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Of David Bowie And Malay-Muslim Suicide Bombers – OpEd

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Like many others from my generation who grew up in Malaysia listening to rock music of the sixties and seventies, I spent these few days mourning the death of British rock genius, David Bowie. I have spent hours of listening to his classics, from ‘Space Oddity’ to his brilliant lyrical elegy ‘Lazarus’, doing my own philosophical musings and ‘close reading’ of what life is about in general.

I am doing this, in-between finalizing a collaborative piece on philosophical Islam I wrote with the brilliant and prolific Australian academic Murray Hunter and reading about the two young Malay-Muslims who reportedly died in a suicide-bombing mission for Daesh or the ‘Islamic State’.

These acts – reflecting on Bowie, conjuring a new paradigm of Islamic thinking a la Buddhism and Quantum Physics, and thinking of why kids wish to die for religion – preoccupied me. It made me think: Has my life actually been saved by rock music? How might that life be a metaphor of the song ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by the rock group Queen? I grew up ‘stoned’, not on ketum, ganja, meth, bubbling bong, Mary Jane, or ‘Buddha’. None of these. I grew up stoned with an overdose of questions. Many questions on many things inside of me and around me.

Unconsciously, I suppose, I was living a childhood mediating between the joys and excitement and the freedom of enjoying rock music of the wild sixties and early seventies and the boredom, automatonizing, and shackling act of learning about the religion of Islam and memorizing the Quran and not being allowed to question what I read nor ask if the text is purely about the Arab people and why they were so brutal and violent back in the day and why they needed the prophets and messengers to teach them how to behave.

Yes, I asked these questions when I was introduced to the culture of Arabism. I was bound by the questions that do not seem to have any answers, not because they do not have answers I believe, but because my Islamic Studies and Quranic teachers not only did not have the answers, but were too afraid to even ask the questions.

Silently I was frustrated. My world, especially as a child of 11 or 12, was a world of intense questioning. Somewhat like what Darwin and Nietzsche, and Marx, and Al Arabi were going through, I suppose.

And there were these angels that saved me, I believed. They came in the form of rock musicians.

Rock music to calm me down

Amid the chaos of a world of inner confusion, there was rock music to calm me down. Rock lyrics provide me with some answers about what it meant to let loose, let go, let it be, and live and let live. Yes, I think that was what saved me from the Taliban-like teachers that I am glad I did not come into contact with.

Maybe that was it. Rock music somehow came pounding on my little skull and its fragments, like David Bowie’s stardust from an odd place in space, came into my consciousness and provided the Handel’s fireworks in me. It gave me that Bohemian Rhapsody, helping my thoughts rise to Mercurial Heights, like Freddy of the rock group Queen.

I wrote these Jean-Jacques-Rousseauian confessions a while back and even wrote an Arthur Rimbaud-inspired poem to pay tribute to those, including me, who are about to rock and to break away from the bonds of unquestioning and unexamined life not worth rapping and reggaeing about.

I am beginning to believe that my life is structured to be lyrical; I get stimulated by songs I hear from my childhood and they become opening acts of my stories; an opening act of Kid Rock for Bon Jovi in a stadium in New Jersey; an orchestral symphonic orgasmic feel of musical sensibility; I supposed the idea of a lyric essay hits home; I cannot escape from finding rhymes even without reason, every time I think of a sentence; words from songs come a visitin’ in the cave of my contemplating abyssimality almost like some revelation of the Divine I cannot see because it is obviously all tattooed in me from cradle to the grave and from here till eternity in all its linguistic glory; and that even the last sentence is a rhyming non-dangling modifier that came out naturally; and that just last night I fell in love with the semi-colon and I wrote these words on my Facebook page:

ROCK-POEM

By Azly Rahman

i fell asleep one evening when the band was playing
in a new york city jazz club and in my slumber i think i was meditating of the shape of the universe as it plays the sound of the newtonian spheres in the wasteland of the uncharted frontiers of my surrealist dada-ist consciousness that is still grappling with the question if it wishes to be reality or an appearance as
it sits looking at the wall in the cave where socrates and his pupils congregate…
there was a stairway to heaven
where the dust in the wind could be seen
smoke on the water rises up
excuse me while i kiss the sky i heard socrates say
i am but a soldier of fortune
searching for that black magic woman
in a city we build on rock and roll
where time is measured in rock of ages
i have become a highway star
a child in time
a stormbringer
a machine head
all these as i clench my soul
and look into the eyes of the poet neruda
and grab rimbaud by the neck
to force words of the divine out of him
rolling stones we have become
who… who the hell… is the quadrophenia of my generation
that brown-eyed girl
they called ‘maria maria’ of a sonnet of the sage santana
ahhh… while my guitar gently weeps
as I let everything be
and imagine the long and winding road that leads to the yellow submarine
of a yesterday in memory of michelle ma belle
i bathe myself in the poetry of rumi
and in the pentatonic oceans of that profound harmony
of a django reinhardt
in the shelters of many a gypsy
i shall continue to close my eyes
while the music plays on
and while everything around me
smells like teen spirit
and each soul searches for nirvana
in bohemian rhapsody
where death on two legs aplenty
roam this fragile world eternally
i bid goodbye
to my rockpoem…
– ar

What have I now become? Comfortably numb – as Pink Floyd would sing? What have I turned into – after going through this Kafkaesque metamorphosis? I do not know. And that is the beautiful part of it. Very Socratic. Very David Bowie, too, I suppose. My advice, for those about to rock, I salute you. But start listening to David Bowie.



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Dr. Azly Rahman

Dr. Azly Rahman

Dr. Azly Rahman is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of seven books, namely Multiethnic Malaysia: Past, Present, Future (2009), Thesis on Cyberjaya: Hegemony and Utopianism in a Southeast Asian State (2012), The Allah Controversy and Other Essays on Malaysian Hypermodernity (2013), Dark Spring: Essays on the Ideological Roots of Malaysia's General Elections-13 (2013), a first Malay publication Kalimah Allah Milik Siapa?: Renungan dan Nukilan Tentang Malaysia di Era Pancaroba (2014), Controlled Chaos: Essays on Mahathirism, Multimedia Super Corridor and Malaysia's 'New Politics' (2014), and One Malaysia under God, Bipolar (2015). Five of the books are available here. He grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and holds a doctorate in International Education Development from Columbia University in the City of New York, and Master's degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, fiction and non-fiction writing. He is a member of the Columbia University chapter of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education. He currently teaches courses in Global Politics, Cross-Cultural Studies, and Sustainability, in the United States. Twitter @azlyrahman. More writings here.

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