FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Lessons of Mulla Nasruddin

by M. SHAHID ALAM

Two years after September 11, 2001, when the righteous indignation of Americans at the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon had cooled a bit, five Ivy League colleges decided to invite a Muslim sage to talk to them about why such horrible things were done to Americans.

After much deliberation, the five colleges narrowed their choice to Jelalduddin Rumi and Mulla Nasruddin, two Muslim sages best known to Americans. (That does not mean that many Americans have heard about these sages.) In the end, it was the Mulla who won out, since he was thought to possess a keener mind on matters mundane.

I had the privilege of attending all five lectures. The Mulla had called me up and insisted that I should read his talks. He was afraid that the audience would be distracted by his Oriental attire and Farsi accent. It was an honor I could not turn down.

Before returning to his home town in Bokhara (or, is it Balk, Badakhshan or Bamiyan?) the Mulla asked if I could make his talks available to a wider American public. I did not have the heart to tell the Mulla that his talks, which were stories about his antics, had not gone well (he had not noticed), and it wasn’t very likely that they would be better appreciated by a wider American public. [1] But perhaps I was forgetting the blinders that academics wear.

I will report the Mulla’s lectures exactly as I read them, but at the end of each lecture I have dared to insert a few helpful notes. At least, I think they might be helpful.

First Lecture

Many years ago, the Mulla was traveling on the Silk Road to China when he met George, a traveler from the land of the Franks. They soon became friends and decided to travel together, each pledging to help the other on the long and difficult journey ahead.

Several days later, after traveling through a dreary stretch of arid country, they came to a small town. Since they were both hungry and thirsty, they found their way to the only inn in town. But they had little money left. So they decided to share a bowl of milk. It would quench their thirst and provide some nourishment.

George said to the Mulla, ‘You drink your half first. I have one lump of sugar, and it is only enough to sweeten my half.’ The Mulla insisted that they share the sugar too. However, when he saw that George was not in a mood to relent, the Mulla went into the kitchen and returned with a large lump of salt, and told George that he just remembered that he preferred to drink his milk with salt.

Before the Mulla could add the lump of salt to the glass of milk, George had a change of heart. Smiling, he offered his lump of sugar to the Mulla. One by one, they quenched their thirst with sweetened milk. In addition, the Mulla savored the sweet taste of victory.

Notes: The glass of milk is the world: its land, water, and the fruits of labor. The sugar is the technology, property rights, etc. And the salt? What is your guess?

Second Lecture

Once, the Mulla woke up in the middle of the night to find that there was a burglar in his house gathering up his furnishings, clothes and pots. He did not disturb the burglar, but watched quietly as he swept the house clean and loaded his haul into a donkey cart.

When the burglar took off, the Mulla followed the donkey cart at a distance. He took note of the rich and commodious house, a few blocks from his own, where the burglar unloaded his loot, and quietly returned to his modest–and now emptied–dwelling, and went back to sleep.

Next morning, the Mulla asked his wife and children to follow him. They were moving into a new house. He took them to the burglar’s house, pushed open the door, and moved in.

When the burglar woke up later in the day, the Mulla thanked him profusely for helping him move to his new house.

Notes: Imagine the poor Latin Americans moving north across the Rio Grande, or the North Africans heading for the northern shores of the Mediterranean.

Third Lecture

One day the Mulla walked into a teahouse. He was audibly muttering to himself, ‘I don’t like the sun: it does little good. I love the moon.’

The people in the teahouse asked him why? The Mulla answered, ‘Can’t you see? The moon shines at night when it is dark, spreading its light for travelers, night workers and lovers. On the other hand, the sun shines during the day, when it is bright anyway.’

Notes: The mind can play tricks, missing the obvious connections. Example: We were attacked on 9-11 because the Arabs hate our freedom and affluence. We have only been kind to them.

Fourth Lecture

On one occasion, the Mulla borrowed a large cooking pot from his next-door neighbor. When returning it, he placed a smaller cooking pot inside the borrowed one. The neighbor reminded him that the smaller pot did not belong to him; he had lent the large one. The Mulla replied that in fact it did belong to him. He explained, ‘While your pot was with me, one night it gave birth to a baby pot.’ The neighbor did not object to that.

A few days later, the Mulla again borrowed his neighbor’s cooking pot, but this time never returned it. When the neighbor came asking for his pot, the Mulla told him that he could not have it back. ‘Your pot had died soon after I borrowed it,’ he said.

At first, the neighbor thought the Mulla was joking. But soon he grew irate when he found that the Mulla was sticking to his narrative. The Mulla tried to calm his neighbor, ‘If your pot could give birth to a baby, why couldn’t it die?’

Notes: The social sciences have invented some quite improbable stories to push the agenda of their clients: privileged classes, “races,” and countries. Occasionally, these narratives are applied only partially. The rich countries tout free markets for their capital, but rigorously protect their own labor.

Fifth Lecture

A mighty emperor once sought the Mulla’s help. He told the Mulla: ‘the great kings and conquerors of the past carried great titles, and often their titles celebrated divine favors. In the past, there were kings that were God-anointed, God-chosen, God-like, and even God-descended.’ The mighty emperor asked the Mulla to come up with an honorific appropriate to his great conquests.

The Mulla said that he would have to think about it, but he would send him one after a month’s meditation upon the subject. A month later, having safely hidden himself, the Mulla sent his answer to the King, embossed on gold-leaf. It said: ‘God-forbid.’

Notes: This king ruled over the greatest country in the world–even the greatest in the history of mankind.

[1] The Mulla Nasruddin stories in this report are taken from two books by Idries Shah: The Pleasantries of the Mulla and The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasruddin.

M. SHAHID ALAM is professor of economics at Northeastern University and a contributor to The Politics of Anti-Semitism. His last book, Poverty from the Wealth of Nations, was published by Palgrave in 2000. He may be reached at m.alam@neu.edu.

Visit his webpage at http://msalam.net.

© M. SHAHID ALAM

© M. SHAHID ALAM

 

M. SHAHID ALAM is professor of economics at Northeastern University. This is an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism (Macmillan, November 2009). Contact me at alqalam02760@yahoo.com.

February 09, 2016
Andrew Levine
Hillary Says the Darndest Things
Paul Street
Kill King Capital
Ben Burgis
Lesser Evil Voting and Hillary Clinton’s War on the Poor
Paul Craig Roberts
Are the Payroll Jobs Reports Merely Propaganda Statements?
Fran Quigley
How Corporations Killed Medicine
Ted Rall
How Bernie Can Pay for His Agenda: Slash the Military
Neve Gordon
Israeli Labor Party Adopts the Apartheid Mantra
Kristin Kolb
The Greatest Bear Rainforest Agreement? A Love Affair, Deferred
Joseph Natoli
Politics and Techno-Consciousness
Hrishikesh Joshi
Selective Attention to Diversity: the Case of Cruz and Rubio
Stavros Mavroudeas
Why Syriza is Sinking in Greece
David Macaray
Attention Peyton Manning: Leave Football and Concentrate on Pizza
Arvin Paranjpe
Opening Your Heart
Kathleen Wallace
Boys, Hell, and the Politics of Vagina Voting
Brian Foley
Interview With a Bernie Broad: We Need to Start Focusing on Positions and Stop Relying on Sexism
February 08, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Privatization: the Atlanticist Tactic to Attack Russia
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Water War Against the Poor: Flint and the Crimes of Capital
John V. Walsh
Did Hillary’s Machine Rig Iowa? The Highly Improbable Iowa Coin Tosses
Vincent Emanuele
The Curse and Failure of Identity Politics
Eliza A. Webb
Hillary Clinton’s Populist Charade
Uri Avnery
Optimism of the Will
Roy Eidelson Trudy Bond, Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Jean Maria Arrigo, Brad Olson, and Bryant Welch
Preserve Do-No-Harm for Military Psychologists: Coalition Responds to Department of Defense Letter to the APA
Patrick Cockburn
Oil Prices and ISIS Ruin Kurdish Dreams of Riches
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, the UN and Meanings of Arbitrary Detention
Shamus Cooke
The Labor Movement’s Pearl Harbor Moment
W. T. Whitney
Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes
Jim Goodman
Congress Must Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership
Peter White
Meeting John Ross
Colin Todhunter
Organic Agriculture, Capitalism and the Parallel World of the Pro-GMO Evangelist
Ralph Nader
They’re Just Not Answering!
Cesar Chelala
Beware of the Harm on Eyes Digital Devices Can Cause
Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail