Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Revolt of Islam

In youth, we liked Shelley and spurned Byron. This is natural enough -- what middle schooler does not respond by instinct to lofty-sounding metaphysics and fantasies of universal freedom? And what middle-schooler can appreciate wry reflection upon what are, in every sense, adult affairs?

We are grown now, and then some, so just as naturally our tastes have reversed. It is Byron by a mile. Shelley's beauties, such as they are, seem shadowed-over by his endless mooning, not to mention his antagonism to our faith. But we wouldn't know, because we really don't read Shelley anymore. Perhaps we should. And if we do, we might begin with The Revolt of Islam.

We will not stoop to the obvious Fox News joke, that Islam certainly is revolting these days -- oops! we stooped -- but in fact it is, and in a good way. In Tunisia, Egypt and once more in Iran (and -- update! -- Bahrain as well), citizens tired of their thuggish governments are rising up. The House of Saud and its Valentine's-Day-hating theocops are probably quaking in their proverbial (jack)boots. Whether or not the revolts are Islamic in nature is something about which wise heads may choose to argue; but clearly Muslims make up the vast majority of the citizens seeking those fundamental freedoms presumed by the very word "citizen."

Shelley's Revolt, of course, has precious little to do with Islam per se. It is a fairy tale about revolution, in which the principal villain is a Christian, the "Iberian Priest," allied with an Islamic "Tyrant." The heroes are an incestuous couple who wind up being burned at the stake. It isn't the least promising premise we've ever heard, honestly. As readers know, we at the Egg consider Christianism and Islamism to be alternate sides of the same ungodly coin, and we are eager to see both done away with. So maybe we really are spiritual kin to Shelley. We'll tell you when we get back from a quick sail to Livorno.

Here, by the way, is an interesting little essay on Byron's ambiguous relationship with the real Islam.

At the moment, though, we are less interested in moony Romantics than in the ongoing struggle of the protesters in North Africa and Persia. It is serious stuff, and a day-to-day display of courage which we ourselves would be hard pressed to muster. Consider this powerful first-hand account posted on the PBS site:
3:30 pm marked a painful visual landscape for me that I will never forget: the Basijis and the Revolutionary Guards had brought children in the street. They gave them clubs and were directing them for the attack, which happened right at that crossroad. The kids were probably 15 or 16 years old but their eyes were filled with hate. "Good Islamic teaching, right?" I heard an elderly man say in an angry but muffled voice.

I called my family to tell them where I was but the phones went dead around 3:45 and this was when the bikes rolled into the sidewalks and started beating people. I was separated from my friends in Enghelab Square but kept on going. The energy of the people and especially of the women and the elderly was like an electrical charge. I could not feel the beatings anymore and the clubs kept on coming on our heads, shoulders, legs, and knees ....

When I reached Eskandari Street it looked like a war zone: smoke, dust, teargas, screaming people, flying stones, and regular attacks by the well-equipped motorcycle-riding guards. A petite young girl with a green wristband and a small backpack was walking to my left. Just before we reached Navab Avenue the guards charged from behind, one of their clubs hit my left leg but three of them attacked the girl relentlessly. She screamed and fell to the ground, but the guards kept hitting her. I ran towards them, grabbed the girl's right hand and released her from the grip of the guards. She was in a daze and crying unstoppably. I pushed her north into Navab Avenue towards Tohid Square away from Azadi Avenue when the guards charged towards us. This time the crowd fought back and stones of all sizes were directed back at them. This gave me a bit of time to ask one of the restaurants to open their doors and let us in. The girl was in shock and pain. I got her some water and asked how she was. Her clothes were dusty, her backpack was torn and her hands were shaking. "Why?" she kept asking.

Wow. Meanwhile, the Voice of America reports that Mousavi is under arrest, there have been roundups of key leaders, and that some legislators are calling for protestors to be charged with sedition, which carries the death penalty. Of course.

We still don't care for Shelley. But, reading stories like this, we are moved once again by his passion for liberty, both intellectual and political. We hope that the heroes of these revolts do not wind up those of his Revolt.

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