Thursday, June 14, 2007

Forked question

From the excellent article in this month's Prospect by Shiv Malik about the background of Mohammad Sidique Khan, the leader of the 7/7 bombers, there is this conversation with Khan's brother, Gultasab.

I was sitting in his house for what would be the last time and we were going through the BBC script when Gultasab told me that he himself had become more religious over the last three years. For some reason, I translated my usual question of whether he thought what his brother had done was "good" or "bad" — he had said that it was a terrible thing several times — and instead asked him whether he thought 7/7 was halal (permitted) or haram (forbidden) in Islam. Only when a look of stunned surprise come over Gultasab's face did I realise that I must have been asking him an entirely different question. After a brief pause, he replied. "No comment."

All of us live with/in doublethink - it is not deplorable, it is inevitable. The difference between the importance of any single one of our acts on a national or worldwide scale and its importance on a personal scale is immeasurable, though that doesn't stop us from making use of it (What does it matter in the greater scheme of things if I betray you/do nothing/do what suits me/etc?). The reality of this difference is present in every day life, for example in the application of standards of behaviour which becomes gradually looser towards others the further from our inner circle they are. Thus the classic school conundrum: who would you rather died, your mother or 100 Sudanese? Thankfully, we rarely have to make such choices.

But what about Gultasab? How does he manage the doublethink, especially if one standard is in daily tectonic friction with the other? How typical is he? How widespread is Gultasab's hesitation before this forked question?

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