The Sikh's Golden Temple. Amritsar, India, 2013. By Clara Figueras

To my Brothers and Sisters in Doubt

OR
“Nun sag, wie hast du’s mit der Religion?”

By Aurelie Mattmüller

If a few years ago someone had asked me what the most precious thing in life is, my answer would have been quite naïve, but genuine nonetheless. I would have told him that for me, the most precious thing is the hope that there is God; a caring ´almightiness` who knows us, on whom we can rely even in the darkest moments, one who gives a purpose to life, to the happiness as well as to the suffering; The hope in forgiveness and eternity.
But something happened to me, that none of us can escape – I grew older and realized that life is more complex than I expected. Keeping up an unshakable trust in an overarching truth is not as easy anymore as it seemed at the age of fourteen. New books, friendships and experiences alienated me from the moral values I’ve been taught, leading to questions without a certain, rational answer. While trying hard to stick to principles, it is getting harder to make things fit into the ´good` and ´evil` boxes of childhood. Some may argue that education is the path to freedom, but for stubborn people like me it is first and foremost a path of suffering.

Plato uses the parable of the cave. The philosopher tries to rescue people, who are sitting chained in a dark cave. They are watching a shadow play on the wall, which they consider to be real; somewhat comparable to the Matrix. Since these people never saw anything other than the cave wall, they forcefully resist the attempts of the philosopher to leave the place they consider reality. Only very few follow the philosopher and take the struggle of the strenuous path to daylight. Once outside the cave, they are illuminated by the sun and the beauty of the real world.

But let’s face it, most of the time when we get introduced to a new, alien idea that challenges our world view and our belief system, it is not like that. We don’t feel illuminated; we feel betrayed by our narrow-mindedness and evolve strong negative feelings towards both the familiar and the new. In the film Matrix, Neo, the main character is living in an artificial world, the Matrix. What he considers to be reality is only a projection controlled by machines. After a few mysterious incidences, Neo is being offered two pills – a red one, which will make him escape from the Matrix and see the real world, and a blue one which will make him forget the crack in the facade he’s been noticing.

Unlike salvation from illusion in Plato’s Cave Allegory, in Matrix; salvation comes through illusion. If you want to be happy, you have to choose the continuance of the projection. In the Matrix-parable, reality is not a place worth living in. When I started reading works of modern philosophers such as Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra or Camus’ L’homme révolté, I felt a bit like Neo; cut loose from my comforting faith and thrown into an arbitrary world, unchained from the illusion of God. The Almighty is dead, he has been killed. And it is now, after the awakening, man’s destiny to fight the absurdity of his existence without a divine compass.

Did I unconsciously choose Morpheus’ red pill when enrolling in philosophy class? I found the new ideas disturbing, but at the same time I would not touch my Bible anymore, I felt unworthy and incapable at once.

When stepping out of a belief construction, one stumbles upon an infinite number of independent variables, possibilities and, yes, also moments of intellectual freedom. This freedom made me realize that the bipolarity of both, cave and Matrix parable, fall short of grasping the complexity of our existence. Instead of choosing between the red and blue pill, Peter Sloterdijk, a contemporary German philosopher, finds his salvation in  escape from this two-dimensionality.  According to him, there are as many realities as there are perceptions.

Talking about the ´Gretchen’s question` in an intellectual environment is hard because of two reasons: It is nearly impossible to make a valid point and there are too many irrational emotions involved, which go beyond words. My journey of doubting faith, then ridiculing and denying it and finally putting it aside is probably shared by quite a few people. Many have a faith struggle, they just feel uncomfortable sitting between two chairs and end up at either the Theist or the Atheist position.

I agree with Rainer Maria Rilke, a German writer and poet, that if you’ve really found something as astonishingly big as God, it is very difficult to lose it. So I guess I didn’t really have him from the very beginning. (Side note to God: If you decide to reveal yourself to me one day; could you please make it rain Strawberry Milkshake? That would be AWESOME.) For now I feel okay being agnostic, not only in questions of faith. Sometimes it is annoying to ‘not know’, because in conversations this position leads to muteness most of the time. There were so many times I would get involved in arguments I could only loose, simply because I refused to approve or disapprove the viewpoint of my counterpart. (This being said I do not mean that Agnostics can’t have legitimate opinions and valid arguments!) But for me it is the better alternative to generalization and recognition of the other possible truths. To quote a friend: “Life is a riddle and there’s no chance of knowing who’s been right or wrong before we’re dead, but until we arrive there, let’s explore as much as possible.”

Afghanistan 2014

By Rolf H. Braathu

This spring break some members of the campus MUN Crisis Staff and I had the chance to organize a stimulating workshop in London for King’s College students on the topic of Afghanistan. Besides making me really wish Menton was in a big city, it awakened a deep seated interest in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan isn’t in the tradition Middle East, and especially not in the Middle East that we study. However, it is still a subject worth of all our attention, and especially in the next few months.

Most people don’t know this but Afghanistan is an incredibly ethnically diverse country, with appalling regional contrasts. The Pashtun are form the largest ethnic group in the country with around 42% of the total population, and have traditionally been the ones to represent Afghanistan. Second comes the Tajiks, who make up around 27% of Afghanistan’s population. But there’s also the Uzbek and Hazara minorities, each at about 9% of the population, who reside mostly in the northern part of the country, unlike the Pashtun who are mainly in the south.

Published in "Operation Enduring Freedom". US Army, 2001. Wikimedia Commons

Published in “Operation Enduring Freedom”. US Army, 2001. Wikimedia Commons

They all have their own languages, and in some cases, their own special belief systems. The Hazara happens to be Shia, and are supposedly the descendants of Mongol soldiers who settled in the area. They also faced major repression under the Taliban because of their different beliefs. Understandably, Pashtu and Dari, a form of Persian spoken by the Tajiks have come to dominate Afghanistan linguistically.

That’s all interesting, but even more interesting is the fact that most of these non-Pasthun ethnic groups banded together over a decade ago under the Northern Alliance to fight the Taliban, and finally supported the US in defeating them. This was later brought back as the National Front of Afghanistan, which is fiercely against any form of compromises with the Taliban.

As raised by one of the speakers at the event – Theo Farrell, head of the War Studies Department – Karzai has a different viewpoint on the Taliban. Whenever he speaks of them, he doesn’t use the word “Taliban”, but rather, “our misguided Afghan brothers”. The Taliban was mostly Pashtun led in the past, and remains so, as far as we know.

In addition, most of the tensions and battles in modern day Afghanistan have been fought in the South, not the North. Northern Afghanistan is quite safe, relatively, and has seen a steady drop in ISAF troops in the past years as control has been handed over.

These differences will probably develop into more contentious issues in the future. The US is leaving Afghanistan in 2014, and Karzai, having gone against the will of a Loya Jirga in November, will probably not sign any treaty allowing for 15 000 US troops to remain in country. In addition, Afghanistan is having its third presidential election in April, and the Afghan people will have to elect a new president.

Right now there’s a myriad of different candidates, though Abdullah Abdullah, who is quite anti-Taliban in his policies, Zalmai Rassoul, seen as Karzai’s chosen successor, and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the former finance minister, seem to be the most likely ones to gain a significant share of votes.

2014 is the year, as Mr. Farrell said, and we will see whether Afghanistan will be able to survive on its own. The question of the Taliban is still there, and there are numerous different points of views as to how to deal with them, ranging from outright destruction to consolidation. We will also see whether Afghanistan’s ethnic make-up will come to play an increasingly important role in the near future, as the North may not be willing to put up with troubles in the South for much longer. However, what most Afghans probably desire right now is security first of all.

Rien ne sera jamais possible avec Netanyahou

Bibi ne veut pas la paix avec la Palestine. Plus encore, il ne peut même pas vouloir la paix avec la Palestine. Les partis d’extrême-droite nationalistes et religieux qu’il traine dans sa coalition empêchent tout espoir d’accord satisfaisant pour les Palestiniens. Pour ceux-là, le sionisme signifie une terre de la Méditerranée au Jourdain, et surtout pas d’arabe entre les deux. Continue reading

DSCF3204a

Chokri Belaid est mort, tout un pays le pleure …

Par Syrine Attia

Après la nouvelle, le pays s’est arrêté. Les tunisiens ne pouvaient plus ni travailler, ni étudier, ni même penser. Leurs esprits rembobinaient l’information, la disloquaient, la déchiquetaient mot à mot, essayant en vain de la comprendre, de la saisir, de l’accepter… Mais non, l’esprit n’y arrivait point. Il n’est pas mort, il ne peut pas l’être. Continue reading