@Jamwanda2 on Saturday
A student of Culture
AT heart and at soul, I am a student of culture.
This is why I opted to read Literature at college, much of it drawn from the Western World.
But that was to get certificated.
Once I was, I wondered off beyond Western Literary canon and practice, to look at Culture writ large.
Culture as a part and an expression of the superstructure, in line with my Marxist outlook.
Rushdie and the fatwa
Last week, some young Moslem fellow stabbed Salman Rushdie, the Indian born but western-raised author who shot to fame on the back of his book, Satanic Verses.
This turgid book caused such uproar in the Muslim World that the Ayatollah pronounced a “fatwa”, or a religious death sentence on him.
The Muslim world decided Salman had committed a cardinal sin of lampooning Allah, an act of supreme apostasy only expiated by the perpetrator’s blood. Hence the fatwa.
Fatwa enjoins any Muslim anywhere in the world to dutifully carry out this sentence upon seeing or coming close to the offender, lest the sin attaches to any Muslim who lets pass of the opportunity.
That meant Salman had as many executioners as there are Muslims in the world.
Overnight, the world thus became very unsafe for Salman, forcing the Western world which had raised, pampered and cheered him for penning the book, to provide expensive protective custody.
The result was a classical paradox: as his fame grew and soared to global heights, his living space shrank in equal, inverse measure.
That meant while he had the whole world under his feet, his living space became measurable in millimetres.
Harmful beyond the grave
Before long the Ayatollah died and got buried, leading many in the West to relax, thinking the fatwa had been interred with this great figure in the Muslim world.
It was a fatal misreading of this great global Faith, principally the longevity of its scriptural verdict.
So many years after the verdict, so many years after the death of the presiding Ayatollah, the fatwa proved fresher than a weeping wound, with children of Allah as ready as ever to avenge the cardinal filial slight.
So, as Salman sullied to an American podium, mind fixed on his presentation, a young Muslim stole upon him and, with deadly alacrity, stabbed him several times on stage.
At the end of the assault, Salman was left bleeding profusely, an eye gone and his vital liver perforated.
With his mission done, the young Muslim agreed to be subdued and taken away. In court, he defiantly pleads Not Guilty, to this day!
Free speech and literature
My study of vast literature and all theories behind it taught me a book, any book for that matter, amounts to a public speech act, never mind the setting of its consumption: bus or boudoir.
In fact, time was when books were so scarce that they were read at the marketplace, to a riveted crowd.
Or in coffee shops, giving rise to the 18th Century Habermas notion of public space.
Reading and consumption of literature was a communal affair once upon a time.
Of course things have since changed — changed drastically — including making both books and the act of reading virtual.
Hence the industrial growth in charlatans about us!
Romancing hard book
I resist this continuing, great emasculation of art by technology, which is why, in enduring symbolic protest, gazers still find me holding a hard copy, and never a thimble or some such contraption which pretends to be a modern book.
On books, my sense of romance remains physical and real; I want to caress the actual book, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, often horizontally discharging blue semen onto it, as my pen underscores its most nubile sections.
That way I mate with the author, whatever his gender. That’s me.
Appeasing some offended deity
What my copious study of literature never quite taught me, or prepared me for, was by-passing the actual book murderously for the writer’s vitals, to appease some offended Deity.
And to do so in high-tech America, in front and full glare of its bevy of high-resolution cameras.
This is exactly what happened on the fateful day when an attempt was made on Rushdie’s life.
All of it captured on celluloid so that dire and grisly moment would be eternalised, both as an everlasting warning to any writer/artist intent on apostasy, and as a penultimate act of penance by one such offender.
It was horrifying, indeed an act meant to have a chilling effect on any writer, current or budding.
Now I know never to take writers and writing for granted; it can be a deadly affair, with some out there who think the best and most intimate way of reading and appreciating art is when the artist meets an ardent critic wielding a sharp knife; not a pen, not a sharp mind.
Mourning Salman Rushdie the person
Many in my sect of literature expect me to shed a tear or two for Salman Rushdie; and to commiserate with his family.
I did that in the heat of the attack. I, too, felt stabbed, alongside the rest of compassionate humanity.
Life is precious, always. But that was then, in the suddenness and freshness of the deadly deed.
Time has since moved, and with it, returning sobriety and better judgement.
Rushdie is now off the oxygen tank and, we are told by his household, his wicked sense of humour has since reunited with him.
Amidst pain, laughter has returned. But his bodily injuries — again we are told by his household — are life crippling.
I wish him well; do so as a mere human being.
The day I bought Satanic Verses
As a student of culture, I am both impious and less sympathetic.
Maybe before I offend and generate reader outrage, let me make this little confession: I was among the earliest buyers of Satanic Verses.
I secured an early copy, hot from the press when the book then was only in hard copy, and still very pricey. I recall smothering it with an improvised hard khaki jacket, for fear that the viral fatwa would extend to me.
Even in my secure home, I never felt safe enough to read it without hiding it behind that khaki slumber-jacket which disguised its potentially life-harming sleeve.
Save for the fact that I write this instalment away from home, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I would have checked if ever that one historic copy ever sloughed off this impenetrable khaki jacket bred by my fear of some broadened fatwa.
That said, let me proceed to savage your tender sensibilities without any iota of remorse, dear reader.
The Arab puzzle of my Remba uncles
I am not a Muslim.
My mother’s people — madzisekuru angu vana Musoni whose sects grow like amoeba, each time one of them covets and marries a beautiful daughter bred by any one of their own — are yet to make up their minds: are they Arabs or Jews?
Or even Christians?
Back in Buhera, one family of my maternal uncles — the Maereseras — dramatise this hilarious confusion I have alluded to.
Many from this Remba family consider themselves Arabs who hailed several centuries ago from Yemen. They will not taste meat they have not bled with their own knives, and after due process of circumcision.
Between the cold months of May and July each year, their uninitiated go kuChikoro chechiMwenyi — School of Circumcision — where this rite of passage is performed by surgeons of the Clan.
But like I said, that is one section of my uncles’ Family.
Then the Jewish/Christian side
The other part considers itself Jewish, with one of my uncles having already graduated as a rabbi of a local synagogue.
He is the point man of a team of Jewish doctors who yearly come to Buhera to heal the ailing.
It is a thin end of the wedge: they heal in order to convert and proselytise. Still, this does not complete the Maeresera Family.
Another of my uncles is a pastor. He saves otherwise lost souls under the banner of the SDA, the Seventh Day Adventists.
He used to run a local SDA church at Buhera office.
I have lost track and cannot tell where Sekuru is now doing his ministry. Such is how complexly multi-religious my maternal side is.
Broadly speaking, as hunger bites in Buhera, more and more mosques are sprouting in drought-prone Buhera.
Boundaries of faith continue to wear thin, with more and more non-Rembas converting to Islam. Or pretending to, in return for a day’s hot meal.
Where I stand
I said I am not a Muslim; I therefore hold no brief from anyone, dead or alive; well or injured!
I consider myself a rational Catholic, whatever than means.
Equally, any building is a pathway to the Deity above.
Any preacher can bring great tidings, whether he wears the turban of the Prophet, or the tiara of the Pope.
That’s just me, open-mindedly seeking the Great Being above and beyond, particularly when life spews its vexations and endless perplexities.
Colonialism, the Spire, the Minaret
But as a student of Culture, my position is a lot more complex, nuanced in ways that will baffle many.
I am very clear that at its onset, colonialism aligned itself with religious symbols and paraphernalia.
It may have been with the Cross and the Spire on the one hand, or with the Half Moon and the Minaret on the other.
Both victimised us, we whose cathedrals and mosques were mere dark grottoes where our spirits were thought to reside, and would manifest upon invocation, supplication and libation.
Equally, I am very clear today, tomorrow and ever, that arms of conquest quite apart, successive bids for renewed global hegemony still require a church, a mosque, a synagogue or a pagoda, in that order of rivalry and viciousness.
To the small African ant writhing under, it matters pretty little if it is a hoof, a leg or a paw oppressively above.
All are just as flattening.
Rushdie the condemnable writer
In exercising his creative urge for self-expression, Salman Rushdie assaulted Islam and Moslems, in the process inviting the fatwa upon himself.
He did it for the vain Western world which raised him and gave him a new faith, away from that of his forefathers and of his Land of birth.
You do not need to stretch your mind to visualise how Christendom would have been ignited if a Muslim writer reversed the spelling of GOD in a creative tome!
I am not debating what sentence would attend to such sacrilege; I am merely quantifying the inevitable outrage sure to follow such an act of sacrilege.
We need to respect peoples’ faiths, always bearing in mind the more we move away from those who crafted that Faith, the more irrational its defence by its acolytes becomes.
That is Faith and Religion for you, which is why Catholics almost wiped each other out when a proposition was put to the Vatican of whether upon falling into wine blest by the Pope, the fly gets blest or the wine gets contaminated!
Or the act of merely peeping into God’s bedroom — the heavens — as Galileo and his telescope did!
Ideologue for the assault on Muslims
It gets worse when rival faiths celebrate the assailant of a given Faith, as was unanimously done by the West.
Worse, when that celebration is then followed by a physical assault of the Muslim World, all under the pretext of 9/11! Would anyone quarrel with the view in the Muslim world that Rushdie was opening an ideological salvo for this eventual physical assault on Muslim societies?
Hey, don’t give me rational responses; we are talking religion here.
And as the story of Simon Peter tells us, there is no better agency for assaulting a Faith than converting and winning over its erstwhile proponent.
If you are secular, was that not the trick used by Britain in fighting Communism when it won over Eric Blair, also known as George Orwell, himself an ardent Communist before?
Or Rhodesians who created Selous Scouts out of “turned” guerrillas during our Struggle?
Intolerant brand of Islam
In pronouncing the fatwa as a weapon of defence against Rushdie’s elaborate impieties, the Muslim World personified by its dead Ayatollah showed itself to be both intolerant and unreconstructed, right up to its grave and, as almost happened, that of its victim.
Simply put, writers are creatures of irreverence; they love to cross boundaries set by taboos, personal or societal.
Levity is at the heart of satire, which is why most writers are iconoclastic; agnostic and always giggling even in serious circumstances.
They relish showing the underside of societies, including stripping bare and holding up to public gaze society’s unwiped hinds.
All religions deserve the writer’s scalpel
Which is why religion, itself the most enduring cloak to human vices, is hard to spare.
All Faiths crave for power, and use pretence and great emotion to control.
Such a great emotion, such an enthralling system of ideas, with such a disproportionate hold over human sensibilities, investing in such huge and complex edifices, and so keen to invoke divinity to escape scrutiny, must surely invite a sordid peep, if its disproportionate power has to be checked and balanced in the society we all inhabit as humans!
A faith that bears arms
Islam is not like Catholicism, Anglicanism or other old denominational sects of Protestantism.
Even in its schismatic form — Shiite, Sunni or Alwaites — it is a very aggressive Faith whose alignment to States, and whose quest for State Power is as unrelenting as it is ageless.
We have so many theocracies. We have disturbances in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, where Islam has picked up arms, bludgeoning and savaging communities to impose its suzerainty and intolerant system of beliefs.
Such awesome Faith, surely cannot be left to merely preach, arm, fight, forcibly convert and even govern, without anyone asking its foundational tenets and its whys and wherefores as it governs.
This is what Salman Rushdie tried to do through his Satanic Verses, much to the chagrin of the Muslim world, or the converse: much to the glee of the Western World.
Frankly, looking at what Rushdie wrote and did after writing; what the Western world did, including defending a book it never read; and given the intensity of Muslim reaction to what, after all, was a mere turgidly worded and wordy slight on their Faith and their Deity, I am convinced we are confronted by two brands of fanatic fundamentalism, neither of which is preferable.
Put differently, I don’t know which side to celebrate or abhor when poetic justice and nemesis jump out of fiction to slay each other on stage!
Pentecostalising Zim politics
Talking about fundamentalism and belief, a friend and workmate who circulates in the universe of Pentecostalism made a telling point.
The subject matter was Chamisa and his claim to Pisgah sight politics, only matched by his aversion of ideology, structure and shared leadership.
“But buddie, this is how most Pentecostal churches are run: no structures, no collective leadership and deification of the founder-leaders by multitudes of supplicants! What you see in Chamisa — himself a pastor — is a transposition of Pentecostalism into the realm of politics.”
Atop false Pisgah Summit
Dumbfounded, I recalled Chamisa and his Triple C’s heraldic mantras, like “Behold the New Great Zimbabwe”, “#GodIsInIt” and “#NgaapindeHakeMukomana” which simulates the biblical Triumphal Entry.
Not to refer to his endless prayers and prayerful gestures each of which is calculated to suggest faith in agony or a soul atop a mountain summit in the Land of Moab from which he spies the Promised Land!
The hero-worshipping; the aura with which the little man seeks to surround himself; his coxcombical obsession with dressing; the bevy of yodelling harem; the versification of our politics; the evocative, biblical language laced with pseudo-visions and prophecies; false liturgies and much more! All these are the stock-in-trade of his politics, the amalgam of which yield multidimensional props by which sheer knavery, mediocrity and puniness assumes a dazzling halo of piety and superhumanity!
Behold the puny man
Yet beneath all that is puny man of countless foibles, wild ambition disguised as acme of democratic impulse. Candidates for 2023, we are told, will come “from you the people”, itself a tired euphemism for vain legitimation of egocentric politics.
Triple C, we are again told, has no structures, no ideology, no leadership yet in reality he is the sole leader, the only structure and the ideology on which all runs, with a handful of tenacious acolytes, largely female.
Ideologically we know he is a true chip off the block of traditional colonial imperialism, which is why his universe is full of Johnsons, Bushes, Trumps and Bidens, while being reflexively hostile to the Putins, the Xi and Musevenis of African Struggles.
Competing to own uncontested defeat
By way of political common-sense, his errors of prefigurement and judgement are simply legendary.
Need we go far?
Ahead of Kenya’s just-ended elections, Chamisa committed the indiscretion of predicting the ultimate winner, while colouring the whole social media with images of himself with the ultimate loser!
He hoped events would turn him into a political seer!
Today he cuts a comical figure; a political upstart who cannot see far, indeed whose Pisgah sights pretensions barely go beyond his milky nose-bridge!
We in the animal kingdom seem to enjoy better vision than he does.
We accurately smell where the brew is.
My only warning to mankind: beware of political Pentecostalism whose zealotry can easily burn the village.
I feel like braying!