Scheherazade, the Chechen bodyguards and the Caliph go to Alhambra

Scheherazade, the Chechen bodyguards and the Caliph go to Alhambra

I am an admirer of the Caliphate of Cordóba while I am afraid of the new Caliphate in Levant.
I am a supporter of freedom of movement while I am afraid of uncontrolled masses wandering in the world.

A child starts reading

Let me explain: I became an avid reader even before going to school. I enjoyed reading all the way during my school years and up till today when I am supposed to retire. According to the family legends, I was an indiscriminate reader — I used to read everything, including the old newspaper sheets under our feet, placed there (in my home country) to protect the carpets on rainy days.

So I’ve read Hungarian and international folk tales and fairy tales: Benedek Elek and Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. And folk tales from the Balkans: those of Romanians and of Serbs and of Albanians and of Bulgarians and of Greeks and whoever lived in the region.


Scheherazade by Sophie Gengembre Anderson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

And of course, the second to none One Thousand and One Nights. All that was so exotic: the Caliph, Harun al-Rashid, the “caliph of Baghdad”… Aladdin and Scheherazade… and that’s how I’ve learned the first Arabic words: qadi, imam, djinn… and of distant and exotic places like Samarkand, Bukhara and other strange names (what a disappointment when I’ve learned they were in the Soviet Union!).

Later we learned in the school that most of the ancient knowledge from antiquity would have been lost, if not for the Arabs — which brings us to another caliphate, in Europe, that of Cordóba. That Moorish conquest, although despised by the mainstream Catholic narratives, caught the imagination of the young. Those places on the Iberian peninsula were on my bucket list even when that phrase didn’t exist yet. They continued to be on the wishlist until I reached the mature age of 60 when I succeeded to visit Granada and Alhambra (actually, as a birthday gift trip from my wife).

Between the One Thousand and One Nights and the visit at Alhambra, I’ve meet real Muslims, too. They were not all exactly as wise as Harun al-Rashid or as beautiful as Scheherazade (at least in my imagination) and not as fierce fighters of Allah as Mohammed told them to be. [Truth to be told, people from the “Christian” places where I grew up were not the mirror image of Christ either, and they didn’t behave as saints and were not as wise as Solomon…]

I had Muslim bodyguards protecting my life and security in Chechnya during my humanitarian years, nice young boys of the age of my own son. Sufi Muslims, as all Chechens are — or were. And I worked with many secular Muslims (is there such a category nowadays?) who were outraged when around 1997 their first elected president, Maskhadov mentioned the possibility of introducing the (green!) head scarf for women. The secretary-translator in our office, in peaceful years a university professor, was shocked that she would have to dress in those textiles prescribed not by the Sacred Book of their religion but by certain men.

The wonders of Alhambra

And the woman who took me on that birthday trip to Alhambra, the masterpiece of Islamic architecture and art in Europe, is from the only country in Europe with a Muslim majority, although she is not one of them. Although those “Bosniaks” as they are called lately, are a strange ilk among Muslims: most of them don’t want to be labeled along the Sunni/Shiite divide. Many members of her family from Bosnia are married to Muslims and many others that I’ve met are old friends of hers – we visit each other and they all are normal, nice people. I know, I know, this is one of the biggest possible offenses: like the Romanians used to say about me at home in Transylvania – he’s a Hungarian but good guy… which just shows that we all think along the same patterns when it comes about OTHERS.

Because the otherness is scary — we have this in our genes: it is part of the survival skills to protect those that are like us from those that look, talk, act another way. It is wired into our zoological being. We can educate ourselves to behave “civilized” and to accept in a rational, logical way that there is no difference since we all belong to the same human race… just the skin has a bit more or less pigment. Or different pigment, like for the redskins and yellow people. But the fear is gut reaction.


In Grozny with my Chechen bodyguards


In the Caucasus Mountains with Ilyas, the bodyguard

Back to the Muslims: I loved my bodyguards, I admired the Alhambra (still do), I am still a fan of the One Thousand and One Nights. But then something went wrong… The whole West, including myself, became the enemy and the target of their jihad. Or whatever they think their religious fanaticism prescribes as jihad. Now I am afraid to travel in those parts of the world.

In our history, back in my homeland, we had a couple of centuries of Ottoman occupation — and their sultan was the last caliph in those lands, in case you didn’t know. While we, Hungarians, think of ourselves as the last bastion of Christianity that defended the whole Europe against the “Moslem” invasion, we also learn in our books that “the Turk” (how we mention the Ottomans) didn’t care about what we thought or what we believed — they never really tried to convert anybody while there. All they cared was that the annual tax to be paid, and in rest, we could do whatever we wanted. The Protestant Reformation in the lands inhabited by Hungarians happened exactly during the Ottoman occupation.

The brave defenders of Christianity

We don’t like to admit it but all the nations on the brinks of Europe, at the ends of the present EU, from the Poles in North down to the Serbs and Romanians in the South… all claim to be the only and most important defender, the “last bastion” of the Christianity in the West, which was and is annoyingly ungrateful for our sacrifices. As a result, we all look with suspicion toward the West, even though we envied them when we were locked behind the Iron Curtain.

I think this Christian tradition and history needs some clarification. Those times spent with my Chechen (Muslim) bodyguards scared most of my “Christian” friends. Let me explain the quotes around that word. In Europe, and to some extent in the former British colonies of America, Canada, and Australia, as well, we are born in a place that has many centuries of Christian history – a long period of time when the only known religion and philosophical and intellectual framework was Christianity. Come to think, it was like today’s Islam in some places: it claimed, and happened to define every aspect of the public and private life of the ‘mankind’. Obviously, what they knew at that time as the whole of the ‘humankind’.

As the factual and intellectual history of those places changed (not sure whether it would be proper to say “evolved”) the societies morphed into more secular institutions but maintained, regardless, their traditions, customs, beliefs, mythology… all based on the initial Christian centuries. Arts, literature, even languages (which got a big boost in their development by the translations of the Bible into vernacular tongues!) were and are til this moment imbibed with Christian references. The cultural anthropologists would say the “culture is built on Christian foundations”. Nevertheless, the members of such societies are not practicing Christians anymore, they are either part of a ‘folk religion’ (Christianity defined “in cultural terms without reference to the theologies and histories”) or atheists and agnostics.

Christians also seem to have a short memory: we are completely bewildered by the claim of Islam to govern every aspect of the human life, from business (interest on money) to sex and dietary rules, from dress code to judiciary. There was a time when Christianity did the same, we just “outgrew” that phase. Islam didn’t outgrow it, yet.

[The whole Eastern Europe, in the former communist block countries, after the collapse of the system exported there by the bolsheviks of Stalin, they all became a bit obsessively “religious”. But that was just the usual pendulum effect: pulled too much in one direction the pendulum would swing with force into the opposite direction… until its movement calms down. It wasn’t – in Christian terms – a revival or a religious rebirth. Just some spectacular folk religion display, without any theological content.]

All that is the necessary historical and personal background. Necessary to arrive at the otherwise incomprehensible controversy of certain topics that will follow.

Multiculturalism & sharia

One day a neighbour (figuratively speaking as in the Bible), a neighbour from Canada, who happen to be a Muslim, a Muslim immigrant, just an immigrant as I am, as we are, stands up and requires, no, demands to allow them to have their own judicial system, the famous “sharia” introduced here, in the province where we both live. Right now only for them, they say… This sharia-thing scared the shit out of me. And I am also uncomfortable with the fact that all kind of persons ramble on the streets all covered up in a lot of textiles: they could be females or males with bombs – you never know because they are all covered.

And now I am not talking about those young Canadian girls that out of pure Muslim “modesty” cover their heads with scarfs while wearing extra tight leggings that expose the full camel toe in all its “modesty” together with their coquetting asses. That I understand and approve as a sign of multiculturalism!

But I am still scared when Muslim immigrants that were eager to get into this country, allegedly for the freedom and good life, suddenly start acting like agents of change for removing, altering, modifying exactly those freedom laws and rules that made possible their arrival to the land of civil and religious liberty. No matter if they are refugees, refugee claimants (asylum seekers in European parlance), immigrants or even second-generational ‘newcomers’… the rage and religious fanaticism that targets the core values of the country that gave to both of us – them and myself – a second chance for a better life, scares me. And if I had a say in this, as I don’t, I would be very much against accepting them here in Canada.

The Hungarian connection

Well, as a Hungarian shouldn’t you be more accepting, having in mind that after the collapse of the 1956 uprising against the Soviets, over 37,000 Hungarian refugees were accepted to Canada? – one may ask. And those numbers are historically true. And we also have to admit that none of those many thousands wanted ever to change, alter the core values of the Canadian ideological landscape. They were keen to keep alive their language, their folklore, their traditions, even their own variant of Christian churches — and all that in the framework of the existing Canadian system, to which they were extremely grateful for acceptance.
Actually, all the immigrants in that era tried to integrate into the Canadian society in a similar way. By finding a fine balance of keeping the traditions and integrating into their new country. Some days I am longing for that balance…

In a couple of days, Hungary (a country where I’ve lived a decade and which represents, at least in theory, my mother tongue, my culture, my “ethnic background” and a lot of other things I don’t like) will have a referendum. A referendum that doesn’t mean anything, without any real consequence. It will change nothing and the question is moot. But it is about “Muslim migrants” and it served well the political masters behind it: the passions are all-time high and the hatred between the yay and nay sayers peaks with every coming day. The cunningly misleading question sounds like this: “Do you want the European Union to be able to mandate the obligatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary even without the approval of the [Hungarian parliament]?”

It is irrelevant that the EU never said that: the so-called quota was about a certain number (1294) refugee claimants/asylum seekers to be processed by the Hungarian authorities — in which process they can admit or reject the claim. Any or all of them. Not exactly “obligatory” forced settlement… and a minuscule number compared to the population of 9 millions.

But in this whole discourse about migrants, refugees, Muslims, jihad, Christian values, Europe’s culture and traditions… the facts don’t count anymore. It is irrational fear against reason. Survival or conquer. Life or death. On every side. That’s the preception.

And while I am sitting here in Canada, sometimes horrified by the aberrations of this interesting social experiment called ‘multiculturalism’, which otherwise can be an enjoyable experience, I don’t know what my message should be to those that have to get out and vote in the next days.

As a “migrant”, that settled twice in a new country, I’d like to encourage openness and admission.
As someone who experienced the transition of a secular place into an intolerant Islamic republic, I am afraid to say let them in.
As a very tolerant “lassez-faire” person I’d like to be surrounded by all kind of people from different cultures… as long as they don’t want to kill me or to take away my freedom to tell them f*ck off, when it comes about my turf.
As an admirer of the Caliphate of Cordóba and Alhambra, I want many educated „Moors” in my neighbourhood. And in Europe.
As a “cultural” Christian (but still living by more or less Christian values) I am worried by the violent hatred against my heritage.
As a host of our Muslim friends coming to our house, I am always glad to have them around.
As a news consumer I am terrified by the new “caliphate” in Levant that is not building new Alhambras but is blowing up historical monuments.

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