Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tariq Ramadan and the city of Rotterdam - a failed atempt at open-ended thinking?...

Recently there has been a considerable deal of controversy about thinker and writer Tariq Ramadan in the city of Rotterdam in The Netherlands where I have been a long-time resident since 1992. Ramadan was hired by the city-council to be a bridge-builder against the vastly multi-cultural population of this city. He has been accused of discriminatory tendencies against women and homosexuals when speaking internally to Muslim communities.

In January this year Joris Luyendijk conducted an interview with Ramadan for the Dutch tv-company VPRO, which in the Netherlands has a position of bringing very sophisticated and artistic contents (comparable for example to Arte in France and Germany or the flemish-Belgian Canvas)

Being gay myself I felt very concerned, but I also remembered this interview.
So I decided to review it and fortunately it is still available on the internet
I tried to be as alert to hidden character and meanings as possible and let come to me whatever would.

My first conclusion after having reviewed and listened to both speakers as openly as I could is a confirmation of a first thought that I had: with the effective refusal of Tariq Ramadan here in Rotterdam, a first attempt has been failed to more introduce open-ended thinking that could indeed have prepared the discussion for bridging by creating an open zone in which no single view or code is the only and all-powerful formula or rule.

I noticed how Mr. Ramadan was constantly being interrupted by intervieuwer Luyendijk in a fashion that from my experiences in Korea I recognize as nearly rude, even if unintentionally so. Second Mr. Luyendijk clearly seems to remain in the old Eurasian concept of functioning within a single, claimed homogenic, monoculture, which actually has troubles to understand or deal efficiently with the complexities of life in this dimension on this planet, as well as the in-congruities of its own contents, which after all are temporary results of insights and deep wisdoms that can help live and survive well, but in themselves of necessity are finite and will have to be adapted some time in the nearer or farther away future to be able to cope with the vast complexities and not-yet understood phenomena that are perceived as manifested as part of our universe (and which keep on expanding over time...)

(I've argued earlier that one of the tasks of an artist to a certain extent is always to help to some degree the further understanding of these phenomena, by dealing with sensory thinking and communication, be that in any cultural setting, or combination and balance of phyiscal senses)

Mr. Ramadan seemed to be able to maintain his balance (or "keep his face") rather well and focus on what would create a certain consensus, enough to keep on exchanging, and maintaining his stance and causes (also representing himself in the Dutch media). His emphasis on what he said was expressed in what he said was his favorite verse from the Quran, one in which the stars and the desert (and arguably all natural phenomena) are accepted as teaching elements, as well as his learning of silence in the desert, and therefore a better understanding of when is a good moment to speak, seemed very congrous with the more general quest of re-balancing our cultural patterns from our sensory thinking processes, something which for myself are key-features in the project of modernism / post-modernism / the holistic phase after post-modernism. Ramadan further demanded that respect would have to be based on letting the other act despite disagreeing. And that respect (or tolerance for that matter) does not have to mean that one fully accepts (or emphasitally agrees with) or understands why somebody else is doing something very different, nor necessarily agreeing with the decision why, but to maintain the basic right of the other to exist.

To continue this thought by myself, to accept that no matter how repulsive somebody else might be, there is something that connects us and that I, if I manage to, can gain an advantage from dealing with openly, without upholding a single view of how things should be done, is a positive thing. To not cut off dialogue too soon, to remain in connection.

While such a stance places an enormous strain on ethics (just thinking of so many actions by multinational corporations, governments, companies and individuals that maximize personal profit at enormous and tragic long-term general costs) this demand rather fits into the openness of re-balancing cultural values and creates an open space where all of this happens. In the ongoing process there is a chance to consequently draw conclusions which may differ from previously drawn conclusions.

(The tasks of educations would be to offer and explain these previous conclusions to a new generation so that they can continue the myriad of experiments about living and survival strategies.)

When dealing with people who firmly remain in closed, mono-cultural settings and maintain them, it can become very difficult to maintain one's own knowledge or develope it further, as the abilities of the partner are then decisively limited to those particular cultural settings, which can make the tolerance of a very different kind of cultural settings extremely difficult and thus severly limit the possible moves that can be made together, also in the perspective of power, how much a NO can be used to cut down the power / existence / express of somebody else.
(especially when that partner will not allow any digression or move away or beyond the reasch of such cultural settings)

If this is indeed a great misunderstanding, fed by Dutch inability and refusal to face the rest of the world from an insular focus on one's own life being difficult enough and 'the other' being merely interesting as a potential object for personal gain and survival, be that through trade or colonialism - then it was indeed a great move forward, but then I am also ashamed as an European Easterner that I am part of a society where the beginning of opening up more dialogues on a long-term basis is immediatly cut off from a single viewpoint, no matter how sophisticated it may think itself to be. Moreover I feel ashamed in the face of a cosmopolitan such as Mr. Ramadan who if this assumption of mine is correct (and that remains to be seen...) has been brought into a rather un-sophisticated and backwaterish, provincial atmosphere of local Dutch politics and qualities.

My subjective estimate of Mr. Ramadan was that in many ways he may share the anti-gay and traditional gender ideas. But I would have chosen to emphasize what could connect us in a win-win situation longer, his quest for understanding in complexity, his feeding of this ability to complexity by maintaining for himself a very set range of values to retreat into from time to time and to affirm his own existence, only to be able to come out again when in dialogue with a stranger, and being able to be open to learn something substantial or minor from that encounter, which always is there, but up to us to realize, whether this realisation is immediate or takes many decennia of slow accumulation and finally a resulting move. And to be reminded again that none of us has the one-fits-all solution (again we all as a Universy might just be the solution already, that's why it's so hard for a single person, to create and maintain a livalble balance within it)

Addition May 1st: Even then it could have been interesting to give him one or two more years and observing him, to find out what is happening, be very alert ... and perhaps bother to learn Egyptian Arabic, rather than choosing to remain on an intangible hegemonic stance of Dutch as the dominant language to which the others in this country must adapt.

And so we keep moving on and yes it is a struggle between all these differences, intelligences, traditions, patterns. A basic understanding for people who like Mr. Ramadan and myself have moved between different cultures can be that there is something to be gained in everything and that this is a pity to underestimate, and up to personal discipline of again and again trying to understand anew, opening up closed patterns from a deeper trust and allowing alien information to enter, being trained in dealing with it and working with it over a period of time until another temporary conclusion might appear. potentially being a more effective one than its preceding conclusion - trusting that others do the same and do this in directions different from one's own, which is precisely an enrichment, because that way nobody has to find out everything by her or himself exclusively but we all together are working out some really exciting, but also important questions, whether they are conscious or unconscious.

To believe in movement could be to affirm this quest - not caring whether / inhowfar it makes sense against what is already there (The Universe is its own answer, its movement the fuel that brings asking questions)

As my teacher Ciel Werts used to say ,movement is contagious (affirmed by thermodynamics, I'd guess)

It is my hope that whatever movements were created by the activities of Tariq Ramadan, that eventually they should help further the understanding of unconceivable complexity and nurture this maturity and sophisticated discpline further. As he'd leave Rotterdam, it will be to others to continue, with all faults, and errors, hopefully with not too catastrophic consequences.