Your Brain is Green
Of all the brain types, yours has the most balance. You are able to see all sides to most problems and are a good problem solver. You need time to work out your thoughts, but you don't get stuck in bad thinking patterns. You tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the future, philosophy, and relationships (both personal and intellectual).

Sunday, July 08, 2007

M*O*H*A*M*M*A*D K*A*P*L*A*N ?

Some of you may remember the wonderful books by Leo Rosten, "The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N" and "The Return of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N", set in a 1930s night school, an "Americanization school" in New York City, which not only taught immigrants to the US English, but prepared them for citizenship. Hyman Kaplan, from some unidentified Eastern European country, who always wrote his name in colored pencils and with stars between the letters, drove the WASP teacher, Mr Parkhill (Mr. "Pockheel") to the brink of despair. Rosten created other characters with equal distinction, such as Madame Olga Trasha, a Russian who could imbue the word "hello" with tragic overtones, but it is Kaplan we remember. His sheer exuberance, his logical but very odd English, his great love of America, his unique literary style (when asked to submit an autobiographical sketch, he began with "First, I was born." Even Mr. Parkhill couldn't find a way to criticize that, although he wanted to).

Most of us with parents who were first generation immigrants remembered how they worked long hours every day, and then went to night school, if at all possible, to "become Americans". My mother, the last child and the only one born in the US, after her family left Russia in 1905, was the "Amerikanska" and it was so important to leave the shtetl behind that no one ever spoke to her in any language but English, even though my grandmother's English was very poor. And she herself rebelled against her birth name of Luba and Anglicized it to "Lenore" when she was in her 20s. It was only with the rise in "Black Power" in the 1960s that ethnicity became "chic" in the US.

Something similar seemed to be happening in the UK. When I lived in Cambridge in 1975, the British comedian Dick Emory had a very popular sketch on his weekly program in which, dressed as a bucktoothed, elderly Indian gentleman in Nehru cap and jacket, he would give his grandson heavily-accented advice, every sentence beginning "We British..."

But the similarities with the two immigrant experiences end quickly. The US, at the beginning of the 20th century, took in vast numbers of immigrants from all over the world, and had lots of space for them. Even while trying to become "American", just about everyone had roots not many generations back somewhere else. Britain had a very homogenous culture and not a lot of room. In fact, one of the raisons d'etre for the Empire had been its solution for masses of young Britons looking for work they'd never find in the home island. Emory's Indian gentleman wasn't applauded for wanting to identify as British; he was laughed at. And color mattered, in the UK, too. (It did in the US, Asians and blacks, getting the worst of it, so that the "white races" like the Irish and Jews fared better). But whereas the average American had at least some sympathy for the "greenhorn", the British were patronizing, secure in their Britishness. At least until after the Second World War, when the wogs and darkies decided they'd rather be independent .

Both Christianity and Islam are proselytizing religions. Judaism stopped being one so long ago we are almost anti-conversion. Our Sages tell us to honor the convert, but we have a certain degree of ambivalence. Jews tend to find the confrontation between Christians and Moslems a bit ironic and a bit funny: "a plague on both your houses", is the way we see it, although, from a strictly theologic viewpoint, the Islamic Allah and the Jewish Yahweh are closer to One Another than the (to Jews, totally incomprehensible) concept of the Trinity. A religious Jew can step inside a mosque; he cannot enter a church, because of the images.

Christianity eventually spread by the sword, but not at first. It was a religion of the downtrodden, the powerless, and it percolated upwards, after initial persecution, from the lower classes, preaching a doctrine of passivity and respect for authority. "Turn the other cheek", "render unto Caesar", etc. It was also a very syncretic religion, incorporating aspects of just about every pagan cult it encountered (Jews tend to think this may be due to the central tenets of Christianity, which bear distinct resemblance to certain pagan myths). Islam, however, did not have the same experience. It began in armed conquest and never found much value in being the underdog. "Christian" values of humility and self-abnegation never struck a chord in the Islamic soul. The very fact that its armies walked over most of the civilized world for a couple of centuries was the vindication of its "truth". Islam never developed anything resembling Christian monastic life, either, with its emphasis on non-violence.
I don't believe that the Crusades were basically a religious movement, but due to other factors, political and economic and that the defense of the Holy Places was really an excuse (in the way that "restoring democracy" to Iraq is--heaven forfend that someone mention oil). The Eastern Christians were always uneasy with the idea of Warriors for Christ, and it can be argued that many of the Crusader leaders and soldiers were hardly Christian. But in spite of the ultimate failure of the Crusades leading to the Reformation and the Renaissance and the flowering of Europe, the failure of Islam, to extend its hegemony beyond the Balkans, had an opposite effect: causing a reappraisal which turned it inwards. The Islamic world became Fortress Islam: no dissent, no ambiguities. "Myself and my brother against the world; myself against my brother". The essential constellation of Islam is the extended family, the clan, the tribe--not the nation.

Those Moslems, whether from Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, who emigrated to the UK, are the heirs of that denial of intellectual freedom, that indoctrination that Islam Is Best. Beyond certain material benefits, they don't see what Westerners see; they find the personal freedoms we cherish to be threatening, even if at first they try to adopt them. They don't want to be like Hyman Kaplan and his fellow students--instead, they want to convince Mr. Parkhill to become like them. Assuming they're willing to go to night school at all.

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