Monday, December 15, 2008

A Response

In my previous post I put up two quotes from an editorial piece by Orhan Pamuk published in the Guardian. Originally I had put the quotes into a draft to use later. Afterwards, our cat took a nap on my keyboard, publishing them for me. One should not argue with such fate, so I left them up to stand alone.

The piece in the Guardian oversimplifies the extremely complex interactions between poverty, religion, war and terrorism as they are being played out today. My personal experience having spent half my life in non-western countries is that the non-western world has complicated feelings about the west, but those thoughts and attitudes range widely from contempt to jealousy to amusement to superiority and so on. There is no unifying sense of the west, and the differences in perceptions of western culture between say China and Africa couldn't be bigger. It would be more productive to examine the use of terror in the Arab world as a complex symbol that arises multi-dimensionally to achieve diverse goals. And in doing so we should recognize that the motivations and experiences of Palistinian youths drawn to terrorism will be likely very different than the same motivations of the Lashkar separatists who carried out the recent attacks in Mumbai.

With that in mind, here is a quote from Ryszard Kapuscinski that comes much closer to getting to the philosophical root of the problem of turning a western eye on the rest of the world with a mind to understand it.
Each of these people, whom we meet along the road and across the world, is in a way twofold: each one consists of two beings whom it is often difficult to separate, a fact that we do not always realize. One of these beings is a person like the rest of us he has his joys and sorrows, his good and bad days; he is glad of his successes, does not like to be hungry and does not like it when he is cold; he feels pain as suffering and misery, and good fortune as satisfying and fulfilling. The other being, who overlaps and is interwoven with the first, is a person as bearer of racial features, and as bearer of culture, beliefs and convictions. Neither of these beings appears in a pure, isolated state--they coexist, having a reciprocal effect on each other.

However, the problem--and here lies the difficulty of my profession as a reporter--is that this relationship existing within each of us, between the person as individual and personality and the person as bearer of culture and race is not immobile, rigid or static, not fixed inside him for good. On the contrary, its typical features are dynamism, mobility, variability and differences in intensity, depending on the external context, the demands of the current moment or even one's own mood and stage of life.

As a result we never know whom we are going to meet, even though by name and appearance it may be someone who is already familiar to us. And what about when we come into contact with a person we are seeing for the first time? So every encounter with the Other is an enigma, an unknown quantity--I would even say a mystery.

From The Other by Ryszard Kapuscinski

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