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From Omar Khayyam to Hafez of Shiraz

By Kam Zarrabi

Ah, love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits - and then
Remold it nearer to Heart's Desire!

(Fitzgerald's translation)

Lovers of poetry, especially those enthusiasts who appreciate Omar Khayyam's twists of irony in his famous quatrains, are quite familiar with Edward Fitzgerald's English translations. The irony of ironies in this perhaps best known of Khayyam's quatrains is that the misinterpretation, call it poetic license, by Fitzgerald makes this poem miraculously apropos for today's global developments.

You see, Khayyam never aspired to 'Remold it nearer to Heart's Desire!' A more accurate translation would have him wishing to re-create a world where the free-spirited ascetic could also find contentment.

Remolding things closer to heart's desire is indeed a peculiarly Western aspiration. Khayyam was not suggesting that he was referring to himself as the free-spirited or the ascetic, but Fitzgerald's version has a first person plural implication, albeit inadvertently. While the great Persian philosopher remained forever skeptical toward the mandates both of religion and state, Fitzgerald's tone has tints of Victorian religiosity, as though hinting on a sort of mission conspiring to materialize one's heart's desire.

Listening to President Bush's utterly sincere statements regarding America's mission in the world, one can hear more than the expected political rhetoric; George W. Bush speaks with a genuineness that can only come from deep, even religious, convictions. The President's critics have plenty to draw from regarding almost every aspect of his presidency, from his wishy-washy or inconsistent attitude toward the Israeli-Palestinian issue, to his apparent lack of personal presence during many of his speeches. However, attributing his policies in the Middle East, particularly with respect to Iraq, to the Bush family's oil company connections or other personal agendas is an unnecessary cynicism.

The President's advisors and speechwriters are fully aware of his convictions and worldview. And, just as most citizens are confident that the administration is carrying on as best it can under the circumstances, the President also has faith in his staff and advisors as true patriots who have America's best interests in mind.

So, what in simple-to-understand words is George W. Bush's agenda in the global theater? In the Middle East his crusade or mission is, as Edward Fitzgerald's version of Khayyam's quatrain suggests, shattering it all to bits and remolding it closer to his heart's desire. And, what does his heart desire?

Let us dispense with the cynicism that tends to fog up the atmosphere of discourse. Let us assume that the honest goals of our administration as stated on many occasions by the President are as follows:

a-Elimination of centers and supporters of international terrorism.
b-Disarming of rogue states of their weapons of mass destruction.
c-Encouraging, if necessary by force, the establishment of democratic regimes in place of dictatorships.

The result of such humanitarian measures is expected to be a stable world, free from aggression and injustice, where the people of the globe cooperate in peace and harmony in pursuit of a better life for everyone. Are these just innocent pipe dreams?

Ratcheting up the level of complexity of these issues by one notch, Omar Khayyam gives way to our master of romantic poetry, Hafez, who opens his Divan:

Give me that intoxicating cup, oh, my darling;
Pitfalls I see in Love's anticipated bliss.

Issues are many, ranging from the definition of terrorism, rogue states and democracy, to who ultimately decides what justice embodies or how freedom is measured. For now, let us focus on the subject of democracy.

Democracy is a loosely defined concept that appears in many different shapes and colors. Supposedly, the largest democracy in the world today is India. The smallest, at least in the Middle East, is Israel, we are told. According to many scholars we are also to believe that democracy and Islam are mutually exclusive concepts. In India 'democracy' has perpetuated a chaotic model that has failed to produce an acceptable level of economic prosperity and social stability among the various ethnic and religious populations; so, that model is out. The Israeli model of Athenian style selective or exclusive democracy is unquestionably doomed to failure in the long-term due to the inevitable demographic changes in that country; so, this version won't work, either.

Mixing the above ingredients, any Boy or Girl Scout can reach the following conclusions:

a-Islam is an obstruction to progress and democracy, and should be contained.
b-The only worthy style of democracy to be promoted is our kind of democracy; it's worked here, who can argue that? To bring true salvation to the unsaved, missionaries must bear the burden of venturing into uncharted territories, Bible in hand, to rescue those poor souls from their misguided ways.
c-As in any surgical transplant operation, indigenous resistance to accepting the new organ of change must be immediately rendered impotent.
d-For the transplant to take root, efforts must continue to keep elements of resistance or rejection in check.
e-Unfortunately, sometimes, in fact all too often, anti-rejection measures entail the use of bombs, missiles and artillery.

Now let's ratchet up this analysis to an even higher level of sophistication.

Do 'Super Lotto' winners ever declare that they don't deserve the prize? Nations, as tribes, clans, or families and individuals, pursue whatever paths grant them the best advantage. The generous simply hope that the pursuit of their interests will have collateral benefits for the less fortunate as well. The altruists who would sacrifice their own gains for the sake of others occupy facilities for the mentally impaired.

Conventional wisdom has it that democracy is the mother of progress and prosperity. A much stronger case can be made that only where strong potentials, i.e., physically advantageous conditions, exist, does democracy have a chance to take root and flourish. That in itself is a considerable problem: If democratic reforms will not necessarily lead to the improvements of local economies and standards of living, why bother?

Another risk of promoting participatory democratic reforms is the collateral expectation for self-determination by disenfranchised masses of humanity. Is this really something we can wish for? Do we truly want twenty million Saudi Arabians to decide how their oil wealth is to be exploited or what type of regime they might adopt? The French recently encouraged their Algerian counterparts to experiment with democratic elections, only to have the military junta cancel the elections when the 'wrong' party emerged as the winner!

Isn't Great Britain a democracy? Then how could that government embark on a war mission when the majority of the British people are dead set against it? Of course a democracy cannot possibly function if every major decision were to be approved through a public referendum. But, is it acceptable that once democratically elected officials take office the public has absolutely nothing to say about the nation's destiny until the next elections? And, what kind of majority should dictate what the whole should do, fifty one percent, seventy five percent, or more? There are, of course, ways that every nation that considers itself a democracy handles such issues. It is also of great sociological interest that practically every socialist or communist republic has incorporated the word 'democratic' within its official name. Then, if we can have a socialist democracy, why can't we have an Islamic democracy? There is a self-declared Jewish state that calls itself a democracy!

Perhaps what we are promoting as America's agenda worldwide, particularly among the strategically located countries of the Middle East, is a specific kind of freedom, democracy and self-determination. As the world's only superpower, economically as well as militarily, we feel not only empowered, but also morally obligated, to extend our values worldwide, even if it might be interpreted as a forceful imposition. We all know that good medicine may be accompanied by horrible taste! We have determined that it is better for them to adopt our model, or, if necessary, some variation that receives our approval. That way they will always make free choices that accommodate our interests. Similarly, they will always hold democratic elections whereby the right people are chosen as leaders, those who understand that their best interests lie in what our best interests are. Isn't this the way things have been in the Middle East?

But, as Hafez laments in his poem, trouble lurks just behind the horizon. Supposing the masses wake up one day and wonder. They might wonder how it is that, gallon for gallon, gasoline at the pumps in America costs less than bottled drinking water.

I can see the young attractive lady dodging through traffic in her giant gas-guzzling Excursion to make her nail appointment. She looks at her fuel gauge and is obviously angered. I can tell what she is thinking: '...damned Airabs!'

Is it possible to share our ideals and values with the rest of the world, but insist on retaining at all costs all the material advantages we have come to expect as our birthright? Would we be willing to promote freedom and self-determination among nations whose cooperation (obedience) we depend on, should they choose to go their own merry way? What would a loving parent do to an errant child?

But, children grow older, and nations mature, too. Not appreciating this fact of history is a recipe for disaster.

... Payvand News - 3/24/03 ... --

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