Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Mohammed goes to the mountain

Well not exactly...

There is an old saying that if Mohamed will not go to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohamed. I heard it as a child, long before there was a global confrontation between cultures. If someone referred to East versus West the reference was to Asia versus the US. The "yellow peril" of WWII was still in living memory and the heirs of Mohamed were only footnotes. Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and stories of magic lamps with genies inside were about as multi-cultural as we got in the fifties. Classy folks with upscale musical tastes knew about Sheherazade and everybody knew that Arabic numerals were a lot easier to use than Roman. Toward the start of the Sixties Ghibran came into vogue, but only as part of a literary diet that included the Kama Sutra, shallow glances at Confucianism, and Zen. It was cool to be exotic.

But 9/11 changed all that. We now live in a post 9/11 world that permits extremists, both East and West, to define our values. Last night I listened to a radio interview with the creators of a new TV show, Aliens in America, a sitcom based on what ensues when a middle-American family expecting a fair-haired British kid to come live with them for a year as an exchange student, finds a young Muslim instead.

This is a weak but important step in a process leading to a recovery from the whiplash of 9/11. Even now, half a decade after that defining event, any move toward reconciliation is seen as suspect by a lot of people, many of whom are otherwise decent, trusting folks. I recall one of my aunts about 1950 being concerned that a Russian woman who lived in the other side of their rented duplex might be a spy. This was at the peak of Red-baiting at the time when thousands of good people had reputations stained by the strident rhetoric of the day. Good names and careers were destroyed by ignorance at a time when the country flirted, as we often do, with the temptations of fascism. These memories may be part of the reason that Naomi Wolf's writing resonates so well with me.

My comments this morning are inspired by an important event. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is visiting the Pope. Even without the strains of 9/11 this would be a historic first. The reader can reflect on his own how this might play out. John Burgess has the link.


Anon commenter says my memory of the saying is inverted. Probably so. I tried to look it up but the origin seems lost in the fog of folklore,none of which, incidentally, is of Muslim origin. Either way it carries the same goofy sense.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you've inverted the saying -- wasn't it usually, "if the mountain won't come to Mohammed, Mohammed must go to the mountain"?