Friday, 03 September 2010 15:09
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
—Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi
Every year, hundreds of thousands of barefoot, dancing revelers descend on the same town for its annual festival, celebrated out in a field with music, dancing and drumming while the scent of cannabis smoke fills the air. No, this is not Grassroots, or Lollapalooza, or any Western festival for that matter. It is a Muslim Sufi worship festival that takes place every year in Sehwan, Pakistan. Overwhelmingly, the great majority of Muslims in Pakistan identify with Sufism, a philosophy we Ithacans mostly associate with the ecstatic dervishes and the sacred love poetry of Jalal-al-Din Rumi.
Sufis stand in direct contrast to the hard-line radicals, fundamentalists and terrorists that have caught the attention of the media of the world. While extremists focus on rigid adherence to doctrine and the wrath of God, Sufis’ relationship to God is more likely to be described in terms of the joyous ecstasy of being gently drawn to their Eternal Beloved. They try to live their faith rather than observe it and discourage racial pride and parochial agendas, encouraging instead brotherhood and love for all. So, as is true in many countries, while political leaders pander to religious extremists, the great majority of people are seeking peace, joy, love and happiness, none of which make the evening news.
It is these people who are now experiencing the worst floods anywhere on Earth in our lifetime. The monsoon floods have displaced 5 million people and left 13 million, especially children, at risk of cholera and other water-borne diseases because of the lack of clean drinking water. Over 20 million people are directly affected. And in direct contrast to other recent tragedies, the earthquake in Haiti for example, world response is virtually non-existent.
According to the Red Cross, their HAITI cell phone campaign raised $31 million within days, at times as much as $200,000 per hour, ultimately totaling to the $2.5 billion that relief groups would raise for Haiti by late March. Some aid groups were so awash in cash they were unable to distribute it all. In stark contrast, according to Christopher Hayes, an editor for The Nation, the Red Cross’s recent text message effort for Pakistan yielded only $10,000.
The situation on the ground is very similar to that in Haiti — government corruption is a given as is widespread poverty. Even the proliference of small, homespun co-ops is similar, with women workers at the fore. It is these cooperatives that offer assistance to small businesses, women, home workers and farmers. Housing and banking co-ops are widespread and offer opportunity to communities and businesses. But there is as yet no way to donate to Pakistan through the Cooperative Emergency Fund. So, there is a noticeably different response even by our co-op community.
We are perhaps fatigued and dismayed by natural disasters that many of us see as being caused by global climate change. Many of us are left paralyzed by a decade that has seen several major natural and man-made disasters, including two major incidents along our own Gulf Coast and two ongoing, intractable and inscrutable wars.
Americans’ long-held concerns that nuclear-armed Pakistan had been secretly sponsoring the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and other terrorist groups were only just corroborated by the WikiLeaks documents when the monsoons began, causing anti-Pakistan sentiment to peak at a time when they need our help the most.
Unfortunately, at the same time, America’s 24-hour, non-stop political election campaigns have identified this season’s distraction, the wildly divisive non-issue that is the Cordoba Islamic cultural center planned for lower Manhattan. This red herring controversy has managed to generate what has become shockingly widespread Islamophobia, again, at a time when Pakistani children need water, food and shelter.
The groups most responsible for the immediate aid in Haiti were Christian aid groups like Samaritan’s Purse, Mission of Hope, Mercy Ships and World Vision, all part of a vast aid infrastructure already established in countries where Christianity is practiced. They coordinate closely with the Red Cross.
Countries where the Red Crescent is the major aid presence do not have the same network to work with. In fact, Christian aid workers are often viewed with suspicion in Muslim nations, and often face violence and intimidation that makes it difficult for them to carry out their humanitarian missions.
All of these issues swirled together in a brew that also includes a failing world economy might just make us forswear empathy altogether, and simply look away. The overwhelming suffering may cause us to erect even more barriers inside ourselves. We could begin to believe that ours is a caravan of despair.
At GreenStar, we are too well-acquainted with the web of life for that to become an option; we and many other co-ops will be raising money to help the people of Pakistan, who are facing the greatest natural disaster of our lifetimes. This month you will be able to donate at the register, or you can simply give to the Red Cross Pakistan Relief Fund (text to 90999 the word “REDCROSS” to make a $10 donation).
We may have erected our own internal barriers, and the Pakistani government and the 24-hour news networks haven’t made it easy for us, but perhaps Rumi, the Sufi poet, can break it down for us:
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.
We might enter that field in Trumansburg, NY, others might enter it in Sehwan, Pakistan, but today the field is flooded and we’ve all got to help.
By Alexis Alexander,
The cooperative movement is strong and growing, here in Ithaca and around the world. According to Worldwatch Institute, there are currently one billion cooperative members worldwide. With the world facing much economic hardship and uncertainty, diminishing natural resources, and a global-warmi...