Monday, June 15, 2020

Watching or Playing

Someone in a different forum expressed an inability to understand why people became excited while watching sports.  He recalled getting excited by playing but never by watching.

"Watching or Playing" is an interesting concept when applied to war.  I dearly wanted to "play," and attempted to join the USMC in 1951 when I was 16.  When they discovered my age I was sent home until I was 17.  I was sent to an intelligence unit in Korea, but I planned to transfer to the "front lines," essentially the 38th parallel which was still being contested.  I was informed that truce negotiations were going on and transfers were no longer being approved.  Being there during the last two battle seasons I was entitled to wear two stars on my Korean War Ribbon.  So was I "watching" or "playing"?

In another example, I was the McDonnell Douglas Project Engineer involved in the delivery of the last Nigerian DC-10 (the last or next to the last DC-10 manufactured.  I was also the Project Engineer for the delivery of a DC-10 to Pakistan.  That one and the Nigerian were the last two DC-10s manufactured) and got to know two Nigerian reps (one for Engineering and the other of Product Support) fairly well.  The Engineer was a Catholic and the Product Support fellow was a Muslim.  I had some interesting discussions with the Muslim about Islam.  The Muslim spoke of inheriting a large parcel of land for some reason I didn't understand (he was educated in Scotland and had a strong Scottish accent).  After he returned to Nigeria I received a phone message from him, but he didn't provide enough information to enable me to return his call.  It wasn't inconceivable that he intended to offer me a job.  If so, he may have thought he could convert me to Islam.  My MDC job was to take care of all Engineering and Product Support needs and not argue about Islam, so he never saw the argumentative side of me. 

I subsequently got a translation of the Qur'an and puzzled through most of it.  After 9-11 I was primed to study Islam and Islamism more seriously.  We had many discussions in the Phil-Lit forum on Islam and Islamism back then.  I recall arguing with an adjunct professor in something or other about whether Islamism originated out of Sunni or Shia theology.  I argued for a Sunni origin, believing Said Qutb the prime Sunni theologian and the most potent force in the creation of subsequent movements in various nations.  The adjunct professor in arguing for a Shia origin thought the Ayatollah Khomeini the source of Islamism.  We each had a vicarious understanding.  I had read more Sunni oriented books and he had read more Shia; so we argued.  He was in the process of founding an anti-Islamism organization, and so popped into Phil-Lit looking for recruits.  He sought to recruit me, but I merely argued with him.  I was not delivering any DC-10s to him & so felt free to argue.  Was I "watching or playing"?

Understanding Islamism is an ongoing enterprise.  I have given it up, but I did read from the June 1, 2018 issue of the TLS a review of four books on the Qur'an by Eric Ormsby.  The books reviewed are The Koran in English by Bruce B. Lawrence, Exploring the Qur'an by Muhammad Abdel Haleem, The Qur'an by Nicolai Sinai, and The Sanaa Palimpsest by Asma Hilali.  Ormsby writes, "if there is a single factor that explains the disparity between Muslim and non-Muslim views of the Qur'an it lies in its language.  This disparity is not due simply to the differences between, say, English and Arabic with the latter's more powerful expressive qualities, lexical as well as phonic.  Rather, the disparity arises from the specific idiom of Qur'anic Arabic.  It is a long standing article of Muslim belief that the Qur'an is inimitable; indeed its inimitable (i'jaz in Arabic) has been dogma at least since the days of the theologian al-Baqillani (d. 1013), who codified it.  This is the basis of the ban on translation; the Qur'an by its very nature cannot be translated -- or rather, only its 'meanings' are deemed translatable.  Bilingual editions of the Qur'an in Saudi Arabia, for example, are always identified as containing a translation of the 'meanings', as if to make clear that it is not the Qur'an itself that has been translated. . . ."

I wondered if by chance Eric Ormsby was the fellow I argued with years ago.  Probably not, because the fellow I argued seemed younger than someone born in 1941 (when Ormsby was born).  At the time, the fellow I argued with was languishing some place as an adjunct professor and saw no hope of achieving a serious place in the academic world; so for that fellow to have applied himself such that he became the Eric Ormsby I read about would be remarkable.

Also remarkable is the fact that Eric Ormsby, born in Atlanta in 1941, is "a poet, a scholar, and a man of letters. He was a longtime resident of Montreal, where he was the Director of University Libraries and subsequently a professor of Islamic thought at the McGill University Institute of Islamic Studies.  Just because I didn't apply myself single-mindedly, learn Arabic and continue to study the Qur'an and Islamic theology, didn't mean that the adjunct professor I argued with years ago didn't.   And yet, unless he became a Muslim and beyond that an Islamic theologian, isn't his understanding (while admittedly much greater than mine) still 'vicarious.'?  Isn't he still merely "watching"?

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