Motorcycle Diaries Part XVI

Last summer, when Kate and Gerry McCann were granted an audience with the Pope to pray for their missing daughter, Madeleine, that meeting in the Vatican sparked a nagging train of thought in my mind that is refusing to slow down with time, threatening to undermine the entire foundations of my faith.

The upheaval in my head was about the human tendency which we all share when in dire times of trouble: to plead for salvation to what is supposed to be an omnipotent force that holds our fate in its hands – without ever questioning the meaning and purpose of this instinctive exercise. Why, the question kept haunting me, do believers need to implore God for an intervention to save an innocent little girl like Madeleine, if they believe that He has the power to do it anyway.

Does a most merciful father need us immortals to beg him to do the right thing? Does He need the Pope to intermediate to end a grief-stricken family’s plight?

This dilemma has no comfortable answer for someone like me who has reached his belief in a Creator through an arduous process of rational thinking and reasoning rather than by indoctrinated fear of torture in hell fire.

That’s why all the other believers with whom I tried to share this philosophical issue were unwilling to come near the question of how far God is involved in our daily lives, and whether He is responsible for the inexplicable incidents of pain and suffering that plague humanity. They were too afraid to confront the eternal taboo of whether our misery and unnecessary anguish are man made or God made.

Personally, I want to convince myself that only an evil criminal intentionally causes misery, such as causing the disappearance a young girl, and then expect her parents to beseech him for mercy, while keeping them hanging for a verdict of life or death. No, in my book, the party responsible for abducting Madeleine McCann is the sick individual who took her away. God has nothing to do with it. If He did, Madeleine would have long been in her parents’ arms. This is the only God that my mind can fathom, and is the only one worth worshipping for that matter.

Nor can God have anything to do with causing – or preventing – the crushing under tons of concrete of the thousands of families in the latest earthquake in China. Only a sick joker, let alone a compassionate supreme being, would look at our planet one morning, and then decide to give the earth a little shake underneath the province of Schezuan so that 70,000 souls would expire in the most excruciating and slow manner.

I can sense that this topic is already too much to handle for the unsuspecting reader, so I will shift to another, hopefully lighter, aspect of this tragedy (as if anything can be light in dealing with a disaster of this magnitude – but here it is anyway). I noticed something else while following the earthquake story, something we are all guilty of, but we do it subconsciously without too much thought.

Average Jordanians tended not to focus too much on the vast human toll of the Chinese earthquake because deep down in the unexplorable alleys of our minds, we think China is a massively overpopulated country whereby a few thousand less inhabitants are not a cause for spectacular mourning this side of the Asian continent. Don’t get me wrong; the key word here is ‘subconsciously’.

I am not saying that when we switched on the news of the Chinese earthquake, as we all did, and flicked away so swiftly to another channel, as we also did, we acted this way because we are heartless and indifferent monsters. Apart from the deceptive numbers game (there are over a billion Chinese people, the logic goes, so they can afford it), it is also this overwhelming media conditioning we are all subjected to that sets our priorities of what is newsworthy for precious airtime and what is mundane and lame stuff.

We are under the spell of organizations who direct us towards what should amount to a grieving moment, such as the loss of a beautiful Princess in a car accident in a Paris tunnel, as opposed to the routine loss of a few hundred lesser people in a train crash outside Bangalore, where we yawn and switch off. Of course we don’t do it because we have a grudge against the Indian people, but it is still worth pondering why and how we manage to behave like that; how we turn away as if nothing has happened when thousands die in a flood in Mexico, and how we get glued to the TV when, say, Madeleine McCann goes missing.

And let us admit, in the rat race that is life today, we are all equally guilty in this inclination to be too apathetic and oblivious to the news that really matters. We developed a lazy conscience and just cannot be bothered to determine for ourselves what warrants our attention and sympathy, so we have subcontracted that task to amoral news merchants who are too happy to pick and select on our behalf.

In the case of China, I may personally be adversely influenced by them being the nation who invented fireworks, something that has always been very close to the heart of the child in me, until, of course, Amman became the world capital for the gratuitous daily use of these explosives, smack in the heart of sleepy, residential neighborhoods. Sarcasm aside, there is something seriously twisted in the law enforcement agencies that permit the uninhibited detonation of these bombs right in the middle of our peaceful backstreets, every single night of the week, while having the audacity to pull me over for not wearing a helmet while riding my motorcycle.

Do I have to wait until one of these missiles lands in my balcony before any Jordanian official visualizes the criminal aspects of allowing Amman to resemble, on a nightly basis, West Beirut in the summer of 1982? I just find it insane to live in a society that does not waste a breath without complaining about sky-rocketing prices, but co-exists happily under the constant barrage of another ludicrously money-wasting form of sky rockets.

But I will not go down (or blow up) without a fight. I shall create my own loud bang and will be heard in my own way: by immediately writing to the Guinness World Records institute and get Jordan a new footprint in history books for being the nation that sets off the biggest number of individual fireworks annually in the world (and while I’m at it, for having more mobile phone shops than any other nation).

And the people of Jordan dare to complain about how expensive life has become? And to top that, the government dares to single out motorcycles and ban them in Jordan?

Speaking of the global inflation phenomenon, it is most ironic that only after just more than a decade since the collapse of communism, the whole capitalist system has not yet had the time to take a triumphant breath and yet is itself on the brink of total collapse. And it is happening all because of the incurable human sin of pure and utter greed.

I’m not talking only about the price of gasoline and diesel here. Analysts studying the financial crisis in the US and Britain have warned that the Great Depression of the 1930’s could be a walk in the park compared to the inferno brewing under the ashes of the world’s financial systems today, and that the recent US housing loans crisis is only the tip of a giant iceberg looming behind the façade of cooked books and sugarcoated profit and loss statements.

But why is capitalism doomed to these endless cycles of booms and recessions? Let’s see what’s taking place with the oil markets as an example of my point.

As OPEC and other oil experts would confirm, there is absolutely no shortage of oil in the world today, despite the surge in demand by our friends the Chinese (a fact that every learned economist and taxi driver would tell you these days to explain away why the whole world is sobbing at the gas pumps). So why are prices continuing to climb as I write, and as the head of Russian Gazprom predicted, would reach US$250 a barrel by the end of the year?

The way this humble observer sees things, the unprecedented surge in oil prices is purely caused by greed and speculation by a bunch of unscrupulous global players who can’t get enough profits to feed their insatiable and extravagant lifestyles. Supply and demand as a price-setting formula has just become a tired magical potion used to justify the unjustifiable when suppliers want to con the demanders. There is absolutely no reason why the supply taps cannot be re-opened to relieve the crisis, except for, again, pure, unadulterated, and crude greed, to borrow an oily adjective.

Back in small and oil-less Jordan, what are we to do? I can assure you that no amount of prayers to the Lord can save us from the unspeakable scenarios of steeper rises in oil prices anymore than it has helped to save poor Madeleine McCann or succeeded in undemolishing a single school in China.

All I can advise is that if we all get on our bikes, as the saying goes, no one will feel the weight of the soaring price tags as these machines are very economical, and all of Jordan would then be, just like me, writing their own happy and totally incoherent motorcycle diaries, under the illuminated skies of our nightly 4th of July celebrations.

Take care, and if you ride, do it safely.

This article was originally published in Jordan’s Living Well magazine.

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