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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

God on the Beach

Without warning, Mr. X's daughter begins to rub some oil on my chest. "Where do you get inspiration for poems like that?"

"If you keep rubbing like that, you're sure to find out," I reply. "You missed a bit."

B laughs. "What a rebel you are, Ali."

I look genuinely irate. "I'm not a rebel, or trying to be one. I'm just me. Besides don't women get tired of rebels? Don't they want someone who is burning with ambition to make lots of money and afford to buy things, like food and houses - or something even more important like diamonds? Many a good rebel and poet has died of starvation, y'know."

"Now look whose generalising? We girls can buy for ourselves in this day and age thank you very much." B grins, and lies down on her own towel next to me, "I'll let you into a secret - we girls have our different tastes but one thing that we want in our rebels or our rich men is that they have principles and stick to them no matter what bullshit is thrown at them. Doesn't matter if it's bad boy principles or good boy principles, as look as they stand for something and stick to it. If I need provisions I can provide myself. But I can't buy a man like that."

"I wasn't generalising. I was actually asking you as a woman."

"And I've just told you."

I smile and ask, "So what's your version of a real man then B?"

"A real man shouldn't be so in himself, be into what he should wear, or his perfume or hair, or be about how much he has or what car he has. He should be like you, I never ever seen you with sleek hair, or smelling of perfume or wearing any type of brand."

I fake indignation and wiggle some sand towards her way with my toes. "Are you trying to say I'm messy?"

"You know very well what I'm trying to say."

"B, have I told you lately how much I love you?"

"Not nearly enough times as you should."

I look at Mr. X's daughter, who has finished applying my chest with lotion and has started on my arms. "And what about you? Or are you still too young for such things?"

"I'm old enough to have babies," she smiles impishly.

"I bet you are," I smile back.

The young girl suddenly exclaims as she looks at the scars on my right arm, "Oh - How did you do that?"

I put on an indifferent air. "Old wounds. From a car accident. Never shed a tear."

"Awww. I still think you're perfect."

"Me? Perfect? Never. I slurp my soup."

B coughs rather impolitely. "So, what do you think about that old snook the Pope and what he's been saying lately?"

My attention remains with the young girl for a second longer. "That, my dear, is how we change the subject where B comes from."

A grunt and a laugh escape from B's lips simultaneously. "Is the end of the world nigh?"

I sit up slightly, leaning on an elbow to face B. "Erratum stratum," I say, intentionally being cryptical.

The young girl asks confused, "Is that a legal term this time or are you being rude again?"

"No, it's something I made up when I was a kid. It means a layer of error - think of human nature as a planet with many layers - strata - one layer is for error, meaning that for no reason at all human beings sometimes do stupid things. We should allow people the erratum stratum factor."

B gives a sigh. "Are you trying to defend the Pope?"

I move swifty to make the point: "I think he was quoted out of context, but his views on Islam are well documented so it didn't surprise me. Catholics have to view him as infallible, but in the real world he's a man that is bound to make mistakes being new to his office. The only thing that surprised me is reading a Catholic quoting an Orthodox Christian, after the Roman Church split. Nothing like a common enemy to unify different denominations, I guess."

B sits up suddenly to face me. "So it didn't bother you?"

"What bothers me is how damn touchy everyone is becoming. I do understand why Muslims are becoming more so, but can't we argue and discuss and criticise without having to set the world on fire?"

As B crosses her legs, a look comes upon her face that I know well. It's a look she gets when the opposing party dares to raise an objection in court. "Well, as Turks we haven't burned anything but God is a sensitive subject, and so it should be."

I let a slow smile creep somewhere at the corner of my lips. For some reason, I am acutely aware of the sound of the sea. I let the shussssh of the seawater keep my attention for a few seconds, before I reply, "Religion is a sensitive subject, not God. In such arguments God has rarely anything to do with it."

"Yes Ali, but realistically it matters."

"Critical thinking is what matters. God allows for critical thinking so why don't human beings of any cloth? What was Jesus doing in the desert for forty days? Questioning himself."

B puts her hands on her hips, "Why do you always mention Jesus on your blog?"

"I don't always mention him unless the argument calls for it - but why not? He is a prophet of Islam y'know... If the Pope did some reading he'd realise that Islam didn't come to preach anything new or different, but to preach the same old message of Abraham, Moses and Jesus and rid the message of Ancient Greek, Roman and Armenian influences and variations. If he also did a little more reading he'd also get the irony of Muhammad's lineage - as he is a descendant of Abraham, too, from his surrogate son Ishmael that was cast out after Jacob was born. My one big criticism of the Pope is that a man in his office should at least know as much as some little guy like me does - and if he doesn't..."

I stretch a little, play with some sand, and then continue, "The emperor he quoted had an excuse for not knowing in his day, but the Pope has no excuse."

The young girl comes over to sit next to B. She opens her mouth to say something, but B raises her hand to stop her. She says with a slight grin, "Wait, wait. He hasn't finished yet."

Unruffled, I barge on, "But whatever label you prefer for your higher being, on whatever terms your preferred religion deems it necessary for you to keep the faith makes no difference to me. Whatever your viewpoint, your God shouldn't be one deemed so high that you cannot reach it without the testament of a Pope or be unable to have a Pope criticise it, however amateurishly he happens to do it. Let the Supreme Pontiff use arguments written in the dark ages of Christendom, surely Muslims should strive to prove him wrong in action or open a healthy debate not simply cry foul."

I draw a circle in the sand. "Do you know what is sad? The Congo's bonobos apes are dying out. There's like only ten thousand or so left of them in the world. Shouldn't we be more worried about that?"

B does a little wave in the air with her hand. "Now you may ask him."

"And you," the girl asks, "what do you believe in?"

I ponder the question for a moment, as though I'm still listening to my old friend the sea, before I reply with a subdued voice, "If God is with us every minute of the day and is all-knowing as every monotheistic religion suggests, how can you not gossip with and about God? Isn't that where the term "gospel" comes from? How can it be blasphemy to question, to argue, to gossip with something so connected to you? He sits beside you as you cry to your favourite movie, kiss your favourite girl, as you feel every sensation the world has to offer, not floating up in the sky somewhere. Such a being knows when you masturbate in mind and in body - how can you hide? God is here now on the beach."

I draw two more circles in the sand. "But everyday by sticking to the strict rules of religion and disallowing study of free thought we are locking ourselves out of that a little bit more...that's what I believe. What are we afraid of learning? The truth? Shouldn't that be worse than not believing? And to be honest I've met more atheists that appreciate the world and its inhabitants better than most religious people. On that score, I know who I'd prefer as playmates in any afterlife."

The young girl smiles. "This is good - you should put this in your blog."

B slaps her forehead in mock exasperation. "Now you've done it!"

"Maybe I will," I say, ignoring B's play acting, "but for now lets enjoy the moment." And I lie back down to listen to the sway of the sea.

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