paleo Ideofact

Thursday, March 14, 2002
The cruelest month...

According to this article in The Washington Post, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner has broken with precedent and decided not to name April "Confederate History Month." I say good for him.

It's not that I'm anti-history. In fact, I think it would be wonderful had Warner gone a step further, and named April "Union History Month." Perhaps the Confederate Heritage groups could ponder why so many Northerners volunteered and fought and died at places like Fredericksburg, the Wilderness, or Cold Harbor. They might wonder why it was that so many free men gave their lives to both preserve the Union and end slavery. And they might ask themselves why Lincoln believed that Southern secession threatened to make "government of the people, by the people, and for the people perish from this earth."

Tuesday, March 12, 2002
Khilafah gets it all backwards

This is a very long post for what some will consider a minor point. So be it.

Adil Farooq, the inestimable Muslimpundit, whose writing I’ve enjoyed from afar for quite awhile (I should add that I only discovered him thanks to Liberterian Samizdata--more proof, if I needed any, that I should get to work putting up links I’ve found of interest), has several interesting pieces on the political and social thought of his more extreme co-religionists. I should add that unlike this post, he covers some fairly major points, and if you skip over to his site and don’t return here, I won’t be offended in the least (not that I’d ever know, but that’s beside the point).

In one of Mr. Farooq’s posts, he mentions the Khilafah Magazines which, he makes clear, the more extremist British Muslims regard as the unvarnished truth. Intrigued, I decided to take a look.

I didn’t go much further than this article, Musharaff Gets It All Backwards, before I ran into one of my favorite subjects.

The story, dated Feb. 25, 2002, is about Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s address to a science and technology conference that month attended by ministers of various Muslim countries. Musharraf made his famous—at least to readers of the blogosphere—remarks: “Today we are the poorest, the most illiterate, the most backward, the most unhealthy, the most un-enlightened, the most deprived, and the weakest of all the human race.” By we, he meant the Muslim world. Musharraf noted that the total GNP of the predominantly Muslim countries was less than half that of Germany and less than a quarter of Japan’s. He went on to urge Islamic countries to concentrate on scientific and technological development, and to begin a process of self-examination and self-criticism. Needless to say, the Khilafah correspondent, Abu Ayesha, didn’t agree with the remarks.

Although the conference was attended by Muslim countries it was without really acknowledging the significance of the bond on which they had gathered - that they were Muslim. Thus the real backward mentality lies in the unchallenged artificial divisions that the colonialists imposed upon the ummah not even more than a century ago.

Therefore Musharraf’s comparison of the collective Muslim world with individual developed countries is therefore misplaced. Whilst in such conferences the Ummah's commonality is indirectly acknowledged, in practice the absence of a centralised and unified political framework ensures that the resources of the Muslim world remain unshared, misused and underdeveloped.

I’m not sure that a centralized political framework (I’m assuming he means here a single government to rule over the billion or so of the world’s Muslims, but perhaps he has something else in mind) would necessarily be more efficient, but leave the Pan Islamic aspirations aside. This next section is what caught my eye:

The truth of the matter is that scientific and technological development is all very well but it is not the fundamental building block that progress is built upon. For what is far more important is to address the thoughts a nation carries i.e. the process of thinking the majority of its individuals adopt in life affairs by which they make judgements and decisions. Although the Muslim world professes Islam, the Islamic Aqeedah today is not referred to as a comprehensive basis for a set of thoughts which they contrive to use in life. The West is productive (albeit only in the material sense) because it makes progress in a specific way i.e. according to the man made capitalistic thoughts. In contrast the Islamic Aqeedah are the true thoughts as they originate from the Creator and therefore they are the enlightened thoughts from which if used frequently and successfully, lead to the correct progress, i.e. a sound solution which is compatible with man’s innate nature.

Therefore it is the establishment of the enlightened thought that should be pursued and concentrated upon above all else. This is because with regard to material wealth, scientific discoveries, industrial inventions and the like, all of these are of much lower importance than thoughts. In fact, to gain such matters depends on the thoughts, and preservation of these matters depends on the thoughts as well. After all it was only when the West agreed to separate religion from state and became convinced of capitalism as a way of thinking (referred to in the West as the period of enlightenment) that the Industrial Revolution steamed ahead. Even though they have decayed in all moral, humanitarian and spiritual dimensions, which highlights the dangers of adopting man inspired thoughts.

I’ll take this bottom to top. The first thing that surprised me is the contention that it was “only when the West agreed to separate religion from state…” that the Industrial Revolution steamed ahead. The separation of church and state was certainly an enlightenment idea, but was only put into practice at the time of the Industrial Revolution in one country, the United States, and then only imperfectly so. Further, the Industrial Revolution was largely a managerial, and not a technological, revolution. The steam engine required a centralization of labor because it was relatively expensive to build and ill-suited to smaller factory settings. Factories grew in size and were located in large population centers; the smaller factories that still relied on hydraulic power were at a huge competitive disadvantage. But the idea that the enlightenment, which was a philosophical revolution, was a spur to the West’s technological development, while probably true, misses a crucial fact: by the time of the first crusade, the West had, technologically speaking, surpassed the Muslim world, never to look back.

The mounted shock combat that the Franks practiced with such efficiency was a European innovation, eventually adopted by their Islamic rivals. And that wasn’t all: Europe was on a factory building craze, harnessing water and wind power to grind grain, make paper, operate bellows in iron production, run saw mills, provide power for textile manufacturers, etc. etc. Fra Giardano of Pisa, a Dominican monk, noted in a 1306 sermon that,

Not all the arts have been found; we shall never see an end of finding them. Every day one could discover a new art…It is not twenty years since there was discovered the art of making spectacles which help one to see well, an art which is one of the best and most necessary in the world. And that is such a short time ago that a new art which never before existed was invented…

The fascination for technology, which certainly had a religious component (as early as the tenth century, God was portrayed as an engineer, holding a compass), dates back to the earliest period of the Dark Ages, when the heavy plow was introduced in Northern Europe, along with the improved horse collar and the horseshoe. And each innovation had real social consequences, changing settlement patterns and economic relationships between villager and townsman, lord and serf, and eventually, citizen and state. The enlightenment was not unimportant, but the main purpose of separating church and state was to find a way to stop sectarian violence. This in itself aided technological and economic development, but it was not its sine qua non.

As to thoughts and enlightenment, I’m always hesitant to make judgments about religious belief. I grew up in Lancaster County, and while I wouldn’t have wanted to lead the life of the Amish, I’d defend to the death their right to live without technology, focused on their spiritual aims. But, as we are now six months and a day from Sept. 11, I thought I’d offer this, from George Steiner’s novella Proofs, which I think adequately puts forth the claims of the United States to have found “a sound solution which is compatible with man’s innate nature”

About which, I mean American, you and I really know very little. To me it sounds like the society that says to every man and woman: “Be what you want to be. Be yourself. The world was not made only for geniuses and neurotics, for the obsessed and the inspired. It was made for you and you and you. If you choose to try and be an artist or a thinker or a pure scholar, that’s fine. We will neither inhibit you nor put you on a pedestal. If you prefer to be a couch-potato, an auto-mechanic, a break-dancer, a mile-runner, a broker, if you prefer to be a truck-driver or even a drifter, that’s fine too. Perhaps even better. Because it so happens that ideological passion and ascetic illumination, that dogma and sacrifice, have not brought only light and aid to this approximate world of ours. They have sown interminable hatred and self-destruction.” And when America says, “Just be yourself,” it is not saying, “Do not better yourself.” It is saying: “Go after that Nobel Prize if that’s what fires your soul. Or that heated swimming pool.” Not because America believes that heated swimming-pools are the Parthenon or even a necessity. But because they do seem to bring pleasure, and not very much harm. “Move up the ladder, if you can,” says America, “because the desire to live decently, to give your family a comfortable home, to send your children to schools better than those you attended yourself, to earn the regard of your neighbors, is not some capitalist vice, but a universal desire. Do you know, Professore, America is just about the first nation and society in human history to encourage common, fallible, frightened humanity to feel at home in its skin.

Except for the word “frightened” (Americans may be many things, but rarely frightened), I wouldn’t change a word of it. And maybe this wasn't such a minor point after all...

Monday, March 11, 2002
A thank you

The fine folks over at Libertarian Samizdata have been kind enough to link me. I feel a little like Navin Johnson, the Steve Martin character in the film "The Jerk," on receiving the white pages and discovering his name in it. "Now things are going to start happening to me!"

Of course, what happens is a psychotic picks his name at random from the phone book and starts shooting at him, but hey, what are the odds of that happening?

By the end of this week, I'll put up some links myself, and hopefully an "about me" page.