen, explains, each one of us survives by weaving a diverse hub of identity linkages: "The people of the world can be classified according to many other systems of partitioning, each of which has some-often far-reaching relevance in our lives: such as nationalities, locations, classes, occupations, social status, languages, politics, and many others. While religious categories have received much airing in recent years, they cannot be presumed to obliterate other distinction, and even less can they be seen as the only relevant system of classifying people across the globe. In partitioning the population of the world into those belonging to 'the Islamic world,' 'the Western world', 'the Hindu world', 'the Buddhist world', the divisive power of classificatory priority is implicitly used to place people firmly inside a unique set of rigid boxes." (12)

Amartya Sen is right to point out that other divisions beside religion do influence our psychological identity-weaving, such as class and geography : "Other divisions (say, between the rich and the poor, members of different classes and occupations, people of different politics, distinct nationalities and residential locations, language groups, etc.) are all submerged by this allegedly primal way of seeing the differences between the people." (13)

So why does the West single out religion? Could it be that secularism, which insists on individualism, weakens the citizen's sense of belonging to a universal community and because the latter is so strong in Islam it is perceived as a threat? Ernest Gellner, one of the best analysts of the Moslem world contemplates this possibility: "Religion is linked to the celebration of the community, and in the atomized world of modern mass society, there is little community to celebrate, other than possibly the national state - and that state has found its own new ritual and set of values in nationalism. So the erosion of community life is reflected in the loss of faith, and the diminished appeal of ritual." (14)

So, could it be that Islam's universal claim is instinctively perceived as a threat for the Western secular states, which limit their allegiance and promises to their geographically defined citizens? Is it the universality of the umma - a community which ignores ethnic and geographic boundaries - which threatens the secular, geography-bound Western States and if so, how can we help them adjust to this cosmo-psychological phenomenon ? So, let 's jump in time to Al-Biruni (d.1048 A.D./430hijra), a Persian who wrote a book about India, in order to help Muslims figure out how to trade with Hindus. He realized that Hinduism and Islam were so different that a 'Clash of Civilizations' as Mr. Huntington would say, was to be expected. In so doing, Al Biruni put his finger on Islam's key feature: the umma or universal community as a huge gap between the two cultures.

Al Biruni about India : "The Indians of our time make numerous distinctions among human beings. We differ from them in this."

What motivated Al Biruni - who was born to an Iranian family in Biroun, in the province of Khawarism (present Khiva) whence his name and who mastered Greek and Sanskrit as well as Persian and Arabic - to write his book on India, was that he found Hinduism incomprehensible: "They (the Hindus) totally differ from us in religion, as we believe in nothing in which they believe, and vice-versa." (15)

But precisely because they are so different, explains Al Biruni, Moslems have to study the Indian mentality so as to be able to figure them out and argue with them (jadal). And to trade with the Hindu was the reason why Moslems such as Al-Biruni were eager to figure the Hindus out, but of course he did not mention this pragmatic dimension of jadal. And as one would expect, a striking difference which puzzled Al Biruni was the caste system where not only each person was assigned to a specific caste, "but if anybody wants to quit the work and duties of his caste and adopt those of another caste, even if it would bring a certain honour to the latter, it is a sin, because it is a transgression of the rule." (16)

And this stands in total contradiction to the Moslem principle of the universal umma: "We (the Moslems) differ from them in this, for we regard all men as equal except in piety. This is the greatest barrier between Hindus and Moslems. " (17)

But, what would amaze Mr. Huntington is that Al Biruni (11th century) did not reach the same conclusion as he . Al Biruni did not rush to denounce a 'Clash of Civilizations' but alerted Moslems to the need to study Hindu mentality so as to interact with them successfully. And that was what motivated him to write his book: to help "any one (in Islam) who wants to converse (jadal) with the Hindus, and to discuss with them questions of religion, science, or literature, on the very basis of their own civilization." (18)

Now, to come back to our 'Casablanca dream' of weaving peace with globalization: could it be that Islam is perceived as a threat by the secular Western countries because it promotes a universal vision of a limitless umma? The umma does definitely defy geographic boundaries, as the Lebanese scholar Albert Hourani (1937-1993) explained, but religion was not the only thread Moslems had available to spin from their identity : "Islam gave men an identity by which to define themselves in regard to others. Like all men, Muslims lived at different levels. They did not think of Judgment and Heaven all the time. Beyond their individual existence, they defined themselves for most daily purposes in terms of the family or broader kinship group, the herding unit or tribe, the village or rural district, the quarter or city. Beyond these , however, they were aware of belonging to something broader, the community of believers: the umma." (19)

This brings us once again to where we started : the dreams Moslem artisans infuse in their carpets which induces us to associate them with flying. The sense of belonging stems from Islam's glorifying the night, the moon and dreams - imagination and emotions as sources of positive knowledge. Islam might scare the scientific West because it brings the dark night and the insane moon to the light.

Could it be that Islam scares the West because it brings back the dreamy Night?

The problem does not limit itself to a psychological difference but has a cosmic dimension since the West uses one single solar calendar and Moslems juggle daily with a lunar one as well. Navigating between two calendars is one of the striking cosmic advantages Moslem citizens have over the secular West which sticks to the solar one: "Moslems managed quite nicely with a lunar calendar that designated religious holidays on days of the solar year with what would seem wild abandon to anyone but an attentive astronomer," noticed the historian Alfred Crosby in his book "The Measure of Reality". (20)


To conclude, I wonder if we are not in the presence of a 'Dream Crush' rather than a 'Civilization Clash' and if the Moon Crescent Islam chose as its symbol reminds the scientifically-minded West that it had neglected something important to human harmony.

Could it be that Islam scares the secular Western rulers because it brings back the night and its wild dreams, which defy artificially manufactured geographic boundaries? According to Jared Diamond, national frontiers hardly existed before the 16th century and were thus a gift of the industrial West: "As recently as 1500 AD, less than 20 percent of the world's land area was marked off by boundaries into states run by bureaucrats and governed by laws. Today , all land except Antarctica's is so divided." (21) As Bertrand Russell bluntly states : "Science is not enough Science does not include art, or friendship, or various other valuable elements in life. Science has nothing to say about values. And cannot prove such propositions as 'it is better to love than to hate' or 'kindness is more desirable than cruelty." (22)

So, maybe Western rulers are afraid because Islam reminds them, in a globalized planet, of the part of their citizens they decided to crush: the dreamy one. Only when I read Mircea Eliade did the enigma of why Western rulers avoid calling themselves Christians became clear: "Man in Western society ... wants to be and declares himself to be a-religious, completely rid of the sacred." (23) But of course, to declare something as powerful as the moon irrelevant does not change the cosmos so much as it affects the psychology of the fragile creatures who make such an arrogant declaration. Mircea Eliade was right to point out that: "On the level of every day consciousness, he (the westerner) is perhaps right; but he continues to participate in the sacred through his dreams and his daydreams ... That is to say, modern man has 'forgotten' religion, but the sacred survives, buried in his unconscious." (24)

So, what will Western rulers lose in acknowledging their citizens' vulnerable dreamy side?

1 Joseph L.Henderson: "Ancient myths and modern man", published in "Man and his Symbols" Carl. Yung , Doubleday, New York, 1964, p. 156.
2 Imam Bukhari: "As-Sahih "(Authentic Hadiths), Al Maktaba al a'riya, Beyrouth. 1998 edition, Vol. 8th. Page 337. Bukhari died in 256 Hijra ( 9th century AD).
3 "Fuus al-Hikam" (The Bezels of Wisdom) dar al kitab al'arabi, Beyrouth, Lebanon, date non indicated. page 161.
4 Carl G. Jung: "Man and His Symbols", Doubleday, New York, 1964, page 50
5 Carl G. Jung: "Man and His Symbols", op.cit. page 154.
6 My translation of the Qoran, Sourat Noa (Nouh) N 71 verse 19.
7 My translation of Imam Ibn Khaldun quote in his book "An Introduction to History" (The Moqaddimah), Al Maktaba al Ariya, Beyrouth, the 2003 edition, page 448.
8 The quote is from Carl G. Jung "Man and His Symbols", Doubleday, New York, 1964, page 55.
9 See for instance Bertrand Russel "Religion and Science", Oxford University Press, 1997 and Michel Foucault "Discipline and Punish: The birth of prison", English translation by Alan Sheridan, Vintage Books, Random House, New York,1995 .
10 Sonja Asal: "Secular Modernity? Revising a Self-Perception", Wissenschaftskolleg newsletter 'Koepfe und Ideen' (Heads and Ideas) Berlin, 2006, p. 32.
11 Amartya Sen: "Identity and Violence", Allen Lane, Penguin Books, 2006, page 10.
12 Amartya Sen: "Identity and Violence", op.cit. page 10.
13 Amartya Sen: "Identity and Violence", op.cit. page 11.
14 Ernest Gellner: "Postmodernism, Reason and Religion", Rootledge, London, 1992 reprint, page 4.
15 Al-Biruni: "India", English translation by Edward C. Sachau, Asian Educational Services, New Delhi, 1993 edition, vol I page 19. Al-Biruni's arab original is "Tahqiq ma lilhind min maqulatin maqbula fi l'aqli wa mardula', Alam al kitab, beyrouth, Lebanon, printing date non indicated.
16 Al-Biruni: "India", op.cit. vol 1, page 103.
17 Al-Biruni: "India", op.cit. vol 1 page 100.
18 Al-Biruni: "India", op.cit. vol 2 page 246.
19 Albert Hourani: "A History of the Arab People", Faber and Faber, London, 2005 paper back edition (first published in 1991), p.57.
20 Alfred Crosby: "Measure of Reality : Quantification and Western Society, 1250-1600" Cambridge University Press, UK and New York, 1997, page 89.
21 Jared Diamond: "Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies", Norton, New York,1999. p. 266.
22 Bertrand Russel: "Religion and Science", Oxford University Press. This book was first published in 1935, in the midst of the second World War. The printing I have is from 1997, p.176.
23 Mircea Eliade's Reader: "Myths, Rites, Symbols", edited by Wendell C.Beane and William G.Doty, Harper, Colophon books, New York, 1975, p. 126.
24 Mircea Eliade's Reader: "Myths, Rites, Symbols", op.cit. page 126.

© Fatema Merissi
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