Enlightenment, Roll Back!
First, a pastor in an obscure church in Florida decides to burn Koran on the 11th September, apparently in retaliation of the perfectly legal plan to open an Islamic community centre at a site near Ground Zero. The event ended in a farce, the Pastor finally agreeing to cancel the event after worldwide condemnation, though not before making a face-saving claim that the community centre in New York will be moved, which the Imam in New York flatly denied.
Next, France's legislators outlaw wearing Burkha in public places. This comes after their completely illegal and racially motivated expulsion of Roma gypsies from the country, another desperately xenophobic stance by the deeply unpopular President, the neo-Napoleon Sarkozy. If the French Muslims took a leaf out of Gandhi and turned this into a non-violent civil disobedience, this would have easily resulted in a defeat of the government: Instead, a hoax bomb warning led to Eiffel Tower being evacuated on the eve of the Burkha announcement.
Further, the Pope came to Britain and in his message, blamed the 'aggressive secularization'. One of his close aides, who withdrew from the visit after the controversy, thought Britain is a Third world country, because of the multi-colour nature of its workforce, plainly visible in Heathrow. David Cameron, who will meet the Pope today, is expected to thank him for 'making Britain sit up and think'.
And, finally, an Australian lawyer, Alex Stewart, posts a video on YouTube, burning pages from Koran and the Bible, and trying to assess which burns better when he smokes a joint made of them. He was apparently reprimanded and put on leave by his employers, the Queensalnd Institute of Technology, and the video was later deleted. However, his claims were widely reported - 'the Koran and the bible are just books' - and the debate rages on.
The state of the debate is appallingly similar to that of the Middle Ages and we are heading straight to another crusade, it seems. However, there are two other ways of looking at this apparent crisis:
One, while we have made great material progress, wherein we can move many times the speed of sound and perform deeds hitherto deemed impossible, our cognitive achievements remain quite limited: The best we could do in our social organization is to surrender to winner takes all' and 'dog eats dog' mentality. Dan Airley makes this point in his book, so does numerous others: We have not moved forward much from middle ages as far as our moral and ethical health is concerned.
Two, we are a time of inflection in our history where the existing arrangements of keeping order are under strain. We shall, shortly, face a deep transformation, may be a catastrophic one. The current system of national divide is under stress, and the privileged is desperately clinging on to the national colours to maintain their privileges. However, this is not the end, but this is not the beginning; this is not even the end of the beginning, this is indeed the beginning of the end.
So, in the coming years, we shall possibly see a rollback of enlightenment values, a return to bigotry and xenophobia, imposition of degenerative closed systems. I am an optimist, I know we have the capabilities of beating this back and emerge with a new, more connected, progressive system of organizing ourselves. Indeed, that end goal is worth the trouble; however, it is time for us to make a collective cognitive leap to avoid disaster and a roll back of civilization which is apparently around the corner.