summer in chicago
July 17, 2005-Oak Park, Chicago, Illinois
Summer in the northern Hemisphere is always a strange thing. I spent 6 years of my life in South America and I got used to December being hot and June and July being cold. It changes fundamentally how a person looks at the world. Growing up in Chicago as I did as a child I always dreaded January, February and March but I looked forward to Spring and especially to Autumn.
In many ways Autumn in the USA serves the same function as Spring in South America. Thomas Merton said that October makes us crazy with possibilities because we in the north have our blood move faster when there is a chill in the air. This sense of possibility in the seasonal change does not really exist in South America it is with the rains and the flowering of trees that one knows the seasons changing how you look at the world in the weather gives a good perspective to life.
So it is summer in Chicago- no rain, lots of heat and to be honest I am already tired of the summer.
I just finished Tariq Ali's new book A Sultan in Palermo, Ali's books are interesting not for their style but because of their subject matter. Ali has chosen as subjects great cusps of history and while I do not agree with many of his premises his choice of subjects makes the books interesting. Ali has chosen Saladin and the Crusades, the Spanish Reconquista, Islamic/Norman Sicily and Anatolia in the 19th Century as places for his novels and all of them are engrossing in their own way.
Ali's Pomegranite Seed is about the Moors in Spain after the reconquista. This is an interesting period because you have Islam in the decline, Spain has just conquered America and many great Spanish intellectuals are writing including John of the Cross and Cervantes it is a great time of ferment.
There is a great romanticization of lost places in Southern Europe. The Greeks lament rightly the Turkish invasion of Anatolia in 1071 and the loss of a 5000 year old Greek presence there and the Muslims lament rightly the loss of Al Andalus in 1453 and a 700 year old culture there. But both of these places are more mixed than is noted in travel books because really Spaniards have a llot of Arab in them just look at the Spanish Language, Ojala, let it be so, the ubiquitos expression comes from O Allah in Arabic and just look at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul (Constantinople) to see the hand of Byzantium we are all wonderful mongrels. But as Ali points out in all his books it is in the cultural conflict not in the wars of kings that the real revolution happens.
Recently I sat through Kingdom of Heaven a Ridley Scott epic wherein he did for Medieval Christianity and Islam what he did for Roman Civilization in Gladiator he denuded it of religion and cultural context. In Kingdom of Heaven the deep religious underpinnings of the Crusades, and the Anti Crusade Jihad is ignored; no Sufis no Cistercians, no Templars or Orthodox Christians no Maronites just swordplay. But it is in the religious dimension that these stories make sense; it is in the mixture of piety, poetry and fanaticism that everything is possible.
And now we come back to our present day- we sit in horror at terrorist acts rightly perceived as evil- we choose to see the motivations as wrong headed but sincere.
The Jihadis in our midst are not space aliens, no they are us- and to be frank we in the West are capable of many of the same horrors just look at our recent past; World War I , Holocaust, WWII, British India, French Algeria, Viet Nam (French and American), the War on Drugs shall we go on were not committed by Jihadis.
We need to embrace our fanaticism as part of us. When we look at the world we must remember that our history is filled with the same kinds of people and that we revere them- look at the list; Bernard of Clairvaux, Martin Luther, Ignatius of Loyola, Robespierre, Lenin, Hitler, all children of the west all fanatics and all essential parts of our history.
History is not truth it is fact