activism, culture, history

Tamerlane’s Whipping and State Brutality

The recent, terrible side of Islam we’ve been seeing has made me want to show some of the aspects of it that are truly laudable.

The Sufi tradition in Islam, the mystical tradition, has historically had immensely impressive wisdom within it. The Sufis were to me rather like the Taoists: Funny, irreverent, deeply motivated and loving. The Sufis wrote erotic poems.

The Nasruddin Hodja tradition of stories is a shining example of religious wisdom. Like with many other great teachers, Nasruddin Hodja (whose exact identity we are still not entirely sure of) used humor to teach moral and spiritual ideas. Over time, the format of these stories was used to add new concepts and teach new philosophies.

The Hodja was a trickster. Himself often foolish or dull, he (much like Socrates) exposed the ignorance and hypocrisy of others. I imagine the real man was probably a true genius who struggled with his humility and so told stories that made fun of himself, the same way Abraham Lincoln disguised a cunning intellect under self-deprecation. The famous joke about the drunk under the streetlight searching for his keys is actually a Hodja story (though I suspect that that joke has a much older pedigree).

Islam today is associated with brutal punishment. In that vein, let me offer a story I modified slightly at the end to match another version I saw elsewhere:

One day, the wise fool Mullah Nasruddin happened to be present in the court of Tamerlane, the shah, when a drunken soldier was brought before the imperial presence. The soldiers who brought the drunkard asked what they should do with him.
The shah, who was occupied with thoughts of his treasury, waved them away and said carelessly, “Oh, just give him 300 lashes.”
Nasruddin started laughing uproariously.
The shah was incensed by Nasruddin’s hilarious outbreak, and yelled at him: “What are you laughing at? Are you laughing at me? You should be ashamed!”
Nasruddin managed to stifle himself and respond, “I am laughing because either you don’t know how to count, or you have never been whipped”.

This is a funny joke. But it’s also a brutal satire.

And its relevance goes beyond today’s Islam, which seems to have forgotten that even one lash is so horrifying that it should never be dispensed casually, let alone thousands.

Tamerlane was one of the most powerful people in the world at the time. He was estimated to have killed about five million of the world’s populations. But he wrapped it up in righteousness.

Yet here, whether in actual fact or in our tales, was a true man of God to tell him to his face with a laugh
that he was a small and foolish soul.

It’s not just Tamerlane who dispenses brutality ensconced in the cloak of justice.
How many of our Senators and legislators spend any time in the jails that they authorize funding for and create the laws to send people to?

How many of the people in both civilian and military command structures authorize the use of force against people they’ve never met and lands they’ve never visited?

What the Hodja was reminding us is that our leaders (assuming we should have them at all, which I as an anarchist do not agree with) should understand the magnitude of what they do. They should themselves have tasted the bite of the lash.

A cop friend of mine was required as part of his training to be hit with pepper spray. He talked about how it didn’t just burn for a few seconds, or even a few minutes, but that his skin was inflamed and in pain for days. He was also tased.

Soon, I’m going to comment on the way that Americans have justly lost the credibility to intervene against ISIS/ISOL because of our past failure to restrain our government and our usage of force. But for now, think about how many people, from politicians to pundits, are going to be counseling violence whose consequences they cannot possibly comprehend.

See, Tamerlane could have chosen to have himself whipped.

But we can’t meaningfully have our politicians have their houses bombed, their children killed, their veins filled with poison.

If we as human beings remembered that, maybe we’d think more before we shot up offices of satirists and killed police officers. Maybe we’d stop grabbing guns and bombs and start talking.

Because as much as it sucks to talk to the other guy who makes you angry, it’s preferable to being whipped.