by A Dervish
THE Main thing that can be said about the “clash of cultures” which some American professors and foreign-policy experts have cooked up in Iraq, is that now Americans and some Europeans once again are in a “crusade” in the Middle East. What is often overlooked about these periodic crusading outbreaks is that they are often the same point in time, of maximum fruitful contact between muslim and non-muslim. In terms of the jungian psychology of a psychic struggle between collective consciousness and unconsciousness, the West may be said to have blundered “deliberately” into the Iraq-mistake. And, not on the “conscious” level of Mr Wolofowitz and everybody. Rather, it serves to bring the needy shadow of the superficially prosperous West into touch again with valuable wells of long-neglected cultural and intellectual inspiration that will revitalize everybody involved for generations in the emerging new postmodern age. A measure of this all is how the old Sufi stories keep finding new applications and so to speak “telling themselves over and over again.”
SO It was just recently that a certain southern Minnesota mayor called in a Senior City Manager to see him who happened to be a Dervish and a student of Sufism, and the Mayor said:
“Now that the government has gone broke in Iraq, we have to choose between WHICH free federal grants to apply for! Now I know what you have said about being in the Peace Corps in Morocco with them there Moslems, and that the real power of good thinking is to know which alternative is REALLY better. In this case, money for community nutrition programs for the poor? Or improved highschool classes, especially in math and history? I know that either way some good will be the result. But since my brother-in-law is superintendent of schools, Christ, I even got to worry about the possible impression of my family relatives putting their hand in the till if I go the one way. Or else being called names in the God-damn Free Press if I don’t help the poor….”
“Your honor,” said the Senior Sewer Manager who also had a Sufi teacher, “there is no point in giving knowledge to those who don’t really want it anymore than feeding people who will simply suspect you of buying votes. You CANNOT say that ‘in either case they will benefit.’
“The first point to understand is that the most worthwhile person is sometimes worthless — and the most worthless can be surprisingly worthwhile.”
“Dang!” said the Mayor, “This is no time for riddles, I need you to SHOW me what you mean!”
The Dervish Sanitation Official then placed a call to the Post Office to his teacher, and summoned the Postmaster who also happened to be the “Chief Sufi Of South-Central Minnesota And Greater Iowa.”
“What would YOU have somebody in Mankato do in a mess like this?” pleaded the Mayor.
“Aha!” said the Postmaster, which translated into Arabic or Persian means ishk hoo!
“It so happens that there is a certain restaurant manager in this berg who, if he only knew it, could give a certain poor man a load of meal vouchers good for a week, and then for himself he would get a whole lot of money plus bring benefits to the the whole city AND progress for the work of the Sufis,” said the Sufi Postmaster, who knew the inner correspondence of things and how to properly address questions.
The Mayor, who had worked as a subsidized Feng Shui Consultant, treating the mentally ill on referral from the medicaid-subsidized Public Psychologists before getting into politics, got all excited. He had taken up Chinese philosophy in the first place to be more “spiritual” so as to get at more women easily and knew from Feng Shui at least this much, that ordinarily the wise do not talk about these things, and he blurted:
“Jesus Christ! Get the sonofabitch over here and let’s get things going!”
“No,” interrupted the City Official Dervish, “this ain’t going to work unless the guy goes along with it voluntarily.”
In disguise as a load of farmers from down by Wells, Minnesota, in order not to influence the restaurant manager’s choice, the three of them piled into the Subway sandwich shop on Riverfront Drive South. Without his five foot-wide lavender turban and rhinestones and ostrich plumes on it, the Postmaster and Chief Sufi looked remarkably like any other hog farmer. He went up to the restaurant manager and said “Howdy!” and added, “Say…I know a poor fella here in town, and will you give him a bunch of these here meal vouchers for the next week?”
The Subway man laughed out loud to beat Hell:
“I’ll be God-damned!” he blared while the Dervish City Sewer Official shook his head sadly and quietly to himself.
“THAT is the slickest line of the old shit that I have heard yet! This is the first time a bunch of you hydrogenated oil poison farmers have blew all your soybean money down at the Mettler’s strip club here in town and then tried to ding ME for a free sandwich!”
“You see?” said the Dervish to the Mayor as they stepped outside again with the Chief Sufi, who was momentarily incoherent with an embarrassing regression into rage and about to turn the retaurant man into a cockroach:
“The most valuable man we have has made the most valuable suggestion…and he is just worthless to the guy he tries to talk to!”
“Alright then, what about the ‘most worthless’ being most worthwhile?”
The Dervish Manager Of Sewers and the USPS Chief Sufi beckoned the Mayor to come along.
As they were crossing the Mankato River at a magical interval when there was a break in the traffic and nobody to see, the Storm Drains Dervish and the Chief Sufi Of South-Central Minnesota And Greater Iowa seized the Mayor Of Mankato by the scruff of his farmer suit and flung him over the railing into the drink.
The Mayor, all wetted through and weighed down by his laced boots and sopping wet bib overalls, was about to drown when Crazy Eric — whose name means chali majnun, in Arabic — a well known bum and SSI recipient who wandered the streets of Mankato and hung out at the Salvation Army, jumped in and brought the Mayor safely to shore. Other more respectable citizens had been parading themselves on the federally funded rather ugly walkway above the stream, but none had lifted a finger. Some were sore about a recent property levy to pay for more cops or something….
When the Mayor was somewhat restored and glared up at his assailants from the wet cement, they intoned in unison:
“THE Most worthless person is worthwhile!”
IN That magical half second when all of the crowd were momentarily turned away or blinking their eyes or else fidgeting with their cell phones, the two magicians disappeared back to City Hall and the Post Office, where it was reported by witnesses they had been busy in their offices all afternoon.
And the Mayor went back to his old tried and true method of applying for whichever federal grant would win him and his associates on the city council the most votes in the next election. And, often enough, some good did result momentaily to somebody or other every time!
(THIS Story last appeared in a slightly different form in Tales of the Dervishes, published by the late Idries Shah [pbuh] in London, in 1982 — ed)
[Emmett R Smith all present-version rights reserved 3 December 2007]