Wednesday, June 20, 2007

EDW: Omar Khayyam

Remember, the medieval Persians can do heretical Muslim writers every bit as well as the Brits. Of course, the attire helps. I regularly adopt a turban (or fez) plus silk dressing gown when writing these posts – one could scarcely appreciate the havanas and dry martinis which fuel my purpler patches of prose wearing anything less.

You will, I hope, be familiar with Omar's best-known work, the Rubiyat, probably in Fitzgerald's translation. If not please go and read it at once, since before I say more on Omar, there are a few caveats attached.

The trouble is that you really can't win if you try and write about religion in anything other that Madeleine Bassett Bunting-esque terms of gushing idiocy: oh how wonderful you believe that. You attack Christianity, you're just picking an easy target. You attack Islam and you're bullying a vulnerable minority (if not doing exactly, what the Nazis did to the Jews). Attack Judaism and you're a magnet for every obsessive and wanker (pro or con) who hasn't already objected to your less than respectful views on religion. [And yet, you haven't attacked Christians, Muslims or Jews at all; at least not for being such].

Attack Buddhists and they think they did something in a previous life to deserve it and that's no fun... You get the idea. The problem is not belief per se: it's faith – and, allied to that, the idea that someone who believes something is right and true so deeply and strongly that it gives them particular rights and privileges over and above people with less certitude. In its milder form it gives rise to unutterable silliness, such as the Archbishop of York's praise for the fervour with which Iran's clownish president holds his deranged views; but this silliness is what opens to the door to the demand that we show our respect for faith by silencing that which the faithful dislike. And if we don't then... we're back on to Rushdie again, aren't we? Allah be praised that this time, at least one MCB spokesman has had a rare fit of common sense.

For all that, I am instinctively uncomfortable with the Bunglawala mindset that Rushdie's attitude towards Islam is definitely, definitively wrong.* I far prefer the questioning, sceptical attitude of the likes of Omar Khayyam. An astronomer and man of science he preferred reason to blind, unquestioning faith and the things of this world to the promises of the next:
"How sweet is mortal Sovranty!"--think some:
Others--"How blest the Paradise to come!"
Ah, take the Cash in hand and waive the Rest;
Oh, the brave Music of a distant Drum!

And, as his attire would strong suggest, he was a great one for drink.

Then to this earthen Bowl I did adjourn
My lip the secret well of life to learn
And Lip to Lip it murmur'd – "While you live,
Drink! – for once dead you never shall return."


*Lapsed Calvinist, dissent, questioning and exercise of one's own conscience are all part of that. So don't try and pull any silly theological tricks, because I will channel the combined powers of Ian Paisley, John Knox, Lord Byron, William Hazlitt, James Hogg, Wolfe Tone, Van Morrison and John Buchan against you if you do.



Blogger Glamourpuss said...

James Hogg. Now there's an interesting fellow.

Fine EDW.


5:25 pm  

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