Next week I fly to Kyrgyzstan to participate in a workshop on Central Asian Islam that’s being hosted by the OSCE Academy, and perhaps even more importantly, to talk with the neweurasia team about the future of our small but highly unique organization in these rather ludicrous economic times. Hard realities need to be confronted and even harder choices need to be made, and not only for other people’s livelihoods and professional futures, but my own.
There is some bitterness, of course. Journalism has proven to be not all that it promised — the quest for truth and justice too often replaced with the resort to spin and the hunt for audience; the ideal of “philosophy put in daily practice” frequently side-stepped by the sophistry of deadlines and an amnesiac news cycle; and for many, even the simple relief of the byline undermined by the lack of compensation. Not only is it hard to make a living as a journalist, it is hard to make a life as one.
Still, for me, as I’ve noted numerous times before, journalism brings some subtle, spiritual leavening. As a journalist, one must be prepared to suffer countless humiliations. I’ve watched as colleagues of mine from Pakistan and Turkmenistan, celebrities and respected minds in their own countries, have been reduced to writing press releases or working in night shops here in the West just to make a living, and I’ve known countless Westerners, myself included, embarrass themselves in displays of wanton self-promotion in their panicked pursuit of the much-coveted — and increasingly vanishing — staff-writer job.
Yet, as the etymology of the word “humiliation” suggests (from Latin humus, “ground; earth; soil”), the travails of journalism somehow reduce the best of us to a lower — and therefore higher — state. We grovel, and so we are closer to the savage, dirty truth of Nature; we despair, and so we are one with the World. We embody the uncertainty that has always defined human history (the frenzied denial of which has led to so many of our species’ horrific acts), and we also hint to its eventual transcendence.
I’m constantly surprised by the ubiquity of atheism among my colleagues, particularly those from the West (my Muslim colleagues tend to suffer from it less). They let the manifold little, transient realities of injustice and insecurity blind them to the Ultimate Reality that is so tantalizingly close within their grasp, much closer than It is among the politicians, much less the philosophers.
This bastard profession, with all its hypocrisies and tragedies, has nevertheless pried open some strange, sublime doors of perception for me. Whatever happens — whether I can continue with it in some fashion, or whether I must recede back into obscurity and even more pronounced insecurity — it has been a good journey.
[Photograph by Adrienne Nakissa.]