Jan 08 2010
Ready or not, all secrets will be revealed
To God belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and the day on which the end of time will happen, a day on which prattlers will lose out. And you will see every people kneeling; every people will be summoned to its record: “Today you are being repaid for what you used to do. This record of Ours speaks about you in truth; for We have been transcribing what you have been doing.” As for those who believed and did good works, their Lord will admit them into divine mercy. That is the evident success. And as for those who scoffed, were not My signs recited to you, yet you were arrogant, and were sinning people? And when it has been said that the promise of God is true, and there is no doubt about the end of time, you have said, “We do not understand what the end of time is; we suppose it merely speculation, and we cannot be sure.” And the evils they did will be manifest to them, and what they used to sneer at will have surrounded them.
– Qur’an, 45:27-33
No matter what a Man’s foul character may be,
Though he imagines it is concealed from the people,
It shall be revealed.
– Zuhayr b. Abi Sulma, Favourite seventh century Arabian poet of Umar b. al-Khatab
In the seven years I spent with Mauritanians who are Bedouin people of the Sahara, what struck me most about them was the transparency in their lives. They live without walls, and hence what the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung termed the “shadow self,” which holds our repressed weaknesses and darker side, seems wholly absent from their personalities. I never saw the Bedouins hide anything from me. Even when they go to relieve themselves, it is often in open space. Once I was with a particularly gruff Bedouin, and in the middle of our conversation, he turned around, walked a few paces from me, and, taking cover with his outer robe, he dropped his pants, squatted, urinated, cleaned himself with sand, returned, and continued the conversation.
Bedouins are entirely comfortable in their skin and completely unself-conscious. If I intruded on a Bedouin without warning, he did not suddenly become nervous or uneasy; he remained calm. Even after many years in “civilized” society, Bedouins retain an uncanny openness. Their homes in Nouakchott, the Mauritanian capital, always have open doors. A hungry person, upon smelling food being served, will sometimes walk in from the street, eat a meal with them, say little, and depart as unobtrusively as he appeared.
In societies that have walls, closets, and private bathrooms, we develop a keen sense of privacy early on. We also do things in private that we would never do in company. Some of us develop profoundly dark sides; a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality seems quite common in modern society. When we read the statistics in books like Pornified, we can only be horrified at the pervasiveness of people watching pornography; the man next to us in the grocery store line might return home only to settle in for “kiddie” porn on his home computer. Do an online search on registered sex offenders, many of whom are paedophiles, and you might find one living down the street from you. Too many people are hiding things. Wives often know the truth about their “upstanding” husbands, and men may have far more secrets than women, who undeniably have their own share.
So what’s all the fuss about Wikileaks? These wikipeaks into the unseemly side of the American Empire have caused quite a stir – and quite a backlash. Julian Assange was arrested for what may end up being trumped up sexual charges in an obvious attempt at distracting people from the real story. The U.S. Attorney General is seeking excuses to bring charges against Assange for what the American media does routinely. Clearly, the war is on. Luke Skywalker-like hackers are whittling away with Wikileaks at the Empire, and the Empire is striking back.
What intrigued me is not so much what is revealed – after all, many of us knew, didn’t we? And so far, the crimes and transgressions revealed are not as severe as what the earlier Pentagon Papers revealed. But they are far more disturbing. The recent release of diplomatic cables shows the duplicitous nature on a daily basis of the inner workings of American diplomacy – the “shadow self” of America. Our government demands transparency from corporations and from its citizens in detailed tax returns. Employers do background checks on us, and our credit histories and medical records are routinely reviewed by strangers. Even our time on the internet is now monitored in many places; our phones are tapped with judicial consent. So why should our governments, especially in democratic societies, be exempt from what is routinely done to us? They are public servants, aren’t they?
Well, the fact of the matter, as the Wikileaks exposé so cogently reveals, is that they are not serving us – they are serving the Empire’s corporate profit-making, its selling of arms, and its oil interests that fuel our cars and their private jets. The corruption in dealing with Afghanistan, highlighted in these recent leaks, had initially shocked some people. But, all things considered, Afghan corruption pales by comparison to our own corruption on Wall Street, not to mention Main Street. Despite the moral depravity we witnessed in the recent financial scandals, everything is back to business as usual. The fat cats are once again doling out multimillion-dollar executive bonuses with our bailout money, as if the party never ended. Our mail boxes are again being stuffed with those same ridiculous credit card offers that had stopped a couple of years ago. The banksters are back in business, thanks to Henry Paulson, Larry Summers, et al. who cleaned out the national treasury in broad daylight, while Congress and the Senate applauded their patriotism. Unbelievable. Jesse and Frank James are no longer robbing them as outlaws: they’re on the board of directors. Al Capone must be turning over in his grave.
But something deeper is at work here. “We will show you Our signs on the horizon and within themselves, until it becomes clear to you that this is the truth; is it not enough that God is a Witness unto all these?” (Qur’an, 41:53). The computer has become the Achilles’ heel of the secret keepers. They have to use it, and they depend on it, not only to hoard their secrets but to monitor and surveil the rest of us. The inherent weaknesses in the system are now enabling whistleblowers and hackers to bring some of their dark secrets to light. Until now, the defenders of the Empire used the secrets as they wished. Former vice-president Dick Cheney, for instance, had no qualms about using classified, top-secret information in outing Valerie Plame, the CIA agent. This was a retributive act against her husband, Joseph C. Wilson, who wrote a New York Times Op-Ed on the false information that Cheney and George W. Bush were promoting about sales of nuclear materials from Niger to Iraq. So when it suited him, Cheney used his own “wikileaks,” but now that the ball’s in the other court, suddenly they’re crying, “Foul.”
So leaks can obstruct justice, and leaks can redress wrongs – a double-edged sword, indeed. More leaks are said to come, and I for one am looking forward to it. It is good to see them squirm and scurry, as they feel, in their cockroach shadow lives, the light of the sun beginning to penetrate their subterranean worlds.
The Qur’an has its own “leaks” and clearly demands utter transparency. The Pharaoh’s private conversations are recorded as well as the hidden statements of the Prophet’s enemies, not to mention some of the family intrigue in the Prophet’s own household. People with integrity have nothing to hide. Like the Bedouins, their transparency is their shield.
When the great and pious Filipino historian and Qur’an scholar Cesar Majul was dying, he remarked to his son, “I want you to know, I have never done anything in my life that you would be ashamed of.” Now that’s a real deathbed confession of a saint. Murabit al-Hajj, my own teacher, has lived a life of utter transparency. I slept in his tent for months. During that time, I saw him rise every night three hours before dawn and recite the Qur’an in night vigil. I never heard him say anything unkind or unflattering about anyone. A cousin of his who has known him for seventy years affirmed this as well. Murabit al-Hajj never complained or criticized the weather, the food, the company, or any of the hardships so evident in the lives of West African nomads. Once, a man from Geru, a nearby village, saw Murabit al-Hajj in a dream in which he was praying naked. Embarrassed, this man went to a well-known dream interpreter and told him the dream but not the identity of the naked man. The interpreter said, “That could only have been Murabit al-Hajj because I don’t know anyone who prays in a completely pure-hearted state other than him.”
We are born naked because we are without sin, but we are raised naked because we will be without secrets. The Prophet, peace be upon him, lived an utterly transparent life. Even his bathing habits are described by his wife. Nothing about his life is hidden from us. No split in his personality, no shadow developed by keeping unspeakable secrets, for he is the transparent man. No shameful Wikileaks necessary in his government or family life. God meant for his life to be an open book, as he is an exemplar for leaders until the end of time. Leaders are the servants of the people, and they should never fear public opinion or the light of day. They should be concerned only about doing what is right and lawful.
The Prophet, peace be upon him, wanted to keep private an opinion he had shared with Zaid, his ward and companion, about Zaid’s difficult marriage that the Prophet, peace be upon him, had facilitated. However, the Qur’an revealed the confidential statement he had made to Zaid: “Remember how you said to the one God had blessed and you had favoured, ‘Keep your wife and be conscious of God,’ then you kept to yourself what God would reveal, as you feared the people, though God is more worthy of your fear” (33:37). The Prophet, peace be upon him, did nothing sinful in wanting to conceal the conversation he had with Zaid. He was concerned that people would attack his character if they learned of his impending marriage to Zaynab, who was married at that time to his “adopted” son (through a pre-Islamic form of adoption that the Qur’an would later proscribe). People were unaware that Zaid and Zaynab’s marriage was an unhappy one because Zaynab wanted to be wed to the Prophet, peace be upon him, and had only accepted the marriage to Zaid due to the Prophet’s request of her to do so. So the Prophet, peace be upon him, had kept the matter quiet for fear that if people knew, it would detract from and undermine his essential spiritual message to the people. However, the Qur’an “leaked” this private conversation to the people through the very source of the conversation. Aishah said about the above verse, “Had the Prophet hidden anything from his revelation, it would have been this verse due to the heavy impact it had upon him.” This “leak” was clearly designed to reveal the utter sincerity of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and his complete and total truthfulness and transparency about his own personal life as well as everything revealed to him. The Qur’an says to all of us:
If you are on a journey and cannot find a scribe, then let pledges be taken. And if one of you entrusts another one with something, let the one entrusted return his trust, conscious of God, his Lord. And do not conceal testimony; whoever conceals it is a sinner at heart. And God knows what you do. Whatever is in the heavens and the earth belongs to God. And whether you reveal what is in your selves or conceal it, God calls you to account for it. And God forgives whom God wills, and God punishes whom God wills, and God has power over all things. (2:283-284)
The Day of Judgment is the day when nothing is concealed. All secrets are to be revealed. The Qur’an informs us that a “digital book” (kitab marqum) contains all the actions of the evildoers in perfect order, and another “digital book” contains those of the righteous. Everyone on the Day of Judgment will have a full trial, but before the actual reckoning, we will all have to endure the ‘ard, which is the review of one’s entire life with nothing omitted except those actions for which we repented and for which the repentance was accepted. Wikileaks is nothing in light of what will be revealed on that day. Tyrants will see all of their dastardly deeds, hoarders must carry all they hoarded, liars will be exposed, and traitors will have flags of treachery furled from their backsides announcing their vileness. What a day!
America prides itself on transparency. MBA students learn in school the necessity of fully transparent corporations, where the books are all in order, and nothing is hidden. Taxpayers are told to reveal all in their tax forms. And yet, there is a double standard, as the government reveals little until fifty years later, long after the secret-keepers are dead, when documents are declassified. The Federal Reserve, a private institution of bankers that controls our nation’s money, has never been audited. Yet, we the peons can be audited with impunity.
We need more whistleblowers, not less. And we need to exalt the ones who, with honour and courage, risk everything so the truth can be known. Daniel Ellsberg had the courage to blow the whistle on the Pentagon in 1971, and now the Luke Skywalkers of the day are attempting to do it again, revealing the utter hypocrisy of our public “servants” who seem to serve only themselves and their corporate paymasters. We need a far more open and transparent society if we are to flourish. If a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” means anything at all, the people must not only be informed of what is being done in their names, they must also demand of their public servants full accountability.
A close friend in Arabia informed me recently that the Wikileaks revelations have created utter contempt for America in the region, and sadly the respect that was once there despite all the shortcomings of America is now largely gone. While it is hard to restore respect once lost, if it is ever to be regained, the place to start is this: admit one’s mistakes and redress one’s wrongs. Many of us live in profound denial of why America is perceived so poorly around the world. Even many Europeans look on us with disdain. Envy undeniably plays some part, but to suggest that envy is the only reason is a poor excuse – it is an attempt by a nation’s ego to avoid the painful realities of imperial arrogance and the hubris of power. The ancient Greeks believed that arête, virtue, elevated human beings, but hubris brought them down. Hubris, in their understanding, resulted in até or reckless behaviour, which unleashed nemeses, the divine forces that laid the haughty low.
I do not wish that upon my native land or fellow citizens, as I am a multi-generational American, and desiring disaster for people is not in my nature. But without real repentance and a change of business as usual, I don’t see any other possibility. The Wikileaks controversy is another wake-up call among many to this nation. Perhaps if some of those apathetic and ill-informed people in America addicted to the pipes of the pied piper leading them into the cave of shadows and ignorance would forgo seeing Jackass in 3D and other mindless films at the multiplex and actually pay attention to these developments, some good might come of it. Benjamin Franklin, upon leaving the Continental Congress, was asked by a woman what kind of a government they had settled on. He is reported to have replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Openness and transparency, not to mention admitting wrongs and redressing them, are all necessary to restore the republic that has clearly been damaged and profoundly threatened.