But these all are precisely an appreciation of the perverse kind: to the suicide bomber, life was so precious that his death was the highest of gifts towards what he or she believed to be a noble goal; to Jasih, life was so treasurable that suffering should have had no part in it.
In this crowded world full of squalor, corruption, brutality and injustice – which we starkly see everyday in the streets of Jakarta – people nevertheless do not choose to say, ‘‘oh, we have no desire for tomorrow.’ People will always wake up, tidy up or go jogging, or listen to a morning preacher at the radio, and then repeat what they did yesterday, time and again. Radical despair does not have a universal appeal. To this day, no community has ever headed collectively towards the sea to drown themselves like lemmings.
In other words, we are ‘with-hope’, even if we do not want ‘to hope’ or ‘to expect’. There’s a beautiful line by Vaclav Havel, when he was still an inspiring literary man, on the basic distinction between ‘hope’ and ‘optimism.’ Hope, said Havel, ‘is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out’.
Havel did not go into detail about optimism. But by inference, we may say that optimism is a more or less consistent conviction about the future; it is a love affair with tomorrows. Perhaps because of that, optimism constitutes daring,but could also signify conceit, and therefore arrogance.
For actually there is no human faculty capable to grasp (and not merely suppose) ‘what is to come’. Indeed, even ‘what was’ and ‘what is’ cannot be fully ascertained and turned into a basis for action. Optimism is like a property commercial: the house is always brightly lit, and the words are always to lure potential buyers, so that illusion is added to deceit, even if just a bit.
Thus there is a world of difference between hoping and expecting. ‘Being with-hope’ is not intentional and purposeful. It implies humility in the face of space and time. Muslims associate this with ‘taqwa’. This is a unique concept, because it simultaneously contains two conflicting tendencies: ‘submission’ and ‘resolution.’
In the context of religion, ‘taqwa’ bonds both tendencies within ‘iman’ (faith). A close examination indeed reveals that religion places ‘hope’ at its center. Faith comforts us in an intricate, quiet, and solitary way. We are told that life is everlasting, and that eternity will come after death. We are told about paradise, or spiritual attainment that ultimately means freedom from worldly suffering. In religion, without faith, there is no hope.
In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas explained why. He said that hope must be distinguished from desire because hope is ‘difficult’while desireis not; hope is also distinct from despair, because hope is ‘possible’ while despair is not. Fluctuating between being difficult and being possible, hope necessitatesGod. ‘No man alone is capable of obtaining grace from everlasting life; he needs divine help,’ said Saint Thomas. Thus there is a duality: ‘everlasting life is what we hope for, and divine help is what we hope with.’
In the 21st century, people still associate hope with faith, as in the past. But unlike what Thomas Aquinas conceived: today ‘divine help’ is important, but for a totally different agenda. In the 21st century, people no longer see that hope often fluctuates between ‘the difficult’and ‘the possible.’ They see hope as no mystery. Today people expect, rather than ‘to be with-hope’.
By expecting, I face a world and a future that I desire. ‘Whatever is to come’ I pull in my direction, and in this manner I know it and I control it. Here faith and hope hinge on strong subjectivity: I step into the future because of I will, with a coherent intent, with a measured and effective step based on reason.
God is with me: He makes my desire, my will and my reasoning more powerful. God is with me: He is present not to remind me my weaknesses, but to make me, as a subject, overcome that part of me that refuses to follow thecommandsof the subject, such as my body.
It is this strong subjectivity that forms the modern world, to this day. Modernity is expectation. With a stout will, steady consciousness and keen reasoning, progress surges forward. Out of this arises a society that, like a sorcerer, transforms land and water into a formidablesource of production.
In Europe, the birthplace of that modernity, within a space of less than 100 years, was born a ‘productive force that was more massive and more colossal than the collective work of an entire generation before it.’ These words are from Marx and Engels in the ‘Communist Manifesto,’ describing how thunderous mankind’s progress has been since the advent of this new history, which is basically a history pioneered by the bourgeoisie. What Marx and Engels never expected was that these people, this class, remain the generators of optimism to this very day.
In the process there may indeed be something that makes us concerned. Someone describes this victorious modern era as a shining bright road, but each ray of light hides a tragedy. Academics, progressive youths, concerned religious people and who knows how many more have repeatedly lashed out against this bourgeois progress, condemning Mr. Capital as an evil force.
The outcry is still clamorous, but none knows how to stop capitalism. Marx, Lenin and Mao once tried it, and socialism was one way in which people hoped. Socialism was optimism, but today it is nostalgia. We know it failed. The one who planned the redistribution of the pie on an equal basis was not smart enough to produce a big enough pastry.
So what is left, after each last page of the calendar is torn off? Perhaps it is the 21st century version of ‘hope’, which actually is an expectation mixed with faith.In other words, the one who remains is an ‘I’ that gazes on ‘what is to come’ with assurance, a subject roused by will, intent and increasingly powerful reason, because I have one certainty – the certainty provided by religion. The problem is how can a faith-based subject, which considers itself powerful, escape the illusion of optimism?
There is a famous poem by Iqbal, the great poet of Pakistan, describing a dialog between God and human being. We know that Iqbal believes humankind is God’s regent on earth, with the ‘freedom of the human ego’ granted by the Creator. And the human ego said, proudly:
You made the night; I made the lamp for the light
You created the clay, I crafted pottery
But in Iqbal’s poem, God replied, reminding human’s fearsome side:
From the earth I made steel, safe and sturdy
But you made sword and weaponry
The last line is a critique of modernity, of course. But it is not just modernity that is ‘unbelieving.’ Whoever sets out to conquer, to tame everything outside of him or her – the night, the mortar, the steel – ultimately invests him/herself as nature’s king of kings: the regent becomes an alienated idol.
One failing of subjectivity that is so formidableis its shortsightedness of the other side of hope, namely ‘difficulty.’ There is never certainty. Human, also if she or he is a ‘vanguard’ as conceived by Said Qutb, the ideologue of Islamic revivalism, – meaning someone deemed capable of keeping the path of the faithful towards an ‘Islamic’ future – is a being shaped by his/her unfinished history and his/her unpredictable body. In its very act to be, a subject implies its perpetual deficiency.
Pious people like Qutb and Aquinas believed that the lack would be compensated, the unpredictable brought to order and so hope would meet a happy end through divine guidance. But this is the 21st century: God is invisible and truth is vulnerable. We do not know if He is indeed ‘guiding’ us or if we are merely imagining Him doing so.
God, in fact inconceivable, convinces us only when we can find His shadow – just His shadow – within the ordinary, everyday faces. That is the sign that humankind is necessarily noble, but throughout its life in history, nobility has been impossible to achieve. Its frailty is not necessarily a self-negation.
Optimism ignores this, but hope does not: human is a precarious being.
Fearing disillusion, we play with irony. So many goals have failed, so it is better to accept what is at hand, we say. The important thing is to be honest to ourselves that we do like human beings, their togetherness and their environment. We will never refuse to lend our hands if tragedy strikes them.
We do not give up making things better – although we will never fully know what the word ‘better’ signifies. For standards continue to change. Indeed, God’s wordis not always clear; wise men have written thousands of books in its interpretation. .
But 2005 is imminent, the calendar has been ripped off, and we realize that many matters remain unresolved. Irony alone will not propel us. Relying on transient and unclear imperatives to be good, we continue to choose to act. We do not expect — mengharap. We hope — berharap. Because we know that in life, darkness is never complete, light does not totally produce day. Within that gap lies hope: simple, temporary but always with us if we don’t let go.