The Future Of Secularism: Chapter 30

STUPID ME

Needless to say, Wednesday night sucked. I went early in the afternoon Thursday to a new bookstore, American-style, with many seating areas and a cafe. I picked up a few newspapers and brought them with me to my table; all by myself.

Khattab walked over, out of nowhere (did I need to add that?). I was pissed he was there but he sat down anyway.

"What’s up?" I asked.

He didn’t bother to sarcastically return a salam, so at least he was being nice. I shrugged when he asked me the same, and motioned to some newspapers. He wanted to ask why I didn’t spend Thursday going to Azadeh Mosque for the Qur’an lessons, and it made me think that Shaykh Erfan would be very disappointed, especially after all the kindness he showed me. 

Reading the newspaper articles gave me my first glimpse onto the Pan-Turkic political movement. Now, the articles and editorials were definitely censored, but there was something there. I could glean bits and pieces. The Turkic movement was aggressively Muslim but open-minded: it combined my love for our culture with an international sophistication and modernity; it kept Islam as a proud part of its heritage but also as a part of its modern identity. There were several movements hinted at, though all equally condemned for being ‘corrupt’ or ‘anti-modern’ or ‘secretly reactionary’ -- reactionary being the word used to describe the Islamists.

The Turkish Council, the New Turks... The movements sprang up and were squashed every week, only to have new movements take their place. They were all centered on an underground group I had previously heard of, the All Alliances Turan Congress. It was a movement for the unification of our country with the large republics of Turkestan, the Turkish areas of the Caucusus (our Azeri brothers, for example), Xinjiang (East Turkestan) and the modern Republic of Turkey, which was creatively called ‘Anadolu and the Far European Frontier’.

These would all form the mythical homeland ‘Turan’. Not only did it rhyme with Iran, it also offered radicals a third way, out of leftist (overly theoretical) ideas and the often overly rigid and inflexible Islamists.

All I really wanted, I imagined, was a Muslim version of the West, where while on the outside things were different (such as dress or music), it would only really be a transplanted suburbia where mosques dotted the landscape, everyone was Muslim, and everyone was proud of that. Guys would walk down modern streets with stores with Muslim names, on their arms would be hijabis. On the surface, we’d be different. Could we be different inside? I didn’t want to be. Needless to say, as Khattab and I discussed things, he didn’t like my viewpoint much.  

Then suddenly Khattab asked, "What about Sophia? Do you still think about her?"

Well no, jerk, but now that you mention her, I will resume worrying and crying over her.

"From time to time, okay, I do worry about her... I mean I want her, I think about going and doing something with her. But I know that’s not going to happen, so what’s the point?"

He just didn’t want to talk about Turan. I understood, he was definitely a purist, whereas I couldn’t be bothered with overly Islamic ideas and visions.

When I came home later in the afternoon, I sat down with my mother to drink some chai. She asked me how my day was and I told her it was "boring, because I spent the afternoon in the bookstore reading papers and the like."

"Yes," she replied, "Because I happened to find an article on all those nationalists on your desk. Where did you get that garbage?"

Oops.

Well then.

My mother had just declared war on Turan and I would be the first casualty. We talked for a bit and she calmed down. I thanked Allah we had quickly reached a cease-fire. She was a little happier about this, I imagine, though still worried. She was content that I was at least looking towards a more ‘modern’ ideology. Modern, of course, being a by-word for anything that was Western… some Islamists were just as modern as the most cutting-edge secularists... they just based their philosophy on the Oneness of God instead of belief in man-as-god.

Once this topic was safely put away, my mother had no choice but to turn the topic to her.

"How is Sophia doing?"

Well, she basically rejected me, leaving me empty and broken on the side of a sidewalk, and then walked away content that we were friends.

"She’s fine, I guess." I lied.

"Fine, hmm? You don’t sound too sure of that."

"It’s just," I added quickly trying to defuse the tension and suspicion, "I do like her, but you were right in a way. As much as I hate to say it." I smiled a bit, to throw her off. I was quite the politician (The reader is supposed to be proud of me and sympathize with me. But once I tell you to sympathize with me, you change your feelings and by now, you’re just confused, if not thoroughly sick of me).

"What do you mean?" she wondered aloud, and I explained: "Well I did like her a lot, but I realized I didn’t want to be with her in the long run. Basically she came out and said we should back-off, but when she said that, I realized my feelings for her were very ephemeral and weak."

"Are you sure," she said, "That you’re not just saying that to make yourself feel better?"

"Well if I was rejected, which I was, that’d be the natural thing to do. Maybe to some extent that’s it. But not all of it. Because, like, my feelings for her just vanished the minute she told me this wasn’t going to work the way we were going about it. She said no, and it was more of a relief to her that than it was disappointment."

She nodded. "Are you okay?"

I smiled.

"Inshallah."

Guess who didn’t smile back? 

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