paleo Ideofact

Friday, July 05, 2002
Amir Taheri is back with another disingenuous column in the Arab News. This time, Taheri assures us, "Bin Laden no longer exists." I found this part of interest, in which Taheri sketches out the main reasons that binladenism thrived:
The first was a cynical misinterpretation of Islam that began decades ago by such romantic-idealists as the Pakistani Abul-Ala Maudoodi and the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb. Although Maudoodi and Qutb were not serious thinkers, they could, at least offer a coherent ideology based on a narrow reading of the Islamic texts. Their ideas, distilled down to Bin Laden, became mere slogans designed to incite zealots to murder.

People like Maudoodi and Qutb could catch the ball and run largely because most Muslim intellectuals did not deem it necessary to continue the work of Muslim philosophers. Modern Muslim intellectuals, seduced by fashionable Western ideologies, left the new urban masses of Islam’s teeming cities exposed to the half-baked ideas that Maudoodi and Qutb peddled. In time, Maudoodo-Qutbism provided the ideological topos in which Bin Ladenism could grow.

Now, however, many Muslim intellectuals are returning home, so to speak. They are rediscovering Islam’s philosophical heritage and beginning to continue the work started by pioneers of Islamic political thought over 1,000 years ago. Paradoxically, it is Maudoodo-Qutbism that is now being exposed as a pseudo-Islamic version of Western totalitarian ideologies.
This is all well and good, but Taheri later writes:
The sixth element of Bin Ladenism was the illusion in most Western nations that they could somehow remain unaffected by the violence unleashed by fanatical terrorists against so many Muslim nations — from Indonesia to Algeria. That illusion was shattered by the Sept. 11 attacks. Americans now know that they are vulnerable to the same kind of terrorism that has caused so much tragedy for the people of Algeria, to cite just one example, in the past decade.

Bin Laden could survive and prosper only in a world in which the six elements just mentioned remained in force. That world no longer exists: thus Osama Bin Laden no longer exists.
Odd that Taheri doesn't mention the violence unleashed by fanatical terrorists in non-Muslim Israel. Earlier, he says that governments that harbor fanatics like bin Laden no longer exist -- perhaps he's not familiar with Syria, Iran or Iraq. He says that the money for terror given by wealthy individuals from the Gulf has dried up; perhaps he hasn't heard that the Saudis continue to funnel money to the PLO.

Terror is alive and well, as are most of the regimes that support it.

Qutb 2 Cont.
I forgot to mention something in the previous post on the second chapter of Sayyid Qutb's Social Justice in Islam. At the end of the chapter, Qutb describes the Islamic concept as an all-embracing unity, that looks to both man's spiritual and material needs. He contrasts this with communism, and writes: the Islamic view, life consists of mercy, love, help, and a mutual responsibility among Muslims in particular, and among all human beings in general. It is apparent, then, that Islam is the eternal dream of humanity, incorporated in a living reality upon earth, whereas Communism is simply the passing rancor of a single generation of men! In the Communist view, life is a continual strife and struggle between the classes, a struggle which must end in one class overcoming the other at which point the Communist dream is realized.
Now, forgive me if I'm wrong, but my recollection is that once the universal revolution of the workers is accomplished, their lives would be guided by mercy, love, help, and mutual responsibility, realizing the eternal dream of humanity.

Qutb ends by describing the contours of Islamic society:
So the regulations lay down the rights of the community over the powers and abilities of the individual; they also establish limiting boundaries to the freedom, the desires, and the wants of the individual, but they must also be ever mindful of the rights of the individual, to give him freedom in his desires and inclinations; and over all there must be the limits that the community must not overstep and that the individual on his side must not transgress. Nor must there be interference with great individual achievements; for life is a matter of mutual help and mutual responsibility according to Islam, and not a constant warfare, to be lived in the spirit of struggle and hostility. Thus there must be freedom for individual and general abilities, rather than repression and a restrictive constraint. Everything that is not legally forbidden is perfectly permissible.
This is just so much gobbledy gook. Compare it to a passage from Jefferson on rights, or Hamilton on credit, or Marx for that matter. They wrote about concrete things. Qutb, by contrats, lacks any sort of specifity -- well, the community, but oh yeah, the individual, except for the community, but the individual can do anything that he's allowed to do, but the community, and the individual, and the communidual, and the indiunity. What amazes me all the more is what prefaces it:
There may sometimes occur the type of social oppression which is inconsistent with justice, when the greed and cupidity of the individual prey upon society; or that same oppression may also take the form of society preying upon the nature and ability of the individual. Such oppression is a sin, not against one individual alone, but against the whole community, because it cannot profit to the full from his abilities.
It's all fine and good to talk about individual rights and the claims of the community -- we had a pretty good series of debates on the subject in the 18th century, and came up with a mechanism in Philadelphia in 1787 that handles all this fairly well. Qutb offers only a souvenir-shop sword of Islam, not even a genuine one, but a cheap reproduction, as his solution to these problems.

The inestimable H.D. Miller of Travelling Shoes has an authoritative post on the gang rape incident, which he notes has more to do with the rough justice of castes and tribalism than anything in Islam. Well worth the read.

While I was driving today, I heard some radio talk show host say that the rape was done in accordance with Qur'anic injunctions. Apparently, the idea that this incident is shari'ah compliant goes beyond the blogosphere.

Thursday, July 04, 2002
Qutb 2
In my first installment, I wrote about the introductory chapter to Sayyid Qutb's work, Social Justice in Islam. Qutb has been called "the brain behind Osama," and in the first post I provided a little more background on him, so let's jump right in to chapter two of his work, translated as, "The Nature of Social Justice in Islam."

Qutb's purpose in the chapter is to situate the idea of social justice, by which I believe he means the proper ordering of human societies, in the context of what he calls the Islamic concept -- the totality of Islamic theology and practice. Then, on page two, he tosses most of it out the window:
Now the true Muslim philosophy is not to be sought in Ibn Sina or Ibn Rushd, or such men as these who are known as the Muslim philosophers; for the philosophy which they teach is no more than a shadow of the Greek philosophy and has no relation to the true Islamic philosophy. The faith of Islam has a native universal philosophy which is to be sought in its own theoretical sources: the Qur'an and the Traditions, the life of its Prophet and his everday customs. These are the authorities in which the student must delve deeply to find the universal Islamic theory from which come all the Islamic teachings and laws and its modes of worship and work.
Ibn Rushd is better known to Western readers as Averroes; he is perhaps the greatest commentator on the works of Aristotle, but was also a physician, a judge, a legal scholar, and a thoroughly Islamic thinker. Ibn Sina is Avicenna. In my edition of Social Justice, the first sentence quoted is footnoted by the very sympathetic editor, Hamid Algar, who writes:
Ibn Sina (d. 429/1037) and Ibn Rushd (d. 595/1198): In accordance with his general rejection of most of the Islamic intellectual heritage, Sayyid Qutb exaggerates the dependence of these two figures on Greek philosophy in order to deny the Islamicity of their thought. It i, however, undeniable that both -- particularly the former -- produced insights that were clearly inspired by Qur'anic precepts and became incorporated into Islamic intellectual tradition.
In his own day, Averroes had to put up with Qutb-like characters. The following passage is from Majid Fakhry's work, Averroes: His Life, Works and Influence: is clear that Averroes as jurist was anxious to stress the role of analogy or deduction in settling legal disputes, rather than be content with recourse to the authority of accredited scholars or judges, as traditionalists tended to do. Thus, in the Decisive Treatise, he draws a parallel between juridical and rational deduction, rejecting the view that, since the latter was introduced in the in the wake of the first generation of Muslims, it should be dismissed as an innovation. For so was the former. Moreover, he writes, "most of our correligionists are in agreement, except for a small group of literalists, whose position is discredited by the texts [of the Qur'an]." For the Qur'an has repeatedly called upon mankind to investigate the nature of reality, as a means of knowing God as Creator of the world...
Averroes is basically saying to those who insist on avoiding innovation and depending on the first generation of Muslims, also known as the Salafis (the Saudi Wahhabis like to call themselves Salafis), that such dependence is also an innovation. There's no textual authority for it, and indeed the Qur'an demands exactly the opposite. Qutb, in the first chapter, quotes part of a Sura on this theme:
Seek learning even if it be found as far as China.
China was the equivalent of the ends of the earth; we might translate it as "America." In other words, Qutb's whole thesis -- that the Islamic world should reject democracy and the like -- is contradicted by the very text to which he ascribes absolute authority.

Next, Qutb spends two pages citing Qur'anic verses showing that Islam is a unified philosophy or concept. From this, he deduces the necessity of a universal, or solely Islamic, world order:
So the Islamic belief is that humanity is an essential unity; its scattered elements must be brought together, its diversity must give place to unity, its variety of creeds must in the end be brought into one. For thus and only thus can man be made ready to be at one with the essential unity of creation. "O mankind, We have created you male and female, and We have made you people and tribes, that you might know one another." (49:13)

There can be no permanent system in human life until this integration and unification has taken place; this step is a prerequisite for true and complete human life, even justifying the use of force against those who deviate from it, so that those who have wandered from the true path may be brought back to it.
The true path, that is, is the inventor of pseudo-Islam sees it. In his first chapter, Qutb had written:
...Islamic history has never known those evil, organized persecutions of thinking men or learned men, such as were known in the lands of Inquisition; the short, scattered periods in which men have been victimized for their theories may be accounted as anomalous in Muslim history. In general, such occurences were the outcome of political conditions, the result of concealed party differences, and on the whole were not a normal feature of Islamic life. Also, they arose among peoples who neither knew nor comprehended Islam fully.
In this passage, Qutb is largely accurate. When Averroes was condemned for heresy, it was his books -- and not his person -- that were burnt at the stake (most of them survived in any case). In the penultimately quoted passage, Qutb is "justifying the use of force against those who deviate" from the straight path, whose learning contradicts what he believes.

From the idea of the unity of humanity, Qutb moves on to man as an individual, and the means of his salvation. I should point out here that I was an infrequent attendee of Sunday schools, so maybe I missed part of my Christian heritage:
For Christianity the salvation of the soul is to be gained by humiliating the body, by punishing it, or even by destroying it, or at the least, by neglecting it and turning away from indulgence. In Christianity and other similar faiths this is the cardinal principle on which are built their systems of belief; to it can be traced their doctrines on life and its purpose, on the duties of the indiviual on the one hand and of society on the other and on man and the different powers and abilities which clash within him.
So, Qutb assures us, Augustine and Aquinas, Luther and Calvin, Erasmus and Tyndale had it all wrong. The path to salvation for a Christian is the sack cloth, the cat-o-nine-tails, perhaps even a tongue piercing and a tattoo.

Next, Qutb discusses the love of gain that's inherent in all human beings. He explains how Islam accomodates but regulates this desire. There's nothing really objectionable here, because it's all so vague. It's in the third chapter, when he gets into this in more detail, that the problems of his analysis become clearer. But that will be the subject of my next post on Qutb.

Wednesday, July 03, 2002
I fully intended to get part two of my reading of Qutb posted tonight, but we lost our power again for an hour and a half, and it's too late to start it now. I'll get to it tomorrow.

Speaking of Averroes, I came across this interesting tale in Majid Fakhry's Averroes: His Life, Works and Influence:
Whether marraige to an adultress is lawful is then discussed. The Qur'an (24:3) states that an adultress can only be married to an adulterer or polytheist (mushrik), but not a Muslim. The generality of scholars, Averroes explains, understood this verse to indicate disapproval (dham) rather than prohibition. He then quotes a Prophetic tradition according to which someone told the Prophet that his wife was promiscuous, to which the Prophet replied, "Divorce her." The man then said: "But I love her," to which the Prophet replied: "Then keep her."
I wonder how the Saudi Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, or whatever it's called, would react to that...

I love Andrew Sullivan's writing, I find his insights and arguments to be always compelling, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit he's changed my thinking on one or two topics over the last few years. But I think he's being a little lazy when he headlines this story, about the Pakistani girl who was brutally raped by a members of one clan to punish her brother, "ISLAM, CLASS, AND WOMEN."

If I'm wrong let me know, but I think Sullivan would be hard-pressed to point to a passage of the Qur'an, or part of the shari'ah, or even the rantings of the worst Islamofascist that justifies gang raping someone just because her brother chatted with a girl from a different clan.

The incident is barbaric, no doubt, but I don't think it can be pinned on Islam per se. On the other hand, the following from the same story can be:

Last month, an Islamic court overturned the conviction of a woman who was to be stoned to death for adultery. Zufran Bibi, 28, said she was raped and appealed her early May conviction in the conservative North West Frontier Province.

Her case prompted demonstrations and protests by hundreds of civil and women's-rights groups nationwide.
Averroes is held in low esteem by most of the Islamic pseudofundamentalists (I'm not crazy about this word, I'll explain more in a later post), but he pretty explicitly notes in summarizing the four major schools of Islamic jurisprudence that the victim of rape is just that -- a victim. For consensual adultery, however, the penalty is stoning to death, although Deuteronomy sets out the very same penalty.

Obviously, Islam is not amenable to women's rights (few religions are -- read some of the Pauline epistles sometime), but brutal rape is not one of the things it sanctions.

Alex Frantz of the Public Nuisance blog proves his site is misnamed by sending me this link to the U.N. study which argues that Arab states have to modernize and democratize to overcome their -- well, their backwardness and despotism. Alex warns, "Quite a lot to go through there - about 5 M in Acrobat format."

Thanks, Alex, and I'll get up a reciprocal link to your site this evening.

Xavier Basora was kind enough to offer some criticism of my post in which I began to defend my view that tyranny, and not Islam, is what plagues the Arab world. He writes:
I read your analysis on Social justice of Islam. I was quite impressed at the thoughtfulness and erudition. Nonetheless I have disagreements with some of your analyses. For example, have you read Bat Ye'or's books on the dhimmitude?

One of the questions that I immediately raised to myself is that on the one hand, Mohammed states that the Arabs have no special place in Islam but how does the dhimmitude distort or even pervert the message of equality as well as relations with the people of the books?

I'm not surprised by the fact that in a millenium the Arab/Moselm world has translated the same number of books that Spain dos in a year. Bernard Lewis makes a cogent case for the reasons in various books.

The most important reason was that because Europe was Christian that fact meant that the Moslems could discount anything the 'infidels' wrote or made because they belonged to a superceded religion. Second, Islamic society had an immense difficulty making sense of the diverse lingusitic map or Europe and reacted by casually dismissing the lingusitic diversity as more evidence of a truly backward and underdeveloped civilization.

Finally when Islamic society finally realized that Europe was progressively outperforming them, its elites had absolutely no intellectual, cultural or philosphical precendents to help them understand--securing the dhimmis' help was just impossible--and even then the resistence from more traditional elements helped stifle any attempts to understand why Europe all of a sudden was developing at a faster pace.
These are all excellent points, and perhaps I wasn't clear when I noted the Hadith in which Muhammad tells his followers that Arabs have no preeminence: he was referring to the community of believers. In other words, a Persian Muslim is just as good as an Arab Muslim, and both are better than an Arab Christian--who nevertheless must be tolerated, one should add.

Update: Like an idiot, I misspelled Mr. Basora's surname the first time around. In a subsequent, thoughtful email, he politely suggested that perhaps he had misspelled his own name in his email, but rest assured, I'm the bonehead who got it wrong. My apologies.

Item from the Arab News:
RIYADH, 3 July — On orders from Riyadh Governor Prince Salman, the People’s Committee for Assistance of Palestinian Fighters has remitted SR1.93 million to the PLO, said Abdul Rahim Jamous, director general of the committee’s offices in the Kingdom. It was the committee’s second remittance to the PLO this year.

Why do I have the sinking feeling that my cable provider will drop something worthwhile -- like the Cartoon Network, or even one of the half-dozen home shopping channels -- to put this on the air?

Tuesday, July 02, 2002
Josh is also kind enough to plug the first installment of what will be a slowly evolving Qutb series (sorry, I'm too brain dead to take on Chapter 2 tonight, which is where Qutb starts to get really interesting and self-contradictory -- tomorrow, I promise). He's very complimentary to me, so perhaps I'm being a little ungrateful for noting that he also takes a little umbrage with my view that it's not Islam so much as tyranny that warps the Islamic world. I am perfectly willing to grant that most of those claiming to speak for the religion -- those we read about on Josh's i330 site, or Charles Johnson's Little Green Footballs blog, or from Meryl Yourish, Joe Katzman, or one of my favorite sources, Adil Farooq (who seems to be on what I hope is just a hiatus -- we miss you, Adil) -- yes, they're pretty much emblematic of the Arab world. But I don't think they're speaking for Islam. Take Qutb, for example. In the very beginning of the second chapter, he dismisses 1200 years of Islamic thought and theology, and limits himself to the Qur'an and a few Hadith. A few pages later, he directly contradicts a Qur'anic injunction. His economics owes more to Marxism than anything in the history of Islam. After quoting a famous Hadith in which the Prophet declares that Arabs have no special preeminence in the Islamic world, he later lists the tragedies that befell the Muslim world, and these consist of non-Arabs that accepted Islam, gained political authority, and became the defenders of the real orthodoxy (as opposed to Qutb's sham orthodoxy). Qutb dismisses Turks, Persians and Mongols as being impure Muslims.

I would never go so far as to suggest that Islam is primarily a religion of peace, but it's hardly a religion of suicide bombers and mass murderers either.

Today I read, on Charles Johnson's site a post on a New York Times article about the same study that Gulf News Online wrote about (go down two posts here for the reference). The thing that struck me most about the Times article -- sadly omitted from the Gulf News -- was this:
The authors also describe a "severe shortage" of new writing and a dearth of translations of works from outside. "The whole Arab world translates about 330 books annually, one-fifth the number that Greece translates," the report said. In the 1,000 years since the reign of the Caliph Mamoun, it concludes, the Arabs have translated as many books as Spain translates in just one year.
This is an astonishing fact. But absent any kind of free press, why bother to translate works that most likely would be banned? I remember a friend jokingly suggested, at the beginning of the conflict in Afghanistan, that we should drop Pashtun translations of John Stuart Mill on the Afghans. That's actually looking like a better and better idea.

In his ninth item from July 1, Joshua Treviño of i330 fame has an erudite post on the significance of prayer at the Constitutional Convention. He ably fact-checks the contention of David Greenberg of Slate, who apparently relies on Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore, that Benjamin Franklin's proposal that the delegates begin each session with a prayer was rejected because, for the Founders, "erecting a church-state wall their first priority." Josh goes to the videotape -- or the nearest thing, James Madison's diary of the convention, to prove them wrong.

The Founder's attitudes to religion, I find, are often mischaracterized. Anyone who's spent any time with Franklin's autobiography knows that he thought a great deal about religion in general and Christianity in particular, and was well-familiar with the main currents of religious thought in the colonies and abroad. Jefferson took the trouble to edit his own copy of the Gospels; among the books in the Library of Congress is a translation of the Qur'an whose margins were annotated in Jefferson's hand.

Josh's scholarship makes excellent reading as we approach Independence Day. I should add that one of the reasons I enjoy his blog is the frequency with which I come across things there I didn't know.

I might have missed this elsewhere, but when I came across this story in the Gulf News Online headlined UN lists means to solve poverty, I almost skipped it, expecting the usual UN drivel. I'm glad I didn't:
Arab nations have the ability to lift their people out of poverty quickly but to do so they must undergo a revolution to liberate women, allow political freedom and boost education, the United Nations said today.

"Given the political commitment, Arab countries have the resources to eradicate absolute poverty in less than a generation. Commitment, not resources, is the binding constraint," the UN's Arab Development Report 2002 said.

Rima Khalaf Hunaidi, head of the UN's Arab section and leader of the team that wrote the ground-breaking report - a first UN Development Programme report on Arabs by Arabs - said gender, knowledge and political freedom were paramount.

"The report aims to start a dialogue in the region - it won't make many friends there but that wasn't the intention," she told a news conference.
Wow. And from the U.N. no less. Maybe it's sleep deprivation, but this thing seems to make sense: accuses many of the Arab nations from the Maghreb to the Gulf of remaining stuck in the dark ages, allowing scant political freedom, keeping women under strict subjugation and letting education standards drop sharply.
I'd look on the U.N. site to see if they've posted a copy, but it's 2:20 a.m. Maybe tomorrow...

Monday, July 01, 2002
Qutb 1
Sayyid Qutb has been called the brain of bin Laden by Dinesh D'Souza in a piece that ran on the Weekly Standard's website a while back. D'Souza wrote,
If one wants to penetrate the mindset that produced their actions, a good place to begin is with the work of the most influential thinker of fundamentalist Islam, Sayyid Qutb. A theoretician for the Muslim Brotherhood, Qutb was executed in Egypt in 1966. Since then, his works have gained in popularity, so that he is now considered the most effective Islamic critic of the West and the most eloquent advocate of pan-Islamic revival. Pupils of his assassinated Anwar Sadat in 1981. The blind sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, now in prison in the United States for conspiracy to commit terrorism, is also a disciple. The leaders of many of the major terrorist groups--such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad--regularly cite his works. His influence is so pervasive in the bin Laden circle that he has been called "the brains behind Osama."
D'Souza argues that the West has yet to engage Qutb, that just as Western arms have dismantled the Taliban, so too must Western thinkers dismantle Qutb. I do not propose to do that here -- I have trouble stringing two meaningful sentences together, so I'll leave the dismantling to better minds. Nevertheless, I have read Social Justice in Islam, and I will offer a few impressions of the work, chapter by chapter.

First, a few points. I have never embraced the notion that Islam, the faith, is the primary enemy in the war on terror, or that the problems of the Arab world can be explained by their adherence to Islam. Rather, the problems of the Middle East are the age old problem of tyranny. In the case of the Middle Eastern tyrants, they prop themselves up with an all-encompassing philosophy which is supposed to justify their tyranny, but this is no different from the manner by which Soviets employed Marxism to justify their oppressions or Nazis relied on their crackpot biology and pseudoscience to justify the horrors they inflicted upon the world. Islam as a religion has some primitive notions -- stonings and the like -- but then so does Judaism. What has warped the Arab world is not the religion, but the temporal authorities who use the religion to justify their rule, at least in my humble opinion. It's not so much that the average Muslim woman doesn't enjoy the rights of a Western woman because of the Qur'an, it's that the average Muslim man doesn't enjoy the rights of a Western woman because of the state.

The extent to which Middle Eastern states employ Islamist ideology varies widely. There are quasi-socialist command economies which pay lip service to Islamist ideology, there are kleptocracies, theocracies, and Stalinist-style "states against the people." Qutb seems to represent the worst of all worlds: his prescription is largely more of the failed notions that have turned the region into a cultural and political and social and economic backwater.

In chapter one, which is my topic here, Qutb writes,
We have only to look in order to see that our social situation is as bad as it can be; it is apparent that our social conditions have no possible relation to justice; and so we turn our eyes to Europe, America, or Russia, and we expect to import from there solutions to our problems, just as from them we import goods for our industrial livelihood.
Qutb, needless to say, rejects this in favor of Islam, although in his first chapter, he focuses on why he institutions and ideas of the West are inappropriate for Islamic countries. He takes particular umbrage with the notion of a division between the secular and sacred, on the one hand, and the idea that religion is the opiate of the masses, on the other. Remember that Qutb wrote this in 1953, at a time when the Soviet model had particular appeal for rulers and revolutionaries in much of the third world. He traces the idea of the secular through Christian history, and offers a somewhat bizarre account of the development of the West and the tenets of the Christian religion, which, he notes, was only supposed to exist between the coming of Christ and the revelation of Muhammad, at which point Christianity was supposed to whither away. Qutb regards it as something of a historical quirk that Christianity lived on in Europe, although he argues that barbarian (by this I assume he means medieval) Europe wasn't really Christian; rather, the law of the jungle or Roman law prevailed, and the Church was merely a sanctuary for blood-soaked warriors and not an institution that influenced life. It was only when the Church itself entered politics, with its own armies and its own state, that it began to affect affairs, but those compromises rendered it "un-Christian."

There's a bizarre misreading of the Gospels at the heart of some of this. Qutb runs through a truncated version of the Sermon on the Mount which he regards as the core of Christian belief, and then notes that, because the Roman state was great and the Christian minority small, it gave up on attempting to hold temporal power, and instead concentrated on the purely spiritual.
Accordingly, Christianity forgot about "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's," and it turned its full strength towards spiritual purity and pious discipline. It took its stand upon the ground that "Religion concerns only a man and his God," while the temporal law is concerned between the individual and the state. And this was the more natural since Christianity grew up in the embrace of the Roman Empire, and since it was a reaction against Judaism.
This passage comes right after Qutb's excerpting of the Sermon on the Mount; it appears he interprets Christ's words as an admonition for Christians to render unto Caesar a temporal law based on the Sermon. This is a rather astonishing misreading of an incident in all three synoptic Gospels; here's the passage from Luke 20:19-26:
[19] And the chief priests and the scribes the same hour sought to lay hands on him; and they feared the people: for they perceived that he had spoken this parable against them.
[20] And they watched him, and sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men, that they might take hold of his words, that so they might deliver him unto the power and authority of the governor.
[21] And they asked him, saying, Master, we know that thou sayest and teachest rightly, neither acceptest thou the person of any, but teachest the way of God truly:
[22] Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no?
[23] But he perceived their craftiness, and said unto them, Why tempt ye me?
[24] Shew me a penny. Whose image and superscription hath it? They answered and said, Caesar's.
[25] And he said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's.
[26] And they could not take hold of his words before the people: and they marvelled at his answer, and held their peace.
I'm hardly an expert in theology, but I've read that as Jesus himself suggesting a division between sacred and secular, and not a call for Caesar to adopt the Sermon on the Mount as a legal code.

In the following eight paragraphs, Qutb offers a gloss on the history of Europe from the fall of Rome to the Twentieth Century. The central theme is that the major developments in the West -- the Renaissance, the industrial and technological revolutions -- occurred outside the sphere of Christianity and were hostile to it. This is by and large an inaccurate picture; Erasmus, the great humanist, cared enough about religion to offer his own Latin translation of the Greek New Testament to compete with the Vulgate, for example. Christian iconography incorporated the idea of God as engineer as early as the 12th century. Similarly, it wasn't so much the Church, but rather the good Aristotelian academics with a vested interest in teaching the Ptolemaic system, that opposed Galileo. Copernicus was a churchman. What Qutb is doing is, by and large, rejecting the notion that Christianity was central to the development of the West. By the time he gets up to the modern age, he offers two different Western societies -- the Communist and the Capitalist. In the latter, religion is preserved as the opiate of the masses. Qutb buys into the notion that the only relation between capital and labor -- in the West at least -- is exploitive:
With the advance of time the new science bore its fruits, and there grew from it in the sphere of technology what is known as mass production. Capital increased and in the arena of industry there appeared two sharply divided camps, that of capital and that of labor. The cleavage between the itnerests of these two soon became apparent....

...the laboring classes who contemplate a class struggle have concluded that religion will not serve their cause in that struggle. They affirm that the Church uses religion only as an opiate for the working classes, and they have turned completely against religion, saying of it that, "It is the opate of the millions." Hence there has arisen the manifest Communist hostility to religion."
Sandwiched between those lines is this interesting assessment of Christianity's sincere believers:
...the majority must be sincer, by reason of their faith in the tenets of Christianity which is essentially ascetic. By its nature a denial of worldly life, it is a summons to avoid materialism, to despise the world, and to seek rather the Lord's kingdom in the Heavenly world. (emphasis added)
Qutb then contrasts this portrait of the West and Christianity's role in it with Islam, which he characterizes as a unity:
Islam grew up in an independent country owing allegiance to no empire and to no king, in a form of society never again achieved. It had to embody this society in itself, had to order, encourage, and promote it. It had to order and regulate this society, adopting from the beginning its principles and its spirit along with its methods of life and work. It had to join together the world and the faith by its exhortations and laws. So Islam chose to unite earth and heaven in a single system, present both in the heart of the individual and the actuality of society, recognizing no separation of practical exertion from religious impulse. Essentially Islam never infringes that unity even when its outward forms and customs change.
Qutb then goes on for a few pages quoting the Qur'an and various Hadith, demonstrating that the Prophet valued labor and decried ascetism. Two things worth noting: Qutb states that Islamic countries have used religion as an opiate of the masses, but those rulers that have done so aren't truly Islamic. Secondly, he says that Islam has always been open to learning, to new ideas, in contrast to Christian Europe.

Finally, he notes that Islam as a social system is at once flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances, but based on unchanging principles. He argues that a return to Islamic principles -- including the shari'ah -- to guide modern society makes more sense for states with Muslim majorities because they're more familiar, and organically more congenial, than alien systems imported from France or Russia. And he adds that this return doesn't mean isolation:
...the spirit of Islam rejects such an avoidance, for Islam reckons itself to be a message to for the whole world. Rather, our summons is to return to our own stored-up resources, to become familiar with their ideas, and to test their validity and permanent worth, before we have recourse to an untimely and baseless servility which will deprive us of the historical background of our life, and through which our individuality will be lost to the point that we will become merely the hangers-on to the progress of mankind. Our religion demands that we should be ever in the forefront. "You are the best nation which has been brought forth for men; you enjoin the good, and you forbid the evil." (3:10)
Well, that's a short summary of the first chapter, with an awful lot left out. I'll have to see if I have the energy to deal with the second chapter tomorrow...

Sunday, June 30, 2002
I've added a link at the left to a site which has an online version of the 1599 Geneva Study Bible. The Geneva Bible, which is an English Bible which incorporated much of William Tyndale's translation (Tyndale is the largely unsung hero of the English language) was first published in 1560. The Geneva Bible included "most profitable annotations upon the hard places," that is, those passages of the text that were difficult to interpret.

Here's a sample, cited by Alister McGrath in his fine work In the Beginning, from the Book of Daniel:
6:22 My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him (h) innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done (i) no hurt.

(h) My just cause and uprightness in this thing in which I was charged, is approved by God.

(i) For he disobeyed the kings’s wicked commandment in order to obey God, and so he did no injury to the king, who ought to command nothing by which God would be dishonoured.
McGrath notes that the implication of the second note is clear: tyrants may be disobeyed when their orders conflict with the will of God. This isn't a particularly original opinion of mine, but the development of protestantism in the English speaking world had profound effects not only on religion, but on goverment. A little more than 200 years after the first publication of the Geneva Bible, the will of God would include the endowment in his creatures of certain unalienable rights. A few good whigs in Philadelphia would pledge their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to disobey a king's wicked commandments.

One drawback to the site I've linked: the books themselves are incomplete; if Daniel 6:23 has no commentary, then the verse itself doesn't appear.

Apology S. Worthen, whose meaning I mistook in the post immediately below. The last point she raised in the note wasn't that studies of boats, the domestication of animals, or weaving were rare, but rather that they weren't accorded the importance of, say, electricity. She's suspicious, rightly so in my view, of the "most important" approach to technology. Lynn White wrote of the importance of the functional button (for clothing -- that sort of button) and knitting in the changing attitudes toward child rearing; I quoted his observations here, at the end of this all too lengthy post on Jean Gimpel. I think this is the sort of thing she means -- few people would sight either buttons or knitting as the "most important invention of all time," yet, if White's thesis is correct, and infant mortality rates were lowered largely through the advent of snugger clothing for little ones, leading parents to feel more and more comfortable growing emotionally attached to their little ones, and changing the nature of relationships within the family, then buttons and knitting were quite profound in their impact.

In any case, I hope this clarifies -- and supports somewhat -- the point she was trying to make.