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All in the Game

We are told again and again that it is a mistake to over simplify issues. Edward Said famously indicted the West over its whole approach to the Muslim World in Orientalism. Recently a few hours of reading has shown me that my understanding of the Palestine question was childlike. The political issues there, as elsewhere, are complex but there is a grave danger that we are lured away from the hell-hole reality by all the acronyms and alliances, they are like a deep pond, look into it but stay well away from the edge.  

I am re-reading the Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse. The "Game" of the title is a celebration of the world of intellect. Players weave together patterns and concepts from seemingly unrelated fields of study such as the evolution of Latin verbs and musical ornament in 16th century Venetian music. Guardian readers would have loved it; bless them. But eventually the hero Jospeh Knecht realises that all the beautiful complexity is simply a pathway to the sublimely simple, in other words to God. From that moment on  "he would no longer dwell in the world of longer be able to delight in invention, construction and combination."

Checkov in The Cherry Orchard 1904 has the eternal student Trofimov talk of "Terrible serious people with stern expressions on their faces. They all talk about nothing but terribly important questions.... And right in front of their eyes there are workers living on filthy food and sleeping without pillows to their heads, thirty to forty to a room - and everywhere bugs, damp, stench and moral squalor. And all the fine conversations we have are plainly just to distract attention from it all. Our own attention, and other peoples' too."

In my opening I referred to the Muslim World rather than the world of Islam. The Muslim world is complex but as far as I can see Islam is not. The Shahadah in its most basic form simply says "There is no god but God and Mohammed is His prophet". This simplicity is matched by a passage in the Bible from 2 Corinthians: "I will be a father to you and you shall be my sons and daughters." When God speaks in the Qur'an and the Bible of his mercy to Man he talks of simple gifts: fruit, vegetables and the fish of the sea. An aptitude for philosophical debate may be a gift from God but it is not mentioned in either Holy Book.

Both Jesus and Mohammed were born into societies that were largely agricultural, where life was simple if not easy. The underlying logic of life was unavoidable; cultivate the olives and they will bear fruit, neglect them and they will not.

There is a world of difference between knowing something and realising it. I know about the occupation of the West Bank but when I watched the tracer shells and saw the wounds of small children in the fine documentary Occupation 101 then it became more real. The film starts with a quotation from Stephen Hawkings "The geatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance: it is the illusion of knowledge". Illusion may be unavoidable but it is deeply wrong to cultivate illusion by congratulating one another on knowledge which is fundamentally superficial.

Ken Mafham is a Muslim Insitute Fellow and a Town Planning Consultant with 40 years experience. His work has taken him to Mauritius, Bauch State Nigeria , Merseyside and the East Midlands. He has also taught lessons to 30-40 individuals a week for the last fifteen years, from Year 1 to A level. This leaves little time for hobbies but he does like to play the violin and sing. Not both at the same time though.

Image: Artist Sabrina Mezzaqui's transformation of Hesse's The Glass Bead Game