Sunday, May 20, 2007

174)China Series No. 3:Coming face to face with Whiplash Wang and Cynical Ali in Kashgar, Xinjiang Province, China.

Whats the point having a personal blog if you can't spice it up once in a while. I am one of 100 million personal bloggers out there worldwide and my blog is a spontaneous mixture of both sublime and mundane thoughts but I also use it as an emotive tool to vent feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, resentment, disappointment, euphoria, happiness and outright joy. It can, and has been, a vehicle of catharsis for me. Such an occasion presented itself squarely in my face when I recently visited Kashgar in the Uighur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang Province in Western China(the part of China that Islam has had the most influence on in its expansion phase many centuries ago).

Kashgar is surrounded on the north and west sides by the breathtakingly high snow-capped mountains of the Tien Shan and Pamir ranges, is on the Chinese side of these mountain ranges and in line latitudinally on the other side of these mountains with the Central Asian country of Tajikistan. Surrounding Kashgar on the third(southeast) side is the formidable Tacklameckem desert, second in size in the world only to the Sahara desert in North Africa and whose name in the Uighur language, a Turkic language, means "Go inside, never come out"! In addition, about 200 kilometers southwest of Kashgar is the Tashkorgan region, not far from Yarkand, where many muslims of the Tajik minority group have lived for a thousand years or so. They are mostly muslims of the Shia persuasion. This region is less than 100 kilometers from the Chinese-Tajikistan border crossing. In fact, if you spit hard enough and high enough upward and your spittoon made it over the lofty mountains, it would land on the Tajikistan side in the backyard of where the revered Shia Ismaili poet, author, cosmologist, philosopher and theologian Nasir Khusraw used to live a thousand years ago.

There are 2 characters central to this blog posting: One was the driver of our tour car, the other our tour guide for the city of Kashgar itself. I call the driver, a member of the majority Han Chinese ethnic group, Whiplash Wang because he reminded me of the famous character in the M*A*S*H*(Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) TV series of the 1970s, starring Alan Alda, in North America. This character would lurk in the shadows on the outskirts of the field hospital and fake being hit by any jeep as it sped into the camp with wounded soldiers. As he lay writhing in neck pain being treated in the hospital at the camp, his pain would suddenly disappear once he was awarded some financial compensation by the camp head. This earned him the nickname "Whiplash Wang". This character is peripheral to my story.

The other, more central character, our tour guide, I chose to name Cynical Ali, a Uighur Sunni muslim and native Kashgarian through and through. He was a real busybody with his cell phone constantly ringing as he endeavoured to show us the highlights of his city. He appeared to be well-connected judging by the number of cell phone calls he was receiving. He reminded me of the Iraqi propaganda minister at the start of the Iraq War in 2003, a far less sinister and more avancular Joe Goebbels-like personality, who earned the nickname Comical Ali when he claimed vehemently on Iraqi TV that the Americans had been driven from Baghdad by the superior forces of Saddam Hussein. All this while American TV showed American tanks already parked in the parking lot of the TV station Comical Ali was broadcasting from.

All in all, Whiplash Wang and Cynical Ali turned out to be an excellent driver and tour guide respectively and were well evaluated(a prerequisite for them keeping their jobs) and gratuitised by us at the end of the tour.

One place on our tour agenda included the famous Kashgar Sunday market, the largest in Central Asia they claim, one part involving the marketing, sale and purchasing of massive numbers of livestock like lambs, sheep, donkeys, cows and horses, with a cacophony of sounds to match; the other part being a huge market bazaar where all other items like clothes, foodstuffs and many other things were sold. Other places we visited included the famous IddKah Mosque, the tomb of Sunni Sufi leader Aba Khoja and his family and a museum depicting paraphenalia of the different minority muslim groups(eg Kazakh, Uighur, Tajik, Hui, etc) in Xinjiang Province, China's westernmost province. One of the things the museum guide, a pleasant and polite young Uighur lady, showed us was a replica of a typical Tajik household with its most particular feature being the five pillars that held up the main part of the household. Claiming that the five pillars represented symbolically the five most important personalities in the Shia tradition, she apologised for not being able to name them. She was eternally grateful when I, as a Shia muslim of the Ismaili persuasion, named these revered individuals-The Holy Prophet Mohammed, Hazrat Ali, Hazrat Bibi Fatima, Hazrat Hassan and Imam Hussein-and she wrote this information down so she could memorize it to tell future tour groups.

Uighurs are Sunni Muslims and when Cynical Ali, our tour guide, heard that we were Shia muslims a palpable air of superiority and arrogance came over him and he launched into a haughty exposition of Sunni dogma and I began to wonder if he had ever been paid a visit by that well-known wahhabi ideologue Osama Bin Laden. He pointed out what he thought were the supreme faults of Shia doctrine. No slouch myself in these matters, I reminded him about his name, Ali, and that Hazrat Ali was not only the revered first Imam of the Shia Muslims but also the revered fourth Caliph of the Sunni Muslims. He countered that Ali was not his real name but a nickname he used because it was easy to pronounce and remember. His real name was 'Khuda Bardi', which in Uighur language means 'God-given' but he was reluctant to use it because people kept shortening it to 'Khuda', meaning 'God' and he was loathe for anyone to call him 'God'. Fair enough I said. I then asked him what he made of the fact that our tour itinerary included both a Sunni mosque for formal prayers pertaining to the Shariah as well as a Sunni Sufi tomb of a Sufi saint whose great achievement was to take his flock of followers beyond the practice of the Shariah, onto an inward path(Tariqah), trying to reach an understanding of an inner truth(Haqiqah), in an attempt to reach the deepest inner spiritual knowledge or gnosis(Marifah). Cynical Ali had no answer for me.

I reminded him that it is Sunnism's greatest achievement that it has been able to creatively find a way to integrate the outer and inner expressions of faith through the practise of both the Shariah and through Sunni-based Sufism. I reminded him that Shia Islam did not need to have these two seperate institutions to integrate the totality of knowlegde because all the outer(Shariah) and inner aspects(Tariqah, Haqiqah, Marifah) of religion were automatically built into Shiism and its doctrines; that for Shia Islam Sufi and Gnostic orders invoke spiritual chains and links('Silisileh') that go back historically to land squarely in the lap of the first Shia Imam Ali. In fact, many such Sunni Sufi invocation chains also go back to the Imam Ali. This is what lends credence to the well-authenticated Prophetic saying: "I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate; those who wish to enter the city should enter through the gate".

This instinctive animosity that springs up between Sunni and Shia muslims, this lack of respect for and acceptance of pluralism of interpretations is, in my opinion, Islam's greatest weakness. We often hear that after 9/11, the total number of muslims killed so far in Iraq is over 650,000 and, when you add in casualties from the Afghanistan war, the total could range closer to the 1 million mark, all in response to the attacks of 9/11. For all the vilification being heaped on President George W. Bush(Texas), Donald Rumsfeld(Kansas) and Vice-President Dick Cheney(Wyoming), one has to admit that they have successfully exploited Islam's greatest weakness with machiavellian precision. By starting a war far away from American soil, the presence of American troops in Iraq guaranteed that Al-Qaeda would be attracted into the fray the way flies are attracted to feces. By ensuring that the undercurrent of ancient Sunni-Shia hatreds would quicky re-surface and by tying up Al-Qaeda in that toxic mix, this troika have so far ensured that no new attacks have occured on American soil. My bet is that, privately, they and the military-industrial complex that supports them are mightily pleased with themselves. I would bet that over thet next few years on the diagonal barbecue circuit that stretches from Texas to Kansas to Wyoming, there will be considerable back-slapping and high-fives all around for a job well done. After all, they swore an oath to their Constitution that they would do whatever it took to protect their country and so far they have largely fulfilled their duties and got the job done. In addition, the far more sinister message they have sent to muslims everywhere is the following: Pull a 9/11 type stunt on us again and we can concoct any number of reasons to incite and facilitate the slaughter of muslims anywhere on the planet, one million people at a time.

I mention this because in Kashgar, Western China, I came face to face with this most fundamental weakness in the fabric of Islam. In my case it was the putting down of my beliefs by someone who felt superior in his literalist and petrified version of Islam and his rigid anti-western views. He had no trouble fiddling around with and using a cell phone, the product of painstaking basic scientific research in the West, going back to Michael Faraday of England, Alessandro Volta of Italy, James Clerk Maxwell of Scotland, Max Planck, Albert Einstein and Wehrner Heisenberg of Germany, among others, all of whose momentous discoveries in basic science have led to this veritable piece of turd, Cynical Ali, being able to hold and use a cell phone in his hand. He was such a busybody with his cell phone that if anyone were looking for a logistician to put together a suicide bombing, without hesitation Cynical Ali would be the person they would choose to put together such a nefarious and godless act.

This brings to and end my story about Whiplash Wang and Cynical Ali. I was so annoyed by this experience that I vowed to blog about it. I did and now I feel much better. Its like I just had an explosively liberating bowel movement after one week of hard and binding constipation. In Central Ontario cottage country parlance we would call this a cottage-sized kaka!


If there are 23,000 jihadist websites and blogsites out there in cyberspace, there is no reason why we should not create 100,000 non-jihadist websites and blogsites: easynash(2007).