World history — when to rewrite, when to edit
I begin this missive with an apology. The editing process, when one is writing a book, and is not sure of his commas, is arduous.
When the publishing company sent the advance copy of our book to us, my collaborators were aghast. It was riddled with errors. It was the victim of a kind editor.
As a result, my collaborators hired a cruel editor, one from the Native American community. She is good. In a week, she caught 1535 errors in a 200-page manuscript. We were editing past our deadline. As I write to you, the book is not yet complete. I‚Äôve had no more than three or four hours of sleep for the last two weeks.
That is why I ask you to forgive me if I begin to express myself in terms of editorial metaphors. In the course of not just human events, to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, but biological events as well, sometimes, the editing job requires so much work that one is tempted to scrap the book, fire the author and start over from the get-go.
In the last several weeks, we have seen just such a global editorial rejection process. In the Middle East, the old books were tossed in what Ronald Reagan once called ‚Äúthe dustbin of history‚ÄĚ. Egypt‚Äôs Mubarak promised changes, a good editing job to be complete by September. The people responded. One by one, the authors of old regimes are discovering they cannot survive a critical edit.
By the time the dust has settled, I predict that all these books might be combined into one large volume. My crystal ball tells me that many of the Arab-speaking nations which will be a new nation, which is the union of Arab speaking states. It will be a large nation that spans all of Arab-speaking North Africa, perhaps with the exception of Saudi Arabia. New borders will be drawn. Perhaps nations like Iraq, may join the larger union province by province, with the remainder absorbed by other nations according to ethnicity.
If I’m correct, it will change the balance of the world.
* * *
Just a warning: because I am tired, and because I tend to digress, I often stick asterisks between irrelevant paragraphs. This warns my reader, and in extreme cases, my editor, that this section may require skipping or deleting. But this week, cranky as I feel, I have decided to include it.
I am a great fan of vexillology, which is the scholarly study of flags. So whenever others thrill to the birth of a new nation, the first question that crosses my mind is, ‚Äúwhat‚Äôs the flag going to look like?” Perhaps the flag of the Union of Arab States will be crescent moon on a green field. As nations join this union, the moon on the field will be encircled by new stars. Each star would represent an individual nation which joins. The EU borrowed its flag in the original flag of the United States of America, with its circular pattern of 13 stars trans-Sahara or the United Arab states or whatever it comes to be called might choose the eight-point in star as its symbol. This is what happens when politicians design flags.
But were many of the nations in the Middle East to join forces, and were they to embrace the name ‚ÄúJasmine Revolution‚ÄĚ, which is sort of a rip-off of the Chinese uprising, just more successful, this would be my vote (not that I get one):
I have always loved the deeper mathematical meanings of Islam. I like the notion that the eight-pointed star is a perfect cube and is therefore an excellent metaphoric representation of the Kaaba. Because the flag of a nation is like the cover of a book, I hope the new United Arabic nation, once it deposes its dictators and actually decides to come into existence, chooses a flag that reflects the legacy of its art, harkening back to a golden age. What greater symbol of unity than recursive geometrical iterations that fit neatly into the whole.
I include 16 stars, but this can be adjusted. I was thinking 22 Arab countries would be represented by 22 stars, but I will leave that to the experts. Each jasmine flower, represented by a jasmine drawing I found in a photo on henna hand painting, will fill each star as another nation is added.
The stars, in a growing crescent represent the nations who have gone through the process.
But I digress. Boy do I digress. Big time.
* * *
The point to my ramblings is to tie it all back. I want to bind what I say to that circle of humanity in the field of green, Bangladesh.
We have in our lives moments, both personal and universal in which we throw away the scripts. The rest of our lives are spent correcting and cleaning up all of the sentences that we have written about ourselves. Once independence is achieved for a nation, once the glorious history of the early days is written, the story of the nation needs to be edited, generation after generation. This is not a glorious task. It is not a question of manifestations in the Plaza. The eyes of the world are trained upon the hopeful faces of a nation a‚Äôborning. Such events are newsworthy.
The focused silence of a nation correcting itself, and attempting to fulfil its promise, that‚Äôs the mutual everyday drudge of Bangladesh and The United States alike. It‚Äôs not very compelling to the rest of the world, but it is a critical process. Just as parenting is a daily discipline which measures success in small degrees, behaviour by behaviour, so a nation comes to be defined, day by day, in the way it reacts to the news of the day.
From these events, we see a pattern emerge, and that pattern helps the rest of the world to recognise those behaviours that emerge as national traits.
In my ongoing struggle to familiarise myself with all things Bangladesh, I have tried to see which principles I recognise as the ones by which your people ‚Äúedit‚ÄĚ their behaviour. What are the governing principles that define what it means to be Bangladeshi?
This is my limited, outsider‚Äôs experience of the core principles I have observed by reading your history, following your news, and corresponding with your people:
1.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† God first, family a very close second, nation third, personal safety fourth.
Well, personal safety may be fifth, after getting cricket tickets. It strikes me that for whatever reason, perhaps due to the hardships of its history, Bangladeshis seem way braver than the average world citizen.
2.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Injustice is intolerable.
Well, isn‚Äôt that how it all began? Doesn‚Äôt this speak to the very founding of the nation? Doesn‚Äôt this go hand in hand with the previous statement? Time and time again, Bangladeshis have proven that they are a tolerant people, but will not be shy in the face of injustice. Bangladesh was forged from the reaction to such injustices.
3.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Ask yourself, ‚ÄúHow can I help?‚ÄĚ
This is also predicted upon the courage principle. You are just a very helpful people, and I have received many letters since I began writing which attest to this, people offering their time, even their homes in order to help me learn more about Bangladesh. This quality bespeaks a nation whose individuals must believe that they are capable of helping, meaning that the people believe in their intrinsic individual worth and the ability subscribed to each of you to make a difference.
4.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† No one should be forced to shout in order to be heard.
I think the recent airport planning fiasco was a testimony to this value. It is why the universal comment I hear about Bangladeshis and that I have experienced myself is that you all are very articulate, at least in English (I have no corroborative evidence yet in Bangla). This alone sets Bangladesh apart from the rest of the world. That‚Äôs why so little appears in the news. It is a value that I very much admire, and for me is perhaps unique to your people.
5.¬†¬†¬†¬† Your absence sometimes speaks more eloquently than your presence.
Perhaps, partly because of value #4, people prefer to boycott than to confront. If you have to shout in order to be heard, perhaps it is best if you don‚Äôt show up. This goes for workers, and opposition members of Parliament.
6.¬†¬†¬†¬† Learn how to communicate effectively, and you will not have to shout.
This is the first lesson I learned writing to you all. I didn‚Äôt have to shock in order to be read, like I have to do here in the US. I don‚Äôt really even need to make too much sense. You all are just that smart. This would indicate that education must be a priority. I wonder if that‚Äôs so. I think desire makes good school. I have been contacted by people there who barely speak English, and they still use their words eloquently.
7.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Jubilant in victory, circumspect in defeat.
Recent events have proven that Ireland was a feistier teams than anyone gave them credit for. You beat the team that beat England. The dancing in the streets looked pretty amazing. I know about dancing in the streets. I was in Buenos Aires when Argentina won the World Cup of Soccer. Even in political defeat, Bangladeshis seem to know that there‚Äôs always a next time.
8.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Be honest.
I imagine everyone knows where everyone else stands. This is often a virtue, and sometimes it makes the wheels of progress grind very slowly. Having been brought up around people who could be honest to the point of brutality, I am not good at subtlety, and I envy the ability to be completely candid.
So, if these are your rules of conduct, then everything that you do can be corrected with these as a measure. Our Constitution, the way we make movies, the things we invent, these are all predicated upon certain values we hold as a people. My own people need a frontier in order to be happy, for instance. Give us that, and we‚Äôll proclaim a golden age. Deprive us of it, and we fall to infighting. Both of our nations have written tremendous histories, very unique, very different, but in a way, I believe with some inherent similarities, including, in both cases, ‚ÄúA firm reliance upon Divine Providence‚ÄĚ, coupled with an appreciation for tolerance and secularism. I hope we all, in our own ways, can dedicate ourselves to the task of smoothing the bumpy places in the text, improving the work, striking some of the hypocrisy, and celebrating the value of the words that ring true and make us proud of who we are.
Editing is a worthy undertaking, just be warned: It may deprive you of sleep. But as that Great Editor of the American Perspective Benjamin Franklin once said, ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs plenty of time for sleeping in the grave.‚ÄĚ
Now back to work.
Frank Domenico Cipriani writes a weekly column in the Riverside Signal called ‚ÄúYou Think What You Think And I‚Äôll Think What I Know.‚ÄĚ He is also the founder and CEO of The Gatherer Institute ‚ÄĒ a not-for-profit public charity dedicated to promoting respect for the environment and empowering individuals to become self-taught and self-sufficient. His most recent book, ‚ÄúLearning Little Hawk‚Äôs Way of Storytelling‚ÄĚ, is scheduled to be released by Findhorn Press in May of 2011.