Friday, April 15, 2011
'Do they then only wait for the hour that it should come on them suddenly? But already have come some signs thereof, and when it (actually) is on them, how can they benefit then by their admonition?" (47:18).
Whenever the world is in turmoil, and I don't recall a time when it wasn't, people turn to what they know and grew up with. Verses from the Quran like this one offer a good example.
There seems to be a renewed interest in the "signs" leading up to the end of the world - Youm al Qiyama, the Day of Resurrection or judgment day - as foretold in Islam and most other religions, not to mention by mystics.
This week alone, there were several "end of the world" stories making headlines.
In Saudi Arabia at the Grand Mosque of Mecca, a man snatched the microphone from the Imam as he was leading the Asr prayer and declared himself the "Mahdi" to tens of thousands of worshippers. The Mahdi is the prophesied redeemer of Islam who will lead the Muslims, and whose coming is one of the signs on the nearing of the Day of Resurrection. (The man was quickly arrested and later declared mentally unstable.)
Then in Dubai this week, billboards advertising that May 21, 2011 will be the "judgment day" according to the Bible, paid for by a fundamentalist Christian group, started appearing. They were ordered to be pulled down, but continue to make for some active conversation on the internet, with more than a few Christians questioning the date.
Why the sudden influx of prophecies? People seem to have always searched for that exact date when the expiry of Earth may be upon us, documenting omens and signs from the beginning of time.
Nostradamus from the 1500s, and calculations by the ancient Mayan civilisations are said to have predicted 2012 as the end date. But having actually sat and read over some of Nostradamus's predictions, they are far too vague to be read definitively and could mean a lot of things.
Psychics have also tried their hand at predicting the future. The Lebanese clairvoyant Michel Hayek, for instance, predicted this past New Years' Eve that 2011 will "look like" the end of the world is coming, but it won't actually end. Some of his other predictions, like protests and changes in the Middle East, have come true already.
Email forwards with lists of signs that Youm al Qiyama is upon us are also making their rounds again, with some heated discussions taking place on the virtual walls of Facebook and BlackBerry messenger about how many have come true, and how many are authentic.
Such conversations used to be our favourite topic back in the Islamic schools. I recall how the whole classroom would pay attention to the teacher as he mentioned the signs (from earthquakes to the sun rising in the west, as well as the appearance of Yajuj and Majuj - Gog and Magog - who will bring havoc) and asked our opinions on what we feel may have happened already or is happening.
Being a tree hugger myself, I tend to put a lot of faith in Mother Nature in general. But regardless of belief, there is nothing wrong with stepping back for a moment and reflecting.
As my teacher in Saudi Arabia put it: the most important thing to remember is that no matter what happens, you need to be a good person, a good Muslim, and live each day as if it is your last.
With the US economy remaining weak, and with budget woes hitting confidence in the US dollar, talk about a new global reserve currency is mounting.Professor Joseph Stiglitz a Nobel prize-winning economist of 2001 agrees that the world economy needs a new global reserve currency to help prevent trade imbalances that are reflected in the national debt of the US.
RT:Speaking of non-functioning, well, what about the US dollar? You are someone who is calling for a new reserve currency. But why? Some say “what is the alternative”?
Joseph Stiglitz: What I’ve argued for is the creation of a global reserve currency. Reserve currencies are, you might think of a store value and the dollar has been very unstable – understandable given the difficulties of the American economy, our performance was not a stellar. But the fact that in a modern globalized economy, 21st Century, it is an anachronism that a single currency would play the pivotal role that the dollar has played. What I argue in my book “Making Globalization Work” is that the dollar reserve currency system contributes to inequality … and it actually contributes to the weakening of the global economy, because countries are setting aside literally hundreds of billions of dollars, you might say, of precautionary savings. That’s money not spent.
RT: So, you are saying essentially it hurts everybody to have the US dollar as a reserve currency?
JS: That is right. What I’ve described in the UN commission I chair, explains how we can create a global reserve currency. It is really interesting to be here at Bretton Woods talking about that because Keynes argued for this 75 years ago. In the aftermath of the Great Depression he understood how the links between the UK’s problem, UK being the reserve currency then, and that if we are going to have global economic stability we needed to move off of a single country being the reserve currency. Bretton Woods failed from his perspective, in this respect.
RT:And didn’t the US disagree and say “we want to be main reserve currency” and got their way? So, would the US have that same power, if world leaders got together today for another Bretton Woods conference?
JS: I think that if that same meeting were held here in Bretton Woods…the world is markedly different. China has close to $3 trillion of reserves, about a third of the global reserves, about $9 trillion. If you own $3 trillion you have some voice in what kind of reserve currency system you want to have. And China has been very clear that it worries about the current dollar-based reserve system right after our UN commission came out and supported it, China supported it, France supported it, Russia supported. So there is a wide understanding of the importance of this idea. And I think if the global economy remains weak, there will be more interest as one of the remedies to the current instability and weakness in the global economy.
Most of us figure out at a certain point in our lives that we are not going to be rich. The dreams of youth collapse and suffer a dusty death. Not for us the mansions and the super cars and trip to Gstaad or infiniti pools. Rich in health, rich in love, rich in good spirits, even luck but not rich in the bank. Rich is a label that will pass us by, like a wind blown paper, teasing yet truant in its flight.
Some of us accept the fact and cruise with the fait accompli, others are envious of those who are loaded while the rest of us keep hoping that some magic will occur and we will wake up one day sloshing in the lolly.
Are the very rich different species from the merely well off? It would certainly play havoc with your balance if you could get everything you want. But wealth can be a driver, a jump-starter to wonderful things.
The greatest advantage of wealth is that it gives you leisure. Not the leisure as you and I see it today, of lounging on the sofa, eating popcorn and watching drivel on the television but the leisure Plato talked about, the time to think and be creative, to contemplate, that awesome, incredible gift that sets us apart.
Not just that, but freedom from the money problem is perhaps the single largest energy form for making the world a better place. Which is why those who are truly liberated in financial terms and do nothing constructive with it are perhaps the most criminal in the world.
The arts, the sciences, sport, medicine, the expression of any genius lies in it being able to find the money to sustain and nourish itself. Without which the greatest talent can simply wither away. And it does.
For most of us, this fiscal repose is a distant dream. We have to co-exist with the fact that the mundane call to pay bills and survive will inexorably detract from our ability to perform at maximum, whatever our endeavour. Sometimes, we will even have to deflect or thwart it and even destroy attractive options because we cannot afford the luxury of following a dream.
It does make us more resilient and flexible and definitely more practical than the very rich who often enough, only use their money to make more money while ignoring their capacity for making the world a better place.
For them, the fear is of losing the comforts and perks of affluence.
For the rest of us the fear is visceral...of being inconsequential and unseen, unheard of and unwanted. It is a continuingly sobering thought that if we got off the world nobody would notice. Which is why we scamper about in the rat race looking for some identity, why we join clubs and groups and seek shelter under labels and designations. This is our substitute for wealth and also why we are wafer thin sensitive about losing jobs and job titles. We call it security but what it actually boils down to is a lack of alternatives, we are in the rut, like it or not.
That’s what the rich have, all the options to exercise. And then, so many of them don’t do a thing with it but be indolent and indulgent towards themselves. And I wonder how our pursuit for excellence would suffer if we were to strike it rich and then harm exactly what we should be enhancing...our natural abilities.
Should we be grateful that we have to strive, to make that extra effort or should we resent the fact that the banal forces into so many sorry compromises.
Perhaps one of the contributory problems lies in there being too many diversions and, therefore, commitments. Our lives are cluttered with tacky aspirations, the desire to invest in symbols, to commit ourselves to soaring expenses and then expend our creative energy in maintaining the charade. Consequently, we are exhausted long before total potential ever gets a look in.
Imagine if we were to sit down and cut out some of the ground clutter from our personal radars, prune the branches, tighten up. We’d probably discover we are a whole lot richer in cash terms than we thought.